Sunday, November 4, 2012

Autumn Focaccia

Sometimes a girl just wants to have fun! After several weeks of steaming, pureeing, simmering, gratin-ing, sautéing, freezing and preserving my favorite squash - the orange kabocha, aka red kuri or Hokkaido squash - (of which we had a most welcome glut this year thanks to our CSA), I decided to do something I had never done or seen done before: make squash flour and bake with it!
I chose a beautiful bright one...
...washed it, cut it in two, scooped out the seeds, steamed one half for dinner and grated the other half raw, unpeeled, in the food processor. After drying out the grated squash for a few hours in the dehydrator, I had colorful strands of crisp squash (actually quite tasty on their own) which I ground into flour. Half the squash above yielded about 300 g of "flour".
Now what to do with it? I toyed for a few days with the idea of baking a triple pumpkin bread (pumpkin flour, pumpkin purée and pumpkin seeds) but it might have been led to tastebud overload. Besides I wanted to see how the color of the flour would translate into the crumb on its own.
So I made a simple focaccia with two preferments: a poolish and some liquid levain. Because I love the rustic taste of rye, I put a bit of freshly milled wholegrain rye in the poolish. I only used 10% of kabocha flour in proportion to the total dough flour and while it smelled exquisite when mixing and fermenting/proofing, the flavor had all but disappeared in the one focaccia we tasted (the other one went straight to the freezer). The one we ate had been sprinkled with thinly sliced leek white however. If there were such things as arm-wrestling matches between ingredients, leek would lick squash in a heartbeat! Wrong choice of topping, MC!
Next time I'll skip the leek and increase the percentage of squash flour to 15 or 20%. Since it has no gluten, it doesn't do much for the crumb but it doesn't seem to hamper its development either and that's basically what I had been wondering about...
Now some of you who may ask why I used two preferments (every time I do I get some mail or comment about that). The only reason really is that my liquid levain was bubbling on the counter next to the mixing bowl and it would have been a waste not to incorporate some of it. No huge brainstorm. Just an opportunity to make use of surplus levain.
Having never baked with pumpkin flour before and not knowing how it would behave, I had originally opted for a poolish instead of a biga (the traditional Italian pre-ferment for a focaccia according to Carol Field): if it helped itself to a large part of the water in the dough, I would end up with a brick. To minimize the risk, I went for a poolish which is equal parts flour and water.
Next time though, I may try and skip the poolish entirelyBreads made with natural starter have a much longer shelf life. Since we eat a lot of bread and usually have two or three kinds out at any given time to be enjoyed at different meals, my preference goes to breads which stay fresh for more than twenty-four hours.
Alternatively I may try and find out how William Leaman of Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle does it. His baguettes are fermented with a mix of poolish and levain and they do stay fresh! I kept half of one on my kitchen counter for almost two days (in a plastic bag) and it wasn't a bit stale or dried out. It has to be more than just his magic touch. If I ever learn how he does it, I'll report back. Meanwhile I'll probably stick to levain (but of course it won't be a true focaccia, will it?)
I had fun with the olive oil I used to "paint" the focaccie: seeking flavors that would enhance and complement the squash without overpowering it (no wrestling matches allowed), I picked rosemary and sage from the garden and used some of the chile I had bought fresh last fall from a Thai vendor at our farmers' market, cut up and dehydrated. The oil infused while the dough fermented...

Ingredients (for two focaccie)

