Don’t get me started on sandwich bread in China.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not necessarily bad… It’s just…not good.
Most sandwich bread sold in our city (Xiamen, in case you weren’t paying attention) is the really soft, somewhat oily kind, with an unmistakably sweet flavor that kind of makes you go “huh” and really, really miss home, where the bread aisle (a whole aisle for bread, hallelujah!) is filled with hundreds of kinds of bread: whole wheat, whole grain, multi-grain, oatmeal, rye, country, Texas toast, Italian, pumpernickel… Oh my, do we miss the bread at home.
So what do you do when the only thing available is Chinese sandwich bread, and your husband is something of a sandwich connoisseur, and you have nothing with which to make him a lunch sandwich?
Why, you make your own of course! Which is how I came to make this deliciously fantastic rosemary focaccia bread, which is just the thing for your ravenous sandwich-loving hubby at lunchtime.
Cobbled together from a few recipes
When you live in China, anything resembling a real oven is difficult to come by, and all of our baked goods are baked in a tiny little Chinese toaster oven. Therefore, the measurements for this recipe are for a small focaccia (about 8 x 12), just enough for two or three people for lunch. If you want to make a bigger focaccia, just double everything except the yeast, and let it rise for an hour instead of ½ hour.
1 pkg (about 2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for greasing
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in ½ cup of warm water (about 40-45 degrees C…which I figure is about the temperature of a hot Jacuzzi). Let stand till foamy, 5-10 min.
In a large bowl, mix the flour and ½ tsp salt. Add the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Gradually add water, a tablespoon at a time, until dough is moistened enough to pull together and form a ball. In the same bowl, knead dough about 1 minute, until smooth.
Remove dough, and oil the same bowl with some olive oil (see, a one-bowl recipe!). Put the ball of dough back into the bowl, turn to coat, and then cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about ½ hour.
Preheat oven to 245 degrees C or 470 F.
Punch down the dough, and (in the same bowl of course) knead briefly. Press into an 8 x 12” baking pan (no need to grease it). Keep in mind that the focaccia won’t rise much, so don’t press it much thinner than you want the final product to be. Let it rise for 5 minutes or so until it is about the height you want.
Mix the rosemary with the olive oil and brush it over the top of the bread. Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for about 10 minutes (it should sound hollow when you tap the top), or a little longer if you want it to be a bit crustier. Cut into squares and serve.
Recipe notes: I used to be really intimidated by yeast breads, but once you get the hang of it, it’s as easy as cake! The only hard part is proofing the yeast – make sure your water isn’t too hot, or it will kill the yeast, and not too cool, or the yeast won’t activate. Also, if you’re having issues with the bread being too flat, just let it rise a tiny bit more before popping it in the oven.