Eggplant Focaccia

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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).
Although people were kind in their comments about the focaccia, I wasn't happy with the texture. The crumb was way too soft and fine and the holes were very small and uniform. I think that had to do with the fact that I misread the recipe and didn't wake up at 6am to wake up the dough like I was supposed to--but which I *totally* would have done, if I'd read the recipe correctly. No! Seriously, I would have.

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.

« Home | previous post: New Green » | previous post: Something Here and Something Gone » | previous post: » | previous post: UDD Free » | previous post: Even Doggies Get the Runs Blues » | previous post: New Gallery! » | previous post: Finally: "Music in My Kitchen" » | previous post: Con-spirit-cy » | previous post: O Canada! » | previous post: Away for a Couple of Weeks »


I made foccacia for a potlauch lunch once...that was a mistake. I had to make it the night before (admitedly using my bread machine dough setting) because I had to take the finished product with me in the morning. Then I didn't have enough white flour so I decided to substitute whole wheat instead (second mistake). The end result was a heavy dried out lump barely recognizable as bread but it was too late to make anything else so I ended up taking a whole pot of olive oil to soak the foccacia in just ahead of serving. It added a bit of moisture and made the foccaccia edible but people still had to ask me what it was (I guess they figured it was some traditional British creation cause it sure wasn't recognizable as anything else) 

from Jaime

4/05/2005 04:44:00 AM  

I thought your foccacia was very good, and not oily at all, which is a big turn off for me, even though I know they are kinda supposed to be.

You know I asked one of the teachers at ABC once what happens if I left my dough rise for too long, and one of the things mentioned that was undesirable was holes that are too big and uneven. So I guess you probably don't want to let your dough rise overnight if you ever want to wow a Japanese crowd! 

from Lynn

4/05/2005 09:39:00 AM  

Oh Jaime, that sounds totally like something I would have done.

Lynn, thanks for that great tip! Next time, I'll try letting my focaccia overproof and see what happens.  

from Rachel

4/08/2005 12:46:00 AM  

Post a Comment