I have a fear of yeast and a love of snow.
As of today, that statement is now only half true. The thought of working with yeast dough is still enough to make my heart fall like the last batch of bagels I attempted, which were flat and stuck to the pan. But thanks to this focaccia recipe, I'm confident that I won't be worried about yeast for long.
During the last snowstorm we had (New England has been pummeled with so many this year that I've lost count), I was trapped in my house by myself for two days. Normally, I love snow. In fact, when I lived in Philly and got nothing more than a dusting, I prayed for blizzards. When I moved back up to Connecticut this fall, God seemed to answer all my prayers at once. By February, the snow in my front yard was up to my waist. I was sick of the weekly assault of wintry white. I was ready for sunshine, for warmth, for spring.
Luckily for me, my kitchen held small signs of life after winter. In January, I had purchased two tiny plants, one rosemary and one thyme; each one was like a green beacon of hope, an herbaceous harbinger of spring.
As I sat in my cold kitchen compiling a list of things to bake my way through the never-ending snowstorm outside, my eyes caught sight of the green little leaves of my thyme plant. They reminded me of tiny new shoots of grass, the muddy smell of rain-drenched earth and new leaves on trees, unfurling into being and leaving behind a wake of flower petals below.
The happiness brought about by this idyllic vision of spring was pretty powerful. Drunk on vernal thoughts, I attempted the impossible: I was going to bake bread.
Luckily for me (and you) this bread is pretty user-friendly. It requires minimal shaping--no fancy loaves or rolls. It's also a pretty forgiving dough. I adapted the recipe from one I received during a class on bread baking at the Kitchen at Billings Forge and was shocked at how easy it came together. I've made it several times since and it's been a winner with everyone who's tried it. If you're hankering for warmer weather, the herbaceous notes of thyme and rosemary will not disappoint. And, with a little pop of salt and citrus on top, it might have you thinking of summer too!
(If you're in CT, I'd strongly recommend checking out the schedule of classes at Billings Forge. The classes are wonderful and on a wide array of topics. Plus, they support a great cause in the local community! "The Kitchen brings together employment, education, access to healthy eating options, and a connection to the environment using hands-on training, community interactions, and a shared love for food.")
Rosemary Thyme Focaccia with Blood Orange Finishing Salt
Bake time: 20 minutes + 1 hour for the blood orange salt
Prep time: 1 hour, 40 minutes + 5 minutes for the blood orange salt
Total time: 3 hours 5 minutes
For the dough:
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (no warmer than 110F!)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 4-5 sprigs chopped fresh rosemary (makes approximately 2 tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 teaspoons orange salt (see recipe below)
For the orange salt (from 101 Cookbooks):
Prep time: 5 minutes - Bake time: 1 hour
- 1/2 cup flaky sea salt
- 1 tablespoon blood orange zest
- Combine the zest with the sea salt and bake for an hour at 225F or until the zest has
completely dried out. Allow to cool before using.
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water. Stir gently to combine and allow to proof for 5 minutes, or until brown and foamy (this process happens more slowly in a chilly kitchen or in the wintertime!)
- Once the yeast has proofed, add the flour to the bowl and stir a few times with a wooden spoon (or your hand if you don't mind getting messy). Add the kosher salt and the olive oil. Continue to blend the mixture together until a dough forms. If the dough is too wet, add a touch more flour. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, approximately 10 minutes.
- Scrape out the bowl with a dough scraper and oil it with some olive oil. Add the dough ball back to the bowl and turn it once or twice to coat the dough with olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and place in a warm area and allow to rise until doubled in size (again, this can take anywhere between a 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how warm your kitchen is!)
- Once the dough has doubled in size, pre-heat the oven to 400F. Brush a half sheet pan with olive oil. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (save the plastic wrap! You'll need it again in a minute). Stretch it into an oval shape or rectangle that is approximately 1/2" thick. Cover with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot and let it hang out for 15 minutes.
- Press your fingertips into the surface of the dough, creating "dimples" in the dough. Brush liberally with olive oil. Dust with thyme and chopped rosemary and sprinkle lightly with the blood orange salt.
- Bake on the bottom rack for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and lovely.