Ch. 01: The Focaccia Fiasco

I was always under the impression that there were two kinds of bakers: those who made bread and those who did not. Generally speaking, I always considered myself the latter. That’s not to say that I haven’t made bread before, because I have- with minimal success, albeit. But bread has always been its own living thing that I had yet to conquer. See, you can follow a cake recipe down to a T and expect it to turn out just right- baking is science after all. But yeast isn’t so predictable. Bread does whatever it wants and doesn’t apologize for it. It’s independent like that. And I respect that. When lockdown first struck, I wanted to try my hands at working on my bread skills- mostly because I had the extra time and I seemed to be one of the lucky few that had yeast at my disposal. It is, after all, The Great Yeast Shortage of 2020. In browsing recipes, focaccia stuck out like a sore Italian thumb because it seemed like a simple enough preparation to ease my way back into bread. It’s not quite as involved as your typical loaf and tends to lean on the rustic side with each fingerprinted dimple like a welcoming smile. Oh was I wrong. 

I went with a recipe from Binging With Babish because he too is a self-taught and amateur baker / cook- just with a wider fanbase. In his channel, he recreates the mentioned and beloved food from movies and TV. This one comes his series Basics with Babish where he breaks down bread techniques. The method was simple enough, being kneaded by the stand mixer and then left to rest for 2 hours (no one said bread making was fast). It then gets spread across a well greased baking sheet and placed in the fridge overnight. That’s right- this dough needs at least 24 hours in order to develop flavor- that’s hardcore Chamorro time. I decided to record some quick content for my instagram story in hopes that tomorrow’s focaccia would be perfect….it was far from it. I ended up topping the focaccia with some cherry tomatoes at the end of their prime and some fresh dill that we had lying around in the fridge, but really it’s a blank canvas for whatever you’re into. A sprinkle of salt and some douses of olive oil later, and it was ready to bake. An hour later, I pulled my Instagram worthy focaccia out of the oven and that’s where I hit the first issue. Even with the heaps of olive oil I coated the pan with, the bread stuck to the pan like a certain virus sticks to surfaces. I took a spatula and ended up scraping the bottom ruining any of the crunchy edges I’d worked so hard for. After about ten minutes of doing this, I managed to get it out. If that wasn’t the first red flag, then I don’t know what is. 

The focaccia left a lot to be desired with two main faults in terms of flavor. The first was the prominent flavor of olive oil. Now I can’t say I’ve eaten much focaccia before, so maybe that’s just the nature of the beast, but that’s what came shining through upon first bite. If you don’t like the taste of olive oil, this bread is not for you. The sort of fattiness from the oil could benefit from a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or a dip into some acidic tomato sauce to cut through that richness. The second fatal flaw was the overwhelming amount of salt. Now, I watched some other videos where the makers said that you can never have too much oil or salt in focaccia- which apparently you can. Maybe it’s a matter of adjusting to compensate for kosher salt versus iodized salt given the size difference from the granules? Who knows, I’m no salt expert. Apart from that, the texture was fluffy with a pleasant chew. We ended up eating less than half of it before we tossed the rest out for the neighborhood chickens to enjoy. I doubt any of these issues stem from Babish’s recipe and fall more along the lines of my inexperience with bread. Hopefully the next time I try this, the experience won’t leave me too salty. Pun intended. 

Full Recipe | Method from Binging with Babish:

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