I make no secret of it, and I'll be the first to admit it. I'm a lousy bread baker. . . I'm not sure why, but when it comes to baking bread I make better door stops than I do bread . . . in fact, the bread I bake comes pretty close to resembling doorstops . . .
I've tried so many times through the years to perfect it, but to no avail. One thing my ex husband was really good at was baking bread. With five hungry and growing children bread was something that we really used a lot of and he used to bake 12 loaves a week . . .
Twelve huge and fluffy loaves of beautifully textured, delicious bread . . .
I think it was the oomph he was able to put into the kneading . . . or maybe not . . . but, he fair used to make our kitchen table dance across the floor when he was kneading his bread dough . . . the air and floor would be full of flour dust, but my goodness his bread turned out lovely every single time . . .
His loaves were embarassingly huge, gargantuan even . . . well, if you were a kid taking sandwiches in your school lunch at any rate, it did make a bit of a show . . . but, it was beautifully tender and moist on the inside, with a wonderfully crunchy crust on the outside . . .
I don't miss the man of course . . . but there are times when I miss his bread.
I have a bread machine, and it makes great bread, but probably not as good as the memory of his . . . mind you that memory comes along with the sight of the five smiling and hungry faces of my children lining the kitchen table and digging into thick hot fresh slices of it, with lots of cold butter and jam. The first loaf always disappeared in the twinkling of an eye . . .
I do make good pizza dough and focaccia . . . so all is not lost . . .
They just don't taste that good with jam . . .
*Olive Oil Focaccia*
Makes one 11 by 15 inch pan
(cuts into 10 to 12 pieces)
Although I am not a very good bread baker, or at least I don't think I am, this is one bread I can do that always turns out fabulously for me. It's quite like making a pizza dough in a way, which I can handle quite well. I like to strew fresh herbs across the top of mine before baking. I normally use a mixture of garlic, rosemary and parsley. Just be sure to chop them up really fine.
435ml warm water
1/4 ounce of active dry yeast
1 tsp honey
2 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
600g all purpose flour
mixture of chopped fresh herbs for topping (optional)
Put the water, yeast, honey, half of the olive oil and three handfuls of the flour into a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer until smooth. Cover and leave for 20 to 30 minutes until it is all frothy and foamy on the top. Mix in the rest of the flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt If you have a dough hook, mix it with the dough hook for 4 to 5 minutes. If you don't have a dough hook, then you will have to use your hands. The dough will be quite sticky so just kind of slap it from one side to the other in the bowl, until it is smooth. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or so.
Lightly grease an 11 by 15 inch baking tray with some vegetable shortening. Punch down the dough to flatten it and then spread it out into the tray, spreading it right out to the edges as evenly as you can. Try not to tear the dough. It may take a bit of perseverence to keep it spread, but eventually it will stay in place. Cover again and let rise for another 45 minutes.
Pre-heat your oven to 220*C/450*F. Mix the remaining olive oil with 1/2 cup hot water and 1 tsp salt. Stir until the salt dissolves. Make dimples in the top of the bread all over it's surface with your fingertips. Brush well with the saltwater mixture. Sprinkle with the herbs, if using.
Bake in the heated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and a bit crusty here and there. It should sound hollow on the bottom when tapped. Remove from the oven and cool a bit before cutting or tearing into pieces. We like this best warm, but it is also good served at room temperature or split and filled with meat and cheese.