BREAD ALL GROWN UP
AND PAY IT FORWARD RECIPIENTS
Ah, remember the good old days when bread came out of a plastic bag with a twist-tie seal, soft, malleable and glaringly white, already sliced for your ease, comfort and speed? Open the bag and breath in all that bready goodness, reach in your kid-sized hand and grab a couple of slices and the making of a meal is yours for the taking. To toast or not to toast, that was the biggest dilemma. Mom rarely worried about the health benefits – or lack thereof – it’s hard even to remember if wheat bread could be found on our local Florida supermarket shelf, and the concept of gourmet anything never crossed her mind. White sandwich bread was simply a pantry staple for our Space Age modern family in the 1960’s, something so simple to use that even a kindergartener could make his or her own lunch, much to our mother’s delight. As long as a jar of peanut butter could be found in the cupboard and a jar of grape jelly – in a collectible Flintstones jar that could be turned into a juice glass – was wedged in next to the ketchup bottle in the refrigerator, something wholesome, something wonderfully yummy could be made by even the youngest one of us.
When we were old enough and had permission to use the kitchen appliances, we developed our culinary skills to turn that plain old sandwich into a hot meal. One day, you may just want the chewy resistance of the untoasted, that satisfying sensation of teeth sinking into fluffy, tender white bread, the delicate pliancy, the cloud-like airiness giving way to delightfully pasty, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth denseness that only highlighted the peanut butter or salami encased within the two slices of white and prolonged the pleasure, yet one day you may take it upon yourself to pop that bread into the toaster and, abracadabra, transform this otherwise ordinary ingredient right before your very eyes. Golden and aromatic, crispy and suddenly savory, adding a new dimension, a complexity to the otherwise simple and homely: the once sticky peanut butter would melt and ooze smooth and hot onto your tongue, or butter the outside and fry it to create the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Plain old white sandwich bread was pure magic. White bread was my tabula rasa, my artist’s palette on which I could create a multitude of exotic, experimental gustatory sensations, blending the salty and the sweet, the nutty and the fruity. It was all we had back then, but alongside a glass of Grape Koolaid, it was my own private culinary institute, the beginnings of my fascination with food.
My sons, on the other hand, have been raised in France and Italy where white sandwich bread is reserved for reliving mom’s American experience: the occasional grilled cheese treat, utterly fascinating to their friends, or a peanut butter sandwich when absolutely nothing else will do. France and Italy, lands of la boulangerie, la panetteria, where a trip is made each and every day for a fresh loaf, where minutes are spent breathing in the heady aroma of yeast and flour and fresh-from-the-oven breads and admiring the amazing selection, the ciabattas and fougasses, the baguettes and the miches, with cheese or olives or walnuts or whole grains, the large loaves bought by the kilo or the fine thin long flûtes carried home cradled like a delicate prize jewel or rich viennoise and brioche as one stands in line, coins clinking in hand, waiting to buy today’s perfect bread. How to choose? Each one with their own personality, their own texture, their own unique flavor. Rip off a chunk on the walk home from the bakery and bite into the warm, dense bread, the crisp crust, the perfect crumb. How can one ever turn back again to the old, plain, homey white sandwich loaf?
I have grown up a lot over the years. My gastronomically sheltered life has been opened to a world of visions, flavors and foods I had never before dreamed of. My lifestyle has been transformed to include the daily trips to market and bakery, filling up my basket with fresh fruits, greens, breads I never knew existed and my daily meal planning includes dishes that were once over-the-top exotic and are now ordinary fare. Yet what is new and surprising to this Florida girl is everyday normal to my European sons. And these boys’ expectations of what is placed before them on the table are high! They both – along with their French father – are bread fiends. Bread to sop up sauces, bread as a host to a variety of cheeses, bread for tearing off chunks and shoving in the mouth as they walk through the kitchen, bread as snack and bread to stave off hunger. Bread is a way of life, sustenance, the heart and soul of their culture. And as I stand in the kitchen and blend yeast and warm water, spoon in flour, knead and shape each and every loaf, as I pull the steaming, fragrant loaves from the oven and slide them onto the wooden cutting board and lay the bread knife alongside this princely offering, I find myself utterly amazed at how far I have come from those girlhood days of store-bought white bread sitting on the counter next to a simple jar of peanut butter and slices of plastic-wrapped cheese slices, our manna, our very first step into the world of bread.
A stunning focaccia, yes another focaccia, my boys’ favorite of all, studded with tangy green olives and gorgeous sun-dried tomatoes, luxurious, delicately nutty pine nuts offering a crunchy bite and a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese adding a salty, cheesy finale to this dense, hearty loaf. The basic Olive Oil Dough is from my new favorite cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by the brilliant Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D.
