2009 July: Bake It

2009 July: Bake It“Whose bread I eat, his song I sing,” goes a German proverb. Any pizza operator who provides fresh bread knows the truth of that statement, as bread-loving customers often are willing to pay extra for this treat.

Baking fresh bread on the premises offers several advantages, says Martin Flores, owner of five Chicago’s Pizza and Pasta units in the Windy City. “We started making our own focaccia about nine years ago,” he says. “It tastes better than the bread we were buying, because we can control the quality. Now, we only serve fresh-baked focaccia.

“From a profit angle, this kind of bread is cheaper to make than to buy. We already have the mixer, refrigerator and oven, so we just need the ingredients, which aren’t expensive, and a little extra labor. Because it only takes about 15 minutes to mix the dough, I don’t see a lot of added cost to us. We make pizza dough in a commissary, so we get more use from our equipment by making bread in our four restaurants with dining rooms.”

Flores says the dough is mixed at around 8:30 a.m. every day in the commissary. Ten pounds of it is spread into a sheet pan, where it rises for two hours. Olive oil is included in the recipe to ensure a moist, chewy texture. At 11 a.m., it’s baked and the resulting focaccia is served warm during the lunch rush. They’re re-heated for the dinner service.

“We serve generous squares with a dish of olive oil as soon as customers are seated, so they have something to munch on,” says Flores. “Originally, we never sold focaccia, but customers at our counter-service location asked for it, so we put it on our menu. We sell 7 pieces, each about 2 inches tall and 3 inches square, for $2.”

Bread wasn’t on Allegro Gourmet Pizzeria’s original menu when Gino and Nina Abraham opened up in Pacific Grove, California. But fi ve years ago they closed the original location to expand a second store they’d opened in nearby Carmel, allowing them to add more dishes to their menu.

“When we expanded into full service in Carmel,” says Gino, “we bought ciabatta and made garlic bread topped with diced roasted red peppers. But, sometimes we had a lot of waste. We used extra ciabatta to make croutons for Caesar salad, but soon decided to make our own focaccia. It’s become one of our signature items.

“There isn’t a lot of extra labor because we start with our pizza dough. For one type of focaccia, we use aged dough balls pressed into a 9-inch pan. After we spread pesto on top, we let them rise, then bake them. We cut baked focaccias in half for sandwiches. For hamburger buns, we use the same procedure — but with smaller dough balls pressed into 4-inch pans.”

Focaccia squares are served in a bread basket, adds Gino. “Adding salty ingredients to focaccia is an Italian tradition, so we experiment by adding roasted garlic, black or green olives, anchovies, or rosemary to the dough during the last few minutes of mixing,” he says. “After portioning the dough and pressing it onto sheet pans, we let it ferment for a day or two, press it down, add caramelized onions on top, and let it rise again to a 2- or 2½-inch height before baking it and cutting it into squares to serve. Giving the dough a long fermentation gives it an earthy, yeasty taste that customers love.”

It isn’t necessary to give pizza dough any special handling to be able to offer breadsticks, says Jen Zeuner, co-owner of Hot Tomato Café and Pizzeria in Fruita, Colorado. “Although we didn’t have breadsticks on the menu when we opened our shop four years ago,” she says, “customers started asking us to offer appetizers. We thought about what we could do that would be simple, fast, delicious and inexpensive, and decided to make breadsticks from our pizza dough. We only make them to order.”

Zeuner starts with the same crust they’ve tossed for a 10-inch pizza, then puts it on a tray, brushes on olive oil, adds fresh garlic and mozzarella, then dusts on a mixture of basil and oregano.

“We cut the circle into ½- to ¾-inch strips with a pizza cutter to get about 18 strips,” she says. “Cutting the strips from the round makes them look more hand-made, because the strips are different lengths. After baking them, we serve them with a 4-ounce cup of homemade marinara sauce. From start to finish, it takes about 10 minutes.” 

Easy Focaccia

Makes 3 sheet pans

12 pounds all-purpose flour

8 quarts warm water*

8 ounces fresh yeast

8 ounces potato starch

8 ounces granulated sugar

4 ounces salt

4 ounces olive oil (extra virgin preferred)

Optional toppings: crushed oregano, crushed basil, sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced zucchini, fi nely minced garlic, sliced olives, etc.

*Water temperature should not exceed 102 F.

Coat bottom of 3 sheet pans with olive oil; set aside. Combine all ingredients, except olive oil, in mixer. Mix until all ingredients are moistened, then add olive oil. Continue mixing until dough is fully developed.

Divide dough evenly among prepared pans, spreading in even layer. Let dough rise at room temperature or in warm area for about 3 hours, or until dough has doubled in height.

If desired, sprinkle top of dough with oregano, basil or mixture of both; distribute other optional ingredients on top of dough before placing sheet pans in oven.

Bake at 500 F for 35 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bottom. To retain moisture, cut focaccia into squares just before serving. To reheat, place squares in 500 F oven for 3 to 5 minutes. Recipe courtesy of Martin Flores, Chicago’s Pizza and Pasta, Chicago

Carol Meres Kroskey is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She has extensive knowledge covering the baking and food service industries for a variety of publications.

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