This weekend wiped me out. I learned, I laughed, I flew, I failed.
I was curious what the word “masa” referred to. Ford uses it in his recipe titles for focaccia and pizza dough. “Masa” translates to dough, while “masa madre” means sourdough (literally “dough mother”). I want to say “masa focaccia” is a shorthand for “sourdough focaccia,” but this is contradicted by the parenthetical translations of masa pizza crujiente (crispy pizza dough) and masa pizza integral (whole-grain pizza dough). It makes sense to say “pizza dough” but not “focaccia dough” (unless you label every recipe in your bread cookbook as “dough”), so on the whole this was not a satisfying avenue of research.
As will become apparent, this was the first in a weekend of disappointments stemming from masa focaccia.
Focaccia Batch #1
The plan was to give away a loaf of focaccia in exchange for some sweet, sweet graphics work, so I doubled the recipe to have plenty for myself. I wrote out the doubled ingredients, which involved some eye-opening numbers and a heaping helping of brown sugar.
For the first time since working with Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast, I saw this recipe uses a stiff levain (with a lower water-to-flour ratio), not a liquid levain (with an equal water-to-flour ratio). I did not look ahead to how much I would actually need, and simply doubled the recipe, feeding Bradley in a bowl instead of the usual jar. I ended up with twice as much as I needed, which I put away in the fridge to bake with tomorrow. (See below.)
Mix It Up
I mixed this dough with much apprehension. It felt like a lot of water, but I think that is because Ford’s recommended mixing method makes you pay close attention to how much you are adding. Usually I put in all the water at once and let it roll. Additionally, I was not sure when to add the sugar in this method (to be perfectly honest I forgot about it and added it toward the end). I completely forgot to add the olive oil. I was really firing on all cylinders.
Ford’s NWS focaccia recipe says nothing of folding or kneading. The instructions say to mix the dough, cover it, and come back the next day. I have made focaccia that requires folding, but my favorite recipe uses a no-knead mix method. With this experience, I didn’t question the lack of work that went into the dough.
After a 12 hour bulk at room temperature, this dough was incredibly bubbly and out of control. Ford says to shape it into a tight tube, but it was all I could do to keep it from flowing off the table. I felt like Lucy Arnaz, scrambling to block the dough from oozing onto the floor.
I slopped about half the dough into each of two pans, where it spent the next three hours developing carbonated water-levels of bubbles. At this point I was charmed by the spectacle. It was like seeing my starter strong and healthy on a grand scale.
I had my fun adding seasoning to each of the pans of dough and popped them in the oven. Twenty-five minutes later, they did not look much different. They were drab, brown hunks of bread, not the flowing peaks and valleys of crispy focaccia I looked forward to.
This is a spongy loaf that left the oven with the same air pockets with which it entered. Where are the magnificent balloons that accompany oven spring? Something was wrong.
Focaccia 2: The New Batch
I went to Ford’s Instagram for help. I found this Instagram live video, where he performs several folds. I decided to make another batch, with the following changes:
- Use all purpose instead of bread flour (not for any reason other than I ran out),
- Reduce sugar from 84g to 30g,
- Perform four folds within the first two hours after mixing, and
- Bulk the dough in the fridge instead of at room temperature.
After 10 hrs bulking in the fridge, this dough was much more manageable than the ooey-gooey mess of batch #1, but it still didn’t feel right. Sometimes dough that has bulked in the fridge has a cold, lifeless density. Instead of behaving like dough, which springs and bounces and feels responsive to the touch, this batch moved like fresh ice cream, which can be divided and shaped without resistance. Sure, I was able to form it into a tube for the preshape and proof, but it didn’t rise or create new bubbles. It just melted.
The lifelessness was borne out in the bake. There were no beautiful bubbles, no crispy crust. Just a thick slab of brown carbs, too unpleasant to bother eating.
I don’t know what went wrong in batch #2, but I have strong suspicions aimed at the fridge bulk. The starter was plenty active, and the dough showed life before it went in the fridge. A lesson I have learned and forgotten is that, personally, proofing (i.e., second rise) in the fridge works better than bulking (i.e., first rise) in the fridge. I don’t know why this is, but this dough may have been better if it was made completely at room temperature. If I tried it again, I would do it all in one day:
- 4-6 hour bulk at room temperature
- 3 hour proof at room temperature
That being said, I will not be making this recipe again. I have several other focaccia recipes that have treated me well, and it’s not my job to troubleshoot this one. Also, after all the baking I’ve done this weekend, I am completely out of all purpose and bread flour.
Overnight Country Blonde
As mentioned above, I prepared over 200g more levain than I needed, I had no choice but to make more bread. For the first time I followed Ford’s note that you can refrigerate mature levain for 12 hours to use later.
The next morning I decided to go back to the first sourdough recipe I ever tried, and the first sourdough recipe I ever failed to make: Flour Water Salt Yeast‘s overnight country blonde. This recipe is my personal baking white whale. It also uses a stiff levain, so it was the perfect candidate for my excess Bradley.
I’ve long suspected that my issue with this recipe was the overnight part. I’d go to bed with a perfectly fine dough happily bulking in the oven, and I’d wake up to a sloppy mess of overproofed goo. This happened three times.
So my question is why does it need a 12-14 hour room temperature bulk? NWS’s pan rustico bulks for about 4 hours. Tartine Bread’s basic country loaf bulks for 3-4 hours. Both use the same weight of starter, and I’ve made both with great success. Why would this dough work better bulking three times as long? I have intense personal feelings about this recipe.
It was especially poetic to be making this in conjunction with the masa focaccia. That dough is intentionally overproofed (for 12 hours), and it was some of the most unruly goo I’ve ever played with. My default use for the overnight country blonde when it ended up messy was, in fact, to turn it into focaccia.
I used the FWSY recipe with the following changes:
- Bulk fermentation:
12 hours room temperature4 hours room temperature
4 hours room temperature24 hours in the fridge
The results were very positive. These loaves did not have a tremendous oven spring, but they had a beautiful even crumb and a delicious texture and flavor. Philosophically speaking, these are not the result of the overnight country blonde recipe, but I don’t care. I came, I saw, I conquered. I’ll never bother with this recipe again.
This recipe from King Arthur Flour used a cup of my ever-increasing jar of Bradley discard, making it a winner from the start.
The dough was easy to mix and easy to knead. I shaped pretzels for the first time, and I had a good time doing it. The pretzels came together and baked quickly. In the end, they tasted as soft, chewy, and buttery as a classic Auntie Anne’s pretzel. Unlike the other two recipes I made this weekend, I will definitely make this one again.
It feels poetic that in one weekend of baking I succeeded where I previously failed and failed where I was confident in success. It goes to show: when life gets you down, just make pretzels.
Addendum I will be making focaccia based on the recipe linked above to satisfy my business transaction. Also, here is my ingredient list for the second batch.