Bumblebee paradise, suburban garden or a park?
The boom of the Foccia gardens is unbroken. The variety of picturesque landscapes characterized by roses, flower arrangements or even groups of little bees, which are created and reproduced from everything the refrigerator can provide, seems endless. From magazines to Instagram – the community of Focaccia gardeners is developing impressively.
And in fact, the Focaccia as a garden has a lot to do with real “gardening” : yes, it can be planned, designed and cultivated according to your mood and as colorful as possible.
However, one point is completely neglected in many Focaccia garden constructions.
Every garden can only thrive if…? Right…if it has a nutrient-rich soil. In the case of Focaccia, this is our dough.
On a Focaccia that is denied the appropriate time for fermentation and resting, rose arches and replicas of the Garden of Eden may be beautiful to look at. However, it will be a poor result in terms of aroma, juiciness, airiness and of course digestibility (the same facts apply, of course, to garden designs that are pumped up with an almost atomic amount of commercial yeast so that they can land in the oven after only 30-60 minutes of total fermentation time).
To cut a long story short: Here comes a recipe & Focaccia guide for you with the most important Focaccia hacks that will turn your Focaccia front garden into an impressive #brotokoll style Open Crumb garden show which will elicit a delighted WTF from you and your guests. What The Foc…accia!
But wait…there is more: on top of the recipe, I will show you a leavening method that you probably don’t know yet.
Well then, let’s get started – 7 Focaccia hacks at one stroke
Focaccia Hack #1: Flour-Power
The right choice of flour is the basis for your Focaccia dream.
The most important flour parameters are strength (decisive for water absorption and the ability to withstand long fermentation times), the associated protein content, as well as the relationship between formability and elasticity (the so-called “rheological” dough properties), which is often barely considered (and in the case of domestic flours almost never highlighted or even communicated). In case of Italian flours (definitely the right choice for making a great Focaccia) this relationship is expressed as P/L value.
Focaccia Hack #2: Water amount
When it comes to shaping, the handling of highly hydrated doughs (which means that the dough contains a high amount of water) is often quite difficult – especially for baking newbies. Not so with Focaccia!
Both structure and dough strength are built up during bulk fermentation (by stretching and coil-folding). The whole final proof (without further pre-shaping or shapin as you know it from bread – and thus even beginners can easily become dough jugglers) takes place within the Focaccia tray.
The relatively high amount of water makes the dough extra airy and juicy (that’s why it is so important to choose the right flour which is able to absorb that amount of water – you see? Dependencies everywhere!)
Focaccia Hack #3: Kneading
Especially for doughs with a higher hydration, a proper kneading process is crucial for a successful result.
The goal is to develop the gluten completely during kneading (the stretching and folding afterwards should only structure and strengthen the dough further).
Only when the dough has developed properly it will be able to retain all the gas which will be built during fermentation – which in turn is the prerequisite for your Focaccia “flat terrain” to become a voluminous mountain garden.
Focaccia Hack #4: Salamoia
Dry Focaccia lacking in freshness? The solution (besides the right water content): Sim-Sala-Bim…I meant: -Moia. Salamoia.
This emulsion of oil, water and salt provides additional aroma and extra juiciness for your Focaccia garden.
Focaccia Hack #5: Time
Good things take time. And like good bread, a good Focaccia takes time.
The long fermentation and resting time before baking makes your Focaccia much more digestible and also more aromatic.
Focaccia Hack #6: Massage
While the Focaccia is spending its final proofing time in the tray, it wants to be massaged. And it wants to be massaged properly!
Fingertip dribbling is nice, but the Focaccia dough is a very tense massage patient and wants a REAL massage (this will re-distribute the gas cells in the dough, leading to a nice airy end result).
Bubbles in the Focaccia dough bring me to the 7th and last #focaccia hack. No proper leavening – no “bubbles”.
Hack #7: Leavening
As already mentioned in the intro above, on top of this recipe I’ll show you a very unknown leavening method. However, before the secret is revealed, there is a short theory excursion (then you can start right away, I promise!) to an Italian classic.
The Biga is a pre-dough (just like the Poolish) that is prepared with commercial yeast. In Italy, the Biga has a great tradition in the production of bread and has conquered the world of Pizza and Focaccia many years ago.
