Wednesday, May 23, 2007


There’s something incredibly relaxing about kneading dough. The movement, feeling the dough spring to life in your hands. There is such a wonderful rhythm about it; it immediately puts me at ease. Make no mistake, I am not out to recreate the perfect French baguette, but a simple dough like this is worth the effort.

This dough is particularly great because of its versatility. Often I’ll divide the completed dough in half, bake off a loaf for sandwiches, toss the other half of dough in a zip-top bag and stash it in the freezer. Then on another day I’ll pull out the frozen dough, defrost it, and turn it into my favorite shrimp-and-cilantro-pesto pizza. Or for something sweet – doughnuts! I use round cookie cutters (or even an upside down drinking glass and knife) to cut out doughnut-like shapes then fry up the dough. Dredge in cinnamon-sugar, sprinkle with powdered sugar, or slather the top with Nutella.

Today I’ve turned the focaccia loaf into one of my sandwich staples. Simply split the baked loaf and spread each side with your choice of condiment – I’ve used basil pesto and sun-dried tomato pesto. Normally I’d make my own pesto, but store bought is fine. Layer in sliced turkey and provolone cheese, sandwich together, slice, and eat! It’s a great item to have on hand. In my college days, when I knew I had a busy week coming up, I’d put this together, keep it in the fridge and I’ve got a gourmet-ish sandwich lunch all set for the week.

5 ½ - 6 cups all-purpose flour
2 (1/4 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups warm water
1/3 cup olive oil
Fresh rosemary (optional)
Grated parmesan cheese (optional, but please, please stray from the canned stuff)

Combine the salt and 5 cups of the flour in a bowl. Mix together the yeast, sugar, and water in a separate bowl. Set aside until foamy (about 5 minutes).Stir in yeast mixture and olive oil into flour mixture. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough, incorporating extra flour until you have a soft but not sticky dough. Place dough back into bowl (either greased or lightly floured). Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Grease a half-sheet baking tray or two, 9 x 13-inch baking pans. Take risen dough and spread to fit baking tray as best you can (split dough in half first if using two 9 x 13-inch pans). The dough may want to resist, so let it rest a few minutes and stretch to fit again. Get as close as you can to the edges, but the dough will puff and stretch a little more during the next rising. Cover and let dough rise for about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Using your fingers make indentations in the top of the dough. Drizzle with olive-oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary, and parmesan cheese as desired. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.

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