After my freshman year of college, I took a trip to visit my best friend in Maine. Her family was charming and kind, and showed me the very best time while I was there. We went to the beach, drove through the woods, wandered the charming old town and generally had a terrific time.
The last night of my visit, we bought some fresh lobster and beautiful loaves of bakery bread and had a feast. On each side of the table, there was a bowl of oil and vinegar, swirled together for dipping. The bread was soft and chewy and the vinegar provided the perfect bite against the smooth oil. It was a very memorable dinner.
I came home from Maine wanting that bread again. Wishing that I could make that beautiful bread and eat it with oil and vinegar. A few weeks later, I had the perfect opportunity to try.
I was living at home for the summer, and my parents were going to Europe for an anniversary trip or something. They were going to be gone for a week or so, and I would be alone.
I was working two jobs and was very busy, but decided one afternoon, to try my hand at making bread. My mom had the Williams-Sonoma Bread Cookbook, and somehow I knew focaccia bread was the one to make.
Carefully, I measured and stirred. I kneaded and shaped the dough, and put it in the oven while holding my breath, hoping that it would turn out.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled the most glorious, golden, perfect loaf out. I couldn't believe it! Me! The girl who could only make volcano bread (aka the worst bread ever) had done it! I was beyond thrilled and that night, I savored every bite of my beautiful bread, dipping it in copious amounts of oil and vinegar.
I have used this recipe many, many times since then. I sent Adam home from visiting me with half a loaf one time, my college roommates used to request it pretty often, and it has generally been a family favorite. It is a beautiful loaf for gatherings, sandwiches, or a lovely side dish with pasta or soup.
I may have eaten this loaf alone the first time, but I think bread is best when it is enjoyed with friends, neighbors and anyone you love. It is the best kind of bread. The kind for sharing.
Herb Focaccia Bread:
from Williams-Sonoma Bread Cookbook
1 Tbs active dry yeast
1 Tbs sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 - 4 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp of each of the following: rosemary, sage, basil and oregano
In a mixer using the paddle attachment, sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the sugar on top of a 1/2 cup of the warm water and give it a quick stir to dissolve it. Let it stand at room temperature for 10 minutes until it is foamy.
Add the rest of the water, sugar, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, salt and 1 cup of the flour. Stir for 1-2 minutes. Switch to the dough hook and beat in the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl. Add flour until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.
Cover with a damp towel and let it sit for about 20 minutes.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with a silicone mat. Pull the dough out onto the mat and flatten it into a rectangle that is about one inch thick. Cover it with the damp towel again, and let it rise for an hour.
At the end of the hour, the dough should be about 2 inches thick. If it isn't, let it rise for a few more minutes. Once it is the proper see, get your finger wet with olive oil and make indents with your finger tips about 2 inches apart across the entire loaf. Push your finger almost to the pan, but not quite. You just want an indent, not a hole. Cover it and let it rise for about 30 more minutes.
Preheat your oven to 425°F. Mix the basil, sage, rosemary and oregano in a small bowl, and sprinkle over the dough. Sprinkle coarse sea salt over the top as well.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the bottom is brown and the top is a golden color.
Serve with a side of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.