Why wait until the cooler months when you can enjoy freshly baked, seasonal bread to accompany your summer soirées? You should bake bread this summer!
The perfect bread to capture the essence of summer is the Italian yeast-risen bread known as focaccia. This bread is an excellent blank canvas because you get to decide how to flavor the dough, and what seasonal ingredients end up on top. It's also a very easy dough to make… great for beginners and experts alike!
Activate the Yeast
Whenever I make bread the first step it to make sure the yeast is alive and well. I like to use active dry yeast, because it's easy to measure, activates quickly and keeps in the refrigerator for about one year. To make sure your yeast is active, place it in the bowl of a stand mixer with a pinch of sugar. Pour in warm water between 110º to 120º and stir. In about five minutes time the mixture should start to look frothy. When you see this happen, you know you're good to go. The temperature of the water really does make a difference. If it's too cold, the yeast will be sluggish. If it's too hot, the yeast will die and your bread will not rise. It's best to invest in an instant-read thermometer. They are inexpensive and take all the guesswork out of the process.
Add the Olive Oil, Flours and Herbs
The next step is to add good quality extra virgin olive oil, your flours, salt and any fresh herbs you like. When I made this recipe I picked some fresh rosemary from our garden, finely chopped it, and added it to the bowl, but you can use almost any herb you like! This is a great way to bake with the seasons by using what's at hand, or what's growing on your windowsill. The only herb I would avoid is basil. Due to its delicate nature it will turn brown as it bakes. If you want to use basil, save it for the top of the dough when it comes out of the oven.
Kneading the Dough
Once your ingredients are in the bowl, use the dough hook on low speed to knead the dough until it looks smooth and elastic. This takes approximately 5 to 6 minutes. If the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl, keep adding a little flour at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Once you have the right consistency, turn the dough out onto your work surface and knead a few times by hand to smooth it out. It should feel like a baby's bottom! Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and allow to rise until doubled in size. This should happen pretty quickly during the summer months. You can also let the dough rise in the fridge overnight. Just let it come up to room temperature before working with it.
Proofing, Topping and Baking
Once the dough has risen, brush a sheet tray with olive oil and press the dough to the edges of the pan. Using your fingertips, dimple the dough to give it that traditional look. Brush the top with more olive oil (the dimples will help trap some of that yummy oil) and top the focaccia with anything you like!
I topped mine with dollops of pesto and pitted, sliced green olives because that's what I had at home, but you can top yours with your favorite, seasonal ingredients. Keep in mind that you want to keep the toppings simple. The bread is the main event, and the toppings should play the role of supporting actor. If you're going to use fresh herbs or greens as a topping be sure to add them after the bread has come out of the oven, otherwise they will burn.
Here are some topping ideas:
- Artichokes, Roasted Garlic and Goat Cheese
- Caramelized Onions with Blue Cheese and Arugula
- Pancetta and Rosemary
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Parmesan and Basil
- Grapes and Gorgonzola
Cover the dimpled and garnished dough with plastic wrap, and allow to proof for 20 to 30 minutes, or until puffy. Bake the bread until a light golden brown. Allow to cool, cut into squares and enjoy!
This bread is fabulous right out of the oven (especially the crispy corners), but if you have leftovers place then in a sealable bag and into the freezer. I like to take the frozen pieces and make then into croutons! Allow the bread to defrost and cut them into cubes. Place on a sheet tray, and bake at 350º for about 10 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. You can also cut the frozen and defrosted bread in half and place the pieces in a toaster to crisp. It makes amazing sandwich bread!
This summer we are featuring a new class called Everyday Breads that focuses on how to bake bread with the seasons. You'll not only learn how to make a version of focaccia, but perfect picnic baguettes and savory biscuits. We're also featuring focaccia in one of my favorite classes this summer called The Italian Garden. So, come bake with us this season and learn some new recipes to make your summer a scrumptious one!
Here is The Chopping Block's Focaccia dough recipe, as well as a recipe for our Caramelized Leek and Gorgonzola Focaccia to get you started on your bread baking journey. Enjoy!
Yield: One half sheet tray
Active time: 15 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
Pinch of granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups water, 110º to 120º
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 2/3 cups bread flour
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- Measure together the yeast and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour the warm water into the bowl, and stir gently until dissolved.
- Allow to proof until slightly foamy and aromatic to ensure the yeast is alive, about 5 minutes.
- Add the oil, half of each flour and salt. Mix on medium-low speed with a dough hook until incorporated, scraping down the sides as necessary.
- Add most of the remaining flour, and knead on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 6 minutes. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in flour as needed. It’s better to have a dough that’s a bit too wet than dry.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, knead a few turns by hand, and then shape into a ball.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap on top of the bowl, not touching the dough.
- Allow the dough to rise at room temperature until doubled, 60 to 75 minutes, or in the refrigerator overnight.
Caramelized Leek and Gorgonzola Focaccia
Yield: Half sheet tray; 8-10 servings as an appetizer or side
Active time: 25 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling the pan
1 tablespoon butter
3 leeks, white and pale green parts halved, thinly sliced and washed well
1/4 cup sherry wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe Focaccia Dough (see above)
1 cup gorgonzola, crumbled
1 cup arugula, chiffonade
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- To caramelize the leeks, heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and butter. Cook the leeks, stirring occasionally, until they are a light golden brown and wilted. Once the leeks are caramelized, add the sherry wine and reduce until the pan is dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Rub a sheet tray, including the sides, generously with olive oil. Punch the dough down gently to deflate. Shape onto the sheet tray using fingertips until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick. Using your fingers, dimple the dough.
- Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and spread with the caramelized leeks.
- Allow to rise, covered with plastic wrap, for 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Bake until light golden brown, about 25 minutes.
- Sprinkle the cheese on the focaccia and return to the oven. Bake an additional 5 minutes to soften the cheese.
- Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the arugula.
- Cut into squares and serve warm.