The Musette: sourdough focaccia

I have an Italian girlfriend who makes the most divine focaccia. Whenever I buy some my beloved and I taste and compare it to her’s. “As good as” is as good as it has gotten.

As I’m plumbing all things sourdough, I thought I’d give sourdough focaccia a go and the results were quite surprising. It’s actually one of the easier things to make because there is no folding and no shaping. In short, it looks like: stir, long rest and rise, a short rest and rise, dimple, then bake. Then  – importantly – devour.

Making this focaccia is a two step process. First, you must prepare the sponge which helps to enrich the flavor, generate larger holes in the bread and keeps the bread light, crisp and airy. It is an incredible easy process and will significantly enhance the aroma and flavor of the bread.

While the actual time spent making the dough really isn’t much time at all, the entire process takes over 24 hours. It is absolutely necessary to prepare the sponge and let the dough rise for the recommended amount of time. Fortunately, no kneading is involved and all you need is a large bowl and spatula to prepare the dough.

Ingredients

Sponge

  • 530g (2 cups) sourdough starter
  • 125g (1 cup) whole-wheat flour
  • 250g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 500 ml (2 cups) filtered water

Focaccia dough

  • 250g (2 cups) plain all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Method

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1. If necessary, two days (or more) before you want to start the process, feed your starter each day, 60g (2 1/2 oz) each of flour and water, to build it up. You’ll need 530g (2 cups) for baking.

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a693c1db-41a9-4d0a-af8a-b54457fb50bc2. Make the overnight sponge by mixing together the sourdough, water whole wheat flour and 250g (2 cups) plain (all purpose) flour. Mix well and let it stand overnight or for eight hours, covered, in a warm place. The surface should be covered in bubbles.

3. Add the salt and olive oil and mix in the remaining flour, 50g (half a cup) at a time, until you have a fairly loose batter that just comes off the sides of the bowl but does not gather into a ball.

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4. Cover the bowl with a cling wrap and let the dough rise for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

5. Using a spatula, gently turn the dough over on itself in the bowl about 9 or 10 times, trying not to deflate too many of the lovely bubbles that have formed.

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6. Oil a large, approx. 38-40cm (15”) baking pan and pour the batter into the centre of the sheet and, using a spatula, help it along so it fills or nearly fills the pan. Brush on some olive oil to keep the batter from drying, but don’t cover it up with a towel or cling film (plastic wrap) – both will stick to the dough.

7. Leave the baking pan in a warm place for an hour or so until the dough has risen to fill the entire pan.

8. About half an hour before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/400F/gas mark 6.

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9. Now’s the time to add any toppings and, if you feel so inclined, make the trademark dimples in the dough. Just try not to deflate it.

10. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the top is lightly golden and the bread has started to pull from the sides. One way to tell your bread is done is to press it slightly, and if it springs back, you know it’s ready.

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11. Here’s the tricky bit. Let the bread cool on a rack at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving. Now would be a good time to add further olive oil and salt to taste.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.I prefer plain focaccia but you can add all sorts of topping: cherry tomatoes, garlic, herbs, olives, grapes, onion, cheese………..let your imagination run wild!

2. I replenish my starter with an equal weight of flour and water. For example, when I used a cup of starter for this recipe, I replaced it with an equal amount (in terms of weight) of flour and water. Thus may starter has 100% hydration. If you use the equal volume replacement method your starter will have a 166% hydration. Why does this matter? Well, if your starter has a 100% hydration you might need to use a little less flour than is listed in the recipe. Just keep that in mind when mixing the dough.

3. It’s best eaten on the day it’s baked otherwise slice it into portions and pop it into the freezer for later.

Thursday doors

I’ve just found out about Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers – that includes me – to come together and share their favourite door photos from around the world each week between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) – phew, just in time!

Above is one of my all time favourites from Alassio on the Italian Riviera. It’s a handsome door in between a parade of upmarket shops and I bet it has some interesting tales to tell, if only it could talk!

Friday Photo Fun – Events

As soon as I saw the words “Events” I thought of sporting events. Regular readers will know that I’m a sports fan. I love doing sport but I also love watching it.

I take photos of inanimate objects while my beloved takes the action shots with his all-singing, all-dancing Cannon.

He took this picture in March 2017 of the final climb of a race in Tuscany called Strade Bianchi which is partly raced over white gravel roads. If it’s wet, as it was here, the riders get splattered with mud. The shot features Olympic champion, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), who finished runner up, on the final haul back into the old town of Siena where the race finishes in the Piazzo del Campo. This is a popular viewing spot for the fans as the gradient forces a slower pace, some riders even weave all over the road. You can see the intensity of their efforts etched on their races.

