My BBA Challenge Foccacia turned out better than I expected. My experiences with ciabatta (BBA and otherwise) had me worried; while these aren’t the same breads (aside of both being Italian), I imagined foccacia required a rather wet dough to achieve plenty of big air pockets, much like ciabatta. Considering, per my husband, that my ciabatta was like a “brick”, I was expecting the same trouble with my foccacia. (How hard it is to add more water? Apparently for me, hard).
I added the maximum amount of water called for in the recipe (not that this helped with ciabatta, but I don’t learn). In fact I even worried I had added too much water. The recipe says that the dough should clear the sides of the bowl once it’s mixed. While mine did that, it did not pull away cleanly–which is what I typically understand that instruction to mean. Rather, a few streaks of dough still clung on the sides of my kitchenaid bowl. But in retrospect, perhaps this is what was called for! In addition, this dough has quite a bit of olive oil inR it, which gives it a softer texture.
Like the ciabatta, the envelope folding technique was employed several times during the rising process; i.e. pat the dough into a rectangle; stretch out each end and fold back in thirds, over itself like folding a business letter. I don’t know what this special technique does. At least for puff pastry and croissants, it creates layers of dough and butter which then allow for the dramatic rise (if you do real puff pastry, apparently up to 9 times in volume. I am happy enough with the mere 4-5 times I get out of quick puff, which only takes about 1/2 hour rather than 9 or 10. An acceptable tradeoff!). Considering Peter Reinhart eschews that type of mattress-thick foccacia, I’m guessing this serves some other purpose.
Once the folding and rising process is through, you spread your dough into the baking pan. You don’t actually press it out to fill the pan, the idea is that it will expand outwards as well as upwards to fill the space. I was nervous about this–for this growth to be accomplished I reasoned a pretty slack dough would be necessary, bringing up my concerns about sufficient hydration. On the other hand, did I mention how much olive oil was in this already? That would certainly allow those little gluten molecules to slip all over the place and expand all over the place!
While I had to give it some help, my dough did do a pretty good job of growing properly. The finger dimpling (to release some air without deflating, but quite possibly also to create pockets to absorb even more olive oil) helped fill in those corners where the dough had failed to reach.
And just for a “dramatic shot”–shadows and light–more foccacia just before baking:
Success! The finished bread was a great foccacia–delicious flavor from the olive oil (and I didn’t even use a flavored oil) though I note a slightly unctuous feel to the bread. (This is not a bad thing–this is what foccacia is supposed to be like–but quite a departure from other breads I have made recently). As Peter Reinhart says, his version is far preferable to those foccacias that are so ubiquitous but are really just flavorless, too-thick and starchy breads. (All volume, no substance!) Despite copious additions olive oil, this is still light tasting, flavorful, and delicious!