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Stage 1. Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in half the tepid water.
Stage 2. On your largest available clean surface (even a big bowl will do if surfaces are limited), make a pile of the flour, semolina flour and salt. With one hand, make a well in the centre. (If possible, it is preferable to warm the flour and semolina flour.)
Stage 3. Pour all the dissolved yeast mixture into the centre and with four fingers of one hand make circular movements, from the centre working out-
wards, slowly bringing in the dry ingredients until all the yeast mixture is soaked up. Then pour the other half of the tepid water into the centre and
gradually incorporate all the flour to make a moist dough. (Certain flours may need a little more water, so don't be afraid to adjust the quantities.)
Stage 4. Kneading! This is the best bit, just rolling, pushing and folding the dough over and over for 5 minutes. This develops the structure of the dough and the gluten. If any of the dough sticks to your hands, just rub them together with a little extra flour.
You can do Stages 2, 3 and 4 in a food mixer if you like, using the dough hook attachment.
Stage 5. Flour both your hands now, and Lightly flour the top of the dough. Make it into a roundish shape and place on a baking tray. Score the dough with a knife - this allows it to relax and prove more quickly.
Stage 6. Leave the bread to prove for the first time. Basically we want it to double in size. This is probably the best time to preheat the oven (see oven
temperatures for each bread variation). You want a warm, moist, draught-free place for the quickest prove, for example near the cooker, in the airing cup-board, in the plate warmer of a cooker or just in a warm room, and you can cover it with clingfilm if you want to speed it up. This proving process matures the flour flavour and should take approximately 40 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the conditions.
Let's just talk about proving so you know what's going on. The yeast is now feeding on the honey or sugar in the warmth of the tepid water. In theory the
three things that all bacteria need to grow are heat, moisture and food. Any excess of these three things will kill the yeast (as well as salt, which we have
used to season the bread - it's not half so nice without it, but it does slow down the proving to some extent).
Stage 7. Right, it's double the size and time to knock it back. Knead and punch the dough, knocking all the air out of it, for about a minute.
Stage 8. Shape the dough into whatever shape you want - round, flat, filled, or whatever (see the variations to follow) - and leave to prove a second time in a warm place until the dough is double its size.
The important thing is not to lose your confidence now; if you don't think it's proved enough, leave it a bit longer and check the warmth or for any draughts.
Stage 9. Now it's time to cook your loaf. After all your hard work, don't spoil
your efforts. You want to keep the air inside the loaf, so don't knock it, put it very gently into the oven and don't slam the door. Bake according to the
recipe time and temperature given in the variations which follow, or until it's cooked. You can tell if it's cooked by tapping its bottom (if it's in a tin you'll have to take it out) - if it sounds hollow it's cooked, if it doesn't then pop it back in for a little longer.
Stage 10. Place the bread on a rack to cool - for cooking time see each recipe variation. You're going to love this bread!
For 2 large or 4 smaller focaccia
This is my favourite Italian flatbread. It is not very difficult to make. Follow the basic recipe until Stage 8, then split the dough into half or quarters. Roll or push it out to an oval shape roughly 1 1/2cm/1/2 inch thick; don't fuss around for perfection, it's supposed to be rough and rustic, so what a great excuse for a beginner! Place on a baking tray liberally dusted with semolina, and smear evenly with one of the toppings shown below. Finally, make those characteristic holes by pushing all your fingers deep into the dough many times, which allows the flavour of the topping to penetrate. After about 45 minutes it will prove to that classic 3cm/lV4 inches high.
At basic recipe Stage 9, bake for about 15 minutes at your oven's highest temperature until ready. As soon as the focaccia comes out of the oven, feed it with a good drizzle of your very best olive oil and a light scattering of sea salt. You can eat the focaccia as soon as it has slightly cooled.
Below are some toppings that I like, but it's real fun to do your own thing.
Toppings mustn't be too heavy, just a light scattering of interesting flavours.
Try marinated sun-dried tomatoes, black or green olives, mixed herbs, herb oils, some interesting cheeses (not too much, though; the Italians would
probably use up any old dry cheese for this).
The following amounts are for the whole quantity of bread but you may well wish to, say, make 4 different toppings for 4 small focaccias, in which case just divide the amount accordingly.
This is the easiest topping and very tasty. Finely chop 1 clove of garlic and a good bunch of basil. Add roughly three times as much oil as you have of the
basil mixture, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, freshly ground black pepper and sometimes a crushed dried chilli - gives nice warmth! Be subtle.
Potato and Rosemary Topping
Wash about 15 new potatoes and slice as thinly as possible. Put in salty (or minty) boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain the spuds, place in a bowl, and coat
with a generous amount of your best olive oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, add 1 finely chopped clove of garlic and a handful of
chopped fresh rosemary. Smear and push the mixture all over the bread. This is really nice if you flick some rosemary on top before baking, for a really
I'm a real fried onion boy myself! This topping is tasty, light and fragrant.
Peel and halve, from the core to the top, 3 average size red onions (or about 6 shallots), then slice as thinly as you can. Heat a frying-pan with a good lug
of oil. Add 1 finely sliced clove of garlic, a good handful of thyme leaves, and then add the onions or shallots. Add a pinch of salt and fry fast, keeping it on the move, for 4 minutes (the idea is to cook fast and caramelize the onions, but not to over-colour or burn them). Next, add about 3 tablespoons
of red wine vinegar and simmer for a further 4 minutes. Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper and a little extra virgin olive oil, smear every-thing over your bread, then throw some thyme leaves over it. Looks great!
For 1 large loaf
At Stage 1 you exchange the water for your favourite beer and follow the method until Stage 8. Make 6 equal-sized balls and place them next to each
other in a greased round cake tin (5 round the edge and one in the middle).
Sprinkle with either a light dusting of flour or some caraway seeds. Then prove until doubled in size (the balls will prove into each other). At Stage 9
bake at 225°C/425°F/gas 7 for 20-25 minutes or until done. Allow to cool for at least 45 minutes.
This bread doesn't have a really strong taste of beer - just the mellow, malty undertones coming through.
I like this bread made with purple pesto, but green pesto is fine. (The recipe for pesto is on page 232.) Follow the basic dough recipe. At Stage 8, divide
the dough into 2 equal parts. Roll or push out each piece of the dough into a squarish sheet l c m / 1 / 2 inch high and 30cm/12 inches long. Smear pesto
generously over the sheet of dough and roll up like a swiss roll. Then with a really sharp knife cut across into 4cm/lV2 inch slices. Place the slices close
together on a greased baking tray, cut side upward (rather like Chelsea buns).
At Stage 9 bake at 225°C/425°F/gas 7 for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before eating.
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