Olive Oil Focaccia


I love making up names for recipes. It is so easy to make it sound fancy and gourmet. Olive oil focaccia sounds so much better than leftover pizza dough flatbread. Gourmet name aside, this recipe couldn’t be easier. I took half of my recipe of no-knead whole wheat pizza dough and made a killer loaf of bread, if I say so myself– slightly crispy on top, soft in the middle and fragrant with olive oil.

In case you missed the description of this dough in my original pizza post – this dough is truly no-knead, plus you can mix it up in about five minutes, and it can rise for anywhere from two hours to twenty-four. Make the dough fit into your schedule, instead of changing yours to fit the dough’s.

I mixed this up in the early afternoon and left it on the counter for about four hours before I used it. I meant to let it rise in the pan for about half an hour, while I made pizza with the other half of the dough. I ended up getting distracted and it rose for more than an hour. It worked beautifully.

Even if you have never made bread or worked with yeast before, you can make this bread. Buy some yeast, get out the flour and start baking. And please post in the comments to let me know how it worked for you or if you have any questions.

Olive Oil Focaccia
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 2 9 or 10-inch loaves

You can let this rise for up to twenty-four hours before you shape it and bake it. Let it rise in the fridge if you are letting it rise for more than four hours.

3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
½ cup all-purpose flour (unbleached preferred)
1 package yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1-1 ½ cups water, approximately
Olive oil for drizzling and serving

Put all ingredients except water in your largest bowl. Add 1 cup water and stir to combine. If there is still dry flour, add water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until a very wet dough forms. You aren’t looking for batter here, but a dough. It will be too soft to knead and look quite wet. Once everything is well combined, beat and mix the dough with your spoon or spatula for a minute or so. Cover dough with plastic wrap and put in the fridge or leave on the counter. If it is rising on the counter, you might need to stir the dough down every couple of hours if it is filling the bowl. Stir it a few times and re-cover. If it is in the fridge, just leave it to do its thing.

Lightly grease 2 10-inch cast iron skillets, round cake pans or a baking sheet. Use the pans you have – if you only have 8-inch round pans, your loaves will just be a little taller.  If you use the baking sheet, your loaves might be a little more freeform, and not perfectly round – which is fine.

Sprinkle the dough with flour and work the flour down around the edge of the bowl with a spatula. Divide the dough in half with a spatula or dough scraper. Scrape half of the dough into each pan. Sprinkle the top with flour and pat it to the edges of the pans, or to about 1 ½ inches thick, if you are using a baking sheet. Add more flour if the dough sticks to your hands. Flour your fingertips and poke holes into the surface of the dough. Drizzle the top with olive oil. Set dough aside, uncovered, to rise for anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees about 15 minutes before you want to bake. Sprinkle the loaves lightly with salt and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

Serve hot, with extra olive oil for dipping. Store any leftovers for a day or two at room temperature, in a plastic bag. The crust will soften, but it will re-crisp if you heat the bread in a 300 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, loosely covered with foil. Freeze for longer storage.

Download the recipe here.

The Bread that Ate My Kitchen

I almost forgot that I promised a post on the bread that I made for my recent family reunion. I made Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread, which is great for sandwiches or toast. It is full of whole grains without that “sticks and twigs” texture. This is the bread that rose so well that it popped the top off its rising container and almost overflowed onto the counter.

Don’t let this scare you off making it – just make sure you have a big enough container for rising. The original recipe makes four loaves of bread, which is a huge amount of dough. And I didn’t have a big enough container. I am posting a reduced recipe that will only make two loaves and will be much more manageable. Even if you have never made bread before, you can do this.

Unfortunately I forgot to take many pictures of the process. I will do a post sometime soon on bread making, with exhaustive pictures, to help you gain confidence if you are thinking of taking the leap into yeast baking.

Feel free to post in the comments if you have any questions at all about baking with yeast. I made my first yeast bread when I was in college, from an illustrated Time Life yeast baking book. I have learned a lot by trial and error, and I am happy to share my tips and hints. If you are in the St. Louis area, I do also offer cooking and baking classes. Contact me and we will talk!

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread
Adapted by the Cook’s Life
From “Country Baking” by Ken Haedrich
Makes 2 large loaves

The original recipe was called “Grainy Bread for the Whole Week” but I thought it needed a better name. And it made four huge loaves of bread, so I cut the recipe in half. Feel free to double the recipe if you are an experienced baker, but be aware it makes a lot of dough.

