I was planning an Italian dinner for my friend Margo and her family recently and I wanted to bake a bread that would appeal to her son Danny who's as picky as any four-year-old can be.
I pondered myRustic Tuscan Bread and my Whole Wheat Sourdough Ciabatta, but I wasn't quite sure that these fantastic but rather adult breads would hold the required kid appeal. Until I hit upon the idea of this cloud-like vegan focaccia.
The vegan focaccia recipes I've made in the past (including this one from Tal Ronnen) have been pretty good, but not captivating. As I pondered how to make a better focaccia, fate intervened: when I walked into the kitchen and turned on the TV (yes, I plead guilty to watching too much TV), an episode for America's Test Kitchen was just coming on. And they were making focaccia.
So I watched the chef's rather unusual technique which involved creating a rather wet batter not unlike that used for a ciabatta bread, and doing away with most of the kneading. The resulting bread was soft and chewy but also really airy rather than dense as focaccia usually is.
I loved the idea and adapted the technique to my own vegan focaccia recipe (which includes sourdough instead of a biga), not least because it sounded really easy. And who doesn't like easy?
I made a rather wet batter, added the salt after 15 minutes, folded it over instead of kneading it, and then baked it up in two round cake pans. The bread popped up rather high in the oven, making me wonder if it had formed an undesirable skin on top.
It didn't. Instead, the bread was soft and cloud-like, with a soft but slightly crisp golden crust. It was, hands-down, the best focaccia I've ever made or eaten.
I wasn't the only one tickled about it. As Danny ate piece after piece, he declared: "This is really good bread."
Good enough for me.
Best. Focaccia. Ever.
- Mix the toppings together in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix the yeast in ½ cup of water and set aside to froth for five minutes.
- After five minutes, add the sourdough to the yeast. Then add the flour, oil, and the remaining water and mix with a wooden spoon until everything comes together. This is a very sticky dough at this stage, but it’s fine. That’s what will make it divinely airy and light.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place in an oven with the pilot light on, about 1 ½ hours or until it has doubled in size.
- Using an oiled spatula, turn the dough over on itself in the bowl. Repeat 9 more times. You don’t want to knead the dough with a heavy hand.
- Turn the dough over on a generously floured surface. Cut into two with a bench scraper or a knife, then shape each half into a round. Be gentle so you don’t deflate all the lovely gases that have formed in your focaccia loaf.
- Place each round in a 10-inch cake pan coated with oil and sprinkled with some coarse sea salt. Press the dough gently out from the center so it reaches the sides of the pan.
- Cover both pans with plastic wrap and place in the oven with the pilot on for another hour or until the dough has doubled.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.
- Using a fork, prick the dough all over to remove any bubbles on top. Don’t go heavy-handed because you don’t want to deflate the dough.
- Brush the top of the bread with the sage-olive oil mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.
- Remove the focaccia tins from the oven and let them stand on a rack for five minutes. Remove the bread from the pans and continue to cool on the rack.
Desi and I planted this cherry blossom the year after we moved to our house. It was no more than a single twig, about two feet tall, when we put it into the soil. Six years on, it is a handsome little tree that ushers in spring with thousands of tiny white flowers with hearts of pink.