Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rosemary and Himalayan Pink Salt Focaccia

A friend walked in to my house the other day, bringing with her a gust of the cold wind. As I opened the door she inhaled deeply the aroma that was filling the whole house from the basement to the second floor. "Mmmm... Smells like home" she commented. Indeed, is there anything that smells more homey than a freshly baked bread?

As the cold, too cold days arrived unexpectedly I forgot quickly about all the frozen desserts that I did not have a chance to post yet. All I dreamed of was a piece of warm cake, maybe one based on yeast? Or even better a piece of warm bread. I looked through the window at my gigantic rosemary bush bent by the strong wind and I instantly knew what I wanted to do.

From the youngest age, I have felt the urge to bake. I watched my grandmother bake and later helped her make hundreds of different cakes and I have never been afraid of experimenting with baking. I was only ten years old when, as a first person in my family, I made my own pizza from scratch. Of course it was a Polish version of it, based on a very thick crust and rich in sausage. But those first tries gave me the confidence to make more sophisticated desserts, and later also breads.

It is kind of funny how baking with yeast is different from other ways to bake. I know people who can make absolutely the best yeast cakes, which are light like feather, with different seasonal fruits, or with poppy seeds (e.g., for Christmas) but are not able to make any other kinds of cake. And I have met some, who bake excellent sponge cakes, but their yeast cakes are heavy, and often slack-baked. I still cannot reproduce the perfect yeast cakes my grandma made, but did OK with the Italian and Polish breads.

I haven't made focaccia for 20 years or more, so with some curiosity, I tossed all the ingredients in my Kitchen Aid mixer and let it work.I left a dough to rise for an hour, finished with fresh rosemary and finally salted with the Himalayan pink salt which is acclaimed to be the purest salt on earth. I put it in the oven and in half an hour the focaccia was ready. Before it even cooled down completely my two friends and my son were fighting for the last piece of the warm bread, licking their fingers to pick up every last grain of salt from the baking tin. There was nothing easier to make and more enjoyable on a cold November evening.

Rosemary and Himalayan Pink Salt Focaccia

3 1/3 cup white flour,
1 1/2 cup warm water,
1 packet of fast rise yeast or about 3 dry yeast.
4 tbsp olive oil,
2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves,
1 tbsp coarse Himalayan or sea salt.

1. Place all the ingredients in a Kitchen Aid food mixer.
2. Using the bent arm attachment (see picture below), mix all the ingredients for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and shiny.

3. Cover the dough with plastic foil and let it rise for an hour.
4. When the dough doubles in volume, put it on a working surface dusted with flour and stretch to make it one-inch thick.
5. Preheat the oven to 400F.
6. Sprinkle the baking tin with a little bit of olive oil and put the dough in it.
7. Finish the top of the focaccia dough with rosemary leaves and coarse salt.
8. Put it in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
9. Take it out of the oven and let it cool down a bit before serving. Of course you can also eat it cold, but it's best when it is still warm from the oven.