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Yesterday was a fresh-baked bread kind of day. Unfortunately, I’m pretty dumb at baking. There’s something about the exactness and lack of improvisation that comes with breads that doesn’t really fly with my cooking skills, which include forgetting things and adding other things on whims.
However, my mom’s focaccia recipe seems to be an exception to the rule. It’s easy to make (that is, you can mess up a little without the world ending) and you can improvise both what you put on the top and what you dip it in. The other easy focaccia recipes I’ve tried don’t have the authentic consistency that you find in Italian restaurants.
Focaccia (my mom makes 1 1/2 recipes and place in a 9 X 13 pan — those numbers are in parentheses)
3/4 cup warm water (1 1/8 c. water)
1 teaspoon pure cane granulated sugar (1 1/2 t. sugar)
1 packet active dry yeast (1 packet dry yeast)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil)
2 cups flour (3 c. flour)
1teaspoon coarse sea salt (1 1/2 t. coarse sea salt)
Place warm water (105 to 115F) into a medium bowl. Mix in sugar; sprinkle yeast over surface. Stir to combine and allow to sit for about 5 minutes or until yeast foams; add olive oil; combine. Add flour and salt, mix well, scraping bowl edges.
Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and soft, about 5 minutes. Grease a large bowl; form a dough ball, place into bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a tea towel or light cloth; place in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400F, Brush a 5 x 7 inch (brownie pan) baking dish (or 9 x 13 if making 1 1/2 recipes) with olive oil. Gently press risen dough into pan, smoothing the top and creating small dimples with your fingers.
Lightly brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a little rosemary or Italian seasonings and coarse salt. This is also where you can get creative with whatever you have in the fridge – add finely chopped onions, olives, thinly sliced tomatoes, cheese, fresh sage, or garlic, in any combination you are feeling.
Cook for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. About 5 minutes before it’s done remove from the oven, brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with fresh rosemary and sage leaves. Put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until done
Artichokes and Olives Spread for Focaccia, if you’d like
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
8 artichoke bottoms, trimmed
1 cup pitted green olives (Sicilian)
extra-virgin olive oil
Place the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, lemon juice, and salt into a saucepan with 2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, 15 minutes. Add the trimmed artichoke bottoms and cook until they are tender when pierced with a knife (about 5 minutes). Drain and cool. Chop the artichokes and olives together very finely with a chef’s knife; stir in enough olive oil to make a soft paste. Adjust the salt if necessary. Slice the focaccia into sixteen 2″ squares and top with the artichoke paste. Serve within 15 minutes.
If you don’t have time or the ingredients to make the paste, you can also serve your bread with a shallow dish of extra virgin olive oil — just mix in some red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, and garlic.
It’s Ben’s 28th birthday today. He’s not big into birthdays, but I try to do the best I can where he’ll let me. For example, instead of buying him some big present, I bought him a bunch of little stuff, wrapped them, and then hid them around the house so he’d find them throughout the day while I was at work (in the sock drawer, refrigerator, shaving kit). You know, kind of like if you combined the best parts of Easter and Christmas (and took out the religion). I’m sure in six months I’ll find a dusty gift behind the dryer.
And, as much as he minds a big to-do about the day he was born, Ben doesn’t mind consuming carrot cake. At all. With this knowledge, I called up my M’am-Maw and asked for her amazing carrot cake recipe, which is a stunning piece of moist carroty goodness. It’s a show-stopper – the cream cheese icing isn’t too sweet, the cake isn’t too roughly textured, and did I mention that it’s moist? It is more than moist, it is a three-tiered monument to moist things around the world and throughout all time.
Here we go:
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
3 cups shredded carrots
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Before you begin, spray three 9-inch cake pans with non-stick cooking spray. Next, cut out three circular pieces of wax paper, place them in the bottom of the pans, and spray them with cooking spray, too. It might seem like a lot to go through so that you cake doesn’t stick to the pan, but don’t forget how MOIST this stuff is.
Next, mix your oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients, which you have mixed in a different bowl (flour, carrots, baking soda, salt, cinnamon). Beat for two minutes or so. Separate the batter between your three cake pans and bake them together for about 25 minutes. Keep an eye on it, though, you don’t want it to be dry.
Now the icing:
8 oz of cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar (or to taste, really)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick of butter
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Whip the softened cream cheese, softened butter, and vanilla on high. My grandmother first claimed she put in half a stick of butter, then changed it to three-fourths of a stick, then confessed that she puts in a whole stick. This is the major problem with good cooks – hidden butter – so I put in a whole stick and it came out great. I mean, it’s cake — a cake celebrating someone’s first day on earth — let’s not act healthy and cut corners.
Start adding the powdered sugar slowly (with the mixer off when you pour it in) and then whip it as fast as your mixer goes. Keep adding and testing it until you’re happy with the consistency and the sweetness. I think I added about two cups, but I don’t like sweet frosting. If you’re in to nuts, chop some up and add either to the icing in the mixer or after you’ve iced the cake. Since it’s October and since we’re not big nut fans, I decorated mine with candy corns.
A note or two: after you take the cakes out of the oven, place them on a cooling rack for a while before you ice anything. I always get impatient and do it too soon and the icing melts everywhere. Also, make sure all of your baking dishes are nine inches in diameter. Mine were three different sizes and my cake came out looking like the leaning tower of Pisa (see above). Except that it was delicious.