Lavender Focaccia

I'm a little surprised I ended up making this, since I'm not a big fan of lavender or focaccia. The latter can probably be blamed on the dry sponges people sell as 'focaccia' around here, but even though I was sure homemade focaccia would be fantastic, I could never really motivate myself to make any. Then I was struck by the idea of a sweet focaccia with lavender, lemon, and honey. I thought I'd put some honey in the dough to really change things, but I ended up lost in the process of making the bread and forgot to add anything at all. That happens more often than I'd like. I start measuring flour, thinking about what I'll put in the dough, then before I know it, it's finished with its first rise and it's too late to add anything more without risking completely degassing it.

In the end though, I think it worked out better like this. I put some salt in the herb oil and honey on top, so it ended up with that sweet and salty taste that makes chocolate-covered pretzels so addictive. If I made it again, I would add some lavender to the dough, at least, just to make it less... white and plain. Even if the oil adds more flavour, the dough would look a lot better with something mixed in it as well. On mange aussi avec les yeux, and all. I don't know that I would bother sweetening the dough though. I wouldn't want to lose that sweet and salty wonderfulness.

I also learned an interesting way to save money at the grocery store from time to time. I bought a couple of tablespoons of dried lavender flowers from a bulk bin at the store along with some bulk basil, and Belgian endives. The cashier I chose happened to be a high school student who didn't know what the Belgian endives were. I said their name, and we had a brief conversation about how they taste and how to cook them while the cashier looked for the code. Looking at the receipt later, I saw I'd been charged for the much cheaper chickory endive, and had only paid 20 cents for a couple dollars worth of lavender, and 10 cents for the basil. The same thing happened at another grocery store when I bought more Belgian endive a few days later, also from a cashier who looked to be in high school. Definitely something to remember...

This recipe makes a 17" by 12" sheet pan of focaccia, which comes out as a lot more than I envisioned before I made it. (17x12? Oh sure, we can eat that...) Fortunately people at various family members' places of work were more than happy to pick up the slack, even consuming the copious numbers of leftover beignets from Mardi Gras last night.

Lavender Focaccia
(Paraphrased & slightly adapted) from (you guessed it) The Bread Baker's Apprentice By Peter Reinhart

Herbed oil
1 cup olive oil (Don't bother with extra virgin for this, yo.)
2 heaping tablespoons dried lavender flowers
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 teaspoons freeze dried shallots
zest of one lemon

Warm the oil to 100* F, remove from heat and stir in the other ingredients. Once it has cooled, it can be refrigerated, but it'll go on the dough the same day, so you might as well leave it out to imbue itself with delicious flavour.

5 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups water, room temperature

herb oil
additional lavender, lemon zest, and basil to mix in the dough

Stir together the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl, then add the oil and water until the ingredients form a wet, sticky ball. Continue stirring until the dough is smooth. It should stick to the bottom of the bowl, but clear the sides. This would be a good time to add herbs to the dough.

Sprinkle flour on the counter and turn the dough onto it, shaping it into a rectangle. Let dough rest five minutes.

With floured hands, stretch the dough to form a rectangle twice its size. Fold it, letter style into a smaller rectangle. Mist with spray oil, dust with flour, and cover losely with plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes, then stretch and fold again. Let rest another 30 minutes and repeat the process.

Let rest one hour. The dough should swell, but not necessarily double in size.

Line a 17" by 12" baking sheet with parchment and gently place the rectangle of dough in the middle. Spoon about half the herb oil over the top, and use your fingers to poke holes in the dough and stretch it out in the pan. (It probably won't go all the way to the edges at this point.) Cover the pan and refrigerate overnight, or for up to three days.

Three hours before baking, remove the pan from the refrigerator, pour the rest of the oil over it. (I, uh, essentially doubled the amount of oil the recipe called for here, but... it's delicious. And possibly part of why it burnt like that.) Use your fingers to poke more holes in the dough and stretch it out further. Now it ought to reach the edges, or close to it. The dough should be about 1/2" deep. Drizzle the dough with honey. (I used a thicker, French honey and spooned it in 1/4 teaspoon blobs all over, but drizzling liquid honey to taste would work too.) Let rise 3 hours, covered at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 500*F and place the focaccia on the middle shelf. Lower the temperature to 450* and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking, and bake another 5-10 minutes or until golden brown. (Mine took about 7 minutes, and ended up a very dark brown, as you see.)

Remove the pan from the oven and move the focaccia to a cooling rack. Remove the parchment from the bottom and let cool at least 20 minutes before eating.