For the poolish
  • 250 g all-purpose flour, unbleached
  • 50 g whole grain rye flour
  • pinch of instant yeast
For the final dough
  • 700 g all-purpose flour, unbleached
  • 100 g kabocha "flour" (see above description of the pumpkin-flour-making process)
  • all of the poolish
  • 100 g mature white levain at 100% hydration
  • 480 g water (you may need more or less according to the dryness of the weather, your flour, etc.)
  • 22 g fine sea salt
For the olive oil "paint"
  • Your favorite extra-virgin olive oil (I like the fruitiness of Trader Joe's Premium cold pressed EVOO, the one that comes with a dispensing cap attached to the neck of the bottle. I have searched high and low for olive oil over the years, seeking one that would be both tasty and reasonably priced. I tried many different supermarket brands, including all (and I mean all) of the ones sold at TJ's and Costco. Tired of being stuck with less than satisfactory oils for weeks on end - it isn't as if we could sample before buying - I now always reach for this one and it has never disappointed. I don't have any shares in TJ's or any incentive to promote any of their products. I just want them to continue offering the product as I don't feel like going on an EVOO quest ever again!)
  • A mix of fresh or dry rosemary or sage
  • Little pieces of dried chile (in a pinch you might use a tiny bit (think half-a-teaspoon) of red pepper flakes but it might stick to the top of the bread and impart too much heat. The beauty of the little pieces of chile is that you can pick them out after baking if you just want the taste, not the spiciness)
For the topping (optional)
  • Thinly sliced leek (white part only) or onion
  • A pinch of Maldon salt
  • Grated cheese (if desired)
Method:  (because of the pre-ferments, this bread is made over two days)

The evening before mixing
  1. Prepare the poolish by mixing the flours and the water and adding a pinch of instant yeast
  2. Cover and leave to ferment at room temperature
  3. Feed you levain as you normally do
The day of the bake
  1. Mix the flours, the water, the salt, and the two pre-ferments (I started mixing by hand in a bowl but my wrists protested so I switched to my Kitchen-Aid mixer with the hook, on first speed)
  2. Mix until you start seeing some gluten development (check the gluten window and stop mixing as soon as you get the beginning of one. It should take less than five minutes in the mixer)
  3. The dough should  have medium soft consistency. Adjust hydration as needed
  4. Transfer the dough to an oiled container, folding the dough once after thirty minutes if you think it needs it
  5. Leave it to ferment for as long as it takes for the dough to more than double and stop bouncing back quickly when palpated with a finger (how long it takes is directly linked to dough and room temperatures. In my case, dough temperature was 71°F/22°C which was a bit on the low side and room temp was 65°F/18°C. In my countertop proofer, set at 75°F/24°C, it took the dough close to seven hours to finish fermenting)
  6. Transfer the dough to a floured countertop and divide it in two
  7. Stretch each of the two pieces of dough onto a semolina-sprinkled-parchment-paper-lined half-sheet and set to proof inside a large plastic bag (make sure to blow into the bag and close it securely so that the plastic doesn't touch the bread) for about an hour and a half (or until the dough stops bouncing back immediately when palpated with a finger)
  8. When the focaccie are done proofing, dimple them all over gently with the tips of your fingers and use a wide pastry brush to "paint" them with the strained olive oil (leftover oil, if any, can be used to sauté potatoes or dress a salad)
  9. Sprinkle with the desired toppings (I used some of the oil-soaked rosemary on one and leek white on the other, bits of chile and some Maldon salt on both)
  10. Bake with steam on a baking stone in a pre-heated 400°F/204°C oven for about 25 minutes
  11. Cool on a rack and remove the toppings that you wouldn't want to eat, such as rosemary leaves or pieces of roasted chile
  12. Enjoy!

The Autumn Focaccia is going to Susan for this week's issue of Yeastspotting.


  1. this looks incredible. i dont care if leek licks squash, it looks amazing. nothing better than alium on bread!

    1. Thanks, Francis-Olive! I too love alium on bread but in this particular instance, I was rooting for kabocha!!!

    2. oh, and p.s., no one makes their own kabocha flour. pretty soon you're going to be parting the seas too!

  2. Well, my dear... I just ran out of adjectives to comment on your bread concoctions. You made your own flour. You made your own flour. Repeat with me: I (Farine) am awesome. I (Farine) am the Queen of All Things Bread.

    superb, amazing, incredible! (there, I managed to find three words)

    1. Sally, you are just too nice! It's only kabocha flour, not as if I grew my own wheat patch!

  3. Wow, MC, you did it again, I am going to share this on FB. What a wonderful bread and post for autumn and Thanksgiving. Yumm!

