Saturday, January 21, 2017

Seasonal Herb Focaccia ~ Dinner Rolls, Bread Sticks, Petite Loaf Shapes

     Another Tasty Focaccia Variation!
     Today's focaccia dough recipe is a little bit different than some of the previous focaccia recipes that are posted in this food side.  There is no sugar in today's recipe and the proportion of yeast to water is lower.  This recipe variation allows the dough to slowly rise to a tremendous volume two times and this creates a very nice bread texture.
     Seasonal herbs of any kind can be used to make today's focaccia recipe.  Those who harvested herbs from their own garden before the first hard freeze of winter, probably already have those herbs dried out.  
     Stock rotation is just important at home as it is in a restaurant.  The old dried herbs that were stored from a previous season should be used before the new freshly harvested herbs are dried.  As dried herbs age they do lose potency.  It is good to keep a few recipes in mind that call for a large quantity of herbs, when it is time to liquidate the old herb stock.  Today's bread recipe definitely requires a bunch of herbs!    

     Bread Making Overview
     The way for a home cook to gain good bread making knowledge is to study written material from professional sources and to attend a few baking seminars.  Professionals know every aspect of baking, safe food handling, production efficiency and quality control.  Many culinary arts schools offer baking seminars to the general public on weekends for a small fee.        
     Making fancy bread shapes is something that can be taught, but in the end, it just takes practice.  Watching someone else shape bread is a good way to learn techniques.  Making several batches of bread over a period of time is the best way to develop your own good bread shaping techniques.
     The way to improve bread making skills is to make small batches of dough occasionally and to make notes about any problems or achievements that occurred.  Take the time to research why a baking problem occurred and find the solution, before making the next small batch.  Take time to research why a perfect baked product occurred and note the changes that caused the quality to improve.  Taking notes while baking and recording measurements will alleviate headaches in the long run.
     Making bread with confidence, is the key to making perfection bread products.  Uncertainty, guesswork and a lack of confidence will result in inconsistent baked products that vary in quality.  Eventually, after gaining plenty of bread making experience, the entire process will become second nature.  At this stage, there is less reliance on recipes and experience becomes the guide.  
     Personally, I can make just about any kind of bread dough without a recipe, but I do have professional bakery working experience and a formal culinary arts education.  The two easiest yeast doughs to teach are French Baguette and Italian Focaccia.  Both of these breads are relatively easy to master and when a batch turns out nice, confidence is built!  

