As much as I adore baking, it’s not often that I bake a lot of bread. Once in a while, it’s fun to get my hands exercised by kneading some honest-to-goodness bread dough, and I was thankful for this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings assignment to do just that… well, kind of. I didn’t have to do too much kneading, which really isn’t much of a bad thing at all!
The recipe is Baked’s Cheesy Focaccia with Caramelized Onions and Sautéed Spinach, from Baked Elements. Truly, nothing warms a frost-bitten soul in winter more than the smell of fresh bread baking up in the oven… and it’s even better with lots of melty cheeses, tangy caramelized red onions, and bright green, hearty speckles of spinach on top.
Though this is by no means an especially difficult recipe, as with any kind of homemade bread dough, you will want to allow yourself plenty of time for the dough to rest and rise. The dough for this focaccia mixes up in a jiffy, particularly if you have a Kitchen Aid with a dough hook attachment – mine only took a few minutes to beat together and was barely wet or sticky in the mixing bowl (I didn’t need to add more flour like they suggested). I think the combination of all-purpose and bread flours called for in the recipe is what keeps the dough tender and almost pillowy when the focaccia bakes up. The process for prepping the dough for baking doesn’t required a lot of kneading – simply stretch the beaten dough out on a lightly-floured board, fold it threefold like a letter, then sort of tuck the whole piece together into a comfy, cozy ball. Place in an oiled bowl, set aside, and let rise slightly. Repeat this process after a half hour, rest, then repeat after another half hour. I actually left my apartment and ran some errands after the third stretch/fold/rest-in-bowl period, and when I came back, had quite a chuckle at how high my dough rose up over the top of the bowl!
I next lined a large metal sheet pan with a piece of parchment, smeared with a nice dose of olive oil and scattered with corn meal. I patted the dough out into a rectangle and let it rest a while longer as I cooked some thinly-sliced red onion until lusciously fragrant, translucent, and tinged with some golden caramelization. After the onions, I tossed some baby spinach greens into the sauté pan and let them cook and wilt down before setting them aside to cool slightly.
Prior to baking, I used my fingertips to do a final stretching-out of the dough to the corners of the pan. I followed this by gently dimpling the top of dough with my fingers, then generously brushing the top of the dough with olive oil mixed with chopped fresh rosemary. I finished with a scattering of salt and pepper, chopped fresh thyme, and dried oregano. The focaccia was baked in a high-heat oven (450 degrees) for only about 10 minutes, with a pan of heated water underneath to create steam, which made the crust of the focaccia crisp and the interior soft and light.
The recipe calls for topping the focaccia, immediately after being pulled out of the oven, with 2 cups of mozzarella cheese. I opted for a generous cup each – you can never have too much cheese, I figure – of mozzarella and Swiss, to create a little contrast between the smoothness of the mozzarella and the nuttiness of the Swiss (Swiss cheese always complements caramelized onion wonderfully, I find). For the harder cheese, I used Parmesano Reggiano, which provided just the right sharpness. I combined a healthy dash of red pepper flakes with my cheeses, then sprinkled about half the cheese mixture over the baked focaccia, followed by the onions and the spinach (which I gently squeezed some of the moisture out of on a paper towel). I topped the onions and spinach with the remaining cheese, popped it all back in the oven, and baked it off, until the cheeses started to turn golden and bubbly.
Let me tell you – this focaccia smelled fantastic coming out of the oven. It’s also a beautiful, festive sight – with the purple of the onion and the bright green of the spinach peeking through the melted, golden cheese. I’m a huge onion fan – raw, cooked, caramelized, any which way you can make them – and this recipe is an onion lover’s dream. The sweetness of the onion, paired with the earthiness of the spinach (which crisps slightly in the oven under the high heat), mingling with the saltiness and creaminess of the cheese, accented by the spicy red pepper flakes and pungent herbs and olive oil… WOW. We ate this for dinner. It was almost like a fancy pizza in itself. My focaccia, as you can see from the pictures, was especially thick and pillowy-soft – a nice texture, indeed, though I hoped for it to be a little more golden on the bottom and the edges. I couldn’t complain much about how this focaccia came out, however… as soon as I snapped my photos for this blog, I ate about 3 pieces in a row! It was delicious!
It’s easy to see why the owners and staff at Baked like to take an occasional break from sweets by making this exceptionally good savory treat. It would be the perfect snack for a party – perhaps a Super Bowl party? (I can’t comment too much on that, sorry – NOT a football watcher; I celebrate the Super Bowl more because it’s the END of football season!) Make this marvelous foccacia yourself by following this link:
…and please be sure to visit the blogs of my fellow bakers and friends on Baked Sunday Mornings (see their blogs listed in the “Leave Your Links” page for the focaccia). Enjoy your focaccia, and please come back to visit Neufangled Desserts next week!
Next week: Chocolate Ginger Molasses Cookies