And the stabilisers are finally off!

My beloved has finally relinquished his crutches. It’s been a bit of a struggle to wrestle them off him. He’s kept them close just in case………a bit like stabilisers or training wheels on one’s first two-wheeler.

A month after his operation, he was able to walk around the flat without crutches. But then it’s all on the flat with no rugs or carpets to trip over. Our downstairs neighbours have most probably given a huge sigh of relief. Although the sound-proofing is excellent, my beloved charges around like a herd of elephants. One of my neighbours used to say she could always tell when he was away.

Any time we’ve gone out for a walk, he’s taken the crutches. Although he could manage with just one, the physio preferred him to either use both or, preferably, none to avoid getting a lop-sided gait.

He’d been using them less and less and i suggested we leave them at home on our pre-Xmas trip to Paris. That seemingly did the trick. We didn’t walk as much as we would do normally (10-16km per day) but nontheless he managed just fine with a mixture of the Metro and walking. While we were away, I hid them in the cupboard and he’s not given them another thought!

In Paris he was walking with a noticeable limp but, after plenty of strolling over Xmas in Alassio, that’s now disappeared and frankly you would never know that he’s had a replacement hip. I’ll be returning his crutches to the pharmacy.

He will however continue with his twice weekly one-on-one physio sessions until his ordonnance (order) is exhausted. He’s supplementing those physio sessions with gym circuits and bike rides. Yes, finally, we’re back on our bikes!

It’s always a bit of a stuggle when you’ve not ridden for a while. The saddle feels like an instrument of torture and you hit your granny gear way too early on the climb. Fortunately, while it’s been chilly, it’s been dry and we’ve steadily built up the kilometrage and can happily ride 50km with ease. It’s onwards and upwards from here.

 

Visit to Atelier des Lumières

Whenever we visit Paris, my beloved generally gets to choose which exhibitions and/or events we visit. This time he elected to visit a relatively new exhibition space in Paris’s 11th arrondissement – not an area we know particularly well – called Atelier des Lumières, Paris’s first digital museum of fine art.

Not quite knowing what to expect, we took the metro over to 11th in Eastern Paris and walked the length of rue Saint-Maur. We almost missed the former foundry had it not been for the long queue outside. This didn’t augur well, my beloved does not like to wait. Fortunately, the queue moved briskly and we were soon inside the large multi-sensory exhibition space operated by Culturespaces, called its “Workshop of Lights.”

The exhibition is dedicated to Gustav Klimt and a century of Viennese painting, includin works by Egon Schiele and Friederich Stowasser, better-known as Hundertwasser. There’s also a smaller studio given over to works by emerging artists.

Using state-of-the-art visuals and audio, the artists’ works are transformed as 140 video projectors expose their works onto and across 10 metre high walls over the vast 3,300 square metre surface area of the refurbished building. These fabulously colourful images provide an immersive and panoramic show to the sound track of music by Wagner, Chopin and Beethoven, among others, using an innovative motion design sound system.

It was a mesmerising digital display and we were transfixed as 360-degree views of the artworks flash across the walls. Over a period of around 30 minutes we’re taken on a journey round neoclassical Vienna. Our favourite  aspect was the exhibition’s attention to details, particularly with Klimt’s “golden” phase.

It’s difficult not to be overawed by the scale and depth of this multi-sensory exhibition. However, in my opinion, the best bit is that it makes fine art more interesting, accessible and available to younger audiences.

Friendly Friday moved to Monday!

I take so many photos during the year that I decided to take part in Friendly Friday – a brand new photo challenge, co-hosted on alternate weeks by Amanda from Something to Ponder About and Snow from The Snow Melts Somewhere. Of course, I meant to post this on Friday, but I forgot! <hangs head in shame>

This week’s theme is Inspiration. So I’ve been flicking through my photos for inspiration. I started blogging initially to keep friends and family, who’d sponsored me to undertake a charity ride, up-to-date with my progress. After I’d successfully completed the event, they asked me to continue blogging as it gave them a view into our life in France. I still write about cycling, but the blog’s morphed more into a Lifestyle blog as I write about anything that takes my fancy such as my beloved [husband], the French, our life in France, recipes, trips, special memories, travel and sport.

So my photo really needs to be a shot of a cyclist or of a cycling event. Just one problem. Most, if not all, of our cycling photos are taken by my beloved with his all-singing, all-dancing SLR. I just snap away with my iPad or iPhone at the scenery or inanimate objects. But there’s a few………such as this one.

