Southern-Style Focaccia

Baking a loaf of homemade bread is one of the most satisfying things you can do in your kitchen. The smell of freshly baked bread with its heady aroma of yeast is intoxicating.  Have you ever sliced a piece of bread while the loaf is still warm and spread it with just a bit of creamery butter? Heavenly.

I know that many people are terrified at the thought of working with yeast, but as with most cooking or baking skills, a perfect loaf of bread is easily attainable if you take it step by step. Bread doughs require that you take your time and follow the directions and once have have made that first successful loaf you will become addicted.

The Breaking Bread Society, a new online group created my friends Lora, Marnely and Shulie, was formed to encourage more people to bake their own breads at home.  I wanted to contribute to their first month since I firmly believe in baking and cooking from scratch, for taste as well as for health reasons.  It is also important to engage your children and family to learn to cook more at home.

This savory focaccia is topped with pimento cheese, sautéed Vidalia onions and local country ham

Focaccia, an Italian flat bread, is what the group has chosen to bake this month.  If you are interested in trying your hand at homemade bread for the first time, this is a good choice, however, it does require some additional time as it calls for three rises of the dough.  This dough rises beautifully (all three times) and is baked in a pan, which means you don’t have to master shaping and preparing for a special style of loaf.

Traditional focaccia might be topped with olive oil, coarse sea salt and some herbs.  However, you can be as creative as you like with this dough.  You can compose a savory or sweet bread and depending on the toppings you choose, it can be substantial enough for a light lunch and similar to a pizza.

Place tablespoons of pimento cheese in some of the dimples, then top with Vidalia onions and country ham

The flavors of the South came to mind for my version of focaccia.  Pimento Cheese is a staple in this part of the country, so it is the star of my focaccia.   With Vidalia onions in season (from Vidalia, Georgia), they were next on my list.  Finally, a little local country ham….and you have what I call a Southern-Style Focaccia.

These flavors blended together beautifully.  I made sure that there was enough of each ingredient to be included on each slice so you could taste a little bit of the South in every bite.

The focaccia browned nicely with a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt

I made homemade pimento cheese that uses freshly roasted peppers and a bit of smoky paprika for an unusual twist.  You can use your favorite recipe for pimento cheese, but avoid a recipe that is heavy with mayonnaise as it will make your focaccia oily.  Most pimento cheese sold at grocery stores has far too much mayonnaise and is not a good choice for this recipe.

Southern-Style Focaccia is the perfect addition to a Memorial Day weekend barbecue, Southern inspired dinner or is excellent on its own.  You don’t have to be from the South to enjoy these flavors.  This is one bread that I know will be making frequent appearances in our house this summer.

This focaccia is perfect for a light lunch or snack

On another note, you may have noticed a new feature that has been added to the site – a recipe box!  You can access the recipe box at the top right-hand corner of the Homepage or on a individual recipe at the bottom of a post.  We have partnered with ZipList to offer this option to our readers.  You can save recipes and create shopping lists through ZipList.  Please let me know your thoughts on this new addition.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend!

Southern-Style Focaccia

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon honey

1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)

1 1/4 cups warm water (100° to 110°), divided

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

Cooking spray

1 cup (approximately) homemade pimento cheese Use just enough mayonnaise to bind the ingredients together)

2 medium Vidalia onions, sauteed in a little olive oil and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper

Several slices of thinly sliced local country ham (preferably from a local farmer)

Extra-virgin Olive oil

Sea salt


Directions:

1. Dissolve honey and yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl; let stand 10 minutes. Add remaining 3/4 cup water and 2 tablespoons oil; stir until blended. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 2 3/4 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until blended. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add enough of remaining 1/2 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel sticky).


2. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.)


3. Punch dough down. Place dough in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Pat dough to fit pan. Cover and let rise 30 minutes. Uncover dough. Make indentations in top of dough using the handle of a wooden spoon or fingertips. Cover and let rise 45 minutes or until doubled in size. * While dough is rising, you can saute your onions and slice the country ham.


4. Preheat oven to 400°.


5. Uncover dough. Spoon tablespoons of pimento cheese over dough. Top with sauteed onions and country ham, spreading them evenly over the focaccia. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top of the focaccia, particularly where there are no other ingredients. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt. Bake at 400° for 23 minutes or until browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped. Serve warm or at room temperature.


The recipe for the dough for this focaccia is from Cooking Light - Way to Bake Bread