Tag Archives: High-altitude Recipe

Got Biga? Make Focaccia with Red Onions & Rosemary

I have never met a focaccia that I didn’t like.  The best that I have tasted was in the Marche region of Italy, outside of Force.  We were staying at Paolo’s agriturismo, Ramuse, and were lucky to meet up with the other guests who were visiting from England, Chris and Graham.  After visting the local shoemaker for some Italian boots, Paolo took us all to a local wine maker and olive oil purveyor, Bruno.  We tasted white wine poured straight from the vat and felt like welcome friends.  After retreating to a dining room, we all sat down to enjoy some red wine. Paolo disappeared, only to return about 15 minutes later with warm, fresh focaccia from a local bakery.  Bruno’s olive oil and some lonza (similar to prosciutto) were brought out and we had a feast.  It was a highlight of our two-week trip.  My focaccia is a humble representation of our visit to Italy, and the friends we made in Marche.

Bruno even taught us how to taste olive oil: a small amount is poured into little glasses where the warmth of your hand gently warms the olive oil, the cup is swirled, then sniffed, sipped and savored.

This focaccia is made with a biga, or starter.  I have always thought bigas were such a sexy way to make a loaf of bread or focaccia, where some bigas can be many years old and fed daily with more ingredients to keep it kindled with life.  This recipe does take some time, a labor of food love, so you’ll need to plan at least a day ahead to start the biga.  Made from yeast, water and flour, a biga adds extra flavor – in my opinion a “je ne sais quoi” quality.

To get me started, I relied on Carol Field’s informative cook book, Focaccia – Simple Breads from the Italian Oven.  I cut the recipe down for the two of us and came up with a 12 x 9 inch focaccia (used a quarter sheet pan).  To replicate the focaccia from Marche, the top gets drizzled with generous amounts of good olive oil and topped with sautéed red onions and fresh rosemary.  After numerous recipe tests, this one has consistent results – even at my 7,500 ft. altitude.  The outside has a thin crispy crust and the interior is light and fluffy, just what I would expect.  I think my European chaps would approve.

Here’s a quick review of the focaccia making process (keep on scrolling for some visuals):

· Make the biga, or starter – let sit for 24 hours to proof

· Make the focaccia dough – let rise for 1½ to 2 hours

· Press dough into a quarter sheet pan (about 12” x 9”) or a baking dish – let rise for another 1½ to 2 hours

· Dimple the dough with your fingertips or knuckles, drizzle with generous amount of good olive oil and add toppings – let rise for 30 minutes while oven is heating

· Cook focaccia for about 25 minutes, serve hot with extra virgin olive oil and a glass of wine

First Rise: 1½ to 2 hours.  The dough can be made by hand or by using an upright mixer, as I did.  Here’s an easy trick to create a warm environment for the dough to rise: Before you start making the dough, heat oven to 200º and as soon as it reaches temperature turn the oven off.  Make the dough, add to a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, place a clean kitchen towel on top and let rise in warm oven.  The dough ball goes from this above, to this beauty below.

Second Rise: Press the dough into a sheet pan or baking dish and let rise for another 1½ to 2 hours. Re-warm the oven while transferring dough to sheet pan.

Third Rise: The dough will have doubled in volume during the second rise. Dimple the surface, add olive oil and toppings. Let rise for another 30 minutes and heat oven to 425º. Cook for 5 minutes, reduce oven temp to 400º F and cook for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly golden.

Serve warm and be sure to enjoy with loved ones and friends, along with a glass of wine. I poured some Meiomi Pinot Noir and enjoyed reminiscing with David. Ah, if only we could be sitting on Paolo’s porch right now with his homemade vin cotto and some Italian focaccia in hand, chatting with friends and gazing upon the picturesque Italian countryside.

Eat well and share the love!

Focaccia with Red Onions & Rosemary and a Biga (print recipe)
Recipe Adapted from: Focaccia, Simple Breads From The Italian Oven by Carol Field
Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Cooking Time: 24 hours for biga, 4 to 4½ hours for focaccia rising/baking
Makes one loaf, approx. 12” x 9”

2 tablespoons, plus 1 cup, 2 tablespoons warm water
1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 ½ cups plus 1/3 cup flour
3/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water
3 tablespoons plus 1 ½ teaspoons biga
1¼ tablespoon olive oil
1¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ red onion, very thinly sliced (sautéed)
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed and roughly chopped
Kosher salt

Biga: Needs to proof for 24 hours.
Add 2 tablespoons of the warm water to a large glass bowl and sprinkle the yeast over. Stir lightly and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes until creamy. Add the remaining warm water and the flour; mix well with a rubber spatula or spoon. Mixture will be wet and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit on counter for 24 hours, until thick and bubbly.

Biga will last for up to 5 days, refrigerated. Tip: portion out biga into Ziploc bags, freeze and use when needed; allow a few hours to defrost, or place in refrigerator to defrost overnight.

Dough: Can be made by hand or with an upright mixer (#2 speed) and dough hook. To rise the dough in a warm environment, heat the oven to 200º and turn off when it reaches temperature.

Add the warm water to a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over; lightly mix together and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes until creamy. Add the biga and olive oil and mix. Add the flour and salt and knead or mix together for about 5 minutes until dough is velvety and soft, not sticky. Place the dough ball in a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place a clean kitchen towel (folded in half) on top. Let rise for 1½ to 2 hours, in warm oven, until dough has doubled in size.