This focaccia is my offering this week to Yeastspotting, a weekly yeast-only event created and hosted by my friend Susan of Wild Yeast.
As you remember, I received a fabulous Pay It Forward Package from Sophie of Sophie’s Foodiefiles. Along with receiving a box filled with goodies came a set of rules which each recipient in their turn must adhere to: we must send out 3 Pay It Forward Packages to 3 bloggers (or non-bloggers) in turn. Well, I made the announcement and 9 people let me know that they wanted to play along. So I assigned each one of these excited people a number, wrote the numbers on pieces of paper (equal size, equal shape) and tossed them onto my half-asleep son’s bed as he lay struggling to wake up in the room’s half-darkness. He blindly groped for and grabbed 3 slips of paper and handed them to me and I am now revealing the names of the 3 people who will receive packages from me! Once you see your name here, simply send me an e-mail (to jamieannschler(at)gmail(dot)com) with your home address and you’ll be receiving your gift box from Nantes within the year – okay I am sure you won’t have to wait an entire year, but them’s the rules! Once you receive the box I send, you must let me know by e-mail that you have received the box, then turn around, announce it on your blog and select – and send to – 3 other people. Got it? Okay, here are the 3 (I am discovering this now as I write!):
1) Katrina (I don’t know your blog)
2) Pam of The Cooking Ninja
3) Simone of Junglefrog Cooking
Please contact me within the next week to let me know you’ve seen this.
And don't forget to join me for Bread Baking Day #26! Bake Bread for my Birthday Party!
FOCACCIA WITH GREEN OLIVES, SUN-DRIED TOMATOES AND PINE NUTS
I prepared the Olive Oil Dough here using the following ingredients:
2 ¾ cup (650 ml) lukewarm water
¼ cup (50 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ Tbs (15 g) active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbs salt
1 Tbs sugar
6 ½ cups (975 g) flour (I used read flour type 55, you can use all-purpose)
Combine the yeast, salt and sugar in a very large mixing bowl or a lidded (not air-tight) food container. Add the olive oil and the lukewarm water.
Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon (although you can use a food processor with a dough attachment or a heavy-duty standing mixer with a dough hook) until completely blended. If you have trouble getting the last bit of flour to blend in you can use your wet hands.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (not air tight) and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours, until the dough has risen and then collapses or flattens on top.
The dough can now be used immediately or stored in the bowl covered with plastic wrap or a lidded (not air tight) container for up to 2 weeks. It is easier to work with when chilled.
For the Olive Sun-Dried Tomato Pine Nut Focaccia:
1 lb (500 g) / a grapefruit-sized piece of the Olive Oil Dough *
¼ cup green olives, drained and sliced
5 – 6 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and patted with paper towels, sliced into slivers and halved
2 – 3 Tbs pine nuts
½ tsp dried basils
Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, a couple of tablespoons
* My boys prefer their focaccia thicker, denser and chewier than the traditional thinner, crustier loaf so I used a bit more dough. As you like.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
On a floured work surface and flouring the surface of the dough, roll out the dough into a rough rectangle about ½-inch (1 cm) thick. Sprinkle the sliced olives and tomatoes as well as the pine nuts and dried basil evenly all over the surface of the dough. Roll up jelly-roll style.
Curl the log around onto itself and press together into a circle then shape and press into a ball. With the seamed side down on the work surface, roll the dough out into a large, flat loaf, as large and in any shape you like, but traditionally it is rolled out to a thickness of ½ inch (1 cm) in roughly an oval shape.
Carefully lift the dough and transfer it onto a parchment-lined baking tray or cookie sheet, pressing back into shape if it shrinks. Using a sharp knife dipped in flour, make slits in the dough then pull apart the slits to shape them into large holes, flouring your hands as needed.
Brush the surface with olive oil and sprinkle the Parmesan liberally and evenly over the surface of the dough.
Bake the focaccia in the preheated oven for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the loaf, until the top is golden and crusty and the bottom is golden.
Remove from the oven onto a cutting board and serve warm.
This focaccia is fantastic! The dough does, indeed, literally take 5 minutes to mix together, so easy and simple! Putting together this focaccia was just as simple and fast. My boys just love olive bread and I decided to add the sun-dried tomatoes for a little tang and zing, the pine nuts for the crunch as well as the nuttiness and although I usually sprinkle the top of focaccia with coarse salt I thought the Parmesan was perfect with the Italian list of ingredients. The bread was perfect all the way through, a great crust and a dense, chewy yet airy, light crumb inside. Fantastic!