I've recently become intrigued by the concept of Peter Reinhart's "modern" pain a l'ancienne, which, very simply put, uses ice water for the initial dough mixing as well as overnight refrigeration to slow down the activation of the yeast--the resulting bread is supposed to have excellent flavor and those beautiful, irregular holes* inside, something my breads never have. I've been impatient to give it a try, and an uncoming party requiring a food offering gave me the excuse to break away from work to play. But evenutally, I veered slightly off course and made Reinhart's Potato Rosemary Focaccia, which is similar in that it asks for "ice-cold water" and also has you refrigerate the dough after fairly minimal handling.
As you may or may not be able to make out from the uncomfortably intimate focaccia shot above (my husband remarked that it resembled a frightening alien landscape), I eschewed the potatoes because I am a shameless hussy for roasted eggplant and use it to replace original ingredients in a recipe whenever possible.
If you know me, you already know that things went wrong and the Road to Focaccia was a bumpy one. I learned a few new important lessons (and some not-so-new ones, but sometimes I need to be hit in the head more than a couple of times before I go, "Oh") that I want to share, so gather round, kids:
- Making freshly baked bread for a lunch party is *so* not a brilliant idea; a dinner party, fine; to be ready for lunch, one would have to wake up at 6am in the morning to get the dough out of the fridge to wake it up, which one thinks is just ridiculous, especially if one's bedtime were 3-4am.
- Focaccia needs to be baked in a really hot oven, so don't do silly things like pre-roasting toppings or slicing your onions and beautiful eggplant into skinny strips so that when the bread is only halfway done, the veggies have already been transformed into crispy coal rings and sticks. Thankfully, I had extra red onion slices, and I strew these over the focaccia at the end, which actually looked quite pretty--the bright purple together with the fresh green of the rosemary. Aside from possible carcinogenic effects, more importantly, I was hesitant to bake the focaccia as long as I would have liked, because I didn't know how much more baking the eggplant could handle; I think the crispness of the crust suffered for this.
- Although many focaccia recipes seem to like the idea of decorating the surface with branches of fresh rosemary, it's better to chop up a handful of the leaves and mix it directly into the dough; otherwise, the end result will surely be a horrific battlefield of scorched rosemary, permanently curled in the final throes of roasted agony. Plus they'll taste kind of bitter. I ended up having to pick out all the brown carcasses and replace them with fresh green sprigs. Meanwhile, the chopped rosemary in the dough remained safely nestled and also perfumed the bread nicely (or so I was told).
Instead, I got up around 9-ish. And so the poor dough found itself being rudely jolted awake at a very low oven temperature setting (rather then room temp.), and it's possible my focaccia suffered from the shock of it.
Three other things I did differently from the recipe: One, I cut down slightly on the copious amounts of oil in which the focaccia supposedly enjoys bathing. Two, I wanted a slightly heartier focaccia but didn't want too many strong competing flavors, so I added to the dough just a small handful of chopped walnuts. Three, I didn't make the herb oil in the recipe. I'm not a fan of mixed herbs. I don't want to sound like a moron, but I think each herb is lovely and unique, and should be allowed to shine on its own. This time I chose rosemary. Although I did roast a few cloves of garlic, mashed them up, and mixed them with the roasted eggplant and onion toppings.
Quite honestly, I can't tell you what I personally thought of my focaccia because of my hay fever and the resulting inability to taste anything.
I definitely will try this recipe again when I've got more time on my hands and my sense of taste returns.
*The linked photo was taken by a member of eGullet and can be viewed, along with its original post, in this thread.