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Focaccia

Sponge Starter

1 1/2 cup (12 oz) very warm water (105-115 deg F)
1/4 t active dry yeast
3 1/2 cup (16 oz) unbleached all-purp. flour

Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir vigorously
with a wooden spoon for 2-3 minutes, until a smooth, somewhat
elastic batter has formed. The batter will be very stiff; it gets
softer and more elastic after it has proofed. You may find it
easier to mix the sponge using an electric mixer, with a paddle or
dough hook, on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Scrape the sponge
into a 2 qt clear plastic container and cover with plastic wrap.
At this point you have two options:

if you plan to make your dough later that same day, let the sponge
rest at room temperature until it has risen to the point where it
just begins to collapse. this may take from 6-8 hours, depending
on the temperature of the sponge, the temperature of the room, and
the strength of the yeast. The sponge will triple in volume and
small dents and folds will begin to appear in the top as it reaches
its peak and then begins to deflate. The sponge is now in perfect
condition to be used in a dough. It's best if you have already
weighted or measured out all of your other recipe ingredients before
the sponge reaches this point so you can use it before it collapses
too much.

If you're not planning to make your dough until the next day or
the day after, put the covered sponge in the refrigerator and let
it rise there for at least 14 hours before taking it out to use in
a recipe. be sure to compensate for the cold temperature of the
starter by using warm water (85-90 deg F) in the dough instead of
the cool water specified in the recipe. Or let the starter sit
out, covered, until it reaches room temperature (this may take
several hours) - but don't let it collapse too much before you use
it.


Focaccia with Basil Oil
makes 2 8" square breads or one 12x17" bread

1/2 t active dry yeast
1 3/4 cup plus 2 T (15 oz) warm water (85-90 deg F)
1 1/2 cup (12 oz) sponge starter
4 1/2 cup (22 1/2 oz) high gluten (bread) flour
1 T plus 1 1/4 t kosher salt
2 T plus 1 1/2 t (1 1/4 oz) olive oil
2 T plus 1 1/2 t (1 1/4 oz) milk
sliced tomatoes
sauteed onions
pitted imported olives
1/2 cup (4 oz) basil oil (recipe follows)
additional olive oil and kosher salt for topping
fresh basil leaves for garnish

Place the yeast and warm water in a large bowl. Stir with a fork
to dissolve the yeast and allow to stand for about 3 minutes. Add
the sponge to the yeast mixture and mix with your fingers for 1-2
minutes to break up the sponge. The mixture should be foamy. Add
the flour and mix it in with your hand, lifting the wet mixture
over the flour to incorporate it. When the dough becomes a shaggy
mass, knead it in the bowl until it becomes smooth and somewhat
elastic, about 5 minutes. Cover it with plastic wrap and let rest
for 20 minutes. (This rest period is the autolyse (when the flour
can absorb the liquid)).

Add the salt to the dough and knead briefly to incorporate it.
Gradually add the oil and milk and knead gently until all the liquid
has been incorporated. Move the dough to a lightly floured work
surface and knead until it is very smooth, silky, and elastic,
about 7-10 minutes. the dough will be sticky, so you will need to
keep the work surface and your hands lightly floured, but don't
over do it - the dough should be wet but supple and springy.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn it to coat with oil,
and cover it tightly with oiled plastic wrap. (At this point, the
dough can be refrigerated until the next day.) Let the dough rise
at room temperature (75-75 deg F) until almost doubled in volume,
about 2 1/2 hours. (If you refrigerate the dough, it may rise
adequately overnight; if not, let it rise at room temperature until
doubled.)

Line two 8 inch square pans or one 12x17" baking sheet with baking
parchment. Brush the parchment and sides of the pan)s_ generously
with olive oil. When the dough as risen, loosen it from the bowl
with lightly floured hands and gently pour it onto a floured work
surface. if using two pans, cut it into two equal pieces. Place
half the dough in the center of each square pan, or place all the
dough in the center of the rectangular baking sheet, and press on
it gently to stretch it evenly out to the edges of the pan(s). be
careful not to tear the dough. If the dough resists stretching,
let it rest for 2-5 minutes, or until it becomes supple enough to
stretch again. (if the dough is dry, you may have to repeat the
resting/stretching procedure several times.) Brush the top of the
dough lightly with olive oil, cover with lightly oiled plastic
wrap, and let rise for 1-2 hours, or until the dough has doubled
and fills the pan(s) (a finger pressed into the dough will leave
an indentation).

Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425 deg F and
place a baking stone in the oven to preheat. Arrange the tomatoes,
sauteed onions, or olives in a decorative random or symmetrical
pattern on the dough, being careful not to deflate it. With your
fingertips, randomly press dimples all over the dough, making deep
impressions that go all the way down to the pan bottom(s) - one
every 2 to 3 inches is enough. Don't press too vigorously, or you
may make holes in the dough or deflate it. Stir the basil oil and
lightly brush it over the dough, allowing it to pool in the dimples.
Sprinkle with kosher salt.

If you are using two pans, put one on the baking stone and one on
a rack above. For just one focaccia, put the pan directly on the
baking stone or on the rack above the stone - the stone gives a
crisper bottom crust
but you must watch carefully so the bottom doesn't burn. Using a plant
sprayer, mist the focaccia 6 to 8 times, then quickly shut the oven
door. Repeat the misting procedure after 1 minute, then again 1 minute
later.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 deg F and
bake for 15 to 25 minutes longer, or until golden brown and crusty but
still very soft inside. If using two pans, watch the pan on the stone
carefully to be sure the focaccia doesn't burn on the bottom, and rotate
the pans halfway through the baking time.

Remove the focaccia from the oven and immediately brush it lightly with
basil oil. Cool in the pan(s) 10 minutes, then carefully slide it onto
a cooling rack. Remove the parchment (to prevent steam from softening
the bottom crust) and let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature, with
a few basil leaves and cut into squares.



Basil Oil

1 large bunch fresh basil
1/8 t kosher salt (or to taste)
3/4 cup (6 oz) extra-virgin olive oil

Prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl. Bring a medium saucepan of
water to a boil. Blanch the basil leaves in the boiling water for 30
seconds. Drain them in a strainer and immediately put them in the ice
water bath to cool.

Drain the basil and squeeze out the excess moisture. Place the blanched
leaves in a food processor or a blender and add the salt. Turn on the
machine and slowly pour in the olive oil. Continue processing to a
smooth puree.

Transfer the basil oil to a container and put a piece of plastic wrap
directly on the surface to help preserve the bright green color. The
oil will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator as long as the
plastic wrap stays in contact with the surface. Use the basil oil and
pureed basil as a topping for focaccia, on cooked pasta, or in a salad
dressing.

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