One more for the road, people; I’m writing this post and then launching myself face-first into my suitcase so I can get packed and ready for our flight this Monday. Well that, and a few dozen other odds and ends I need to tie up, but that’s okay: once we’re all in Florida, it’ll be vacation, and vacation food to go with.
Bread and I have been having a little bit of a moment recently, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s just never happened to me before in a summer setting: typically, I get all bread-crazy in the winter. Perhaps this year it’s because I’ve learned how to actually make it versus trying to do so and dissolving in a pile of tears when it inevitably fails. I suppose that makes the entire process more fun for everyone.
Perhaps also it’s because bread is actually nice when it’s warm out. Generally there’s not a ton of hands-on labor, it doesn’t bake for more than a handful of minutes, and it uses ingredients I keep well-stocked in my pantry. It’s more useful than, say, cake would be in the summer, because you can serve it with dinner, or use it for sandwiches, or take it on picnics. It won’t melt, it won’t slide around, and almost everyone loves it. Bread is pretty great.
My first bread of the summer (and thanks to a few of you, there will be more) is a simple focaccia, loaded with rosemary and fresh cherries. Focaccia has always been one of my favorite things to pick up at the store, but it lacks a little something you can’t always put your finger on. When you make it for the first time at home, you realize what you’re missing; absolute, just-out-of-the-oven freshness. It’s rare to find a perfectly crisped exterior with beautifully chewy insides on a store-bought focaccia. Thankfully, it’s easy to make your own.
Friends, if I can do this, you can totally do this. I’m no expert with bread, and although I’m getting better, I still have a long way to go. This required little to no effort, and makes an entire half-sheet pan full of bread. The cherries make it festive and seasonal, and the rosemary scents the entire thing beautifully. I promise you, you will not be able to keep yourself away. I was shocked to discover that it cuts well, too; you’d think all those cherries would go sliding the minute you ran your knife through it, but they stay exactly where they’re supposed to. Having a party with just heavy appetizers and drinks? Slice this into triangles and serve. Throwing a luncheon? This would be an incredible side to a summer salad.
The one thing I promise that you’ll need is this: a sturdy, good-quality lipped sheet pan. It’s essential, because a good one will crisp the entire top and sides to an even golden sheen. As far as I’m concerned, it’s part of the recipe. Go get yourself a good pan, because everything you make in it will turn out better.
Adapted from a recipe for rosemary focaccia which I found in my Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours cookbook by Sarabeth Levine. A lovely book, to be sure, but a little intimidating. Very much like Thomas Keller’s books in that way. She takes her baking very seriously, and I would absolutely recommend it for intermediate to advanced bakers, but for beginners, I can see how it would be a wee bit frustrating. This recipe, thankfully, was not at all difficult, so consider this to be “all ages.”
Sweet Cherry + Rosemary Focaccia
- 3 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (between 110˚-115˚F)
- 1 3/4 cups cold water
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped, divided
- 4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 pound cherries, halved and pitted
- 4 tablespoons good-quality olive oil + additional for oiling the bowl
- sea salt for sprinkling over
Note: you will need a lipped half-sheet pan for this; nothing else will do. Use the best-quality one you have, and you will have one gloriously huge swath of focaccia, I promise.
Sprinkle the yeast over the 1/4 cup warm water and let sit for 5 minutes until foamy. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then add the cold water and 1 tablespoon of the rosemary; stir with a whisk to combine.
Add the salt and 2 1/2 cups of the flour gradually, keeping your mixer on low speed. Add the rest of the flour as needed, just until a soft dough begins to form (I kept around 1/4 cup reserved from this step, because over-flouring means death to my bread doughs, typically.) Remove the paddle attachment and replace it with the dough hook. Knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth, forms a soft ball, and cleans the bowl, about 3 minutes. Do not overmix. If you don’t see it begin to ball up around the hook, spoon in a bit more flour until it starts to go the way you want it to. Gather up the dough from the hook and form it into a ball. The dough will be delightfully soft and pliable, and shouldn’t resist.
Grease the inside of a large bowl generously with olive oil. Place the ball of dough inside, turning it around to coat all sides with the oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place (I use the top of my refrigerator) until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a lipped half-sheet pan, and spread it evenly on the bottom and sides of the pan. Punch down the dough in the bowl and transfer it to the sheet pan. Using your hands, gently ease the dough out over the entire pan; this may sound crazy, but wait until you see and feel this dough; you’ll barely have to work to get it out to the edges. It’s very easy. If it’s too elastic, cover the dough in the pan with plastic wrap and let it sit for 5-10 minutes and try again.
Choose a warm place in your kitchen for proofing: I have no truly “good” warm places except for one: my oven. And so that’s where I do it. Arrange your racks so that one is on the bottom and one is near the middle; there should be enough space to fit a short tumbler on the bottom rack and not have it hit the top. Place your dough pan on the top rack, then boil two coffee cups-worth of water and pour it in to yes…two coffee cups. Place those on to the lower rack, on each side of the oven. Close the oven and let proof for about 45 minutes, until puffed.
Remove the dough poof and turn your oven on to 450˚F. While you’re waiting for it to warm up, use your fingers to poke little dimples all over the surface of the dough. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over the top of the dough; it will probably run into the little dimples, so aim for the space between. Sprinkle the cherries over top in a haphazard but gentle way, letting them sort of fall into each other as they want to. Next, sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of chopped rosemary. Finally, sprinkle all over with coarse sea salt, and listen for your oven to beep that it’s ready. Place in the oven and bake until perfectly golden brown, 18-20 minutes.
It will be devastatingly beautiful. You will have a difficult time letting it cool, but do please let it cool for about 20 minutes in the pan. Even though it’s big, it’s sturdy and will be pretty easy to lift out when it’s time. Transfer it to a board and cut it into whatever size pieces you choose. Amazingly, those cherries won’t be a deterrent to your slicing: they slice just as cleanly as the bread does, so no worries there.
Serves so many it is incalculable, or serves two for many, many bread snacks. Great for parties, because if you cut it all up into strips, it’s like it’s a self-contained appetizer.
Stores well in an airtight container for 1-2 days, although I would recommend eating it the minute it has cooled to warm, because it will devolve a little back into what you get at a good market: still tasty, but not at peak freshness. For guests and for treating yourself, serve this the very day it is made.