Cavendish Garlic Focaccia

15 Sep

It somehow took the boffins over at Panasonic a month to replace my camera battery. Apparently this is the kind of technological prowess that an electrical (or is it electronic? I can’t remember) engineering degree unlocks. Standing at a nexus of paths, each pointing to a different university course, at least I can firmly cross that one off my list. I can already change a battery, thank you very much.

So now you know who to thank for my prolonged absence. Sure, I could’ve written up black and white, minimalist posts in the meantime. But I like the photos. What’s a food blog without photos, after all?

But fear not, this sabbatical hasn’t been entirely wasted bread-wise! I’ve still been getting my hands floury, though a trip to England to stay with my yeast-phobic mother sort of put everything on hold.

That is, until she spontaneously whisked me and my brother to East Anglia for “a change of scene”. The logic was somewhat lost on me at first, seeing as it was only a two hour trip, tops, to Lavenham from her house in Oxfordshire. But it really is different, largely owing to the characteristic churches peppered around the countryside. There’s almost a mass-produced feel to these churches, despite their ornate windows and design. Kind of like those pre-recession toys you used to get in a box of Rice Krispies, you’re guaranteed to find one in every village.

The other thing you’ll notice is the glut of craft shops, galleries and, bet you didn’t see this coming, gastro-pubs. Long Melford, a suitably snaking settlement, was particularly guilty of this, and if you’re ever there, The Swan is a great place to go for a reassuringly stylish lunch and an equally stylish outdoor seating area. There are two main things I tend to judge a place on, and that’s toilets and the bread basket. Both were very good. (There was even a notice in the toilet that invited job applicants, something which is markedly rare in here in Clonakilty!)

But the bread wasn’t homemade. Which brings me to The George at Cavendish, down the road from Long Melford, where it was. We ordered the focaccia, which seemed to be a cornerstone of the lunch menu. It was one of a kind, really. First of all, it didn’t actually look like bread. Garlic butter was drizzled over the top, and had caramelized in the oven, giving it the appearance of a cuboid hunk of sticky toffee pudding.

But when I bit into it, it was just perfect. It wasn’t the puckered sun-dried tomato focaccia that I know and love, and I’m not sure I would even call it a focaccia. But it was gorgeous. The baked garlic butter created this incredible crispy crust, rich in a buttery flavour that soaked into the soft crumb.

So I did something that I’ve never done before. I asked the chef for the recipe. He obligingly emerged from the kitchen and talked me through the whole process, which had taken him a whole six months to develop, leaving me with one very important tip – once you’ve worked it out, keep the recipe under lock and key. “Which you’ve failed to do,” I joked. “No,” he said. “Because I never told you the exact quantities of each ingredient. That’s the real trick.”

I’ve heard similar things from Darina Allen at one of her cookery demos. When it comes to bread, she said, your granny may have used natural intuition, but most of us are best treating it with the precision of a physics experiment. I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the picture!

Regardless, I’m still of the pinch-of-this-dash-of-that philosophy, though I do try to make a note of the quantities I’m using, just in case I strike gold. Which, coming back to the focaccia, I have done with this semi-borrowed recipe. It may have taken our chef friend at The George half a year to figure out his focaccia, but this is only my second attempt, and this recipe is as near to perfect as you would expect with a temperamental oven.

Better still, I’m going to share it with you, quantities and all.

So, how long does it take to change a battery? Well, apparently, longer than it takes to figure out the perfect focaccia.

A few notes: 

He suggested firstly to use a poolish starter, made with a combination of strong white flour, Tipo 00 pasta flour, a minimal quantity of yeast and, of course, water. Adjust the quantities of each according to how much dough you want to make. I find that a preferment is essential for a nutty flavour, but it makes little difference when it comes to the density of the crumb (the bane of my bread-making existence).

