I’ve had a fan request for ye olde FOCACCIA RECIPE. Not sure why…except that it’s the most delicious and easiest jumping-off point into the world of sourdough!
Turn the oven on to 200°F. Do this first.
l load up my standing mixer (fitted with the dough hook) with 1 and a half cups of fresh whole wheat pastry flour, 3 cups fresh whole wheat bread flour, 2 to 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 4 tsp good quality sea salt, 1 and a half cups water, and about 1 to 2 cups sourdough starter (you know, whatever is in the jar except for a couple of tablespoons).
Run the mixer on the lowest setting for a minute until the dough is no longer powdery. Then crank it up to the next highest setting (still pretty low) and set a timer for 7 minutes. If the dough is leaving crumbs in the bottom of the bowl halfway through, add a tablespoon or 2 of water. It it’s way too sticky and leaving residue on the bowl, add a tablespoon of bread flour. You’re aiming for mildly tacky, which will yield a light and fluffy crumb.
You CAN mix and knead by hand if you HAVE to. I guess. But hand mixing and kneading will take more like 15 minutes. (Yes, the Christmas when that standing mixer showed up was a glorious one. For me for obvious reasons. For my husband because he realized he’d get to EAT all the stuff I make with it… Win-win, people. Win-win.) If you’re kneading by hand, resist the mighty temptation to add flour to the dough. Rather, wash your hands a few times during the process, and then dip your hands as needed in a bowl of flour (lightly coating) to keep the dough from sticking too much to your hands. Adding too much flour will make the bread too dense and tough–one of the three biggest downfalls of whole wheat bread.
You can take the opportunity to feed the starter jar while the machine is doing the heavy labor. 1 cup bread flour (do I need to say fresh whole wheat EVERY time?) and a scant 2/3 cup water. Mix well. The bread and starter rise at the same time. Convenient!
Once the timer goes off, stop the machine. And let the dough rest for 5 to 10 minutes. You could spend that time finishing loading the dishwasher, or rocking out to your ipod in a way that comes back to haunt you when your toddler decides to perform an unexpectedly public dance routine. Or, you know, some of you could now feed the starter since you finally finished your TEDIOUS hand kneading…
Next, pour about a 1/4 cup of olive oil into a 13x9x2″ pan, enough to coat the bottom thoroughly,
Gently stretch and work the dough to fit the pan. Big rectangle. You got this.
Rising time! Also called proofing in the baking world. The loaf, shaped and in its oily pan, needs to be covered with plastic. You can use plastic wrap. I like to use a big plastic bag that fits the whole pan (with a twist tie) since its much easier to reuse. Try not to let the plastic rest on the dough.
TURN OFF THE OVEN. Do it now! Learned this one the hard way…
To be clear, you’re putting the bread in the oven to RISE now. NOT to BAKE yet. If you used a plastic bag on your pan, make sure to put potholders or oven mitts under the pan. That is, make sure the plastic isn’t touching the metal rack. Seems like common sense, right? Like I shouldn’t have to say it? Yeah, learned this one the hard way too. (Don’t judge me. O_O)
Now let the yeast and bacteria do their thing. Walk away; forget about it. Just don’t forget to tell your spouse about it before said-spouse comes along to make himself a snack.
After about 3 to 6 hours (less time=less lift and less sour; more time=more lift, more sour; I usually fit it in according to my schedule since it’s forgiving), take it OUT of the oven.
If you have a baking stone (well, you’re awesome–after you finish patting yourself on the back), put it on a rack in the middle to lower third of the oven, and heat the oven to 425°F. Let oven heat for at least 20 minutes. You could spend this time discovering how your toddler has been “helping” around the house when she’s really supposed to be blissfully napping in her room.
TAKE THE PLASTIC OFF OF THE PAN. (What? Small children do things to your head.) Poke about a dozen shallow dimples on the bread surface (prevents major air bubbles) and drizzle or brush with a little more olive oil. Put the pan directly on the hot stone and bake for about 21 to 23 minutes (more like 25 minutes without stone). Put your STARTER back in the fridge and it’s ready to go again!
Watch out for steam when you open the oven door at the end of baking, and put the focaccia on a cooling rack (minus pan) right away.
Ta-da! Homemade whole wheat sourdough focaccia with an light and airy crumb, a soft and chewy mouthfeel, and a crisp golden crust.
The second downfall of whole wheat home-baking is a hard hard crust that’s painful to bite through. The bacteria in the starter soften the whole thing up nicely, so it’s not a problem with proper sourdough. Incidentally, they also break down gluten. People were not meant to eat bread leavened with pure yeast (a very recent thing in the grand scheme of human history!). If you’re gluten intolerant, this may be worth trying! My hubby’s adverse reaction to straight dough (added yeast) is why I got into a sourdough lifestyle in the first place! I’ll write more about that another time…
The third downfall of whole wheat bread at home is using rancid flour. (Walk right on by that bag that’s been sitting on the shelf for who knows how long! Repeat after me: organic co-op bulk bins. Good. Move along; I’m all out of gold stars.)
This process may seem tricky or long, but it’s quite a simple process if you get rid of all my long-winded philosophizing (mix/knead, put in pan, proof in oven, pre-heat oven, bake, cooling rack). And it means homemade sourdough in less than half a day with minimal time commitment, easily fit in among other household duties or errand running or toddler meltdowns. Good luck (with the meltdowns, too)!