Focaccia – Part 2

(The much-anticipated sequel!)

Well, I meant to go home, bake my bread and be delighted, in that order. Things didn’t fall into place that way, because they never do. I ended up leaving the dough longer than anticipated (again) because EC talked me into going swimming. I can’t resist swimming, but I was afraid leaving the dough in the fridge any longer would ruin it, so I put it in the oven and left it. We ended up stopping on the way to our friend’s pool and talking to an older couple for two hours, so we swam later than expected. And then it started storming 15 minutes after we got in, so we had to get right back out. But that meant I got to get back to my bread.

I let the oven heat while the dough sat on the burners, preparing itself for its transformation. I dimpled it one more time – it had risen again, thankfully, while in the oven during my absence. Then it went in the oven and began undergoing its chemical transform. In the meantime, I was thinking that all that work for 20-25 minutes of baking was… ridiculous. Somehow, it didn’t seem fair to do all that work just for a few scant minutes of cook-time. Then I got over myself, because I had to and there was no sense in complaining to myself or the dog. I rotated it at mid-baking, as instructed.

The focaccia came out of the oven looking lovely. I was delighted by the smell of rosemary and thyme and bread. I haven’t smelled real homemade bread since that magical far-away time in my early childhood, and it was almost a welcome-home. Crusty, lightly golden, liberally sprinkled with rosemary and thyme and little oregano – I wanted to bite down on a piece as soon as I took it out of the oven, but I refrained. (Aren’t you proud?) It was tough, let me tell you. The smell of the rosemary backed by yeast and the warmth from the oven… I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to have a bite. I cut a chunk off the corner and popped it in my mouth.

It was magic, pure and simple. I’m not kidding.

The crust had softened a little – flaked, really. It was rich with oil, redolent with the scent of warm extra virgin (one of my favorite kitchen smells, btw). All that rising had created perfect little air bubbles that had formed into corridors within the bread. It melted on my tongue. Silky olive oil, fragrant herbs, a crispy, flaky textured mouthfeel… I’ve died and gone to heaven. Even better, I made bread from scratch! And it was good! I’m floating on my bread-making-induced cloud. I want to make more and more and more; I have a buttermilk white loaf recipe calling my name from the depths of the recipe box…

I learned a few things, too, that I’d like to pass on. You bread veterans out there, please don’t laugh (too hard).

  • Dimple before the oil.
  • Try to make this when you have time – really.
  • Don’t be afraid of making plenty of herb oil – even if you don’t use it all on the bread, there’s plenty else you can use it for.
  • Topping possibilities for next time: roasted garlic, caramelized onions, fried potatoes, grated or shaved Parmesan…
  • Bread is not hard, just particular.
  • It’s actually kind of fun!
  • Shoulders, and biceps, are necessary if you are a hardheaded person making bread (i.e. by hand).
  • Wooden spoons are awesome.
  • A little hard work can reap some great rewards (cheesy, isn’t it?)

Now that I’ve made focaccia, I’ve got my eye on other recipes. Buttermilk loaf bread. Three day ventures into homemade croissants. Gruyere-stuffed yeast rolls. Yogurt rolls, mayonnaise rolls, dinner rolls, hamburger buns. I feel like a border has been crossed; a line erased. I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere with what I want, which is back to where we were when I was a kid. Fresh pasta, homemade bread, vegetables from my own garden, canned or frozen in my own kitchen. I can smell it coming on the horizon.

It smells like rising bread. I like it.