The sun will come out tomorrow

It was pouring down rain this morning…and it’s still raining now. I should have seen this coming the second I wrote the words “it was a lovely weekend” in my last post. I guess this is what I get for being braggy about the beautiful weather…that and some flat focaccia I made this afternoon.

The second I got up to see the rain pelting my window, I felt the need to bake something. Just like curling up with a warm blanket and a good book is a rainy day comfort, so is cranking up the oven and hanging out in the toasty kitchen, for me. I had a few stalks of rosemary sitting on the counter and a package of yeast that I just picked up in the hopes of making some good bread one of these days (perfect timing). But since my favorite homemade bread recipe, the dill bread my mom makes, would require me to break out the rain boots and schlep several blocks in this sopping mess to obtain some missing ingredients, I decided to stick with some quick, easy focaccia, which I happen to love plain with rosemary and sea salt.

I wanted an easy recipe, one that didn’t require any bread starter or overnight setting. After all, it might be a warm sunny day tomorrow and perhaps I won’t feel like wasting away in a hot kitchen, then. I wanted instant gratification, so I went with this recipe that only requires minimal amounts of rising time. I’m not really sure what went wrong, but I knew it immediately. I mixed the yeast, flour, water and salt together as indicated and it formed what looked like cake batter. Although the directions warned it was a sticky dough, I knew something was wrong when I turned it out onto my floured cutting board and the dough raced unnervingly close to the edges of the board, like water spewing from a burst dam.

I added extra flour as the in-case-you-screwed-up recipe notes indicated but to no avail. Without enough yeast to start a new batch, I bravely soldiered on and “kneaded” whatever the goop I had made would be called. However, after letting it rest for an entire hour, the dough had barely risen. With one last shred of hope, I dumped the mixture onto an oil and cornmeal coated baking pan, letting it rest for another 30 minutes.

While all this gloopy dough handling and resting was going on, there was a little dish of fresh chopped rosemary marinating in some olive oil in the refrigerator. Once the dough finished sitting quietly instead of rising, I attempted to dimple the top with my fingertips and brush on the herb oil. But this gloop continued its rebellious ways: it had not formed a nice neat dough ball, it trashed my counter-top, it refused to double in size as instructed and now instead of dimpling nicely, it decided to latch onto my fingers like Elmer’s glue.

That was the last straw. I dumped on the rosemary oil and sea salt, gave it a quick swipe and flung it in the oven to think long and hard about what it had done (or more importantly, didn’t do).

I envisioned the whole thing collapsing and shriveling up into a burnt little cracker and barely gave it a thought for the next twelve minutes. At that point, an intoxicating smell began wafting out of the kitchen and miraculously, something that slightly resembled focaccia was browning in my oven!

When I cut into it, it had a nice crumb full of air pockets and a crispy browned crust. It tasted pretty delicious, too. The bread did come out about 1/3 of the size I was hoping for and left a sticky mess all over my kitchen but that didn’t stop me from eating half of the pan for a late afternoon snack. In the end, not bad for a rainy Tuesday morning.

Perhaps you will have better luck than me. I would suggest cutting back on the water a bit:

Nigel Slater’s Focaccia

*I chose not to use Nigel’s garlic/parsley/thyme oil and olives, opting instead for rosemary which I let sit in some olive oil for a couple of hours. To me, rosemary and sea salt is the perfect classic flavor for focaccia but enjoy it however you like!

Makes one round bread about 24cm in diameter. I use an old metal tin, but a shallow baking tin of any shape will work. It will need to be about 5cm deep. The bread will keep for a few days in clingfilm or foil.

450g strong bread flour (This is about 2 cups)
1½ tsp salt
2 tsp fast-acting yeast (1 packet, 7g)
400ml (ish) warm water (1 3/4 c)
cornmeal
a good handful of green olives
3 tbsp olive oil
a clove of garlic
a small bunch of flat-leaved parsley (about 20g)
leaves from 4 sprigs thyme
sea salt flakes

You will need a baking tin about 30cm in diameter.

Put the flour and salt and yeast into a large bowl, mix well then pour in the water to make a sticky dough.

Flour the work surface generously, then turn out the dough and knead lightly. Knead in some of the flour from the work surface, adding a little more if the dough remains sticky. It should come away from the work surface cleanly, but should be a little more moist than the usual bread dough. Keep kneading until the dough no longer sticks to the board. Continue kneading in no particular fashion for a full 5 minutes then put the dough into a floured bowl and set aside, covered with clingfilm or a clean tea towel, until it has risen to double its size. This generally takes anything up to an hour depending on the warmth of your room.

Rub the bottom of the baking tin with a little oil. Scatter it with a thin layer of cornmeal – this will keep the base crisp and prevent it from sticking as it cooks. Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 7.

Remove the dough from its bowl (it will sink, but no matter), then push it into the baking tin. Cover as much of the bottom as you can, but don’t worry if it doesn’t quite cover it. Set aside, covered with clingfilm, for a further 30 minutes until well risen.

Remove the stones from the olives, roughly chop them, and mix with a tablespoon of the olive oil. Peel and finely chop the garlic, chop the parsley and thyme leaves and stir into the olives.

With a floured finger, push several holes deep into the dough, then spread the olive and herb mixture over the dough. Scatter liberally with salt flakes. Bake for 25-30 minutes till pale gold, crisp on top and springy within. Drizzle with a last tablespoon or two of olive oil then allow to settle.

While still warm, free the bread from the pan with a palette knife, then cut or tear into pieces.

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