If there's one good thing that's come from the global pandemic, it's a resurgence in the love of bread baking. I cannot count the number of posts I have seen from my friends trying their hand at sourdough for the first time over the past four months. From homemade pizza dough to bakery-worthy baguettes and boules to no-knead versions, it's been so fun to see everyone's carb creations.
Personally, I'm a focaccia fan because it's so easy to make and requires little proofing time. Focaccia requires you to stretch the dough to fit the sheet pan, but there's no elaborate shaping involved with this bread. It's basically foolproof! The kneading is done in a stand mixer with a dough hook (or this can be done by hand if you don't happen to have one). I experimented with this Pretzel Focaccia during lockdown, which was a huge success.
The flat white dough offers a blank canvas and based on what I've seen on Instagram in the past few months, bakers are using the dough as an opportunity to create edible gardens. I will admit that I can't draw at all (just ask my friends who have played the Jackbox game Drawful on Zoom with me during quarantine), but I'm pretty good at figuring out how to turn edible food into art. I won two of three gingerbread contests a few years ago so when I saw the Garden Focaccia trend blowing up the Internet, I knew I wanted to give it a try.
The designs I saw on Instagram blew me away. I knew this "snack as art project" was just my cup of tea. Here are just some breads that inspired me.
Teri Culleto, a home baker in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts is thought to have started the trend, but The New York Times reports her first garden focaccia post on Instagram happened well before COVID-19, back in February 2019. @vineyardbaker now even has tutorials on her website to guide other bakers in their projects (a fact that would have been good to know before I did mine but now gives me more reason to experiment!). Her comprehensive guide gives you everything you need to know, where my lessons learned came simply from experimentation.
Tips and tricks to a beautiful garden focaccia:
- Don't slice your veggies too thin or else they will burn.
- Chives are too thin. Use scallions sliced lengthwise in half or even thirds if you have large ones to use as stems.
- Cut cherry or grape tomatoes in half lengthwise and let drain on a paper towel to remove some of their moisture.
- Put fresh herbs on when the bread has just 10 minutes left to bake to prevent browning or burning.
- Spray all vegetables with olive oil before baking, again to prevent burning.
- Edible flowers certainly work, but isn't that cheating a bit?
No matter what your bread looks like in the end, know that it will be delicious to eat. Another thing I love about this project is that it's a different flavor experience depending on what part you eat!
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 8-10 servings as an appetizer
For the dough:
1 tablespoon active dry yeast or rapid rise yeast (see note on yeast below)
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (110–115º)
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/3 cup bread flour
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the garnishes:
Any combination of colorful, thinly sliced (but not too thin) vegetables such as:
- Cherry or grape tomatoes (halved lengthwise and drained on a paper towel)
- Scallions sliced thinly
- Asparagus (I chose the thinnest bunch I could find)
- Small red, yellow, orange peppers sliced into rings
- Olives (I had calamata in the fridge, but green or black would also work)
- Red or golden beets
- Red onion
- Fresh herbs such as basil, dill and rosemary
Crushed red pepper flakes (use on any white veggies such as the eggplant)
Caramelized onions (These work great for dirt. Learn how to caramelize them in this post.)
Extra virgin olive oil, both liquid and spray versions
Coarse sea salt to taste
1. Sprinkle the yeast on top of water in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir gently until dissolved. Allow to proof until creamy and aromatic to ensure yeast is alive, about 5 minutes.
2. Add oil, 1/2 of each flour and salt. Mix on medium low speed with a dough hook until incorporated, scraping down sides as necessary.
3. Add the remaining flour, and knead on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. The dough will be very sticky.
4. Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, about an hour. Dough can also be proofed in the refrigerator overnight.
5. Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil onto a sheet tray, and use your hands to spread the oil evenly. With your oiled hands, gently punch down the dough to deflate. Scrape the dough from the bowl onto the sheet tray, and use your fingertips to gently spread the dough to the edges of the pan.
6. Allow to proof for 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature.
7. Preheat the oven to 400º.
8. Dimple the dough with your fingertips. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and create your garden of garnishes, leaving out any delicate herbs such as basil leaves (a trick I learned after I baked mine).
9. Spray with olive oil and sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt.
10. Bake until light golden brown, about 30 minutes. When you have about 10 minutes left in the baking time, add the delicate herbs.
Note on yeast: I know that yeast has been on short supply in some areas of the country due to quarantine. I usually buy active dry yeast, but my grocery store was out, so I picked up some rapid rise yeast. You can use both of these yeasts interchangeably. Rapid rise can be mixed right into the dough, but I still dissolved it in water like I would with active dry and it worked just fine. You might need a little less proofing time (i.e. 10 minutes) if using rapid rise, but other than that, use it just as you would active dry yeast.
I had so much fun with my garden focaccia, I thought it would be fun to see what The Chopping Block's community comes up with so it is this week' s cooking challenge for our private Facebook group. Join and let's see what creative creations you come up with in your own kitchen!