Bread of the Month: Growing a garden-topped focaccia

During the last year or so, new kinds of gardens began appearing all over food social media. These garden-scapes have continued to grow and blossom, many of them becoming beautiful works of art. They are all edible…and their foundation? A bed of delicious, moist, dimpled, oily and flavorful focaccia, a favorite type of flat bread, that’s a little thicker than flat (more like deep-dish pizza thickness) and has so many topping possibilities, it was bound to inspire gardens and more, sooner or later. 

I was bent on making one of these edible gardens, that include an array of herbs and veggies designed to look like a landscape. I had seen so many beautiful, inspiring versions, The creative possibilities were endless…I was eager to try my hand at my own.

I wanted to make a sourdough focaccia and put my starter (“Petrie” with an “e”) to work…again. I found what I thought was a good, simple and seemingly reliable recipe from King Arthur Flour (https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/sourdough-focaccia-recipe). Reading through the instructions, I learned that the really lengthy part of this recipe was waiting out the risings of the dough, particularly an overnight turn on a sheet pan in the refrigerator.

One thing I love about many focaccia recipes, including the one I had chosen, was the use of fresh ingredients, like honey (I chose a great local honey) and olive oil (here, too, I used great oil from a Napa purveyor). All these base flavors build a better, more earthy focaccia.

Yeast, warm water, olive oil and honey are mixed with the flour and starter and all is combined to make a soft dough that is then kneaded (5 to 7 minutes in the mixer; 12 to 15 minutes by hand). 

The dough is placed in a bowl greased with more olive oil and allowed to rise until nice and doubled, about one hour.

The dough is then folded and allowed another hour of rising.

After the dough has risen a second time, it is stretched into a heavily oiled half-sheet pan. In my case, I cut off about one-quarter of the dough to freeze for pizza or a smaller focaccia later and stretched the dough into a smaller, jelly roll-sized pan (15-inch by 9-inch). I used this smaller pan because of limited fridge space. This pan was covered and put into the refrigerator for 14 to 16 hours.

The dough had done a little rising in the refrigerator. It looked plump and waiting for its toppings.

But first, as is with focaccia tradition, the dough is “dimpled” with one’s fingers to allow for another drizzling of olive oil to soak in over top.

I had so much fun decorating the focaccia and creating a little garden-scape of my own! I put herbs from the backyard to use (parsley and rosemary), as well as veggies from a recent produce box. I used rings of orange and yellow bell pepper for the sun, thinly sliced shallots for “clouds” with garlic slivers as raindrops (we are in a drought). I made flower blooms of grape tomato halves, herbs and green onions for grasses and other plants and portobello mushrooms were, well, mushrooms popping up along the bottom of the scene. I could have looked upon it all day, but it needed to go int he oven.  A light sprinkling of large-flake sea salt, and off it went!

The smell of baking bread, combined with all the lightly roasting veggies, was a heavenly combo. In a fairly short time, the sheet pan of focaccia garden was golden brown and the veggies had taken on a new look, too.

The parsley and rosemary had crisped up, the little tomato blossoms had burst; the onions, shallots, peppers and garlic had taken on a caramelized tinge. I wanted to keep looking at it — and smelling it. But I also, reluctantly, wanted to cut into it and dig in.

The cut wedges of focaccia seemed to have the right tenderness and crumb that focaccia has — slightly denser, crumblier, fluffier and moister than a traditional yeast or sourdough bread. Focaccia is like bread concentrate, only lighter tasting, with that irresistible tenderness. And with the golden, roasted veggies and herbs on top, it become something else, like a roasted salad-topped bread square, a little pizza-like, but even better. 

The planting season had begun, but it was far from over.

Use your imagination — and veggies, aromatics and herbs — to top this delightful sourdough focaccia recipe from King Arthur Flour: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/sourdough-focaccia-recipe

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