Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Whole wheat (75%) focaccia - every bite is an explosion of fragrant herbs

Winter is at its peak, most of midwest and north eastern USA has been in the grips of frigid temperatures and icy cold conditions for most of this month. It seems like the weather has turned into one unending white blizzard, I really hope it lets out a little bit and bring in some warm weather for all. We in Pacific Northwest have been really lucky with the weather, while it is not warm, it is not too cold either, nothing you cant manage. I actually took a long 2 hour walk this Sunday as the sun was shining happily in the afternoon, though the temperature was about 45F, I warmed up pretty easily with a brisk walk and a long coat on :-). But what makes me really warm all over is the sight of the 4-5 jasmine flowers, 1-2 hibiscus flowers and a pop of colorful chrysanthemum that light up the inside of our home even in these cold months. The plants in the pots have taken really well to the tube lights hanging on top of the table though it doesn't have any aesthetic appeal. Fresh green leaves are sprouting every few days and blooms show up quite often making the plants fuller and larger. Cold weather is made totally bearable when I look at the tenacity of these small plants..
While the glowing sun and bright flowers fill the heart, I also crave for something warm and comfy in my plate especially for dinners. What is better than the aroma of fresh bread baking in your oven? It is the aroma of herb infused focaccia baking in the oven :-). If you are a regular reader on my blog, you have seen me grow from a very shaky, totally unsure baker to a somewhat confident and ready to experiment baker in the last 2+ years. While I have loved baked goods and baking all my life (or atleast as long as I can remember), I donned my baker's apron recently, mainly after I started blogging. With the enticement of delicious baked goods all around me in the blogosphere and my unending enthusiasm to reproduce those delicacies in my own kitchen, I have no dearth for new recipes to try out. But what makes this recipe here special is that I did some trial and error and hit on a perfect proportion of flour and yeast and everything else needed to make a moist and very aromatic focaccia. While this recipe is not created out of thin air as I had a lot of help from multiple sources on the internet, the details below are definitely something that came out of my kitchen.

Normally I don't post recipes that are very similar, I would rather put them all together and note the variations underneath :-), works perfectly for that lazy brain of mine. I already have a focaccia recipe on this blog so why did I write a new post? Well, for one this recipe here has lot more wheat flour and is definitely healthier than the other one and secondly, I used a home made herb infused olive oil to make this super moist and super fragrant bread. And then there is the definite advantage of a more evolved baker and her tips :-). We had a cousin and family over for dinner last evening and although they know I am crazy about cooking, didn't believe that the deliciously moist focaccia was home made :-). This is pillowy goodness at its best. When fresh out of oven, the bread has a crisp, crunchy outer layer and soft, bouncy inside and as it cools down, the bread becomes soft all over. Perfect to slice open and make a sandwich or lip smacking to just dip in oil and enjoy.
I started with a 60%-40% whole wheat and bread flour the first time and advanced to 75% whole wheat flour the last time I made it. I am confident that a 100% whole wheat focaccia is in the pipeline with this recipe, I just need adjust the liquids a little bit. My family simply loves this and if the request for increased number slices in the snack box is any indicator, the bread has found some fans in DD's school and looks like there is quite a bit of demand on that front.

Another reason why I am on a baking spree now a days is that I have got a new kneading assistant. This new assistant of mine gets to work without any complaints or sour face (unlike BH who would find very believable excuses to be busy until the baking aroma wafted through the air and out of the kitchen). It is bright red in color and sits beautifully in the corner on my counter top and the best part is I don't end up with any sticky surfaces or multiple bowls to clean afterwards. Yep, I am talking about my new stand mixer, I got it for a bargain at Costco during the Holiday season and I am in love with this gadget - one of the sensible purchases I have made in the recent past. I have been devising excuses to put it to work every so often on the pretext of baking :-)
What do you need to make herby focaccia?
3 cups whole wheat flour (I used Bob's Red mill flour)
1 cup bread flour
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup (+1 Tblsp if needed) warm milk
1 Tblsp active dry yeast
1 Tblsp sugar
1.5 Tblsp salt
1/2 cup herb infused olive oil - divided use
Toppings (this is what I normally use, look in Notes below for other ideas): 
Grated cheese
caramelized onion
thinly chopped garlic
Sliced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
pickled jalapeno
herbs (rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme etc)
couple pinches of coarse salt

