Completely unrelated anecdote: I am an avid sleeptalker. I’ve had multiple lengthy conversations with Preston while I was sleeping. Once, when I was ten, I dreamt that my brother had stolen $1000 from me so I sleeptalked/sleepcried to my mom until she yelled at him to give me back my money. And this morning, I woke up and Preston told me that we had exchanged words mid-REM again. Apparently, he couldn’t fall asleep so he nudged me and asked me what I was dreaming about. I replied: “Mixing bowls.” (It’s true! I love mixing bowls. Four of the nine tabs open on my internet right now are mixing bowls. I almost dropped $30 for an antique mixing bowl this weekend.)
My uncles cook amazing food. They do other things too — one’s an extraordinary teacher, one owns his own business… but they also make delicious food. During holidays, when we take photos, inevitably half of them will be of extraordinary food that my uncles, dad, and grandfather have cooked.
I made bread for the first time the other day. I had a new dutch oven and I saw a recipe on my Uncle Robert’s facebook page, so I did it. I’ve always had this fear of baking bread; it seems like too many steps that I could mess up, too many unfamiliar ingredients, too many skills I haven’t mastered. But the French boule I made was startlingly easy. Mix, let rise, bake. (It probably helped that it was a no-knead bread.) It was crusty and delicious and beautiful, and from that point forward, I knew that I had conquered my bread phobia. I decided to move on to the next challenge: focaccia.
I first had focaccia when my Uncle Manuel baked it a couple of years ago. It was incredibly flavorful, soft and crusty at the same time. And when I found a recipe for multi-grain herb garlic focaccia, I knew it was next on my to-do list. I was a bit intimidated by the multiple words I didn’t recognize (I still don’t know what the hell poolish is); I became impatient after three periods of rising; and I panicked when I realized the recipe called for a “bench scraper” … which doesn’t even sound like a kitchen utensil. But eventually, I placed the dough on two pans, sprinkled them with herbs and garlic, and popped them in the oven. After 20 minutes, I took out the pans, photographed the first loaf, and then didn’t even wait for it to cool before I tore off a corner.
Wow. Maybe finally conquering bread made it taste even more delicious, but I suspect that it also might have had something to do with the rosemary/thyme/sea salt combination, not to mention the occasional flavor pockets of roasted garlic. The first loaf of focaccia was devoured in a few hours along with a bowl of homemade baba ghanoush.
The recipe takes patience and a bit of planning, but the end result is well worth the wait. Also, make sure you have TWO pans (or, obviously, you can make half the recipe… but I suggest you make two). Soon you, too, will be dreaming of poolish-filled mixing bowls.
Multi-Grain Herb Garlic Focaccia, adapted from The Food Network. Yields 2 loaves. The flours used can be substituted with all-purpose flour if necessary, but obviously the bread then loses its multi-grain goodness.
1 cup flour (whole-wheat preferable)
1/2 cup steel-cut oats
3/4 cup water
Pinch active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the countertop
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/4 cup flaxseed meal (I used ground flaxseeds and they worked just fine)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons fine salt
1 3/4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, chopped (thanks, Mom’s garden!)
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon medium-coarse sea salt
-Make the poolish: Whisk the (preferably whole-wheat) flour, steel-cut oats, water and yeast in medium bowl. Cover with plastic and set aside at room temperature for 12 hours or overnight.
-Make the dough: Whisk the all-purpose, whole wheat, and oat flour, flaxseed, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the poolish, water, and olive oil. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour with a wooden spoon to make a very sticky, loose dough. It should be homogenous. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand for 30 minutes.
-Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured work surface or prep mat. Coat your hands with flour and press dough into a 12 by 8-inch rectangle (long side towards you). Fold the dough as you would a business letter — right third onto middle third, left third on top of that. Spray with cooking spray and cover with a kitchen towel. Let stand 30 minutes. Fold the dough again like a letter, and rest for another 30 minutes.
-Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Divide the olive oil among 2 pans and swirl to coat the pan. Divide dough in half and transfer a piece to each pan, turn dough over to coat both sides with oil, then press dough evenly into the pans. Scatter the garlic, thyme, and rosemary over the top and press the toppings into the dough with your fingers. Make the dough VERY dimply and thin. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Slip focaccia from the pans and cool on a rack.