Thursday, March 5, 2009

Focaccia (watch your mouth young lady)

Focaccia, like pizza, is a bread that has almost and unlimited number of topping possibilities. In it’s most basic form, the flat bread can be topped with just olive oil, salt and herbs. If you want to move away from the very traditional type, it’s easy to dress it up with any kind of vegetable or cheese, and you can even use fruit if you want to try a sweet (non-traditional) variation. I tend to think that meat and non-olive oil sauces move the bread a little too close to pizza, so I stay away from those.

This version of focaccia has a topping made with several different kinds of peppers - including red and yellow bell peppers, diced green chilies and a few jalapeños - that give it a bold flavor. There is also cheddar cheese inside the dough. The cheese doesn’t affect the open, slightly chewy crumb of the bread, but it does give it a good flavor and is an excellent match for the fresh peppers.

I made this dough with an overnight rise, leaving it in the refrigerator overnight and baking it the next day. The slow rise in the fridge helps the bread to develop a nice, airy crumb and it also means that you don’t have to do too much work in one day to turn out the finished product. That said, you can certainly let it rise on the counter top until doubled in size if you want to bake it the same day. The bread requires no kneading and can be made entirely in a stand mixer, although you will have to press it down into the baking pan with your fingers once it has risen.

This bread makes a great side dish and is an great way to soak up both soups (like chili!) and sauces. It is especially good when warm, with a crispy bottom. If you’re not eating it fresh, or have leftovers, reheat the focaccia by placing it directly on the oven rack for about 5 minutes at 350F. It also makes excellent sandwiches, both un-toasted and toasted (panini-style). I used sweet bell peppers and spicier chilies in combination on my bread, but you can use any peppers that you like - all jalapeños if you like it very spicy, or all bell peppers if you prefer to keep things on the sweeter side.

Peppers and Cheese Focaccia
1/4 cup finely diced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water, warm (100-110F)
4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup bell peppers, chili peppers and/or jalapenos, thinly sliced
olive oil and sea salt, for topping

In a small frying pan (nonstick or with a bit of olive oil added), saute onions and garlic until tender, about 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment(or a large bowl, if you prefer to mix by hand), combine active dry yeast, water, 2 cups of the all purpose flour. Stir well, then beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Blend in salt, egg and onion/garlic mixture. Add 1 additional cup of flour and beat at medium speed for 1 minute. Stir in the cheddar cheese and remaining flour, and mix until the batter forms a thick sticky dough (it will be more wet than many bread doughs). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Set the dough in the refrigerator to rise overnight (12 hours) or simply let it sit on the counter to double in size at room temperature (about 2 hours). Both options will work, so choose what fits into your schedule.
Turn dough out into a lightly greased 10×15-inch jellyroll pan. Using your fingertips, press the dough out to spread it into the corners of the pan. If your dough was refrigerated, let it warm up for 15 minutes so that it is easier to work with.
Preheat oven to 350F and let dough rise, covered with a clean dishtowel, for 30 minutes.
Brush dough lightly with olive oil, top with sliced peppers and sea salt.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, until bread is lightly browned.
Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.