Bread-making is an art. One which I have not attempted a great deal, much less mastered. But the satisfaction of laboring over a beautiful mess of flour, yeast, and water over the course of – sometimes literally – days, is quite a satisfying feat.
It reminds me of watching the boy home brew beer. You’re throwing all of your eggs in the basket of this teeny tiny organism hailed as yeast, hoping and praying it will rise to the occasion (pun intended) and convert the sugar of a pre-fermented beer into alcohol. There’s a lot of time and effort riding on this little single-cell organism. Especially one you can’t reason with or pep talk.
I’m still dipping my toes into the warm water required to activate bread-making yeast. I’m comfortable with the basics: kolache dough, cinnamon rolls, the buttery shortcut baguettes that would make any bonafide Frenchman shudder… But after a trip to northern California, my lovely in-laws surprised me with a copy of The Model Bakery Cookbook, a conglomeration of the works of a gourmet bakery in the California wine country.
It is laden with the most beautiful, intricate recipes. Hearty breads, leavened breakfast pastries, cookies, delicate cakes… It’s a feast for the eyes and soul. It’s also one of those recipe books that pompously sat on my coffee table for weeks. Staring me down, daring me to test myself on one of its detailed and intimidating recipes. Finally, I told it to shut its beautiful face, and I made the recipe for Focaccia.
Granted, this is one of the easiest of all of their recipes. A short prep, a little bit of wait time, a quick jaunt in the oven, and you’re done. And it was one happy Saturday afternoon well-spent cultivating delicious carbs in the kitchen.
The book mentions that Focaccia only made its way to the US in the last few decades, and oh how glad I am that it made that voyage from Italy. It’s baked perfectly thin in a sheet pan, and is the perfect balance of light and spongy – perfect for sandwiches, primed to lather itself in pesto, marinara, or….. a sun-dried tomato aioli.
It’s of course totally acceptable to eat this bread plain. It’s buttery (although there’s no butter in it – what the cuss?), crisp, light, and perfectly seasoned with the lightest aroma of rosemary and parsley. But carbs are meant for two things:
1. To be eaten without any accouterments in moments of deep despair, unrepentant of the empty calories you’re consuming. I’m talking stale tortilla chips after a crappy day, and the salsa has gone bad so you scarf them whole and plain.
2. Or to be a vessel of some creamy goodness. Whether it be a glob of guacamole on said tortilla chips, a heaping of canned chili on top of a Frito (you can put your judgmental face away right now. This is America), or a piece of artisan bread spread with a thin layer of tomato-y goodness. Yes. Yes, this is what carbs are for.
So I introduced the Focaccia and the aioli, they hit it off, and now I’m obsessed with the beautiful love they share. And luckily, making the aioli was easy as a rainy day nap. You could go gourmet and actually whip an egg yolk in with some other ingredients until they all emulsify, orrrrrr you could grab the highest quality mayo you can find, throw it in a food processor with some sun-dried tomatoes and a few other things and call it a day.
After baking bread from scratch, I recommend the latter.
Dip/smear. Eat. Repeat.
We cut the sheet of bread into sandwich-sized chunks, individually wrapped them in plastic wrap, and tossed them in the freezer. They reheat quickly and make for one helluva sandwich. Our personal favorite? Spread with the aioli, layered with provolone, sliced turkey, and topped with a heap of spinach. Revolutionize your lunchtime, people.