Last June, I realized a wish I had held in my heart for many years: I learned to row (remare).
Upon hearing of my new activity, one of my neighbors lent me The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. She thought I would enjoy the book and she was right.
It tells the true story of "nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Olympic Games." The book trailer gives you an idea of the main story. The book sets that story within its historical context (the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, Nazism in Germany) and also within the context of rowing as a sport.
The main character of the story is Joe Rantz. Orphaned at 4, abandoned by his father and second wife at 15, through hard work and sheer determination, Joe managed to attend the University of Washington and there he joined the rowing team.
Rowing is a physically demanding sport. Without a family and with extremely limited means, Joe Rantz was always hungry. After I practice, and I do so nowhere near the intensity level of Joe and his crew mates, I come home ready for a meal.
The description of Joe's craving for a home to go back to at the end of the day, for the family he remembers from his early years, made me want to prepare something for him, something flavorful, filling and nutritious, like focaccia.
After testing various recipes and various flours, the following is my current favorite. The topping is dictated by the season. Earlier, I made mostly cherry tomato focaccia. Once pears started to appear in my CSA box, I gave them a try and liked the result.
One inspiration for this focaccia was the recipe in How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. What I got from the recipe is the amount of flour, yeast and salt and some elements of the basic procedure, which is similar to other recipes that use same-day fermentation. I added my taste, my experience and things I learned at the San Francisco Baking Institute.
Ingredients for the focaccia dough:
- 100 g / 3 1/2 oz. Ultra-Grain all-purpose flour (see Note below)
- 85 g / 3 oz. King Arthur Flour Italian-style flour (see Note below)
- 15 g / 1/2 oz. stone-ground whole-wheat flour (I use locally grown and milled Hollis wheat)
- 160 ml water at 85 F / 30 C
- 0.8 g / 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
- 3/4 teaspoon / 4 g fine sea salt
- EV olive oil in a mister (to oil the bowl and the dough)
Ingredients for the topping:
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary needles
- 2 pears, possibly organic
Note: Ultra-Grain all-purpose flour is a blend that includes whole-grain flour. I am listing the brands of the flours I use not as a form of advertisement, but because I have made focaccia with other flours and these give me the best result. I have no business relationship with either company.
Prepare the dough
Start early in the morning if you want to bake focaccia for lunch, or in the afternoon if you want to bake it for dinner.
In a small bowl, measure the three flours. In a larger bowl, measure the water. Add the flours to the water and stir with a wooden spoon or a dough whisk until a shaggy dough forms (I purchased the smaller version of this tool and love it: it works nicely and is easy to clean).
Sprinkle yeast on the dough, but do not fold it in. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 15 minutes. In the meantime, oil well the bowl in which the dough will rise. A wide glass bowl makes it easy to manipulate the dough.
Wet the spoon (if using it) and stir dough to fold in the yeast. Add the salt and stir some more until it is well incorporated. Transfer the dough to the prepared oiled bowl. This is a fairly sticky dough, hence I recommend you wet your hands before handling it. With wet hands, letter-fold the dough and then flip it to oil the surface. This is your time 0. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 45 minutes.
This very nice video on the SF Baking Institute website describes and shows stretching and folding: as Mac says in the video, the stretching part is of fundamental importance in gluten development. The video is not long, but if you don't have time to watch it in its entirety, you can start at 4':30" and watch Mac show how to stretch and fold.
- A) Stretch and fold the focaccia dough in the bowl along both sides (length and width).
- B) Cover and let rest for 1 hour.
Repeat A and B two more times, at which point you will be at time 3 hours and 45 minutes and your dough should show bubbles on the surface.
Bake the pears
Some time while the dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 F / 177 C.
Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or a piece of parchment paper. Wash, quarter and core the pears. Place them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
Take the pears out of the oven and let cool. Set aside until ready to use.
Shape the focaccia
Lightly oil a silicone baking mat or piece of parchment paper resting on a baking sheet. Flip the bowl onto the mat and let the dough drop. Cover it with another baking sheet or oiled plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.
Push the dough out gently with your fingertips to spread it into a roughly square shape, about 9 inches / 23 cm wide. Cover it as before and let it rest for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, chop the rosemary and cut the pear quarters into 1/4 inch / 6 mm thick slices. You will not need both pears: you can add leftovers to a salad, a frittata or stuffing for an acorn squash (just to mention a few options).
Dimple the dough gently with your fingertips to spread it a little bit more, then mist the surface with olive oil. Sprinkle the rosemary evenly on the dough, then distribute the pear slices so they dot the focaccia, but don't blanket it.
Cover as before and let rise for 20-30 minutes while you prepare the oven.
Prepare the oven
Place a baking stone or tile in the cold oven and preheat the oven to 475 F / 245 C.
Bake the focaccia
Mist the dough with olive oil one last time. Transfer the baking mat or parchment paper with the dough onto the hot stone or tile.
Bake for 15 minutes then check. The focaccia is ready when golden on the bottom and surface. Bake a few minutes longer, as needed.
Carefully slide the baking mat or parchment paper with the focaccia onto a baking sheet and then transfer the focaccia to a wire rack to cool slightly. Transfer to a wooden cutting board, slice and enjoy.
This focaccia is both rustic and refined (rustica e raffinata), pleasantly chewy and delicately oily. Pears and rosemary go well together and the soft fruit, somewhat sweet, clamors for some cheese to go with it.
I think Joe could have eaten a whole focaccia after rowing practice.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the focaccia alle pere e rosmarino audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]