As a partner in Dr. Kracker, I obsess about new flatbread formulas, and occasionally, my cracker obsession influences my occasional home baking. Such is the case with my latest focaccia bake!
Critical to baking focaccia is learning how to spell it, and whether there are two “c’s” at the beginning or the end!
Second most important thing is that focaccia be moist rather than cakey and dense. I learned to bake great focaccia from a dedicated and totally passionate Bolognese baker, Mauricio. Since I no longer work every day in the bakery, I don’t have the luxury of multiple days to prepare preferments. The preferments are the source of flavor, aromas and texture. The challenge for the home baker is to bake great focaccia in one day or 10 hours. (I had a cracker dream the other night that gave me an idea how to take my focaccia from great to killer! But first some definitions.)
What makes breads great? The quick and easy response is flavor and texture. But when we say flavor, do we mean their taste or their aroma? Remember that we can only taste four basic flavors: sour, sweet, salt and bitter, and a fifth, called umami, that has been recently described. Part of great bread is the manipulation of these five flavors, especially the sweet and bitter that can be found in an over-the-top crust where caramelized flavors predominate.
The nose perceives aroma, and there are unlimited combinations of aromas that the baker can play with to entice, please, entertain and addict.
The essence of transferring aroma is moisture. The first rule of great bread is add as much water as you can to the dough, and in the case of focaccia this means using recipe that is more ciabatta than standard focaccia. All bad focaccia is dry and cakey, and usually defined by a few basic flavor and herby aroma. Nothing interesting nothing complex. A waste of calories and baker effort.
Killer focaccia begins with a preferment. A preferment is a catch-all term for sponges, sourdoughs and poolishes, these are standard ways bakers create more flavor. My focaccia always starts with a poolish that I mix while I brew my tea at 6 in the morning. My dream was about a new Dr. Kracker recipe and involved the creation of a sourdough flavor. The insight was that I had in my fridge the means to create a quick sourdough that would enhance flavor and texture. Bear with me and I will describe this very easy sourdough that I combined with my poolish.
My normal poolish for focaccia is two cups of water, two cups of flour (1/4 cup of which is whole spelt flour—bacteria prosper with whole grains just like the human body— and 1 ¾ cups regular white bread flour), 1 tablespoon of sugar to nourish the yeast and 1 package of dry yeast. These ingredients ferment for 5 to 6 hours, depending on my program for the day, and this poolish creates a pleasantly sweet, yeasty aroma as well as a spongy texture – but no sour notes. My insight was to replace ¼ cup of the water with a German bread drink (Brottrunk) which is like kombucha and rich in lactobacillus bacteria. Since Kanne bread drink is not available in the US, our friend Kevin came up with another fantastic alternative:
As a refresher, I again watched all four segments of your “killer focaccia” YouTube video. I heard you mention lactobacillus – specifically lactobacillus brevis. I did an online search for that particular probiotic and noted it’s found in sauerkraut, of all places!
Lacking the Kanne Bread Drink, I substituted the brine found in Bubbie’s brand of sauerkraut, which the label claims “no preservatives” and “natural probiotics”. I used approximately 1/8 cup in the preferment for my initial attempt. The next day, I omitted the malt from the dough but included a small pinch of ascorbic acid. I baked it at 500 for about 8 minutes and then reduced the heat to 405 for another 12 -15 minutes. Oh my!!!
Normally, a sourdough will take several days to start and will involve multiple feedings or builds. Easy enough to schedule in the bakery, but not at home. The beauty of using probiotic drinks like bread drink or kombucha is that during this 5 or 6 hour preferment they will not be able to overwhelm the yeasty flavor that is totally pleasant and very umami. At the same time, they will provide the missing sour note that tickles both the tongue and the nose. Moreover, this acidity will help improve the dough extensibility and create a more porous and intriguing structure of the crumb.
Continue with Part 2: Mixing The Dough