Although it might not look like it when I realize the bread dough needs another friggin hour to rise and I’m yelling obscenities from the kitchen and the dinner guests are starting to arrive and I still haven’t taken a shower and I smell like oil and armpits…I really do love hosting dinner parties. I mean, what kind of respectable gay man would I be if I didn’t? Besides, I don’t know why, but I get giddy just thinking about when we’re going to use the leaf extension for the dining room table.
Anyways, I find what I enjoy preparing the most whenever I entertain are a few dishes that I know well or that I can prepare in advance. Dishes I know like the back of my hand and that are gonna be a hit no matter how experimental I get. But I also like to take on at least one new food challenge per event (and an event can be a night at home alone with a pint of Three Twins Cookie’s N Cream ice cream while watching reruns of the Bravo Housewives episodes you’ve already seen three times. Don’t judge!)
Well, in my mind, bread is one of the biggest challenges you can embark on for the first time. The quantities, temperatures, and ingredients are all so important when baking, and if one variable is off, you’re ruined. Not to mention everyone kneads dough differently, and the taste of yeast can be too strong. Ideally you’re able to serve it fresh, right out of the oven, because I find that helps hide any flaws and adds so much to the dining experience, but if the bread’s a bust, then you’re entire meal can be thrown for the worst.
So when my parents were visiting from San Diego I decided to bake fresh focaccia bread for dinner. It seemed easy enough in the sense that I didn’t have to shape it into a knot or score it just right with a knife. It was also one of the few breads that I could make with a six-hour lead-time, considering some of the more exciting dough required a 24 friggin hours!
Focaccia is great, because you don’t really need to touch it all that much, and you can start the dough using a mixing bowl equipped with a dough hook. Once the bread is ready to be laid out on a cookie sheet, you can top it with almost anything you think will accompany dinner, and you’re done.
At the Fillmore Jazz District farmer’s market on Saturday morning I tasted the most delicious little cherry tomatoes. They were warm in the sun and burst in my mouth as if orgasming from being pressed between my teeth.
So that’s what I topped this focaccia with.
Focaccia with Roasted Tomatoes recipe
*The recipe for the base dough is from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.
- 7 cups of bread flour
- 3 ½ cups warm water
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tblsp coarse salt
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus 2 tblsp
- finishing salt
- 1-2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 1 large red onion sliced
Preheat the oven to 375°
On a rimmed baking sheet (I used a round non-stick cake pan) roast the whole tomatoes and sliced rings of onions after tossing them in olive oil, salt, pepper. Roast for 15 minutes total, tossing slightly along the way.
In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed fitted with the whisk attachment whisk the flour, water, and yeast. Then set it aside in a warm place where it can rise by nearly three times in size (approximately 2 hours). Make sure the dough is tightly covered. Depending on the environment where you allow it to rise, it may take less or more than the 2 hours….the best way to tell it’s ready is to look for lots of bubbles on the surface of the dough.
Add the salt and mix the dough with an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment on low speed for 4 minutes, scraping down the sides as necessary. When dough is clingy increase the speed to medium speed and beat for 20 seconds. The dough should be sticky, wet, and have elasticity.
This next step you need to be a little fast. With flour on your hands and dough scraper, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Since the dough will be unwieldy and goopy use the scraper to bring the bottom four sides (left, right, top, bottom) of the dough up and over, folding it towards the center. Turn the dough over and place it in a large lightly floured bowl with the creased side down. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit again (for an hour) in a warm place until it’s doubled in size.
After an hour repeat the last process. Fold the bottom of the dough out and over itself and then place it back in a lightly floured bowl with the creased side down. Let stand, covered, in a warm place for another hour.
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 450° with a rack on the lower third shelf. In a 17×12 inch rimmed baking sheet, pour ½ cup of olive oil and completely cover the bottom of the pan and set aside.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and then immediately transfer it to the oiled pan using your hands. Then turn it over, making sure both sides are completely coated in the oil. Use your fingers to push the dough out towards the sides of the pan until it fills the pan from edge to edge. Then cover it with plastic wrap (this is the final time I promise) and let it rest of 10 minutes. Then remove the plastic wrap and scatter the roasted tomatoes and onions over the top of the dough. Sprinkle some dried rosemary, basil, sage, or any other dried herbs you like over the top too. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil .
Rotating the pan halfway through, bake the sheet in the oven until golden brown around the edges and when the top is starting the brown as well (about 30 minutes). When it’s done, immediately take the bread out of the pan and let it cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.
- The reason you want to take it out of the pan right away is to stop the bread from cooking and burning. Remember, you’re practically frying this bread because it’s in oil and a piping hot pan.
- Try this same recipe, but switch up the toppings. I’ve made it with fresh figs, onions, garlic, just herbs, fennel….you get where I’m going with this.