Thursday, January 31, 2008

George's Focaccia and a slice of history

A little over eleven years ago I was working as a nanny of two young boys, oblivious to the future I had in professional cooking and unaware of the wild and wonderful journey into the culinary world that I was about to embark on and never return from.

At the time, my family was fortunate enough to be friends with the owners of the best restaurant in our small British Columbia town. Two heads and shoulders above the Chinese buffets and truck-stop cafes that lined the highway, the Little Onion Restaurant offered succulent dishes such as Smoked Alaskan Black Cod and Jamaican Jerk Rack of Lamb. They were the best for countless reasons, among them being their homemade sorbet and ice cream, and perhaps most impressive of all, daily fresh-baked focaccia.

It usually was just coming out of the oven when the doors opened at 5-o-clock and as soon as clients were seated, it arrived at their table: warm, sliced into generous wedges and served with accompanying olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (remember the oil and vinegar of the 9o’s?)
There was no one in town eating better that night than those guests.

My path crossed with the Little Onion one day when the sous chef walked out on George, head chef and owner, hours before a busy Saturday night service. Over an espresso at the bar, George lamented to my father that he didn’t know what he was going to do and so my father offered:

“My Aimee is pretty handy in the kitchen. Why don’t you have her come in and help out?”

I guess George figured he had nothing to lose and so that evening I found myself thrust into the most thrilling environment I had ever encountered: a bustling, swinging, hot, professional restaurant kitchen.

I loved every minute of it.

At the end of the evening, George poured me a glass of chilled Riesling and spoke three words that I'll never forget.

“You’re a natural."

Then, to my delight -and terror- he offered me a permanent position.

The rest is history. George took me under his wing and gave me a crash course in culinary education. It was in that small kitchen where I got my first second degree burn from boiling sugar, left a piece of my palm in the mandolin, and got hooked, really hooked, on espressos.
It was the best of times.

George's focaccia was something I never got sick of, even though I had it for dinner most nights, stuffed with some caramelized onions and homemade charcuterie. The smell of it baking never failed to make my stomach growl and it was one of the recipes I kept over the years.
It's simple to make and always a crowd pleaser, whether you are throwing an antipasto party or just dining on a humble lasagna.

George’s Focaccia

400 ml warm water
1 tablespoon dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Olive oil
Fresh rosemary
Coarse salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast and sugar. Whisk quickly with a fork, then leave to sit for five or ten minutes until the yeast starts to dissolve and bubble.

Add half of the flour and the salt to the yeast mixture. With a dough hook attachment, beat batter on medium high until well combined. Add remaining flour and combine slowly, scraping down the dough hook and sides of the bowl as needed, until mixture comes together in a smooth dough. Knead on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes until dough is soft and elastic. You may need to add another handful of flour or two. Dough should still be slightly tacky.

Remove from bowl. Wash bowl, dry well and coat with olive oil. Place dough back in bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk- about 1 ½ hours.

Preheat oven to 400F
Generously oil two 8-inch round pizza pans with olive oil. Turn dough out onto counter and without punching dough down, divide in two with a sharp knife. Place a round of dough on each pizza pan and press gently with fingertips to flatten slightly and fill out the pan.
Allow to rest 10 minutes.

Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the focaccia and sprinkle with your choice of fresh herbs and a generous helping of coarse salt.
Bake about 15 minutes until bottom of focaccia is lightly golden and the top has a nice color as well.
Cool slightly, then slice into wedges and serve warm.
This focaccia is best eaten the same day it is made, but it does freeze well. To reheat, crisp in oven.


Mandy said...

Aimee, that looks so delicious. I have just started using my breadmaker and now I'm going to try out focaccia... mmmm!!! Warm and crusty from the oven - to die for!!!

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

What a wonderful story! I just found your site through Little Foodies. Very enjoyable.

Marie Rayner said...

That's a delicious looking foccaccia. I may have to give this a go myself! Loving your blog by the way. I, too, found my way over here from Little Foodies!

David Hall said...

Great story, great recipe, I adore foccaccia. George seems like a pretty talented fella, so high praise to yourself! Nice to see somebody doing it for the love of it Aimée.

Have a top weekend.


Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Helene lives in Victoria so I will forward the menu to her. Thanks for sharing the story of your passion for food!

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Aimee that is such a brilliant story and explains a lot.

I made a potato focaccia for a Daring Baker challenge that we loved and I wanted to find a recipe for one without potato. I'm going to make George's focaccia this weekend without fail. Thanks for posting it.

Deborah said...

What a great story!! I am a focaccia fan, and this looks and sounds wonderful!

Peter M said...

Holy Foccacia, it's beautiful!

Wonderful story, thanks for sharing.

Paige said...

