Friday, 29 February 2008

Focaccia - at last

Focaccia isn't known as the most complicated bread recipe in the world. Maybe that's the reason why it took me a long time to try for myself. What could possibly go wrong with a straight yeast dough baked on a sheet until golden-brown and crispy? Well, a lot - as I had to find out a couple of months ago. Despite following the recipe of a well-trusted online source to the letter including an overnight rest in the fridge, my focaccia was rather bland with a weird texture and a weird look to it, too.

Not wanting to admit defeat, I decided to forget about this project unti I read the announcement for Bread Baking Day #7 over at Chili&Ciabatta: With the chosen topic of flatbreads, I suddenly felt the urge to redeem myself. And with "The Italian Baker" by Carol Field freshly borrowed from the library, it almost seemed like a hint of fate.

Luckily, this time everything went well and I can report that making focaccia isn't going to give me doubts about my bread baking abilities anymore. Carol Field's recipe yields a tender and crusty focaccia that is perfect for picnics and should you happen to have leftovers, it also makes a very good pappa al pomodoro.
However, I still don't know why it didn't work out the first time...

PS: I so want to participate in Bread Baking Day #7 - a food blogging event created by Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte - but as I'm already far too late, we'll see if Petra can still add me to her round-up...

Herbed Focaccia

The ingredients

2 1/2 active dry yeast or 18g fresh yeast
1/4 cup warm water for dissolving the yeast
2 1/4 cups plus 1-2 tbsp water, at room temperature
2 tbsp olive oil
1kg bread flour
1 tbsp or 15g salt

For the topping:
olive oil, coarse sea salt, herbs

The yield
Makes enough dough for two baking sheets (not completely covered with dough) or three big round focacce

Stir active dry yeast into warm water to dissolve. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Using a big bowl and a wooden spoon, mix all the ingredients together but hold back a little of the water to adjust dough consistency. The dough will come together as a lumpy mass.

Depending on your preferences, either lightly oil or flour your work surface and knead the dough 8 to 10 minutes until velvety and soft. I like to give the dough a 20 minutes break in the middle with shortens the kneading time quite a bit.

To test if the gluten is properly developped, I do my own kind of windowpane test. Similar to shaping a pizza, I hold up the dough ball and let it stretch over my hands mainly due to its own weight while rotating it a little bit. That way, the dough gets stretched gently until you can really look through it.
The regular way of doing a windowpane test is pulling off a piece and stretching that until it ressembles a thin sheet of dough. That way, my dough always tears, no matter how long I've kneaded it.

For the first rise, put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with foil, and let rise until doubled (1.5 hours).

Cut the dough into how many pieces of focaccia you want to make and gently stretch them to cover your prepared baking sheets. Cover the dough with kitchen towels or foil to prevent it from drying out and let rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile you can prepare herbed olive oil by heating oil and your favourite mix of fresh or dried herbs until warm. Do not let it come to a boil. Let the herbs steep until you're ready to top your flatbreads.

Dimple the dough with your fingertips. These little dips will hold the pools of olive oil, herbs, and salt during the bake. Cover again and let rise until doubled (2 hours).

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, preferably using a baking stone.

Using a pastry brush, top the focaccia with (herbed) olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Put into the hot oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. During the first 5 minutes, splash water on the bottom to create steam.

The source
Adapted from Carol Field: The Italian Baker

The hint
If you have to bake both baking sheets at once, make sure to switch them around after half of the baking time is over. Baking several sheets at once without using the fan-bake option isn't ideal though. If one of your focacce doesn't brown well, you can use the grill for the last one or two minutes but you'll have to watch it closely. Otherwise the thinner parts will get very dark very quickly...

Daring Bakers: A Tribute to Julia Child

It's time for another Daring Bakers' Challenge - this time, just reading the recipe proved to be a real challenge: To reproduce Julia Child's version of French Bread, you have to work your way through not one or two but a staggering 15 pages. Making the bread was a lengthy process, too, that required three rising times. That said, the recipe wasn't difficult at all and the result was well worth the effort. Due to a rather frantic schedule, I made it quite a while ago knowing that there wouldn't be any time for baking adventures later in the month. That hasn't changed yet (not much cooking and even less blogging going on here at the moment as you might have noticed), so please forgive me if I keep this one short. (There's even another bread baking event closing tomorrow where I've participated but nothing's posted yet...)

