I'm so depressed. Masterchef is over (again) and I've added another year to my life. It's not that I feel old because I don't - I've only turned 24. It's just that sometimes it feels like it all goes by so quickly. Woosh! There goes another year, and another, and another.. I don't feel like I've really done much besides work. I've yet to have the epiphanous moment, you know, the one when you finally realise what your lifelong dream has been all along.
I think I might like to be a food producer somewhere down the track. I love the idea of turning to the ways of the Old World. I read a tiny snippet in the paper last week about a new university course being offered in Britain - a year-long diploma on artisan foods. If only I had an extra 20,000 pounds sitting in the bank. I'd love to spend every single day up to my elbows in curd and learning how to make cheese or bread or smallgoods. Now that would be a dream come true.
A few weeks ago in masterclass, Michael Klausen of Brasserie Bread taught two lucky contestants how to make schiacciata. Its Italian name translates to 'crushed' and it is believed to have originated in Tuscany where during the grape harvest, crushed grapes are pressed into the dough along with olive oil, honey and salt. Like focaccia, schiacciata is a flatbread that is leavened with yeast and dimpled before baking over hot stones.
I know a few chefs who aren't too keen on Masterchef. It does make situations a bit awkward when a random weirdo guy comes into the kitchen to stare at us in the middle of dinner service with nothing to say except "Oh I cook too!". Okaaaay then.. I tend to think of it as more of a DIY show like Gardening Australia or Better homes and Gardens. I can pick up some new recipes and techniques from watching the show but I'm not a better cook until I actually give it a go.
After watching the episode online and with the kneading technique still fresh in my mind, I took Michael Klausen's suggestion to use fennel and set about making my fennel salt schiacciata. I used all-purpose flour which doesn't absorb as much liquid as high-protein baker's flour so my dough wasn't as wet as it was on the telly. It took 6 rounds of kneading and resting before the gluten in the dough was worked enough to form a thin membrane when stretched. Despite not having the right flour at hand, my schiacciata emerged from the oven deeply caramelised on the top, crunchy, salty, sweet and oh so aromatic. Mmm..
Fennel Salt Schiacciata
adapted from a recipe by Michael Klausen
420 g plain flour
10 g instant yeast
10 g sea salt
10 g extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
285 g water
10 g rapadura cane sugar
4 g sea salt flakes
4 g fennel seeds
Place flour in a large mixing bowl.
Place yeast on one side and salt on the other (salt will kill the yeast if they come into direct contact).
Add the oil and water and stir together until it forms a dough.
Transfer to a bench and knead for 5 minutes.
Cover with the bowl and rest for 2 minutes.
Repeat kneading and resting another 5 times.
Lightly grease a clean bowl and place the dough inside.
Cover with clingfilm or a damp cloth and prove for 1 hour.
Transfer to the bench and gently press to form a rectangle.
Visually divide the rectangular dough into thirds and fold both ends into the middle.
Press out a little to form a rectangle and fold into thirds again (this step promotes even yeast distribution within the dough).
Flip the dough so that the seam is on the bottom and return to the bowl.
Cover and prove for 30 minutes.
Divide dough into two equal pieces.
Place each dough piece onto a sheet of baking paper as large as your oven tray.
Using only your fingertips press both dough pieces into rectangles with rounded ends approximately 13cm x 25xm.
Push your fingertips into the dough, firmly and evenly to dimple the entire surface.
Brush liberally with olive oil, sprinkle 5 g of rapadura cane sugar, 2 g of sea salt flakes and 2 g of fennel seeds over each.
Cover with deep baking trays or clingfilm and prove for 30 minutes.
Place a heavy steel baking sheet into the lower section of the oven and preheat to 210ºC.
Slide one dough piece onto the hot oven tray and bake for 15 minutes.