What an exciting introduction into the professional culinary world!

Aimée said...

Hi Mandy- You'll find it's pretty addictive. Good luck!

Hi Cowgirl- You are most warmly welcomed to UtHC!Thanks for stopping by and hope to stay in touch.

Hi Marie- Welcome to UtHC! I must thank Amanda for sending you over the pond to my blog.

Hi David- Hey thanks. It's much more fun when you're passionate about it, eh?

Hi Valli- Good idea!

Hi Amanda- Happy baking, I'm sure you'll love it.

Hi Deborah- Thanks! So you are aware of the pleasures of focaccia, too!

Hi Peter- :) You're welcome.

Hi Segolily- yes, I guess it was.:)

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

Nous venons de déménager à l'Ile de Vancouver et je n'avais jamais entendu parler de ce resto. Merci. J'espère visiter un jour.

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

What an absolutely fabulous story, Aimée! And clearly you were a natural, to have just jumped in with both feet and survived.

Emeline said...

first- LOVED the story, you sure have a great hand at storytelling!
second- I'm going to need an invite to your next antipasto party! ;)
third- aren't you exhausted, mama to be? Kick your feet up and enjoy the'll soon have a little one to coo over!

Nora B. said...

Aimée, that was such a wonderful story, thanks for sharing that and this terrific recipe. Thank goodness that you stumbled into the culinary world and that George was such a great teacher.

I feel like leaving this laptop right now and making that delcious looking focaccia.

Jen said...

Was the 400ml of water a typo? I've been making bread for years and against my better judgement followed the recipe as written and it was an absolute disaster. I had to add an extra 2+ cups of flour to get a reasonable dough. Before that it was a soaking wet mess of glue. I looked at other foccacia recipes and they all call for 250ml of water with all of the same measures for the other ingredients. It's rising now and hopefully it turns out okay otherwise I'll be tossing it out and starting again.

cakewardrobe said...

This looks amazing!! I can taste it like I am biting into a cloud!

I am heading to Montreal and QC next weekend - please give me some suggestions on restaurants!:) Thanks!

Cookie baker Lynn said...

I love the story as well as the bread. I will definitely have to try it!

winedeb said...

So interesting Aimee, that I come upon your post today because the last few days I have been struggling with focaccia. I want to make a nice one so bad, but have not had success yet. I even went to my local grocery store and went to the baker and he sold me some of his premade dough! I even screwed it up! So in my attempt to make a nice foccia, I am going to go step by step with your recipe. My problem comes usually with the oven. What temp do I use and how long to leave it in! I have been doing 400 degress for about 30 minutes. It came out too brown and the other night I did the same and it come out, not done! If you have any more pointers, I surely would appreciate your suggestions!
Your story is like a fairy tale to me! You are one lucky girl! (and talented too!) Nice photos!

Anonymous said...

This was amazing! We had it for Super Bowl snacks and it was a big hit with everyone.

Aimée said...

Hi Helene- Bienvenue et bonne chance!

Hi Terrie- Survived is a good choice of words! Glad you enjoyed the story.

Hi Emeline- Thanks for reading! No, not too exhausted yet, just taking it one day at a time...hope you got inspired for your own antipasto party. Oscars are coming up, you know!

Hi Nora- Yes, who knows what I would be doing right now if I hadn't had that crossroads!

Hi Jennifer- No, no typo and I've been making this recipe for years! I do add a few extra handfuls of flour during the kneading process..but certainly not CUPS! It is a very soft dough, not meant to be as stiff as regular bread dough. Good luck!

Hi Cakewardrobe- Welcome to UtHC! How exciting you are coming up to our city! I'll drop you an email.

Hi Lynn- It's a pretty satisfying baking experience. Enjoy it hot!

Hi Deb- Good luck! The baking time depends on your oven, I guess. Mine is a little on the hot side and everything browns quickly. Have a peak at the bottom of the focaccia toward the end of the baking period. It should be a light golden color.

Hi Michelle- You rock! Glad you are trying my recipes.

Anonymous said...

I vaguely remember this story, and I certainly remember focaccia....I may have to try it one of these days!

Jen said...

Lol I don't know what the problem was because even after 2 extra cups of flour it was hardly a stiff dough. It's not the first time I've made foccacia but definitely the first time I had to pour it out of the bowl.

Anonymous said...

Awesome writing and recipe! The way you described it made me want to try it immediately. Thanks for the recipe.

sexy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
hatchetgirl said...

2nd batch of this is done...I found that 400ml was way too much water for my climate - did it the other way around after realizing I'd added almost 2c flour and it was still too wet. Cut the fluid back to 200ml and added until it was 'right' but this tastes absolutely delicious, thank you for sharing this!


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