3 cups warm milk or water*
¾ cup rolled oats, old-fashioned or quick
1 package dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup honey
5 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
1 ½ to 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, approximately

*Milk will make a softer bread than water. I prefer using milk.

Pour the water or milk into a large mixing bowl or mixer bowl. Add the oats, yeast and honey. Stir in 4 cups of the white whole wheat flour. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

After the rest, add the salt, oil and the remaining 1½ cups white whole wheat flour. Mix well. Cover the dough and let rest for 10 minutes.

After the rest, add about 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. When dough gets hard to stir, turn out onto a floured surface to knead, or leave in the mixer and use the dough hook to knead. Knead the dough until it is fairly stiff, smooth and elastic. Add flour if the dough sticks to your hands or the sides of the bowl.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl or container that has enough room for the dough to double in size. Cover with plastic wrap or the lid and let rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, or until doubled.

Grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment, if you are making freeform loaves. Or grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.

Turn risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly, for about 30 seconds. Divide dough into 2 pieces and form each into an oblong, football-shaped ball. Place loaves on prepared baking sheet, leaving room between them, or in loaf pans. If using loaf pans, press dough firmly into corners. Cover loosely with parchment or waxed paper and allow to rise until doubled. This should take 20-30 minutes, or about half the time the dough took to double the first time.

About 15 minutes before the bread is risen, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the loaves 30-45 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Freeform loaves on a baking sheet will take slightly less time to bake than those in loaf pans.

Remove bread from the pans and let cool on wire racks. When completely cool, store leftovers in an airtight container or plastic bag. Freeze if not eating within a few days. Homemade bread dries out faster than commercial bread, but if you slice it before freezing, you can remove slices as you need them. They thaw in a few minutes, or you can toast them.

 Download the recipe here.

Blueberry Pancakes to Soothe the Soul

Rich had a long, hard day at work yesterday and I decided to make a comfort food dinner. The original plans had been for broiled fish, which I knew wasn’t going to be the topper he needed on his day. We had blueberries and part of a package of bacon in the fridge, along with a wonderfully fragrant cantaloupe. Menu change – blueberry pancakes, bacon and fresh fruit coming up.

I discovered a few years ago that it was easier to make blueberry pancakes if I added the blueberries to the pancakes while they were on the griddle instead of stirring them into the batter. They don’t make blue streaks in the batter, even when you are using frozen berries, which tend to bleed their color. Side note – I made bright green pancakes once when I experimented with cornmeal pancakes and then decided to throw frozen blueberries into the batter. Not repeatable.

Rich was happily surprised to come home to the aromas of cooking bacon and pancakes instead of fish. “Comfort food” is an over-rated phrase these days, but it has its place. Here’s to comfort food at its finest.

Blueberry Whole Wheat Pancakes
from The Cook’s Life
Makes 8-12 pancakes, easy to double

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (see note)
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (not olive oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
Milk or water

Start heating a lightly greased griddle or skillet over medium heat. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once and stir gently, but thoroughly. Don’t try to get all the lumps out, but make sure there aren’t any dry pockets of flour. If batter is too thick to pour, add milk or water, a tablespoon at a time until batter is thinner.

Drop batter onto the hot, greased pan or griddle with a spoon, ladle or measuring cup. Or use a mixing bowl with a spout and pour the batter onto the griddle. Scatter blueberries over the top of each pancake. Leave the pancakes alone until the edges look dry and there are bubbles over the whole surface. Flip over and cook about the same length of time, or a little less, on the other side. Serve as they are cooked or keep hot in a 250 degree oven or toaster oven.

If you have any left over, they can be cooled on racks and then kept in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or two, or frozen for several months. Warm in a toaster oven or toaster just until hot, not crunchy.

Note: Buttermilk comes in 1-cup cartons at the grocery store, and really makes a wonderful pancake. It also keeps for weeks in the fridge. But, if you don’t want to buy buttermilk, you can use about ½ cup plain yogurt and ½ cup regular milk in place of the buttermilk. Or you can measure 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar into a measuring cup and fill it the rest of the way with milk. Stir and let sit for 10-15 minutes to let the milk sour.  

Download recipe here.

Flatbread that isn’t so flat

One of our favorite bread recipes is Middle Eastern Flatbread. This bread isn’t flat like a pita, but it is flatter than a loaf of sandwich bread. And it tastes absolutely fabulous, warm out of the oven, with a nice saucy pasta or soup. We sometimes split small loaves horizontally and make sandwiches or panini with them. They are also good sliced and toasted, with butter and jam. Can you tell we like this bread?

