Saturday, August 23, 2014

Stuffed focaccia

It’s been nagging at me that I promised further info on this, oh, about two months ago. Better late than never, right?

This recipe is a good example of where recipes come from. Here’s how this one evolved: nearly two years ago, I had lunch in one of my favorite Canberra cafes: a hearty minestrone, with pesto cheese toast alongside. The combination lodged in my brain, and when I made minestrone for guests last winter, I made pesto cheese crostini to go with it, to the appreciation of all. So now the two items are forever associated in my mind. The last time I made minestrone for guests, however, I didn’t feel like doing the last-minute faff that is required for the pesto cheese crostini. I mulled over alternatives, and then hit upon the idea of putting the pesto and cheese inside the bread, so I could get that part out of the way ahead of time.

It so happened that, around the time I was pondering all this, I was also researching focaccia recipes, trying to determine whether I could use my regular bread dough to make it, or whether I had to make a customized bread recipe. Having come to the conclusion that it’s the presentation (flat, with a dimpled top) and the accessories (brushed-on olive oil, salt, herbs, etc.) that make plain old bread into focaccia, I resolved to make a focaccia with a layer of stuff in the middle. This is the result.

Stuffed focaccia
I’m usually pretty lax about rising times when I make bread, but I will note that a second rise of at least an hour at room temperature is an important feature of this recipe. It helps provide the puffy texture that good focaccia has, as well as helping the whole construction to seal itself together.

1 recipe bread dough
3-5 heaping Tbsp pesto (or basil-cashew-parmesan dip, since it’s multi-purpose and I’m way more likely to have it around)
2-3 handfuls shredded parmigiano reggiano
2-3 Tbsp good-quality oil
salt (a nice chunky salt is great here)

Make the bread according to directions, and leave to rise for at least 1 hour at room temperature, or until doubled in size.

Line a large baking tray with baking parchment, and set aside. (Tip: I often spray the baking tray to get the baking parchment to stick down and not slide around while I’m maneuvering the bread dough on it.)

Knock the air out of the risen bread dough. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Set one aside and roll the other out into a rectangle roughly the size of your baking tray. Lift from the counter and position on the prepared tray.

Spread the rolled-out dough with the pesto, followed by the cheese.

Roll out the second piece of dough to the same size as the first, and place on top. Press down lightly to help the two pieces adhere. Cover with another piece of baking parchment and leave to rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 225C/450F. Remove the baking parchment covering the risen dough. Poke your fingers into the dough all over the surface to make dimples, then spread liberally with olive oil. Scatter salt over the top.

Bake focaccia for 30-40 minutes, or until the top looks golden-brown and it smells done.

Enjoy alongside minestrone or other hearty soup of your choice. Makes 12-18 pieces, depending on how you cut them.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Emergency scones

As soon as I saw Celia's post about International Scone Week, I thought of these, and then yearned for them all week until I had time to make (and photograph) a batch. I finally found some today, and remembered just how small a window is really needed: I had piping-hot scones coming out of the oven about 20 minutes after I walked into the kitchen to start cooking. Hence the name as, if you've got the ingredients on hand (which you are likely to, once you've made them), you've got the wherewithal to produce a homemade treat with no warning for unexpected guests, last-minute morning- or afternoon-tea requests, or late-night cravings. After you've done this a few times, the reason for my private nickname for them ("Dangerous Scones") becomes self-explanatory.

Emergency scones
I topped half of the scones with sucre chouquettes (aka sugar pearls, or small chunks of sugar) that I brought back from France as one of my souvenirs. You could substitute any chunky sugar you have around, such as demerara or turbinado, or leave off altogether. You can also leave out the sugar from the scone dough if you want to pair these with savory ingredients or accompaniments.

1 1/3 cups/5.5 oz/160 g all-purpose/plain flour (I subbed 25% whole-wheat flour)
1 Tbsp/.5 oz/15 g sugar (optional, see note above)
1.5 tsp/7 g baking powder
1/4 tsp/1 g salt
1 cup/8 oz/240 ml heavy/whipping/pouring cream
coarse sugar for sprinkling (optional, see note above)

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the dry ingredients, then pour in the cream and mix just until the dough comes together.

Drop by large spoonfuls (I used my 1-Tbsp cookie scoop) on to prepared baking tray, leaving at least 1 in/2cm between scoops. Sprinkle with sugar if desired.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until light golden. Serve warm.

Makes 20 small scones. (I baked 10, and flash-froze the other 10 unbaked for a future scone emergency.)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

July roundup

Very belated, but as promised, some photos of how I spent my winter vacation (in France!):

We spent the first week in Normandy - most of it, unsurprisingly for anyone who knows DP, visiting WWII battle sites, of which I took very few pictures. But I got some shots of our visit to William the Conqueror's birthplace in Falaise, on a typically changeable Normandy summer day (sun! clouds! rain! sun again!).

Over our week in Normandy, we drove more than 2000 kilometers (1200 miles). Everywhere we went, we saw huge hydrangea bushes - hedges, in many cases - in riotous bloom, in every shade of pink, blue, and purple. I managed to snap these vivid specimens just down the road from our rented house.

A visit to the town of Granville, on the Normandy coast. I'd never even heard of it until we picked it out as a doable day trip to the seaside; now I want to move there.

More of Granville - the high, walled fortress at the top of the old town. Formidable and  storybook-picturesque.

We spent the second week of our trip in Paris, where we met up with my sister S and her family. Here's a shot of our impromptu picnic lunch on our first day of exploring the city; we even ate it sitting on the banks of the Seine, in time-honored tourist cliche tradition.

Eiffel Tower, Bastille Day. This was as close as we could get on a national holiday, with a security cordon being set up as we roamed the neighborhood, in preparation for the evening's concert and fireworks display.

Arcades of the Palais Royale, where we went to imbibe some architecture and history, and stay out of the sun. After a changeable and often chilly week in Normandy, Paris was hot and got hotter as the week went on.

 Monument to the unknown soldier of World War I, gallery at the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

The Eiffel Tower again, from the Trocadero, on our last full day in Paris, a scorching July afternoon. Miss B is cooling her feet in the fountain.

Hard to imagine we were just there, back in Canberra and having just finished a week of record-breaking cold. And back into the regular routine of school, work, and cooking. More on that shortly...
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