Amael Moinard, former stage winner at Tour du Haut Var Matin 2014

But here’s one I took of one of our friends who’s coming to the end of an illustrious career. We saw him take his first World Tour victory at Paris-Nice 2010 where he won the final stage and the spotted King of the Mountain’s jersey. Off the back of that win, the following year he moved to BMC and rode in support of Cadel Evans’ Tour de France victory in 2011. We saw him win a stage in the Tour du Haut Var in 2014 in the company of his family which was also a special occasion. At the end of 2017, he moved to Arkea-Samsic (formerly Fortuneo-Samsic) to ride in support of Warren Barguil and impart the benefit of his years’ of experience to the younger members of the squad.

Amael’s a talented rider with three top 20 finishes in grand tours on his palmares (14th Tour de France 2008, 18th Vuelta 2009 and 15th Giro d’Italia 2015) and has a enjoyed a long and successful career. This season may be his last. We love watching our friends take part in races and, though it rarely happens, enjoy watching them win. It’s truly inspiring.

The Musette: sourdough pizza

Homemade sourdough pizza is an eye-opening experience, with so much flavour in the dough and a crispy chewy texture to the crust. Of course, if only I had a wood-fired pizza oven I could add a smokey note, toasted crust edges and more intensely caramelised topping. A girl can dream can’t she?

Ingredients (enough for 4-5 individual pizzas)

  • 510g (31/2 cups) Italian tipo 00 flour
  • 90g (1/2 cup + 3 tbsp) wholemeal flour
  • 390ml (1 2/3 cup) filtered water
  • 120g (1 cup) sourdough starter
  • 14ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
  • 12g (2 tsp) fine sea salt
  • 2-3 tbsp additional flour for kneading
  • 1-2 tbsp additional oil for coating the dough bowl

Method

1. Prepare the sponge by mixing the starter with 120g filtered water and 120g flour. This is a 1:1:1 starter preparation, but other builds are fine too. Cover the bowl with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and let it sit at room temperature for 4-8 hours until roughly tripled.

2. Now, mix all the ingredients together by hand, or in a mixer with the dough hook attachment for 5-10 minutes, until everything is incorporated and forming a ball around the hook.

3. Scrape the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it for 3-5 minutes, adding a small amount of flour until the dough is manageable, but still sticky.

4. Lightly oil a bowl, then lay dough top side down in the bowl and cover with oiled clingflm (plastic wrap).

5. Let the dough rise until it has approximately doubled. Alternatively, you can leave the dough at room temperature for a few hours and then put it in the refrigerator for a day or so, and finally pull it out when it is fully risen or close to fully risen and just needing a few more hours at room temperature.

6. When the bulk fermentation is finished, lightly oil a sheet pan and your worktop.

7. Scrape out the dough onto the oiled counter, gently press out most of the air, and divide the dough into 4-5 pieces. The total dough weight is approximately 1140g. This makes approx.  approx. 225g or four 285g pizzas. (You can go larger and smaller, but you may need to adjust cook time.)

8. Form each piece into a ball by folding the sides of the piece inward. Then hold the ball in one hand with the taut top on your palm, while you pinch the bottom pieces together with your other hand.

9. Place the balls in the oiled pan seam-side down, and cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or put the entire pan in a plastic bag. The final proof can be at room temperature for 45-90 minutes or in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours. It’s at this point, I’ll freeze any additional dough.

10. Before the dough has finished proofing, set up your toppings and the area where you will be stretching and “decorating” your pizza. My preferred pizza sauce is my home-made tomato one. I make it ahead of time, and simply pull it out of the refrigerator to warm up a bit when I’m setting out the toppings.

11. About 30 minutes before your dough has finished proofing, preheat your oven to 260C/230Cfan/500F/gas mark 10, using the top shelf if you have a top grill (broiler).

12. Remove a dough ball from the proofing pan and gently grasp one side of the circle with both hands. Holding the top edge of the circle (10 o’clock and 2 o’clock), let the rest of the dough droop/stretch downward while you then rotate and re-grab the dough like you’re turning a steering wheel. This will develop about a 1/2-1 inch crust edge and stretch the middle. (Using a rolling pin is fine too.)

13. Lay your pizza dough on a piece of floured parchment paper. If necessary, stretch and adjust the dough a little more.

16. Now top your pizza dough to your liking and put it in the oven for 7 minutes, then switch to the grill for 1 minute more. This will brown the top of the pizza and caramelize the sugar in the toppings.

17. Remove the pizza from the oven and enjoy! Repeat process with next pizza.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. As above, I often make two large rectangular pizzas to share among four/five rather than individual ones simply because it’s quicker.