This is truly an easy and fast recipe – I can start it at 5:00 and have fresh bread for dinner. Of course, we eat late because of our schedules, but my point is you can have fresh bread in a little more than an hour. And it rivals any bakery bread, hands down.

The original recipe is from Bernard Clayton’s “New Complete Book of Breads.” This was one of my better purchases – $11 for the hardback at an outlet mall because it had a stain along the edge of the pages. Of course, that was almost 20 years ago, so I have gotten my money’s worth out of it! I have tinkered with the recipe just a bit, and simplified the directions, but it all started with Bernard Clayton.

I find that I use almost two cups more flour than the original recipe calls for. The more I think about it, I use more flour than Bernard Clayton calls for in almost all of his recipes. Either he plans on using a lot of flour for kneading, and lets “approximately” cover it, or he measures his flour differently than I do. Check out A Word on Measuring Flour for the sprinkle and sweep method I use. It is always a good idea to check out the introductory notes in a cookbook to see how the author measures the flour, but they don’t always tell you. Anyway, you can benefit from my trial and error with this recipe and hopefully will get good results.

As always, I have made this into a whole wheat recipe. I am always touting white whole wheat flour, and I make no promises to stop. It really is a great way to get whole grains into your diet. If you haven’t already, buy a bag and see how you like it. If you absolutely can’t stand the thought, you can always make this with all-purpose flour, as originally written.

The original recipe calls for either butter or olive oil. And this is one case where I don’t think butter makes it better. It makes good bread, but the texture and flavor really are better with olive oil. Now butter on the finished bread is another story…

Middle Eastern Flatbread
adapted by The Cook’s Life
from “New Complete Book of Breads” by Bernard Clayton
makes 3-10 small loaves

3 cups white whole wheat flour*
1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups very warm water
3-4 cups all-purpose flour, approximately

Seed topping:
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water (optional)
Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)**

Place 3 cups of white whole wheat flour in a large mixing bowl. Add yeast, salt and sugar and stir to combine. Add olive oil and water and mix vigorously until well combined. Let dough rest for 5-10 minutes. Whole grains are slower to absorb moisture than white flours, so this will give the whole wheat the time it needs. The rest will help you avoid adding too much flour and ending up with dry, heavy bread. After the rest, start adding the all-purpose flour gradually, until a soft ball of dough forms. Be sure to add enough flour that the dough is not too sticky to knead.

Heavily flour your kneading surface. Scrape dough from bowl to floured surface. Sprinkle dough with flour and begin kneading, gently at first: pull the far side of dough toward you and fold over, pressing it away from you with the heels of your hands. Turn dough a quarter turn and repeat. When dough is less sticky, you can be less gentle. At first, scrape your kneading surface with a rubber spatula if dough sticks. Add flour as necessary to the dough and your hands to prevent sticking. Knead 6-8 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic.

Grease a large bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn over to coat top with oil. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled – about 30 minutes.

When dough has doubled, turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into 3-10 pieces, depending on size desired. Ten pieces make small loaves, perfect for making sandwiches.

Grease a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper. Place dough pieces on baking sheet, leaving space between them. Flour hands and flatten dough pieces as much as possible, to around an inch thick. It is fine if they touch at the edges, or you can use two baking sheets.

Flour the handle of a wooden spoon and press holes in tops of loaves, to make dimples that cover the surface. You can also press the handle of the spoon, or the side of your hand, in lengthwise, to make furrows instead of dimples. Cover loosely with waxed paper or parchment and leave to rise for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees while bread is rising. After 20 minutes, loaves will be puffy, but not necessarily doubled. Gently redefine dimples or furrows.

It is hard to tell, but these are risen and ready for the oven. They are definitely puffier than they were right after shaping.

If using seed topping, brush dough gently with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Bake 10-20 minutes depending on size. When they are done, loaves will be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Cool on racks or serve warm. These freeze well.

*You can use all-purpose flour instead of white whole wheat, if you prefer. You can then skip the rest after adding the first 3 cups of flour.

**Toasting your seeds gives them a nuttier flavor. Use a small, ungreased skillet, over low to medium heat, and toast the seeds for about 10 minutes, or until they smell nutty. Watch the seeds and stir them often to avoid scorching them. Let them cool before using them on top of the dough.

Download the recipe here.