Whenever I crave a departure from the baking of cakes and cookies, I turn to bread. I think the idea of baking bread doesn’t get enough credit – some people think it takes too long, or that it’s too complicated. Well, I disagree with both of these reasons for NOT baking bread. In defense of bread, I will say this: yes, breads require time and patience, however, while bread dough rises and rests, you have time to: study, do homework, do laundry, clean, bake something else all in the meantime. I say this from experience, so don’t discount it! Besides the results are out of this world and so gratifying. Nothing competes with homemade bread!
As for bread being complicated? Well, as far as the ingredient list is concerned, the simplest of bread doughs rarely have more than 4 or 5 ingredients. Some of the best recipes I’ve used to make bread provide detailed instructions and pictures to help first time bread bakers. I realize that it may seem daunting – I know it was for me, but it shouldn’t discourage you. I am here to encourage you to try something you’ve never tried before!
The recipe I used is for a fabulous focaccia bread! The dough can be made and baked just as it is, or with many other variations. I baked a wonderful onion focaccia and it turned out wonderfully soft and springy. The recipe is from Nick Malgieri’s bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking.
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 3/4 cup warm tap water
1/4 cup olive oil
Combine flour and salt in bowl and set aside.
In larger bowl, stir yeast into water and make sure it’s dissolved. Let sit 5 minutes. Stir in olive oil.
Stir in half of flour mixtre and stir until smooth. Add remaining flour and stir until all flour is combined. It’s okay if the dough seems a little sticky – just make sure all the flour is combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for approximately 1 hour (I always give the dough a little bit of extra time to compensate for temperature) – the dough should be doubled in size. While the dough rests, prepare a large cookie sheet, or jellyroll pan with a little bit of olive oil.
Turn dough out onto flour-dusted counter. Give the dough a few quick turns and turn onto the prepared pan. Carefully stretch the dough to the corners. Here is where a little bit of patience might come in handy. If the dough does not stay, that’s okay, let it rest and try again 10 minutes later. Keep your head on straight and don’t manhandle the dough – you’ll be able to tell in the finished product, trust me! No one wants to eat a tough loaf of bread!
Once the dough is happily in the pan, let rise until puffy – about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F. After these 30 minutes, use your fingers to indent the dough. If you choose to make a fabulous un-topped focaccia, simply brush the top with some olive oil, season with some salt and pepper or top with some grated cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes.
The variation I chose was to top the focaccia with beautiful caramelized onions.
Because onions take time to reach the stage where they are a beautiful golden colour, start this process before the dough.
You will need:
2-3 onions, peeled, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
Place a heavy pan on medium heat. Your pan can be non-stick or stainless steel and you’ll need something to cover the pan with. Pour the oil in and add onions. Once you hear the oil and onions start to sizzle, give it a good stir and cover the pan. Reduce heat to low. Let the onions chill in the pan, giving them an occasional stir. The onions will turn translucent and become nice and soft. This will take about 30 minutes.
NOTE: Once the onions are in the pan would be a great time to start the dough!
Remove the cover and add a little bit of salt to the onions. Increase heat a tiny bit, and the onions will get that beautiful colour. Cook until the moisture in the pan is gone – about 10-15 minutes. You’ll see the onions gradually turn goldeny brown! Cool the onions by placing in the fridge or freezer for about 15 minutes.
If you live where I do (ahem, Winterpeg – Winnipeg for those not in the know), the weather is sufficiently cold enough outside to just shove it outside for however long you need to. (This method works for icing and cakes or anything that needs to be cooled before use and will be accomplished in half the time as the fridge haha!)
Depending on when you started your dough, you might have a little bit of downtime while waiting – either for onions or dough. That’s okay though! Read a book!
No steps change when doing a variation. Instead of your un-topped bread, just add the onions instead of salt and pepper and throw it in the oven (still 450F) and bake (still about 30 minutes)! Keep an eye on the onions – the edges might get a little crispy. To prevent the onions from turning completely black, place another baking sheet on the bottom of the oven to insulate the oven. Halfway through the baking, lift the corner to ensure the bottom is colouring.
Thanks for reading!