2. My home-made tomato pizza sauce is made as follows:-

Marinara sauce: Ingredients (makes 3 cups)

  • 800 g (28 oz) tin of Italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp of tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Swirl around the olive oil to coat the pan and, when the oil is hot, add the shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes. Stir constantly until the shallots are translucent, around 2-3 minutes.

2. Pour in wine and cook, again stirring for 1 to 2 minutes to evaporate some of the alcohol. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt and pepper and bring to simmer.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low, crush the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon as they cook, stirring occasionally for a minimum of 60 minutes until the sauce thickens. Liquidise sauce.

4. If you’re not going to use it right away, it’ll sit happily in the fridge for a week, or the freezer for a month.

Postcard from l’île de la Cité, Paris

The flat we’ve rented in The Marais on our last few trips was booked, so we chose another one nearby, close to the Picasso Museum. A couple of weeks before our arrival, the owner advised there was a problem with the boiler and offered us a replacement (and much larger) flat on l’île de la Cité, on a small road just back from the Seine. We gratefully accepted his offer.

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The road was a total surprise. It’s a mixture of very old and new jammed into a rue just 113 meters long and four meters wide. Two blocks away from Notre Dame, Rue des Ursins is one of the oldest streets in the city and I understand it’s a popular photo location for fashion and bridal shoots.

We had some interesting neighbours. On the one side the Bureau of Naturalization, located within the Prefecture de Police. Looking closely at the building we could see it also housed the repair shop for all the motorcycle police in Paris. A pretty secure flat we thought except the prefecture closed in the evenings. 

Rue des Ursins Chapelle

On the other side is a seminary which also houses the remains of Chapelle Saint-Aignan.  At one time the island was full of chapels – 23 in fact. But revolutions and changing times have left only Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and this one. The other occupants of the road include a reconstructed home with medieval touches, several apartment buildings and a lawyer’s office.

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The medieval-style building on the corner by the stairs looks like a well-preserved ancient hôtel particulier but it was built in 1958 by architect Fernand Pouillon. A stair leads to a wood, gothic-arched door. The windows above are stained glass. On the other side, the garage door looks like an ancient wood entrance to a fort but holds two cars and is an underground entrance to the hôtel.

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Just past the faux medieval house is a jardinette, a small triangular garden. It is the smallest garden on the island and one of the smallest in Paris. It features two tiger head fountains, a tree and flowers that change depending on the season.

Chapelle Saint-Aignan, founded in 1116, was built in classic Roman architectural style with columns and rounded arches in white stone. The chapel was shut in 1791 and transformed into a barrel store. It did not fare well in the following years and today only the nave is left. It has been restored and seminarians of the diocese generally use it for private worship.

Ursins isn’t even the street’s original name. Indeed it had several when it was part of Port Saint-Landry, the Paris’s first port until the end of the 12th century. Around 1300, three streets had the name Ursins leading from Port Saint-Landry onto the island. They were all named after the hôtel des Ursins once owned by the family of the same name. Its next owners were French who managed the merchants of Paris under Charles VI (1380 – 1422) through Louis XI (1461 – 1483).

In 1881, the names of the other two streets were changed, leaving only this short street running between Rue le la Colombe and Rue des Chantres and parallel to the Quai aux Fleurs. The road’s at the old level of the banks of the Seine and the lowest street on the island.

Rue des Ursins now

At the street corner with Rue des Chantres is a placard that indicates the height of the Seine flood in 1910. The simple green sign says “CRUE Janvier 1910” with a line marking the flood height. Humorous graffiti adds “Poisson” and a happy face, referring to the fish that were no doubt swimming in the flood. Plus, the street sign has had an “O” added in front of “Ursins”, making it read Rue des Oursins. Although technically it translates as “street of sea urchins,” there are pictures of happy, cartoon bears by the name plates, making it a “street of bears.” We saw neither during our stay.
Rue des Ursins 1900

Standing in the street, it’s easy to imagine its history from early sailing port to bustling stores supporting commerce into the city. Even though you can’t buy anything or eat on this short street, it’s a great place to see the blending of old and new Paris. Fortunately for us, there was a great bakery and an excellent small neighbourhood bistro just around the corner.



Friday Photo Fun – Romance

CalmKate is right, everyone does love a good romance! So I’m responding to her post and here’s a picture which I think epitomises romance.

We all have very different ideas of roamnce so why not join in and share what romance means to you either through a photo or words? 

Post a photo or get creative about romance … it’s in the air!

My photo is of a bride and her father on the way to her marriage in Paris, the city of romance.

Come on the more the merrier, please share and read each others photo posts!