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Battle of the Bread – Focaccia Style

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I know why pioneer women were so strong: they made a lot of bread. A couple weeks ago I took a try at making bread from scratch. My wife is normally the baker in the house. But she was overbaked from the holidays. So I decided to try my hand at making creating focaccia from my Top Chef University course (recommended program, review forthcoming).

The episode made it look rather simple. Of course, it skipped the hours of waiting and all the kneading. Part of that may be because the bread recipe called for a stand mixer. Unfortunately, I didn’t have one. So my hands would have to do.

My food processor and blade helped with the initial mixing and kneading of the dough. The instructions said to let is rest afterward, so I put it in the corner to rise (or is it raised, I can never remember?). When I took the dough out it looked like a puffy baby belly. I gently transferred it over to the counter for the next step. The instructions said next to knead for 10 minutes in a stand mixer, still conspicuously absent from our kitchen. So I guessed I’d just have to make us of mis manos. How hard could it be by hand?

It turned out to be harder than I thought. During those long ten minutes I talked to my wife, then to myself and ultimately to the dough. But after a while there was only so much the dough could say as it was rolled and flipped and rolled and flipped and rolled in so much repetition. After 5 minutes of the process my arms started to feel tired; after 10 min they were glad for a break. While the dough sat yet again, I sat too.

Who knew dough could be so “kneady”? As I looked at that  soft, sticky white lump of would-be bread I began to feel contempt for it. The blob just sat there in the corner as if to mock me. It didn’t want to be moved, and it wouldn’t until it was good and ready. And there was nothing I could do about it. In frustration I chastised it for its recalcitrance and stubbornness. How dare it balk before its baker!

Two hours later: It was finally time to teach that dumb dough a lesson.  The recipe said to punch, and so I did. I punched it down hard. Then I did it again and again. The pioneer women probably got out their frustration this way too. I can just imagine them punching out their anger over the dumb cows that ran away into the woods again. The dough continued to roll with the punches. After a while my frustration gave way to weariness. Would it ever end? All I knew was that this bread better be good, or else the neighbors were going to hear a long, loud roar.

Finally, the dough was ready to go into the pan. I filled the area with olive oil and began to stretch the bread, but it remained stubborn. I had to put down such rebellion once and for all. So I pushed and pulled until it stayed in place. The final recipe direction said to poke holes in the bread. Gladly. As it laid stretched out helpless on the pan I poked it and taunted it while I dug my fingers into its soft gooey spots and said, “See, who’s in the pan now, bubble boy? Yeah, that’s right. I own you bread!”

Twenty minutes late the focaccia emerged from the oven beautifully golden with a crisp and soft crust.

The bread battle was over. I had won. Victory was sweet (and savory).

Have you had any epic baking battles? Share them below.

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