Reheat the oven to 200º and turn off. Grease a quarter sheet pan, or roughly 12” x 9” baking dish, and press dough into pan. Start in the middle and with your hands flat, gently press and stretch the dough to fit the pan size. Let rise for another 1½ hours until doubled in volume.

While the dough is rising for the second time, sauté the red onions; to a small skillet, add 1 teaspoon olive over medium heat. Add the sliced onions along with a pinch of salt and cook until they are just soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

After the second rise, dimple the dough surface with your finger tips or knuckles, drizzle with a generous amount of good olive oil, sprinkle the chopped rosemary over top, add the sautéed onions – spreading out evenly and sprinkle with a good pinch of kosher salt. Cover sheet pan with plastic wrap and folded kitchen towel and let rise for 30 minutes.

If you have a pizza stone, place it on the middle rack and heat oven to 425º. Place the sheet pan on the pizza stone or oven rack and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 400º and cook for 20 to 25 minutes more until lightly golden. Serve warm with extra virgin olive oil and a light sprinkle of salt.

It’s the little things in life! Chris, our friend from Ramuse and the U.K., sent me this generous gift last week.  During our visit to Ramuse, we made gnocchi with Paolo and I wore Jamie Oliver’s apron – something I haven’t forgotten. Paolo was a truffle supplier to Jamie Oliver and Geraldo Contaldo – both of whom who have visited Paolo’s magical place. I am a lucky lady indeed!  Thanks again, Chris!

Double Chocolate Walnut Brownies

This brownie recipe has been a favorite in my kitchen for over ten years and is the best one I have tasted that’s made from scratch.  There are lots of great recipes for brownies, don’t get me wrong.  But with the altitude up here, it is hard to find baking recipes that come out consistently every time.  These brownies are full-on chocolate with a cake-like texture, but still moist and rich like a brownie should be.  I decided they needed a little extra szoosh so chocolate chips are added to the warm brownies; the chips melt and then get spread over the top to make an instant frosting.  The brownies rank up there with my chocolate chip cookie recipe (click here to read blog post) and make me just as happy. 

For me, the kind of cocoa (and chocolate) I use makes a flavor difference.  I recently discovered black onyx cocoa (left side of picture) at my favorite local spice store, Savory Spice, and love the richness and intense flavor it adds.  The flavor is strong so I still use regular cocoa to balance it out.  It’s also great in my chocolate layer cake and chocolate mousse.  To learn more about the cocoa making process, I went to Cook’s Illustrated website: “Chocolate and cocoa come from chocolate liquor, a paste made from beans scooped from the pods of the tropical cacao tree. The beans are fermented, roasted, shelled, and ground into a paste. Half fat (cocoa butter) and half cocoa solids, the paste is hardened in molds. Some is sold as unsweetened baking chocolate. The rest is fed into hydraulic presses to remove up to three-quarters of its fat, then pulverized and called cocoa powder.  
Beans destined for life as Dutched cocoa have one extra stop between shelling and grinding. The shelled beans (or nibs) are soaked in an alkaline (low-acid) solution, usually potassium carbonate. They’re pressed, pulverized, and dried–and Dutch-processed cocoa powder is born.  Check out the links below for more reading on cocoa nibs and the cocoa manufacturing process. 

Baking a whole pan of brownies is tempting and would be easy for me to do a number on, but in favor of my waistline I reduced the recipe to an 8” x 8” baking dish.  The original recipe makes a 9” x 13” pan and is perfect for parties; just double the recipe below (except the eggs, use 3 large).   I also like to get a visual of what my taste buds can expect so half of the walnuts are added to the batter and the rest are sprinkled on top.  With the added melted chocolate chips for a frosting, they are absolutely divine. 

Eat well and share the love!

More reading on the cocoa making process:
Cooks Illustrated – Cocoa basics and natural versus Dutch cocoa
Ghiradelli – Cocoa Bean
Ghiradelli – Cocoa Manufacturing

Double Chocolate Walnut Brownies
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two 
(Adapted from recipe “Best All American Brownies”)
Serves two foodies – makes 16 to 18 small brownies
325 degree F oven   Prep Time: 15 minutes    Cooking Time: 25-30 mins

¼ pound unsalted butter (1/2 stick, or 4 tablespoons)
½ cup plus 6 teaspoons flour, sifted
¼ cup Dutch cocoa, sifted
6 teaspoons black onyx cocoa, sifted
3/8 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 small eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
¼ cup walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup chocolate chips (mixture of semi-sweet & 60% cacao)
¼ cup walnuts, chopped

Heat oven to 325 degrees F and butter an 8” x 8” baking pan.  Combine the sifted flour and cocoa, baking powder and salt. 

To a large bowl, add the eggs and vanilla and beat with a hand-mixer on low until foamy – about 2 minutes.  While beaters are still on, slowly pour in the sugar and beat until blended; pour in the melted butter and continue beating until well blended.  Add the flour mixture and beat on low until well mixed.  Stir in the walnuts with a rubber spatula.  Pour into prepared pan and scrape the sides with rubber spatula to remove all the batter. 

Bake & Enjoy
Bake in a 325 degree F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until brownies just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let cool for 5 minutes and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top; let sit for 5 minutes to allow the chips to melt.  Spread the chocolate around the top, sprinkle with the reserved walnuts and let brownies cool completely.

Cut into small squares or diamonds (make two cuts vertically and two cuts horizontally; starting in the middle of one corner, make a cut through the middle of the brownie and continue down – repeat for remaining brownie squares).

  • Doubling the recipe: Double all ingredients except eggs; use 3 large eggs.  Cook in greased 9” x 13” baking dish as listed above.