    1. Thank you, Teresa! How did you guess I was going to take that focaccia out of the freezer for Thanksgiving? Good thing the family doesn't read the blog! :)

  4. Hi MC,
    Such a colorful post – all of these brilliantly-colored ingredients - you definitely were ‘painting your focaccie’ :^)
    Your kabocha squash flour is really gorgeous – you did an *amazing* job making it!
    I’m sure this squash flour could be used to color decorative dough, seeing how beautifully it held is color through baking.
    The Trader Joe’s EVOO has an amazing hue, also; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a prettier infusion for oil, with the bright red chiles and garden-green herbs.
    Really beautiful, and creative, autumn focaccia – and very special bread to be sharing with your family for Thanksgiving.
    :^) breadsong

    1. Hello breadsong! Knowing how talented you are with decorative dough, I am putting some kabocha flour aside for you this minute. It'll be waiting for you when you next come down. After all, kabocha season isn't over yet, I can always make more now that I have officially become a pumpkin miller. ;-)

    2. Thank you so much, MC! - for your generosity and kind words :^)
      You are so thoughtful, setting aside and sharing some of that wonderful kabocha flour with me. I can't wait to try making something with it...thanks again...I'm so grateful!
      :^) breadsong

  5. No kidding? I would never had imagined that you could make flour from squash! Do you think you could do it with avocado?

  6. Hello, Mimi! Nice to see you again. How are you? I think avocados hold too much moisture to be dehydrated and turned into flour. Even the flesh of the regular pumpkins (the Halloween ones) might be too wet for that purpose. The beauty of a squash such as the kabocha is that its flesh is on the dry side. But avocado might be used to replace part of the butter in a brioche dough... :)

  7. What a wonderful and lovely idea ! Very inspiring for me, who was toying with the idea of getting rid of my too little used dehydrator...

  8. so here we are... just got a mill with which I milled chickpeas and here we go... a dehydrator? I want it! So incredibly smart to make pumpkin flour. Let's bread-ify this workd girl!!! beautiful looking focaccua abd pkease do not trust Mrs Field: leaven is what we had before the 19 hundred and so define traditional...

    1. terrible spelling and tone when I write from my smartphone. I rephrase: of course you are right in saying that what is commonly known as pizza and focaccia is made with pre-ferments based on industrial yeast. pizza (with tomato on top) was "invented" in the late 18 hundred and I have just read that the Dutch started to commercialize industrial yeast just around that time. but pizzas and focaccias have been made practically since forever around the Mediterranean see, so you can feel free to use natural leaven in a focaccia without feeling that you are betraying some sort of Italian tradition :) on the contrary, you are being even more true to the tradition than the Italians themselves. hope I have made myself clearer now. bisous

    2. Hello Barbara, yes, you are surely right! Focaccias must have preceded commercial yeast by hundreds of years! You are definitely making me feel better about flouting so-called traditions. As to a dehydrator, it comes super handy year-round but especially in the flour. I use it a lot... Including for dehydrating levain. I love the idea of bread-ifying the world. Let's to it!

    3. how big your dehydrator is? and again bad spelling: I meant sea! this discussion about pizza makes me feel I should actually reconsider yeast-based pre-ferments. just to make the "typical" thing and later see how close to that I can go with leaven. your focaccia is already a masterpiece btw...

    4. Hello Barbara, sorry for the late reply. I was traveling. Thank you so much for the compliment. I love it of course but I am under no illusion. There was a lot of luck involved! The focaccia could easily have turned into a doorstop...
      Sorry about the typo in the previous reply: I meant to write "in the fall" (which is when I use the dehydrator most), not "in the flour". Silly Autocorrect!
      I have the 9-tray excalibur but if you ever want one of these machines, make sure you get the model that has a timer. I made a mistake when ordering and actually ordered the wrong one. By the time I noticed it had already been delivered and unpacked and it would have been a headache to send it back. But I really miss being able to set it and forget about it...

  9. I am totally in awe, and totally intimidated. That's a compliment. Wow.

    1. Thank you so much for the compliment but please don't be intimidated. The fun part was thinking of turning kabocha into flour and then actually doing it (wonderful smell and color), the bread part came together happily because the flour behaved way better than I thought it would. I was really lucky! Kabocha squashes are a lot of fun because there is so much one can do with them. My next favorite thing is kabocha preserve (what some would call kabocha butter as it is very smooth): it is a real treat and well worth the work that goes into it... But of course not as exciting as making bread!



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