If you've joined our private Facebook group, you might be cooking even more than your standard three meals a day. After all, what good is a quarantine unless we are challenging ourselves in the kitchen? This week's challenge answers the craving everyone seems to be having right now: baking bread. I got in the spirit by trying out a new focaccia recipe I had seen online at Bon Appetit.
This recipe was featured in their 92 cooking projects to keep you busy and well fed, so I thought it would be appropriate for a challenge. I can never turn down a pretzel bun so I was intrigued to get that same flavor in the moist but airy crumb of a focaccia. It's actually not that hard to make although you do need to plan ahead as the dough needs to rise overnight in the fridge.
The recipe calls for pretzel salt which I couldn't find so I adapted it to TCB's Big Flake Salt, though any large flaky sea salt will work just fine. I also adapted the method to use my stand mixer because I have one (and am trying to make use of all of my kitchen equipment) but if you don't, you can easily use a bowl, wooden spoon and arm muscle.
So how do you achieve that pretzel flavor? By brushing the dough with a baking soda and water mixture (be sure to let the kids watch this fizzy combination when you make at home - see video below), the exterior is alkalized which produces a deeply browned crust with the slightly bitter twang of a pretzel.
1. Add flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with dough hook until well combined. With the mixer on, gradually add 3 1/2 cups warm water (make sure it's 110 degrees) a little at a time until a thick batter forms and all lumps are gone. Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 12 hours and up to 2 days.
2. Grease an 18x13" sheet pan generously with 1 Tablespoon cold butter, making sure every corner and side is covered. Drizzle oil onto pan and spread with your hands until every surface is covered.
3. Using a rubber spatula, turn dough out onto sheet pan. Using your hands, gently spread dough in an even layer to edges of pan.
4. Place baking soda in a small bowl and slowly pour 1/2 cup boiling water over, stirring to combine with a pastry brush. Heads up: It’ll get foamy!
5. Generously brush entire surface of dough with baking soda solution; set aside remaining baking soda solution.
6. Let dough rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, bubbly, and loose-feeling, which can take anywhere between 30 minutes to over 1 hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the season. It took two hours in my kitchen on Easter Sunday.
7. Place a rack in center of oven; preheat to 475°. Gently brush dough with reserved baking soda solution (you will not use it all). Bake 10 minutes. Rotate pan from front to back and brush focaccia with 3 Tablespoons melted butter; sprinkle generously with TCB large flake salt. Continue to bake until top is deeply browned (like a pretzel!) and underside looks browned and crispy when pried up with a spatula, about 10 minutes longer.
8. Let cool completely.
To get in on future #tcbcookingclub challenges, join our private Facebook group. We're also serving up meal planning advice and having conversations about cooking with other home cooks.