Cookbook of the Month: July 2017, Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in 5 Minutes a Day
Somewhere along the way, I picked up the gem of a book Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg M.D. and Zoë François. I'm a huge fan of books that demystify cooking techniques that may otherwise seem intimidating to the average consumer. I also love books that bring us back to our roots-- to a time when people actually made from-scratch bread at home. I consider this a great starter book for the beginner who is interested in baking breads.
I have tried several of the dough recipes from this book, but my favorite is the focaccia variation of their master recipe. After making their leeks, herbs de provence, and garlic focaccia, this recipe is my go-to focaccia dough. The idea is that you take their basic master recipe and make the dough richer by substituting olive oil for a portion of the water. As with any recipe, it's key to make it your own depending on what's available in your kitchen cabinet. Here are some recommendations I would make if you want to make your own large batch of focaccia.
- Let your dough rise in a Cambro container: Since I was making a large batch of dough, I let the dough rise in a 6-quart cambro. Cambros (large plastic food safe containers) are sold in professional chef supply stores and online, and they are the secret weapons of breadmaking. They allow the added advantage of easy-to-read quart labeling on their exteriors, so it's simple to measure how much your dough rises over time. Even if your kitchen is small, it's worth keeping a few of these on hand. You can use them for storage when you're not in breadmaking mode. They're also great for making cold brew coffee, and storing things like prepared soups or beverages for big gatherings.
- Dust your sheet pan with cornmeal: While not suggested in the original recipe, I spread cornmeal on the bottom of the sheet pan as a quick way to avoid the dough sticking to the pan. This also cut down on the mess and fuss of using oil on the bottom of the pan.
- Use sheet pans: while the authors recommend baking small portions in pie tins, I preferred to make a large batch for a dinner party using sheet pans. Sure, you might end up with a few leftover pieces at the end of the night, but these make great parting gifts for guests and are particularly ideal for a fried-egg breakfast the next day.
- Strategize your toppings: some toppings will bake faster than others-- chopped leeks, for example, will get crispy and charred in a 450 degree oven-- artichoke hearts may hold up a little better. Add toppings in stages, if necessary, and add pre-cooked items at the very end if needed. (This is also a great way to ensure that proteins do not get overcooked.)
- Use what you have: I cannot count the number of times I've set out to experiment with a recipe only to realize I'm missing just one ingredient I need. Sometimes there simply isn't time to make another store run, plus substituting or omitting ingredients can cut down on recipe costs significantly. In the case of this focaccia recipe, the toppings are sauteed in white wine. While I love a good excuse to cook with wine, I omitted the wine in this recipe and discovered it was still delicious without it. Assuming it's not an essential ingredient to the recipe, don't be afraid to just use what you have. The results may be different, but they will still be tasty. Growing as a cook is all about knowing when it makes sense to adjust your recipe.
- Multitask: Focaccia dough comes together in just a few minutes, and most of your prep time is inactive. Even though you have to allow for a few hours for the dough to rise, it's shockingly easy to make and the majority of your time is spent baking the final product. So you have plenty of time to prepare other meal components, do laundry, or binge-watch Netflix.
What are your favorite simple, go-to bread recipes? Let me know in the comments!