If a pre-dough like the Biga is used in recipes, in Italy it is called “indirect” baking method. Indirect because for the Biga, only some part of the recipe’s flour and water are mixed together with a small amount of commercial yeast.
After this pre-dough has been left to rise for a long time (during that time the yeasts reproduce and multiply), the remaining flour, water, salt and other ingredients are added to complete the dough.
By the way, “father” of the classic Biga theory is Piergiorgio Giorilli. He set the parameters that determine the maturity, strength and aroma of the Biga. Those are: consistency, time and temperature.
Consistency and time
Overkneaded. A very often committed mistake: A Biga (as already described: consisting of flour, water, commercial yeast) must NEVER be kneaded out properly.
Why? A fully kneaded Biga (in which the gluten would already be fully develeoped during the kneading process) would have the consequence that it would ferment too quickly and develop too much acidity and/or an unpleasant aroma.
For this reason, the Biga is only mixed until all the flour particles got in contact with water and at the end there are lumps with the size of walnuts (more on this below in the recipe).
The Biga then looks like this at the end after it has matured:
Typical for the Biga is also the very low water content (40-50% hydration : this means that 400-500g of water are used for a Biga with 1kg of flour) which, together with the appropriate dough and fermentation temperature, ensures that the Biga can ferment in a controlled manner over many (16 to max. 48) hours (by the way, the high flour content slows also down the development of gluten) and will boost your final dough with a great aroma and strong leavening power.
Breathless – wrong choice
Speaking of leavening power: For a proper development, the container where you keep your Biga during fermentation must NOT be sealed airtight!
An airtightly sealed container would slow down the development of the yeasts (since the reproduction of yeasts takes place under aerobic conditions – this means in the presence of friend & helper oxygen) and rob your Biga of its leavening potential.
In addition, a high percentage of acetic acid is built in an oxygen-poor environment, which gives the Biga a too high level of undesirable acetic acidity (in contrast to the desired development of lactic acid – we’ll talk about that in a moment when we look at the Biga’s advantages for your bakes).
So: best cover the Biga container with cloths!
Some like it hot – the Biga rather less. Two temperature values are immensely important for the final result: firstly, the storage temperature at which the Biga ferments for many hours – and (depending on this) secondly, the correctly calculated temperature of the water you use for the Biga during mixing.
Sounds complicated? But no – the calculation of the correct temperature is done with a very simple formula which you can find below in the recipe.
Now I can literally hear you screaming: “With so much theory, there must be a lot of advantages for Biga doughs in the end!
The Biga provides your bakes with a great aroma, a wonderful smell, an airy and open crumb, better digestibility and longer lasting freshness.
Furthermore, the high amount of lactic acid which is produced during the fermentation process of the Biga protects your bread, bread rolls, Pizza or in this case Focaccia, from the development of mold in a natural way – it therefore extends the shelf life significantly.
Pasta Madre Biga
Biga = flour, water, commercial yeast. Since we here on #brotokoll we consider commercial yeast to be something of “yeasterday”, but don’t want to go without any of the “bigastic” advantages, we had to find a workaround (besides the variant of the Biga made with wild yeastwater, which you already know from some #brotokoll recipes)..
And the desired method came promptly from my friend Francesco Previati (Grazie Francesco!)
Soulfood, Pizza, Pane, Vino – the name of Francesco’s pizzeria in the beautiful South Tyrol (near Merano) is also his way of life. The Biga is an important part of his “toolkit” for bread, Pizza and Focaccia.
Besides the classic Biga (with commercial yeast), Francesco also uses a Pasta Madre Biga.
Instead of commercial yeast, Pasta Madre (Lievito Madre, stiff Italian sourdough) is mixed with flour and water. The parameters as described above (consistency, temperature, time) remain unchanged.
The result is fantastic and the Pasta Madre Biga is also much more aromatic than the classic variation. All information about Pasta Madre Biga can be found in the recipe below!
So – now let’s get to the dough: let the garden battles begin!
For even more tipps, tricks and recipes, join me in one of my upcoming workshops! Check out my #brotokoll workshops overview. For individual workshop requests (individual coaching and /or live baking via WhatsApp, Zoom & Skype) send me a message!
*Literature sources: Dissapore, Ristorazione Italiana Magazine