My first attempt at bread was during a long and cold winter. A friend and I mixed the yeast with warm water, waited, went for a walk, came back and it was still flat. We plodded on to make a bread that was hard as rock. The kind you find on beaches. It scared me away from bread for almost 15 years.
With so many different types of breads available in Dubai (my favourite being the now discontinued date and walnut bread from Spinneys), I decided not to try baking bread till two years ago. Got a good crust with an uncooked centre. Binned.
This year, the unusually hot summer made me reconsider bread again. So I read through various recipes on the internet and fell for the pixs on http://thewannabecountrygirl.com/homemade-focaccia/
I wanted that kind of bread. Followed the recipe, did the two rises but went shopping and came back late at night. So I put it in the fridge and knocked it down the next day. Divided it into three batches. The first could have made a good place mat. I tried a second attempt with a flatter shape that ended up as a shapeless alternative to a table tennis racket. I twisted the third and slashed the top. It was fragrant but hardened into a jaw-breaking roll. By then I was slowly going off bread again. Déjà vu!
So I decided now to go with my mistakes to a forum where people post their mistakes and other kind souls give solutions. This one was the best – really wonderful people who had created a long string, which detailed their methods and solutions. http://forums.egullet.org/index.php/topic/95345-minimalist-no-knead-bread-technique/
I read through the entire thread and realised that my mistakes started from step two onwards. For one, over-kneading like I was a baker starring in the movies. Two, thinking that slightly squishy dough was a mistake and adding flour to make it smooth. Apparently, the higher the water content, the better the bread. Also, the bread had to cook in a closed baking dish. Whaaat? But I trusted all these unknown people.
Combined all the advice to create a fragrant to die-for-focaccia. Of course, I want to stand on the rooftop and share my secrets with all those would-be bakers who fear bread. Go for it. My discerning teenager who loves the Carino’s bread was hooked. So I guess you can now show off to your family and friends.. Cut down on the oil wherever you wish. But why?
4 cups all-purpose bread flour + half cup extra
1/8 tsp active yeast
2 tsps brown sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 cups lukewarm water
2 tsp rosemary
½ tsp caraway
½ tsp black sesame seeds
6 cloves small garlic
Put yeast in warm water, stir and add sugar. It should froth in 10 minutes. Many recipes call for 2 tsps yeast but it is a mistake. Ignore. Less is more here. The Dubai summer will do the rest of the rise. Mix the salt with the flour. If you have the food processor, dig out your dough hooks and put the flour in the bowl. Switch on and slowly pour the water with yeast. Around 5 minutes, stop and continue to knead to a slightly sticky mass (Not smooth). Add 2 tsp of the oil to dough. After, say, some 10 kneads, put some oil in the food processor bowl, roll the sticky dough and coat it with the oil. Cover with a wet tea cloth and leave in a warm place till dough is doubled (say four to five hours). Those without food processors can always knead by hand. Takes the same time anyways.
Take the baking dish (the old ceramic ones with glass lids are great). Pour a generous amount of olive oil on the base of the pan. Now knock down the dough for just one minute. Not more. This is called the minimalist approach, according to the forum. Place the dough on the baking dish and press down to cover the base. Use your fingers and punch holes into the dough. Cover again with wet tea cloth used earlier. Leave for one hour till it has risen again.
Pour some olive oil into the holes. Resist urge to knock it down. Sprinkle the dough with rosemary, caraway seeds, black sesame seeds, garlic and half tsp of sea salt. Now cover and bake in a 180C preheated oven. Yes. The forum says that the steam ensures that the bread is soft. After 25 minutes, remove lid and continue to bake at 160C till the top turns a nice golden brown. Pour a quarter cup water twice during this phase on the floor of the oven shelf. The steam makes the bread moist.
Serve with sliced cold orange bell peppers and sliced cold peppered potatoes. The mild sweetness of the bell peppers contrasts with the mildly salted focaccia bread and the minimalism of the cold potatoes.