How do you make herby focaccia? 
  • Add 1/2 Tblsp sugar to the yeast and mix in warm water. 
  • Keep aside for 4-5 minutes for it to ferment and prove that it is alive. 
  • Measure dry flours in a wide bowl, add remaining sugar and salt followed by the fermented yeast. Mix it together.
  • Add the remaining water, herb infused olive oil(reserve 1.5-2 Tblsp for later use), and mix well. At this point the dough is just wet. 
  • Start adding the warm milk to make a soft dough. I used 3/4 cup of milk, it depends on the flour quality. 
  • Once the flour comes together into a single mass, take it on to a flat surface and knead it for 8-10 minutes until it is soft & pliant. I used my latest addition to the kitchen, a red colored stand mixer to do the heavy lifting and it did a beautiful job :-). 
  • Take the dough into a bowl and cover it with an oiled cling wrap and let it rest for an hour to 90 minutes until it doubles in size. 
  • Punch down the dough, stretch it on an oiled cookie sheet and poke dimples all over. 
  • Sprinkle the reserved olive oil, and top it with chopped herbs.
  • Cover and let it rise for another 30-45 minutes.
  • Add caramelized onion and grated cheese on top. 
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes at a 400F pre heated oven until the top is golden brown and a tooth pick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. 
  • Take out from the oven, slide the baked focaccia onto a cutting board, let it cool for a couple of minutes, cut them into wedges, squares or rectangles and serve it with some more herb infused olive oil on the side as a dip.  
How do you make herb infused olive oil? 
  • Take 1 cup of olive oil in a sauce pan, add 2-3 cloves of garlic (peeled and slightly crushed), 1/2 Tsp dried oregano, 1/2 Tsp Thyme, 1/4 Tsp black pepper crushed and a pinch of salt. I used all dry herbs this times given the unavailability of fresh ones. You can replace fresh herbs in season and also use a single kind of herb (basil or rosemary) to 'aromatize' your olive oil. 
  • Let it come to a gentle boil on low heat. Switch off and let it cool completely. 
  • Strain the oil using a sieve and use it in focaccia or as a dip for any freshly baked bread. 
  • This oil keeps well at room temperature, stored in dry & airtight containers. Keep them in unlit corners of your kitchen. 
  • You can store them in the refrigerator but will crystallize because of the temperatures, you can microwave or heat on stove top lightly before using. 
  • If you are making this for a kids party and want to make it cheesy, add grated cheese to the dough to the last few kneads and knead it well into the dough. 
  • You can skip milk totally and use only water, I like the softness and the hint of sweetness milk gives especially when you use whole wheat flour.
  • I made focaccia with caramelized onion last evening, but any topping of choice can be used, some suggestions are pickled jalapeno, sliced tomatoes, grated cheese. 
  • If you love an intense garlic flavor in your focaccia, peel and slice a couple of cloves of garlic thinly and push them into the dimples when you sprinkle oil before the second rise. 
  • Rosemary is a very popular choice of herb in focaccia world, if you dont get it easily or do not like the aroma, use any other herb you prefer. I have used dried fenugreek or kasoori methi and mint which works beautifully too. 


Kaveri Venkatesh said...

Love foccacia..love the fact that u used a lot if wheat flour. .it looks perfect

Nandita SS said...

Focaccia is something that I have wanted to bake for a long time now. Yours looks so very tempting. I am bookmarking the recipe :)

NamsVeni Pothas said...

very yummy bread with lots of tasty ingredients. looks very tasty. i must taste it . i love wheat bread.