This morning was dreary and much colder than yesterday, which meant only one thing: time to bake! I put on my favorite apron, pulled my hair up into a bandanna and…well actually I didn’t know what to do next. I had no clue what I wanted to make, only that I wanted to get my hands dirty (get your minds out of the gutter please). I knew I had to make cupcakes for a co-worker, but I also wanted to make something a little more savory.
Then, almost as if by divine inspiration, it hit me….
One of my biggest challenges in the baking arena has always been focaccia. No matter what recipe I use, it either comes out too dry or too hard. Even worse, it almost always lacks any flavor. However, I always make a hearth bread that comes out perfectly every time. With these things rattling in my head, I decided to alter the hearth bread recipe to more closely mirror a focaccia…and to add some things into the dough to add flavor. I cobbled my thoughts onto a scratch sheet of paper and came up with this:
3 1/2 Cups Bread Flour
1 Packet of Dry Yeast
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 to 1 2/3 Cups Warm Water
5 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Head of Garlic, Roasted (see instructions below)
2 Tablespoons Rosemary
1 Large Onion, Carmelized (see instructions below)
Good Quality Balsamic Vinegar
Gruyere Cheese, grated (use as much as you want)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
First and foremost, you must roast the head of garlic as it is going into the bread dough. Tear off a square of foil big enough to completely cover the garlic. Place the garlic in the center of the foil, drizzle it liberally with olive oil and then loosely wrap it up. Place the garlic pocket in the oven and let it roast for about 45 minutes. Take out the garlic and let it cool completely. When cooled, squeeze out the garlic paste from each clove and into a small bowl. Take either a fork, a whisk or whatever is handy and mash and whip the roasted garlic together.
Chop about two sprigs of rosemary (enough to fill up two tablespoons) and in a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast salt and chopped rosemary. Measure out the warm water in a large measuring cup and add the olive oil directly to the water. Stir to incorporate the two liquids (as best as you can combine oil and water…almost like my last relationship) and then slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. Before stirring everything together, drop in the roasted garlic paste. WARNING: make sure the garlic doesn’t all clump together on one side of the bowl. Once you’re sure the garlic is fully incorporated throughout the dough, stir until a dough starts to form.
At this point, you can either knead the dough by hand or use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook into a soft, pliable dough. Form a ball with the dough and place it in a mixing bowl lightly coated with olive oil. Turn the dough over a few times to coat it slightly with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise to double its size (which takes about an hour…or an episode of Rock of Love…yeah, I watch the skank parade, what of it?).
While waiting for the dough to rise, we can move on to carmelizing the onion, which will be used as a topping for the bread. Slice the onion, making pretty little rings and place them in a skillet on medium high heat. Coat the onions with balsamic vinegar, making sure there is enough in the pan to carmelize the onion. WARNING 2: Be careful about how much balsamic vinegar you use. I had to chuck one onion because I got a bit too balsamic happy (I love balsamic vinegar), creating an overpoweringly vinegar onion. Stir the onions frequently to ensure they do not burn. Because the vinegar gives the onions a carmelized color, you have to test a bit of onion to make sure it’s fully carmelized. This process usually takes about 30-45 minutes. When fully carmelized, set the onions aside to cool.
And now back to the dough: when it’s double its original size, punch it down (but be gentle…we’re not in a boxing class here) and let it sit for 10 minutes. Tear the dough into two smaller balls, rolling each one out into medium sized, oval shaped discs. Place each disc on a nonstick baking sheet, place dish towels over each one and allow them to rise for about 30 minutes.
While waiting, we must now turn to the cheese…and my less than restrained love for it. I cannot be trusted with measurements when it comes to cheese because I add way more than the average person. So I will just say to grate as much cheese as you would like to place on the top of the bread (which for me meant a half block…granted a good bit went into my mouth as opposed to on the bread, but whatever).
When each disc has properly risen, poke at each one with your finger in different places, creating dimples in the dough. Place an even layer of onions on top of each disc (don’t try to do this with a utensil…use your fingers) and then sprinkle the cheese over the onions. Place each baking sheet into the oven, baking them for 20-30 minutes or until the discs turn a golden brown, but the bread is still pliable to the touch.
Because I can’t be trusted with bread (especially bread topped with cheese), I took one loaf upstairs to my housemates. They can actually smell everything I cook through the vents, so it would be cruel for me not to share. These guys are brutally honest…and they love to eat, so they make for great taste testers. Since I wasn’t following a recipe, I was a bit nervous all the flavors would meld together well. However, after the guys devoured the loaf like prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, I figured this recipe was worth sharing. If any of you guys make this, let me know how it turns out for you. And if you have any suggestions, share ’em with me!
One more thing –
As I mentioned previously, I’m heading to New Orleans this week for a conference and plan to eat my way through the city. If any of you dear readers have suggestions on restaurants that I MUST try, drop me a line. My eating partners in crime and I are all about trying local restaurants, so don’t be afraid to suggest dives…we just care about the grub being good!