i am not particularly good at following directions when it comes to baking. often, i am also bad at planning ahead to make sure i have/purchase all the ingredients necessary to make whatever i initially planned. i used to think that both those failings were major liabilities on the kitchen front, but i’ve decided that they can actually result in unexpectedly useful instances of discovery and creativity.
take, for example, the above roasted tomato focaccia. i made my first rosemary and sea salt focaccia last week, following this recipe from a spoonful of sugar as closely as my inattentive measuring and poor gram-to-cup conversion skills would allow. the result was a tasty but certainly not exciting sort of flatbread, a little too thin and a little too dry to be considered a really stellar focaccia.
upon attempting my second round of focaccia, i had the brief thought that maybe i should pay better attention to the recipe, which seemed to work really well for the author. then i decided to screw it and go the opposite route. instead, i’d just make the adjustments i deemed necessary – i wanted it to rise more, so i added more yeast. i wanted a more moist bread, so i added more olive oil. i also found this recipe for perfect cherry focaccia from a chef from the river cafe (their menu makes for some very enticing reading btw; i shall venture there once i actually start generating an income). i really like what this writer, stevie parle, says in the recipe:
‘Its hard to give a recipe for bread, as it is in the hands of the baker, use this recipe as a guide.’
stevie, i appreciate that. i’m going to stop feeling like i should follow recipes. i don’t usually for cooking, but for baking it always seems like you need exact amounts of your tsps and tbsps (or gms and mls and all those english abbreviations that make my life more difficult) or your cake will implode or something. so my recipe for roasted tomato focaccia, borrowing heavily from stevie’s delicious sounding cherry focaccia, will be a bit of a non-recipe. there are probably some good reasons why stevie does what (s)he(?) does, but it worked amazingly well for me the way i did it. hope it works for you.
caveats: a) the only really important parts are bolded. the other parts may be mildly informative or my own superfluous blather. b) this is my attempted recreation of a recipe where i didn’t measure much. sorry if my amounts aren’t very specific or turn out to be wrong, but that’s the point of a non-recipe, right? trust your bread instinct and you’ll do fine.
roasted cherry tomato focaccia with mixed garden herbs
what you need:
about 25 cherry tomatoes
about 3 cups flour
about 10 g yeast (i used fast-action because that’s what they sell at the corner store. fresh would probably be better).
about 2 tsps sea salt
about 1 1/2 cups water
herbs (i bought little pots of basil, oregano, thyme, and sage at the columbia road flower market last week and decided to experiment with all of them, plus the rosemary plant that i have somehow managed to not kill yet). feel free to choose the herb of your choice, they all tasted fantastic.
what you do:
1. mix the flour, salt, yeast and water in a mixing bowl and start scraping it together by hand (if you use fresh yeast, you have to dissolve it in water first). if it’s too sticky, add more flour as necessary.
2. add a good pour of olive oil (i think i used maybe a 1/4 cup?) and mix it in until the dough gets a smoother and more pillowy feel. then knead it – punch it, roll it, make funny shapes with it – for about 10 minutes or 3 michael jackson songs or until, as stevie says, it gets ‘soft and luxurious’.
3. put your slighty puffy dough ball back into a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with a damp tea towel. leave it for an hour or two (try to get some work done, in my case) and come back when it has doubled in size on its own like a magic sponge from when you were a kid. like a proud parent, i love checking on my dough to see how it has grown.
4. spread the dough out into a pan and leave it to rise another 45 minutes or so.
5. now comes the most satisfying part – use your finger to poke your dough in a grid (or whatever pattern you like, i won’t judge) and stick in the cherry tomatoes. prick them with a fork so they don’t explode in the oven (or in your mouth like hot lava pockets, as chris says) and then sprinkle your bread with herbs and a generous drizzle of olive oil. don’t be scared, olive oil makes everything taste better. leave for another 45 minutes or so and the dough should have risen around the shiny little red globes.
6. stick your masterpiece in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350° (that’s a total estimate, i still don’t really understand my british oven). in other words, just wait until it gets brown and amazingly yummy looking, then pull it out.
7. let cool so it just barely doesn’t incinerate your mouth, then promptly eat nearly half your incredibly delicious creation until you are uncomfortably full. to be honest, i don’t quite recommend this last step, but i fully understand if you follow my lead and do the same. you may not be able to help yourself.
there are so many different variations to this recipe too – i’m excited to see what other tasty vegetable, herb, cheese, and meat combinations could result with experimentation. we might even serve some at this week’s rambling restaurant! i’ll let you know how it goes…