     How the Geographical Environment Can Affect Bread Making  
     Often a bread recipe that is written in one geographic environment will have to be modified for a different kind of geographic location.  Humidity, altitude, arid conditions and climatic temperature all affect how the dough will behave.  For example, most of my bread dough recipes were developed at nearly 1 mile above sea level in arid desert conditions.  Some of my bread recipes were developed below sea level in Death Valley, where there is absolutely no humidity and the outdoor heat is extreme.  A few other bread recipes that I wrote were in humid conditions at about 150 feet above sea level in Chicago, when the weather was ice cold.  This is why I rarely provide an exact measurement for the amount of flour in a bread recipe.  The exact amount of flour for a small batch of bread dough made with one of my arid environment recipes may vary by as much as a cup, more or less, depending on your own geographic location.      
     The reason why the flour measurement is always a variable is easy to figure out.  In arid desert conditions, the flour is bone dry and it behaves like dust.  Extra dry flour will absorb more water.  Humid conditions can cause the weight of flour to increase substantially.  Damp flour absorbs less water.  Altitude also affects the physical properties of dough.  At a high altitudes, steam will be produced by dough at a much lower temperature when baking.  Bread that is baked at a low elevation will produce steam at a predictable high temperature.  Adjusting the amount of flour will compensate for most environmental hurdles that any geographic location may present.    
     The amount of flour is the easiest component to tweak, when customizing a bread recipe to suit environmental conditions in different geographic locations.  This is why trial and error runs should be done in small batches and this is why note taking is so important when tweaking a bread recipe with perfection in mind.             
     The trial and error small batches should not be looked upon as being practice sessions.  The small batch runs should be viewed as being quality control improvement runs.  The small batches can be made daily, once per week or once in a blue moon.  The frequency really does not matter, if notes are recorded during the process.  Just pick up the project where you left off!
     One last item of importance concerning environmental adjustments is the bread making pace.  The pace that the bread is made can contribute to the quality of the finished product.  In an arid environment, the moisture in dough evaporates every second, so a fast bread making pace can be critical.  Warm humid conditions can cause yeast production to multiply exponentially, so the dough must be worked very quickly before the dough rises at an out of control rate.  Cold conditions have the opposite effect.  Visit a local bakery and observe the pace that the professional bakers work.  Take notice of that pace and set your own goal to eventually work your own bread at the same pace as a professional baker.  There are reasons why certain breads are made at a certain pace.  The bread making pace contributes to the quality of the bread.        
     Formula for calculating flour moisture content:
     Honestly, calculating the moisture content of flour is not really necessary, but you may find the data to be interesting.  If you really want to be scientific about bread making, then calculating the moisture content of flour is a good place to start.  When the moisture content of flour is known, one of the variables that may affect flour measurements can possibly be eliminated. 
     A case in point is when I was working as a pantry cook in a restaurant at the Grand Canyon.  The elevation at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is over 7,000 feet above sea level, so the conditions were arid.  The Blue Corn Flour that I used to make muffins was packaged in a plastic lined paper sack.  When the bag was first opened, the Blue Corn Flour was heavy and dense.  After a few hours, a measured cup of the flour felt noticeably lighter and the flour was much more fluffy.  I had to make adjustments to the Blue Corn Meal Muffin Recipe to compensate for the Blue Corn Flour moisture loss.
     Follow these steps to calculate flour moisture content:                
     • Place an ovenproof metal container on a scale.
     • Tare the scale and record the tare weight.  
     • Remove the container from the scale.
     • Place a flour sample that has been left in open air into the container.  (About 20 lbs is good sample.  Too small of a sample will yield inaccurate results.)
     • Weigh the flour sample in the container and record the wet weight.  
     • Dry the flour sample in a 180ºF oven, till the weight remains the same twice, after being checked in 5 minute intervals.
     • Record the dried flour sample weight.
     • Divide the dry weight by the wet weight.   
     • Multiply by 100.
     • The sum is the moisture percentage.  
     *Adjustments to recipes can now be made, since the flour moisture content percentage is known, but there is still one item to consider.  The flour measurement adjustments usually end up being an educated guess!  Baking is not really a science.  Baking is an art!               

     Seasonal Herb Focaccia:    
     This small batch recipe yields enough dough to make the baked products in the photos, plus two individual size pizzas!  (1 large hamburger roll, 2 bread sticks, 1 petite braided loaf, 1 "Dog Bone Roll" and two 11" mini pizzas)  
     High gluten flour or bread flour is best for this recipe.  The gluten strands are what gives focaccia its texture.
     Focaccia is a yeast dough that is enriched with fat.  Oil is a fat. 
     Sugar is an optional ingredient in focaccia recipes.  There is no sugar in today's recipe!
     *This recipe is written for a steel gear mixer with a dough hook.    
     Step 1:  Place 1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water (112ºF) in a 2 to 3 gallon capacity electric mixer bowl.
     Add 2 tablespoons of fresh yeast (or 1 tablespoon of dry yeast). 
     Place the mixing bowl in a lukewarm place like on a towel on top of a warm oven.
     Wait for the yeast to activate. 
     Step 2:  Add about 1 1/2 cups of flour.
     Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. 
     Step 3:  Place the mixer bowl on the mixer and attach a dough hook.
     At low speed, mix till a very loose wet dough is formed.
     Step 4:  Start adding a little bit of flour at a time, till the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl and the dough starts to look like it can gather on the dough hook.  (About 3 to 3 1/2 cups of flour.  The total amount of flour may vary.) 
     Step 5:  Run the mixer at a low speed for about 5 minutes to knead the dough.  
     *By now the dough should be gathering on the hook.
     Step 6:  Turn the mixer off.
     Add these dried herbs:
     - 1/2 teaspoon of ground sage
     - 1 teaspoon of basil
     - 1 teaspoon of oregano
     - 1 teaspoon of marjoram
     - 1/2 teaspoon of thyme
     - 1 teaspoon of dill weed
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Italian Parsley.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder.  (optional)
     Step 7:  Turn the mixer on at a low speed.
     Briefly mix till the herbs are evenly distributed in the dough.
     Step 8:  Turn off the mixer.
     Remove the mixer bowl from the mixer.
     Remove the dough hook.
     Cover the dough in the mixing bowl with a dry lint free pastry towel. 
     Set the bowl on top of a warm oven, with a second towel underneath the bowl to protect the dough from too much heat. 
     When the dough rises more than double, beat it down with your knuckles.
     Step 9:  Cover the dough with a lint free pastry towel and let it rise a second time.
     When the dough rises the second time, beat the dough down and knead firmly with your hands for 1 minute.
     Step 10:  Place the dough on a lightly floured countertop.
     Roll the dough into a large ball. 
     Cut the dough ball in half for 2 portions.  
     *1 portion of the dough will yield 2 individual size pizzas or 2 small 11" round flat focaccia bread.  The shaped bread examples in the photos was made with 1 portion of dough.
     Step 11:  Roll and tuck each of the 2 dough portions with with your hands to make smooth dough balls.
     Step 12:  Place the 2 dough portion in 2 sealed containers.
     Chill the dough, so the yeast becomes less active.  (Chilled dough is much easier to shape!  The dough portions can be chilled for up to 24 hours.) 