I'm really glad that our hosts, Breadchick and Sara, chose this particular recipe. Otherwise, I would never have known that simple all-purpose flour makes for such a lovely loaf! What impressed me the most was its keeping quality: Even with no pre-ferment or sourdough involved, it still tasted perfect after two days. I think one of the two loafs made it to a fourth day or so, got turned into toast, and then his life span was definitely over. Despite the long time from start to finish, the recipe doesn't require a lot of work and I quite enjoyed the long kneading time. Usually, I would stop in between and give the dough a rest which shortens the kneading time quite a bit.

I thoroughly enjoyed this bread - keep those bread challenges coming!

You can check out the recipe here and don't forget to visit all (ok, some of the 500something) of the Daring Bakers as well as our non-blogging members.

Friday, 15 February 2008

A Heart for my Valentine... or two

Celebrating Valentine's Day is not considered a German tradition. In recent years, it seems to have caught on a bit but you probably won't see many of the last-minute, rose-buying, desperate-feeling boyfriends storming into a flower shop. Whilst I understand that many men think it ridiculous to buy completely overpriced stuff just because it's the 14th of February, I still think it's never too late to have a bit more romance in your life!

When I saw Zorra's announcement of A Heart for Your Valentine , I knew that I had to participate. With my boyfriend coming from the Black Forest Area, I also knew instantly what to make for him. The only problem, I didn't have any kirsch which is more or less the crucial ingredient for a proper Black Forest Cake. However, love is all about ignoring little imperfections, right..;-)

With only a cookie cutter in heart-shape, this black forest cake comes in very small portions but it's entirely up to you how many you'll eat...

Zorra is posting the round-up continuously in two parts, so check-out all the wonderful heart-shaped creations!

Black Forest Cake

The ingredients

6 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
175g caster sugar
90g butter
140g dark chocolate, in pieces
150g flour
1 tsp baking powder (optional)
vanilla (optional)

For assembly:
canned cherries (I like to use the juice, too, slightly thickened with cornstarch, and a hint of cinnamon)
whipped cream, sweetened to taste with vanilla sugar

kirsch for dousing the cake
chocolate shavings

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius (no fan-bake).

Melt the butter. Once the butter isn't bubbling anymore, add chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted and evenly combined. Let cool until lukewarm but still liquid.

Using a heatproof bowl resting on a hot water bath, beat egg yolks and sugar until pale, creamy and voluminous. This will take a couple of minutes.

Using another bowl and clean beaters, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form.

Sift the flower and baking powder (if using) onto the foamy egg yolks. Pour the chocolate-butter mixture on top. Do not mix at this stage.

Add one third of the meringue and stir in to lighten the batter. Lightly fold in the remaining meringue.

Pour into a baking pan (26 cm in diametre or a baking sheet) that's buttered only at the bottom. To be safe, use baking paper, too. Bake immediately. A round cake takes roughly 35 minutes, a sheet cake a bit shorter. The cake is done when the top feels springy. Don't overbake or the cake will dry out.

Once cooled, cut out little hearts and assemble or fill one large cake with cherries and cream.

The source
GU: "Die grosse Schule des Backens"

The hint
Some recipes specify that you can also add kirsch to the cream. If you want to really taste the kirsch that way, you'll have to add a lot and I recommend stabilizing the cream with gelatin. Many, many years ago, I added too much kirsch, the cream wouldn't become stiff, I kept beating and ended up with kirsch-flavoured butter...

Saturday, 9 February 2008


Not so sure if I really deserve all your nice comments about being a good BBD-host... After reading Helen's comment, I realized that having two different email accounts merged together also means having two different spam folders that should be checked...
At least there's one good thing about it, the list of BBD#6-entries has grown to a whopping 43 posts. I will add the two new ones asap! Sorry about that!

