my favorite kitchen witch flew in for fireworks last weekend. We didn’t plan it: on Tuesday we happened to talk; it became possible; then it happened. Joy—it’s been months of missing her face.
in honor of her coming, something must be made with the most precious gift, the unopened box of saffron from my flatmate, recently returned from India. When her purchases finally followed her, she presented yet another lovely gift, the sexiest so far, possibly ever so far, reminiscent of the amethyst earrings and embroidered pillow covers that the Persian kitten brought me back from Turkey: saffron from Kashmir. From disputed territory, she said.
focaccia has been the order of the Sunday in the radical muffin kitchen for at least three months. It is time to share a recipe. This decadent saffron flat bread is a tarted out focaccia, so the basic architecture is below and the variation follows
pour one cup of hot water into a wide glass mixing bowl. When the water is hottish warm (books say 38° degrees), sprinkle a packet of yeast over the surface. Take the bowl in your hands and give it all a swirl. Give the wee beasties peace and quiet for three to five minutes.
whisk in about a cup and a half of flour. I use organic unbleached white flour. Cover the slurry with a wet towel, though don’t drape it directly on the surface or it will stick in a big and disgusting way. You could, I suppose, add a layer of plastic wrap, but I imagine it I better for the yeast to have the moisture and the air. Alternatively, pour a thing layer of olive oil over the top.
let this sit for 45 minutes to an hour. Bread likes to rise in a draft free, warm place, so find a cozy spot for your bowl like the back of the stove. My mom used to put rising things on top of the refrigerator. We have a spot in our living room that is often in a sun patch. Think of your rising bread like a napping kitten: where would she like to be? Though, happily, you can pick convenient places unlike, say, the keyboard of the laptop.
times up—get your wooden spoon. Stir in two or three tablespoons of sugar or honey and a slug or two of olive oil (or stir in what you poured on top). Oil a clean baking sheet while you have the oil and your hands are still clean.
add flour next, stirring in just enough to handle the dough, because kneading comes next. You can work with surprisingly liquid dough, and it makes for a light focaccia. Try stirring in only about half a cup more of flour. Have another half cup on the side to add as needed. Oil your hands, and try to pick up the dough.
working over the bowl, hold it in a ball between your hands. Pull your hands apart, letting the dough stretch between them. Clap gently back together and pull back again. Add twisting motions, fitting your hands together while making like talking shadow puppets, left thumb on top then right thumb on top. Envision bread mixers, cotton candy spinners, taffy pullers. It will ooze between your fingers. Scrap it back into the central body. Knead it in the air like this for at least six minutes, and the longer the knead, the more exquisite the bread. You will feel it getting smoother, more elastic. I go for 9 – 12 then my arms start to hurt, but since I’ve been in training, I can go longer. Hey—tastier than the gym, right?
adding more flour, or subbing in whole wheat flour, makes a heartier denser bread. Sometimes that’s just the thing, when it is destined to become of vehicle for wet tomato slabs or partner to winter root veggie soup, for examples.
to knead a heavier dough, stir in about cup and a half of flour and press an roll the dough into a ball in the bowl. Press your fist into it, up against the side of the bowl, stretching it out. Fold it over itself and do it again and again and again. Turn the dough, turn the bowl. With the stiffer dough, you can also turn it out onto a floured board. Visit here for a pretty good kneading description: Choosing Voluntary Simplicity.
transfer the dough to the oiled baking sheet. Drape wet dough. Sort of pour it from your hands, laying it out into a rectangular shape. Stiffer bread-to-be can be pulled into a rough rectangle or rolled out on a floured board. Let it rise on the baking sheet for another half an hour or so, and pre-heat the oven to 400°.
the wet style may be too sticky to take the traditional dimples in focaccia, and it wants a topping or, frankly, it’s kinda fugly. If it is not too sticky, use your fingertips to gently push hollows into the surface of the bread. You can lightly brush the dough with oil or sprinkle with water. Top with generous sprinkling of sea salt or kosher salt. Add any other toppings at this time, and let it rest for another 10 minutes or so.
bake for 20 minutes. More makes for crispier; less makes for chewier. Buona gusta!
use 1/4 cup of the hot water to soak a generous pinch of saffron. Stir the golden liquid and threads into the dough with the second addition of flour.
mix together about a 1/4 cup each of halved dried cherries, golden raisins, and almond slivers. After the dough has rested on the baking tray for 15 minutes to half hour, spread the fruit and almonds over the top. Sprinkle with coarse salt and sugar, about a tablespoon each. Cardamom would be a welcome addition, likewise orange zest.