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Sourdough Focaccia

Posted by Avital Pinnick on July 3, 2009

Assignment 26: food

Sourdough garlic & thyme focaccia, just minutes after I pulled it out of the oven. We will be eating it for Shabbat. Normally I make sourdough loaves or, if I’m in the mood, traditional challah, but it has been so hot that I didn’t want to heat the large oven. Focaccia only needs 25 minutes in a toaster oven, requires a much shorter proofing time, and is nearly foolproof.

My sourdough starter is one of my kitchen treasures (if you live in Israel and don’t mind coming to the Jerusalem area, I will gladly share it). I’ve had it for at least six years. It started as a cup of flour and a cup of water mixed together and left on the table until bubbly. In Boston and Toronto, I had to hope and pray and wait for days to catch a good culture. In Maale Adumim, with its dry desert climate and strong winds, I usually only have to wait a few hours before it’s foaming like a milkshake. I’ve only caught one bad culture. It rose well but it smelled like vinegar, so I tossed that one.

After the culture has made its home in the flour/water mixture, I add another cup of flour and water, let it rest at room temperature for a couple hours, and store in the refrigerator. I don’t leave the starter out for days on end and seldom overnight. With the warm temperature, the starter would burn itself out if I did that regularly, so my method is different from what you find on the Web (their advice would probably work for North American bakers, however).

I feed my starter every two weeks. I don’t believe in losing sleep over wild yeast, so I do not follow the school of thought that treats a starter like a newborn baby and feeds it every two hours. If I neglect the starter for too long and it looks like a swamp, I mix a new flour/water growth medium and add a few tablespoons of the original starter.

The recipe below makes three small flatbreads. My son was away for Shabbat, so I only needed enough for me and my husband. If you’re very hungry or feeding a large crowd, feel free to double it, but you don’t need to double the quantity of starter. Just double the quantity of water that you add.

Sourdough Focaccia
Yield: 3 small flatbreads

1 cup sourdough starter
1/2 cup water
2-3 cups flour, either white or whole wheat

1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry thyme (if you have fresh, go for it)
3 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
coarse salt (optional)

The night before you are going to bake the bread, mix the sourdough starter with the water. At this point, if you are planning to double or triple the recipe, adjust the quantity of water (e.g., 2 or 3 cups). Stir in enough flour (about 1 cup) to make a stiff batter. Cover with a towel and leave overnight.

In the morning, the starter, water, and flour mixture should be foamy. Stir it down. Add salt, thyme, 2 tbs olive oil, and the remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead for a few minutes.

Spray a foil-covered baking sheet with vegetable spray or grease foil with olive oil (more calories but tastier!). Lightly oil your hands and divide the dough into 3 balls. Press them into ovals on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a towel and let them rest at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes.

Mix the remaining olive oil and garlic in a small ball.

Preheat oven to 400 F (220 C). Uncover the flatbreads and lightly press your fingertips into the dough to create small dimples. Smear the olive oil and garlic mixture evenly over the flatbreads. Sprinkle with coarse salt if desired.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and store at room temperature.

  • Recipe for sourdough “naan” (not quite like naan, but cooked on the stove)
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