Homemade pizza; or, another exercise in trust.

Ever since I picked up Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food at my puny local library, I’ve been inspired. Grow my own. Prepare simply, eat simply. The nine principles in the beginning of the book are simple in themselves, and easier than expected to follow in most cases, especially when you’re like me and love to make things yourself. The pages in the first half are descriptive and loving – roasted chicken with crispy skin, pan-seared fish, handmade pasta and pizza. Handmade. I love that word.

The handmade pasta I’m looking forward to at another time – I have an unearthly desire to make black pepper pappardelle, or spinach ravioli with ricotta – but the pizza dough was last night. And this is where the lesson in trust comes in.

Pizza Dough - Stretching

I am not, in my opinion, a seasoned baker by any means. Adventurous, a little impetuous, yes. Not seasoned at all. I do enjoy baking, which still occasionally surprises me because I used to hate baking. Too much work, too much fiddly preciseness. But now I love it, almost as much as I love cooking and grilling. They all have their own draws, different but nonetheless appealing. Yeast, especially, used to scare me. A lot. But then I manned up one day and made bread, and it hasn’t really had the same scary tack to it since.

Mostly.

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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.

Focaccia – Part 1

So I got the recipe from Vegan YumYum – Poolish Focaccia. I’d been on a ‘bread kick’ when I printed it out, meaning in my own little way that I had found ALL these WONDERFUL bread recipes but had no real intention of actually making anything within a few weeks of copying the recipes from paper to 3×5 cards.

Last night, however, I made focaccia. Sort of. I say sort of, because there’s a part 1. If there’s a part 1, there’s probably a part 2 (there is). If there’s a part 2, then something isn’t quite finished (it’s not). Though I do not have any photos of the making-in-general, I do have a few things to relate.

I made the poolish Tuesday night in a former chocolate chip cookie dough container (my roommate made off with most of the kitchen apparatuses, including the mixing bowls), in which it promptly exploded and overflowed from
onto my counter by Wednesday morning. I was delighted with the smell of yeast working under cover, but since I was due at work in less time than I had to make the bread to its final debut, I put it in another bowl as best I could find and headed off to work.

When I came home yesterday afternoon, it had bubbled up prettily. Encouraged, I followed the recipe and added flour, water, yeast and salt to the poolish and began to mix it with my heavy, beloved wooden spoon. As Lolo mentions in her entry, it takes a while to mix by hand, so I thought I was prepared. I’d forgotten, however, that I hadn’t made bread since I was a child, and by “child” I’m talking three or four years old. Mom and Dad were still married, we still lived in the big house and Mom and I made “pasketti” from scratch at least once a week.

I never remembered bread dough being so hard to mix! It was, though, and my arms hurt like hell. Maybe in the future I’ll be using a heavier bowl or a smaller bowl or something like that, but I doubt it will help any. I think I’ll just make bread like I did this time, so I’ll have something to bitch about after it’s baked and lovely. I called my mom to talk about it while I was mixing, because I needed something to distract me from the ouchiness of my hands and fingers from holding tight onto the spoon handle. When I hung with Mom, I beat it some more. I ended up mixing it for longer than ten minutes, but I’m a bread novice and it just didn’t feel right. When it did (and I was tired of whirling that damn spoon around), I floured my counter and a flexible cutting board and slapped that hunk of sticky dough down on the counter.

I felt better about it then, on the counter and liberally dusted with bread flour. You see, through this whole thing I was desperately afraid that I would screw it up, that it would be too soft or too mushy or it wouldn’t bake through. (I baked some ‘fudgey brownies‘ while I was waiting on the bread to rise that I did screw up royally, so I was a little paranoid.) I patted it out, let it rise and folded it the first time. Let me share: if you make this bread, or anything unwieldy that you might have to move or fold or whatever, use a flexible cutting board. Man, that thing covered my bases. I didn’t have to worry about anything slipping or being too heavy – all I had to do was fold the board and the dough went with it.

By the time I went to bed last night, I had the bread pressed down twice and oiled well. I had to put it in the refrigerator this morning, but I’m hoping that didn’t hurt it any. I’m going home now to bake it, and I’ve got my camera in my bag (I’ve checked several times now). I’ll take a few pictures and let you know how it turns out in the morning. I’m hoping that being lazy and anxious about making this bread didn’t hurt my first try. It’s been hella fun to do, though, even if it doesn’t turn out.

I guess everyone’s got to make things their own way every once in a while, right?