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Getting bread: making the full focaccia experience

October 1, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Sophie Burchell

Bread: it’s a scary subject. There is so much that can go wrong during the process of making it—enough that many bakers stay away from it entirely, never again attempting to battle the yeast. So yeah, it’s a pretty tough part of anyone’s culinary arsenal. You might have figured that out if you were like every other Millennial or older Gen-Zer during the pandemic that thought, “Yeah, sourdough is going to be easy to make,” with the hubris of someone bringing a stick of spaghetti to a gunfight. But I wouldn’t be discussing this if I wasn’t going to show you how to make bread easily and affordably. I want to assure you that breadmaking does not have to be incredibly complicated. Like most things in the kitchen, patience is the key. We all showed that we could kind of do this during our transition from status Yellow to Green, so this should be a breeze for everyone! Not only that, but we will be making one of the easiest breads out there, and the bread that I personally used as a stepping stone to learn other breadmaking techniques: focaccia.

To give credit where it’s due, the recipe that I will be sharing today was inspired by the lovely folks at Inspired Taste, so if you want to check out their version, go right ahead! The ingredients for this bread are two-and-a-half cups of bread flour, one-and-a-half packets of active dry yeast, one-half of a teaspoon of fine salt, two garlic cloves, one-half of a cup extra virgin olive oil and either honey or a sugar equivalent: one-fourth of a teaspoon of the former, or a packet’s worth for the latter. Walmart is selling bread flour for between $4.28 and $2.48 in five-pound quantities, while Hannaford is selling it for about $1 more. All-purpose flour is also fine, but you will need to knead the dough more. A bulb of garlic doesn’t go for more than 50 cents anywhere. Extra virgin olive oil is most definitely going to be cheaper at Walmart, but I find it to almost be a negligible expense because the amount you use in a single sitting doesn’t usually put a dent into your overall supply. You can get 3 packets of active dry yeast for $1.74 at Walmart and $2.19 at Hannaford, and you can get 12oz of honey for $3.49. You can swipe some sugar from your next visit to the dining hall. I would also recommend using some dry herbs in this dish as well. I normally use ground rosemary, thyme, black pepper and basil, but you can use whatever you like.

First, take a small pot or skillet and stir in your oil, garlic (finely minced, if you can manage) and other spices. (I usually use about a teaspoon of each, but you do you!) Put the burner to its lowest setting and let it sit for a few minutes. The idea isn’t to cook the herbs, but to make the oil aromatic, since it will be the base of this bread. Take it off the heat once it reaches this point.

In a large mixing bowl, add a cup of warm (not hot) water, your yeast and your sweetening agent and stir it all together. This is just to get the honey or sugar to dissolve in the water, which will create food for the yeast. You’ll know it’s working when, after a few minutes, the mixture has started to bubble. Now, add one cup of flour and one-fourth of a cup of the aromatic oil to the yeast mixture and stir together. Let it rest for a few minutes.

Add the rest of the flour and the salt and continue stirring until you get one big blob of dough. Liberally flour a cutting board, and start kneading your dough, giving it about 12 passes. Then take a nine-by-13-inch baking pan or casserole dish and use two tablespoons of your oil to line every part of the pan. Place the dough so it roughly fits the pan, and let it rise for at least one hour, checking on it only to coax the dough to fill the pan (Note: this might take longer than one hour, depending on the warmth of the kitchen). Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it’s rising. At the same time, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Once your dough is ready, take your fingers and gently make dimples on the face of the dough, and take the remaining oil and spread over these divots. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the outside is hard and takes on a golden brown color. This will be amazing with any dinner you decide to make, or even as sandwich bread. And the best part is that per batch, it will only cost you around $2.28 to make it! Now that’s worth battling some yeast!

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