Filled Ham & Cheese Focaccia {ModBak}

The final recipe in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is another focaccia. What differentiates this recipe from the other focaccia recipes in this section (besides a distinct lack of anchovies) is that this focaccia is filled, rather than topped.

As with the other focaccia and pizza recipes, this one starts with Dough for Thick-Crusted Pizza and Focaccia. However, rather than pressing the dough into the pan after it ferments, you dump the dough out onto a floured board and press it into a rectangle. Ham and cheese are then layered on half the dough. The recipe calls for prosciutto, but I had deli sliced ham on hand, so that’s what I used, along with Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I sprinkled on a little black pepper, then folded the dough over the topping and pressed to seal it.

I gently lifted the dough onto the pan, then pressed it out to fill the pan. I covered the pan and allowed the dough to rise for an hour. Then I uncovered the dough and dimpled it with the tips of my fingers. I drizzled a little olive oil on the top of the dough, then sprinkled on a little fleur de sel to finish it off.

I baked the focaccia in a 400°F oven for about 30 minutes, until the dough was dry and beginning to brown. I cooled the focaccia on the pan for about 10 minutes, then removed it to a cutting board. I cut and served it directly from the board, which gave it a nice, rustic appearance.

You may have noticed a lack of pictures on this post, as well as the absence of a description of the flavor of the finished product. I made this focaccia on the day of my daughter’s birthday party, while I was preparing half-a-dozen other dishes, so the thought of snapping photos never even crossed my mind.

As for not describing the taste, that’s because I didn’t try it. Not that it didn’t look and smell delicious. It’s just that I don’t eat pork. But everyone else enjoyed it and compared it to a really good hot ham and cheese sandwich. When it came time to pack up the leftovers (and there were plenty), there was no focaccia to be found. But I was asked to bring it to our next family gathering.

Prosciutto/Lebanon Bologna Bread {ModBak}

The next recipe I tackled in the Breads section of the Modern Baker Challenge was Prosciutto Bread. I have committed myself to baking all the recipe in the book, so there was no escaping this one, but it did present a dilemma. I don’t eat pork products, so I was left with the choice between making a bread I couldn’t eat or finding a substitution for the prosciutto. Faced with a similar problem during the BBA Challenge when baking Casatiello, I used Lebanon bologna in place of salami with great results. So I decided to do the same thing here, substituting Seltzer’s Beef Lebanon Bologna for the prosciutto.

If you’ve never had Lebanon bologna, it is similar to trail bologna — smoky and slightly sweet. But unlike trail bologna, it is the size of regular bologna and is usually sliced thin for sandwiches. One of my family’s favorite ways to eat Lebanon bologna is to fry the slices briefly in a skillet then eat them on a sandwich.

Other than the addition of meat to the dough, this is a fairly straightforward enriched bread that consists of flour, salt, sugar, ground black pepper, yeast, water, and olive oil. I recalled that when Kayte baked this recipe, she observed that the bread was too salty. Lebanon bologna isn’t as heavily salted as prosciutto, but it is still fairly salty, so I cut the salt in the recipe back from 1 1/2 teaspoons to a scant teaspoon. The amount of pepper — 1 tablespoon — seemed like a lot to me, but I went with it, grinding pepper into a tablespoon measure before adding it to the rest of the dry ingredients.

The main thing that distinguished this bread from Casatiello was that the Prosciutto Bread doesn’t have any cheese in it. I was a bit leery of this, as the gooey cheesiness was one of the things that made the Casatiello one of my favorite recipes in the BBA Challenge. But I wanted to stay as true to the recipe as I could, so I made it without cheese.

After mixing the dry ingredients, I combined the water, yeast, and oil in a measuring cup, then added them to the dry ingredients and mixed until the dough was evenly moistened. I then folded in the Lebanon bologna. After a brief autolyse, I folded the dough in the bowl with a bench scraper about 20 times. Then I put the dough in an oiled bowl to ferment.

The dough took about an hour and a half to double. The recipe suggests shaping the dough into batards but also gives the option of making braided loaves. I decided to do one of each. I shaped half the dough into a batard, then divided the remaining dough into two pieces and did a two-strand braid.

The dough proofed for almost two hours, until it doubled. Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 400° F.

I baked the loaves for 30 minutes — the recipe says 40 — at which time the internal temperature was 195° F and the crust was golden brown. The bread smelled amazing while it baked: there is nothing like the smell of Lebanon bologna while it cooks. It reminded me of Casatiello, and I was really excited to try it.

I let the loaves cool for a few minutes before slicing into the braid. The crumb was soft and studded with bits of meat.

I eagerly grabbed a slice of bread, slathered it with lightly salted cultured butter, and took a bite. It was good. A bit too peppery, but otherwise really good. I ate about five slices for dinner and was perfectly satisfied.

But it did seem like there was something missing. Then it occurred to me — it needed a slice of cheese. So in the end, it was almost as good as Casatiello and might have been just as good if, like the BBA bread, it had cheese added to it.

Moral of the story:  if you’re going to add meat to bread, you might as well add cheese, too.