In my recent post on how to make Chicken Divan, I mentioned a book called On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals by Labensky, Hause and Martel. I love this book. Just flipping through it’s smooth pages can calm me on a stressful day. I wish this book wasn’t so pointy at the corners, so I could hug it more comfortably. I love this book.
I received the fifth edition of On Cooking as a Christmas present from my dad last year. Which is good, because as a rule I cannot afford cookbooks that cost $100+. This isn’t just a cookbook, after all: this is used as a textbook in almost all culinary schools in English-speaking countries. On Cooking doesn’t just give you an enumeration of recipes: it gives detailed, important information about ingredients and cooking techniques that goes about five steps further towards true intimacy with the food than the average cookbook even attempts to impart.
Now, here’s the thing: my friend Amy requested that I make a post about “focaccia that doesn’t resemble a big crouton.” Here’s the other thing: although I have enjoyed good focaccia on many occasions, I’ve never actually made it before. So here’s the result: I consulted On Cooking, to see if it had a recipe for focaccia. And, joy of joys, it did!
I made this recipe last night, and it turned out just perfectly. Dense, but still oh so flavorful, soft, tender and moist.
Here are the few tips I have for this recipe:
Don’t be put off by the inclusion of onion. As long as you mince the onion very finely, you won’t end up with noticeable chunks of onion in the finished focaccia. The onion just adds a richer flavor, and releases just enough moisture into the dough during the baking process to prevent crouton-like results. (Now you know the secret, Amy!)
Also, don’t use too much onion. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, weigh the onion at the grocery store and select one just slightly under 1/4 pound.
Do add the flour 1/4 cup at a time, as the recipe suggests. This may seem tedious, but it will help to develop the gluten in the flour, which is helpful since focaccia isn’t kneaded for as long of a time as most other yeast breads.
Also, you will have to use your judgment regarding how much flour to add: the air was so humid yesterday that I had to use significantly more than the recipe called for. With that said, this will be a MUCH softer dough than most bread doughs: the finished dough should be somewhere in-between the consistency of cake batter and the consistency of cookie dough. Start kneading the flour into the dough as soon as you can: it will still be sticky, and some will get stuck on the kneading surface and your hands. Deal with it. It’s a sacrifice you make to have soft, tasty treats instead of dry rosemary-flavored dog biscuits.
Use Kosher salt: do not substitute finely-ground table salt. Just trust me on this.
And that’s about it. I included the very few minor adjustments that I made to the recipe, but the recipes in this book are always so good that there aren’t many of them.
Focaccia (Roman Flatbread)
- 1 T honey (vegans can substitute sugar or agave nectar)
- 1 T active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 c lukewarm water
- between 2 1/4 c and 3 1/4 c flour
- 2 t Kosher salt, divided
- 3 oz. onion, very finely chopped
- 1-2 T olive oil
- 2 T fresh rosemary, crushed and very coarsely chopped
- Combine the honey, yeast and water. Stir to dissolve the yeast. Stir in the flour 1/4 cup at a time: keep in mind that you will add 1/4-1/2 cup more flour to the dough during the kneading process, so stop as soon as you have a soft dough that is just barely firm enough to be kneaded.
- Stir in 1 1/2 t of the salt and the onion. Mix well, then knead on a lightly floured surface until very smooth.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning the dough over once so the top is also lightly coated with oil. Cover with a warm, moist towel and allow to sit until doubled in bulk.
- Punch down the dough, then flatten it onto a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. It should be no more than 1 inch thick. Brush the top of the dough with the olive oil. Let the dough proof until doubled, 15-30 minutes.
- Sprinkle the rosemary and remaining salt on top of the dough. Bake at 400 degrees F until lightly browned, 20-30 minutes.