And here they finally are:

Allie of the world is getting better offers an unusual flavour combination with her Pear Buckwheat Bread. The dried pear pieces are re-hydrated in white wine and toasted walnuts enhance the nutty quality of the buckwheat flavour.

Mary of Shazam in the Kitchen tried her hands on bagels, dipped in a rich seed mixture including caraway, sesame, poppy seeds, garlic, salt and pepper.

I'm really sorry for the long delay, guys!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

BBD#6 - The Round-Up - Part Two

After carefully checking my mailbox, I've found some more entries for BBD#6 - 41 altogether! (Please let me know if I still missed something...) The second part of the BBD#6 has a lot to offer and starts off with something that could well be the inofficial logo of this month's theme:

Bron of Bron Marshall took the theme literally and shaped B R E A D using pretzel dough. Needless to say, her letters look as perfect as her pretzels!

Note: I've got one more entry to add!

If you're looking for a healthy alternative to croissants, head over to Baking History and try her Vienna Rolls! Little dots of cold butter are incorporated into the bread dough and make for a flaky, crusty result.

K of Bread/Pain created Syrian-style twisted cracker rings with a nutty sesame topping.

Wanna see a super-cute chubby turtle made out of bread dough and with chocolate chunk eyes? Head over to Marija of Palachinka!

L of Lemonpi opted for pretzels (a choice I can understand very well!). However, she tried a sweet version from Finnland called Viipurinrinkeli - with such a cute name, it's a must-try!

Bread plaits seem to be by far the most popular bread shape and that's exactly what Marta of Los fogones de mi casa created, using an all-purpose flour based dough.

Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas has a Challah recipe up her sleeve that won't let you down - and with a filling of roasted hazelnuts and nutella, I'm sold!

At first glance, Cakelaw didn't think much of the appearance of her filled bread ring. However, its taste won her over. You simply can't go wrong with ham, eggs, cheese, tomato, and olives!

Same with Pam of Sidewalk Shoes: She wasn't happy with her Apple Challah that lost some of its filling during the bake. But who cares when you have such a nicely browned crust to bite in!

Following an old Italian tradition, Elizabeth of Blog from our Kitchen made Occhi di Santa Lucia - an S-shaped bread. Using her Wild Yeast Bread recipe the result went down a treat with lasagne.

More cute animals! Lien of Notitie van Lien not only made chubby little rabbit who could compete with the turtle over the title of the cutest bread animal ever! Lien also made an alligator who lost its dangerous appearance during baking and turned out to be more like a friendly platypus instead. That was still not enough for this keen shaper, and Lien also made an apricot-filled flower bread. Chapeau!

Kelly of Sass & Veracity also likes the way the Scandinavians make their bread: Check out her Finnish Pulla with cardamom!

Pasticcera/Pastry chef of Bella Baita View now living in Italy, decided to use a traditional Pain de Campagne recipe to shape it into two different kinds of epi de ble. One straight, one round, it's hard to say which one I like better.

Crusty, round, with twisted rays - what could this be? Lynnylu of Cafe Lynnylu created the most awesome Pain du Soleil.

Corum Blog can show off with another flower bread - this time using spelt flower which is a favourite of mine. Using different toppings, everyone can have a petal to his or her liking.

Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups recreated a classic, the famous Parker House Roll. She did give it a new twist, though, using a potato-based dough and lots of seeds.

Karen of Bake my Day gets a perfect crust-to-crumb ratio with her crusty epi de ble. It's time to use the scissors more often...

Susan of Wild Yeast certainly knows a thing or two about bread! If you want to know how to shape a perfect Couronne Bordelaise, head over to her blog. And the best part, you can do it without having to buy expensive equipment!

Pam of The Backyard Pizzeria also likes Italian breads: Her pane siciliano is s-shaped and of a lovely golden colour - thanks to semolina flour.

Holly of PheMOMenon stays true to the name of her blog and comes up with a truly phenomenal Kolach. If you like the flavours of orange, pecan, and chocolate, this sweet bread is for you!

For a cinnamon addict like me, these beautifully slashed cinnamon rolls are the perfect afternoon treat! Arden of In the Kitchen with Arden, could you please send me some...?