I know I promised I’d play around with preferments, and in my first attempt at emulating the authentic Cavendish focaccia, I did. Ironically, that didn’t work out as well as this beauty, which steers clear of a starter. Furthermore, the dough was actually made by my dad according to the basic bread dough recipe in Jamie Oliver’s book The Naked Chef. My dad claims he can’t make bread, but I have to give him at least half of the kudos.

The chef at The George noted that the dough was olive oil-heavy. Mine ended up being so, but note that the initial dough wasn’t enhanced by any fats, which generally means a more irregular crumb. Also note that it spent a two-day-long character-building session in the fridge, which more than made up for the lack of preferment. I would still recommend experimenting with a starter, though.

Cavendish Focaccia

For the dough…

300g strong white flour (or a mixture of Tipo 00 and SW, or semolina flour)

½ sachet (3.5g) of dried active yeast

7g caster sugar

1½  tsp salt

Tepid water

…and the rest:

c. 50g butter

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp honey (I used golden syrup… heresy!)

6 garlic cloves (4 whole and 2 finely chopped)

Dried rosemary

Sea salt

Method:

  • Sieve the dry ingredients for the bread into a bowl, including the yeast. Make a well in the centre and combine the water until all of the ingredients bind into a dough that comes away from the edges of the bowl, but isn’t too sticky to handle. (This is how Dad usually makes his dough.) Knead until smooth and elastic.
  • Leave to prove at room temperature for an hour or so. If you have time at this point, bung it into a plastic bag and refrigerate. It’s really up to you how long you leave it in the fridge for (within reason), but ours happily kept for a couple of days which really matured the taste.
  • Remove the dough from the fridge when ready and let it sit at room temperature for an hour or so before baking.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200˚C. Grease a regular 8” cake tin.
  • Slice the tops off 3 cloves of garlic, leaving the scaly exterior intact. Place on a makeshift foil tray (to save on washing-up), toss with olive oil and sea salt, and cover with a little more foil. Roast in the preheated oven for a good 35 minutes, or until soft and golden brown. Reduce oven temp to 180˚C
  • While these are roasting, melt the butter in a pan with the olive oil at a medium heat. Once it’s up to heat, toss in the rosemary and leave for a minute or so. Then add the finely chopped garlic.
  • Sauté at a medium to high temperature until the garlic is a pale golden. Stir in the honey. Bring up to a brisk bubble, and then remove immediately from the heat.
  • Take your dough and form a well in it. Knead the garlic-butter-honey mixture into it, folding and pushing back with the heel of your hand. After each push, give it a little half turn, and repeat. Keep kneading until the dough is supple and elastic once more, and the garlic is distributed evenly. See if it passes the windowpane test: stretch a portion of it out thinly. If it becomes semi-transparent without snapping, then you’re good to go.
  • Shape the dough in the cake tin to fit the container. At this point you can either let it prove for 10 minutes or so, or just whip it straight into the oven. I just put it in the oven, because the dough seemed raring to go.
  • Bake for about 30-35 minutes at 180˚C.
  • While the bread is in the oven, skin your slow-roasted garlic cloves and pound up in a pestle and mortar with a clove of crushed raw garlic, a glug of olive oil, a pinch of salt and dried rosemary. The amount of olive oil really depends on how much you think you’ll need to coat the bread.
  • About 10 mins before the bread is due to come out, quickly remove it from the oven and brush with the roasted garlic-olive oil mixture. Sprinkle with sea salt and return to the oven.
  • Once the bread is golden brown on top, and sounds hollow when tapped on the base, it’s ready. It’s quite a thin bread, so if it’s got that lovely caramel crust, the chances are that it’s cooked through.

Garlic on the top shelf & just about to come out, bread on the bottom & just gone in. As soon as the garlic comes out, you can whack the temp down to 180C.

And the best part? You can pretty much serve it there and then! We unfurled the tartan rug in the garden and ate it al fresco with an avocado salad, but it could also brighten up any table or desk with a ray of summer picnic nostalgia.

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