By popular demand, I’ve added a brand new basic bread making class to the fall curriculum at Sarah Lawrence College. So with every free moment, in between the baking, icing, carving, covering and decorating, I’m testing the recipes. Actually, its a great way to do it. I’ve sometimes thought that making bread is just too much of a commitment… the amount of time it takes to let it rise requires a kind of planning ahead that I’m not really great about. My middle name is Immediate Gratification.

But, having to squeeze in these recipes around an already busy schedule, it began to dawn on me that once you know the basic procedures, bread making actually fits very easily into your life. There are few ingredients- most will already be in your pantry. The work load comes in small doses, over a period of time that is much better spent doing something else. And made all that much easier with the use of a trusty heavy duty mixer.

Come and join us in our hands on baking class this October and learn the basics to find a comfort zone with all things yeasty. To whet your appetite, or if you’re not able to make the trip to Bronxville, NY, here is a basic focaccia recipe that lends itself to tons of creative variations.

Focaccia Al’Olio

Sponge

1 package active dry yeast

2/3 cup warm water 105-115 degreed F

1 cup all purpose flour

Dough

½ cup water

1/3 cup dry white wine

½ cup olive oil

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

2 tsp salt

¼ cup olive oil

1 tsp large flake salt

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves

First make the sponge, by stirring the yeast into the warm water until it dissolves. Allow this to sit about 10 minutes until its foamy, to be sure the yeast is still alive and active. Add 1 cup flour and stir to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let this sit in a warm, draft free area for about 30 minutes, until its very bubbly.

Combine all the liquid ingredients (water, wine, olive oil) with the sponge, stirring to combine. Combine the 2 ½ cups flour with the 2 tsp of salt, in the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attached. Mix a bit to distribute the salt. Add the sponge/liquid mixture and mix until completely combined and forms a soft dough. No kneading required. The dough will still be moist and stick a bit to your hands. This is good… its what gives you the air pockets and light airy crumb. Grease a large bowl with olive oil or pan spray. Place dough into bowl and cover. Sit bowl in a warm, draft free spot and let rise for 1 hour. Dough will double in size.

Preheat oven to 425.

Grease a sheet pan or cookie sheet. Punch down the dough and press it out into a rectangle, about 14” by 10”. Using your fingers, dimple the dough all over. Cover lightly with a clean dish towel and let rise again, until double in height, or about 50 minutes.

When dough has risen for the second time, dimple again with your finger tips. With a pastry brush, distribute the ¼ cup olive oil over top of dough and sprinkle with the 1tsp of large flake salt and fresh thyme leaves.

Put the sheet pan in the oven and turn the temperature down to 400 degrees. For the best results, you want to keep the crust for setting too fast. To aid this, spritz the walls of the oven with water from a spray bottle often during the first 15 minutes of baking. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and center is set. Remove the focaccia from the pan as soon as you take it from the oven to keep it from over baking and drying out.