     Shape the dough any way that you prefer.  The shapes in the photos above are described in this section.  One portion of the dough will yield the same number of bread examples as there are in the photos above.
     Scaling dough portions ensures that each dough shape will be an equal size.  Since there are variations in the volume of flour in a bread dough recipe, it is best to not write the portion weights in this recipe section.  It is up to the bread maker to determine the scaled portion weights and the bread maker is you!  The easiest way to do this is to make a desired shape, then weigh it.  The recorded weight can then be used to make scaled portions, so every finished shape is the same size.  Be sure to include the weight of any piece of dough that must be trimmed off of certain shapes too.
     *Any extra dough or trimmings can be recombined to make more bread dough shapes.  
     *Be sure to space each dough product apart from each other on the parchment paper lined pan, so they will not touch each other after proofing! 
     • Bread Stick Twists (2)
     - Roll a portion of dough into a 4"x10" sheet that is about 1/4" thick.
     - Cut 2 ribbons that are 1/2" wide.  (The extra dough can be recombined with the dough ball.) 
     - Twist the ribbons to create a rope that is about 10" long.
     - Place the twisted dough ribbons on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
     - Lightly brush with olive oil.

      Braided Petite Loaf (1)
     - Roll a 3' long rope that is 3/4" thick.
     - Cut 3 lengths that are 12" long.
     - Pinch the ends of the ropes together, so they join at one end.
     - Do a simple crossover weave.
     - Trim the ends of the loaf. 
     - Place the Braided Petite Loaf on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
     - Lightly brush with olive oil.

     • Dog Bone Roll (1)
     - Roll a 4' long rope by hand that is about 3/8" thick.
     - Cut 4 lengths that are 12" long. 
     - Stack the lengths together.
     - Tie the strands into a simple granny knot on each end.
     - Twist the loaf, so the center section coils.  
     - Place the Dog Bone Roll on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
     - Lightly brush with olive oil.

     • Dinner Roll Shape (2)
     - Cut 2 plum size portions.
     - Roll each portion into a thick cylinder shape that is about 6" long.
     - Tie a simple knot.
     - Place the dinner roll on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
     - Lightly brush with olive oil.

     • Large Hamburger Bun Shape (1)
     - Cut a portion of dough that is the size of an average Navel Orange.
     - Thumb tuck the dough and roll it into a baseball shape.
     - Place the ball on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.
     - Use a knife to score 3 or 4 shallow lines on the top of the roll.
     - Lightly brush with olive oil.

     Place the pan of shaped dough in a warm area.
     Allow the dough to rise to 1 1/2 times its size. 
     *Sprinkling a pinch of sea salt over the proofed bread before baking is an option. 

     Bake in a 425ºF oven, till the bread becomes a light golden brown color.  
     *Each bread shape has its own finishing time.  The center temperature of the bread must be at least 190ºF to be fully cooked.  If the bread is going to be reheated at a later time, only bake the bread till it is a light golden shade.  
     Place the pan on a cooling rack. 

     If the bread is for later use, then reheat the bread before serving.
     Brush the bread with olive oil before serving.  (Except for the hamburger buns!  The hamburger buns should be left dry.)

     Making bread is an art and all it takes is a little bit of knowledge, practice and dedication to turn out some really nice home made Seasonal Herb Focaccia!  Here are a few photos of the same bread made with Herbs de Provence instead of Seasonal Herbs.  The dough was shaped as medium size Boulle Loaves.

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