At some point, almost every westerner living in Japan will probably be asked, “do you like rice or bread?” Well, I don’t think that I need to choose; I like rice and bread. Japanese children are taught that rice is the staple food of Japan. It’s central to most meals, unless you’re having noodles, but that’s mostly just for lunch. So when children hear that bread is the staple food in Europe and America, they often get the idea that western meals must be centered around bread like Japanese meals are centered around rice. But really I think of bread as one of many possible starchy sides that I can pair with my meal. I can have bread, or rice, or potatoes, pasta, polenta, tabbouleh, couscous, whole grains, and on and on. There are so many delicious possibilities.
Back to bread though. If you’ve been following my blog or living in Japan, you’ve probably found by now that the selection of bread just isn’t great. Sometimes it’s downright terrible. I’m pretty lucky, the Grano Grano bakery at the mall actually makes a pretty good crusty baguette, bagels, and tasty sandwich bread. But sometimes I’ve got a craving for more variety, so I’m giving bread baking a try every once in a while. There have been some hits: pita, whole-wheat sandwich bread, hamburger buns; and some misses: cinnamon raisin bread. This focaccia was definitely a hit: great texture, chewy, and flavorful. I used some kalamata olives that I had brought from the US, so the next one will be without olives, but I’m sure it will be just as delicious. The recipe is from The Weekend Baker, which I think is a great book for baking beginners. The recipes are very clear and Dodge gives lots of hints about how you can break the process into manageable parts in case you don’t have time to do it all at once. So why don’t you try this recipe at your house?
Olive and Herb Focaccia
adapted from The Weekend Baker, by Abigail Johnson Dodge
425 grams bread flour (original recipe used all-purpose flour, but I liked the chewy texture when I made it with bread flour)
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups water, 115 to 125 degrees
1 tablespoon olive oil
20 pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon coarse salt
In a large bowl, combine the flour, thyme, yeast, salt, and sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until well blended.
Drizzle the warm water and the 1 tablespoon olive oil over the flour mixture and stir with the wooden spoon until a rough, shaggy dough forms. Lightly dust a work surface with a little flour. Dump the dough onto the surace.
Knead the dough with your hands. It will be sticky at first, but resist the urge to add more flour. First, gather the dough together. Next, using the heel of one hand, push the top part of the dough away from you. Fold that piece over the dough nearest ou. Give the dough a quarter turn clockwise and repeat. Keep on kneading until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball.
Scoop up the dough and shape it into a ball. Lightlyoil the bowl with some olive oil and pop the dough back into it. Cover the top securely with plastic wrap. Let the covered dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Lightly grease a heavy cookie sheet. Turn the dough out onto it and press down gently to deflate. Using your hands, shape the dough into an oval about 3/4 inch thick (about 7 x 10 inches). Lightly brush the dough with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and loosely cover the surface directly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm spot until puffed and almost doubled, about 20 minutes.
Position an oven rack on the middle rung and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap from the dough. Lightly coat your middle 3 fingertips with flour and press into the dough down to (but not through) the bottom. Repeat this dimpling all over the dough (about 2 dozen dimples in all), dipping your fingertips into flour as necessary. To top the dough, scatter the olives over the surface, pressing them into the dimples. Drizzle evenly with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with the thyme and coarse salt.
Bake until the focaccia is browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and, using a large metal spatula, transfer the focaccia to a rack. Drizzle with remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Serve warm.