And last, but not least, there's the Swedish Tea Ring of Tartelette! In fact, she forgot to email me but as I'm checking her blog quite frequently, I was very pleased to see this yummy creation and it shall not go unnoticed!

PS: These are my BBD#6 creations! But you must excuse me for now, I need to get baking...

Saturday, 2 February 2008

BBD#6 - The Round-Up - Part One

Lots of people have been baking and shaping in the last few weeks and I must say it was a real pleasure seeing so many wonderful creations for Bread Baking Day #6 trickle into my mailbox. I received 35 entries from allover the world - thanks to Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte who created this popular food blogging event.

Now I'm absolutely spoiled for choice: Which one of these elaborate sweet and savoury breads should I try to recreate first..? I'm sure you'll see some of these recipes pop up on this blog in the course of the next few months and I hope that you will do just the same. The idea of sharing bread with friends and family is well-known allover the world and sharing bread recipes comes pretty close! There are many variations of braided bread, lots of unusual folding has been done, and even several inhabitants of the animal kingdom made it into this round-up!

The entries will appear in the order of arrival in my mailbox. To avoid an overly long post - and to draw more attention to each creation - I'll be splitting the round-up into two posts. The next one will come up very soon!

Meanwhile I'm looking forward to finding out what the theme of BBD#7 is going to be. Head over to the next host, Petra of Chili & Ciabatta, she'll reveal the secret on February 6!

Nora of Life's Smorgasbord opted for the ever so popular braided loaf: Her version uses potato for a tender texture. A little sugar turns this shiny loaf into a real tea time treat!

Gretchen of Canela & Comino from is a lucky one: With Challah on her must-try list for 2008, her choice for BBD#6 was obvious. That's how to go about new year's resolutions!

The German-speaking blogger-group Huettenhilfe prepared flatbread with herbs. Slashed in a criss cross pattern, this bread has lots of crusty bits to offer.

Petra from Chili & Ciabatta shares her vast knowledge about bread baking with a whole photo series: Learn how to make her beautifully folded Pan de Hojaldre or Pane Sfogliato!

Katie from Apple & Spice offers another tasty afternoon treat: Her Coffee, Almond, and Choc Chip Braided Bread goes down well with a cup of coffee or tea!

Sarah from What Smells So Good? enters the realm of fairy tales with her edible version of "The Prince and the Pauper": Her breadsticks contain peasant ingredients like rolled oats as well as expensive spices like saffron.

Ever wanted to know how to braid using four instead of three strands? With her poppy seed plait, Ulrike of Kuechenlatein shows you how!

There can never be enough recipes for plaited breads with poppy seeds: Patricia from Technicolor Kitchen presents the Brazilian version of this popular loaf which uses condensed milk - very yummy!

Boaz from Folding Pain took up the challenge and entered two different recipes: His sourdough couronne was wonderful already but his whole wheat stars with dried fruits and oats are absolutely stunning!

Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen shows off with her Bratislava Rolls. Dunking these sweet-filled crescents into a cup of tea is highly recommended!

I don't know how to handle a six-strand braid but Chris from Mele Cotte surly does. His sophisticated Challah is decorated with black and white sesame seeds.

Jenny from I'm hungry enters savoury bread to be pulled apart: With this Garlic and Herb Monkey Bread she won't be hungry any longer!

Aparna from My Diverse Kitchen offers a perfectly shaped Onion Fougasse. Well done!

DoriAnn from Baby Steps made - together with her little helper - not one but three Challahs: with three, five, and six strands!

Judy from Judy's gross eats wanted to come up with something unusual and she did, indeed: Her Colomba die Pasqua turned out beautiful!

BBD-founder Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte decided to shape a bread flower using the especially strong Manitoba flour and pumpkin seeds for decoration. As far as centrepieces go, I definitely prefer edible ones!

Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska: Blogger Laurie beats the cold by making the food of her second home, a Greek island, and tapping on the rich culinary traditions of the region. Check out her Algerian flat bread.

Part Two of the round-up will follow soon!