This is spring, the best time of the year for a gardener, even a casual one. Everything springs to life with the vibrancy and urgency not seen in other seasons. When Cathy at Bread Experience, this month’s hostess at #Breadbakingbabes, picked this spring focaccia recipe as the baking project for May, I felt the urgent call to make it. A bread symbolic of new growth, awakening the senses and the return of green.
Everything has lined up for me as the easy living of spring reckons. I have every single ingredient on hand ready to go: 00 flour, sprouted spelt, spring herbs, za’atar and preserved lemon. I haven’t made focaccia for a while and the previous one I made left me wanting to go back to the drawing board. I also like the idea of making a thin crust focaccia and finishing up the 00 flour that has been forgotten for the longest time. What better flour to use than the sprouting spelt to celebrate the rite of spring?
It’s time to revive the sourdough starter ready to make a focaccia topped with spring herbs from the garden. It’s like inviting a whole new guest list of garnish ingredients: chervil, dill, mint (in the second focaccia only) and parsley. Feel free to use any seasonal vegetables or herbs, whatever the spirit of spring takes you. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, a yeast version of this focaccia can be found at Cathy’s Bread Experience.
I made some minor changes to the original Sarah Owens’ recipe in The Local Palate. (Owens recently published Sourdough which just won a James Beard Award.) See the cheat sheet below for details on the recipe. I made two-thirds of the recipe amount. Or precisely 67% of the total flour weight. Never ceases to amaze me on the beauty and convenience of the cheat sheet — that I can scale the recipe according to my current needs.
One the first day, I baked half of the dough. Left the other half in the fridge overnight. I had the dough sit out for 2-3 hours at room temperature, instead of letting it rest in the fridge, as called for in the recipe. The dough was not a high riser; it puffed up nicely. Then I shaped and stretched the dough into a rough oval. Sprinkled some olive oil, a few slices of preserved lemon and generous amounts of za’atar and capers on top. I turned the oven temperature to 475°F, with the pizza stone in place in the oven, and lowered the temperature back to the recommended 450°F when I loaded the focaccia. Removed it from the oven approximately 20 minutes later, when the crust turned golden brown.
|Garnishes: chervil, dill, parsley, lemon zest and flaky salt|
What I love most about this focaccia is the crumb structure, especially the first one I baked on day 1. The dough seemed to have languished with the cold ferment with the second one I made on day 2. A few hours of cold fermentation usually helps in dough development when it comes to Tartine-sytle country loaves, but this focaccia dough seems to behave differently. I am scratching my head in search of an explanation!
Could it be that I squeezed out some of the air bubbles in the dough as I folded it with plastic wrap for an overnight rest in the fridge? The dough did not spring up quite as much as the first one, like air had dissipated from the balloon. See the day 1 vs. day 2 comparisons below. Or did it have something to do with shaping or overproofing? I was surprised by the big difference in the results of the two bakes, the same dough and baked less 18 hours apart. Please feel free to weigh in on this. What could be done better if you want to make the dough ahead and store in the fridge until you’re ready to bake? Is adding dry yeast the appropriate solution? I posted these questions to other artisan bread enthusiasts at the Fresh Loaf to help me out.
All along, the dough was quite wet at close to 80% hydration. I added a few spoonfuls of water at the same time when salt was added. I also kept my hands wet while I gave the dough series of stretch-and-fold turns during bulk fermentation. I must have done that at least four times because of the slack dough. The end result was the profusion of irregular and open holes in the finished focaccia.
The top and bottom crust were thin and crispy. The lemon taste was tangy and salty, with a deeper and more complex flavor than that of a fresh lemon. The spring herbs adorned the pie like a natural green patch emerging from the earth below.
Spring is here and is stamping its mark on the focaccia!
|Better crumb structure for the first bake|
|The second bake has a much flatter and denser profile|