Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

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Focaccia-Style Yeast Bread


At least a few times a week, I crack myself up by announcing, “Flexibility: 21st century skill.” Usually, no one else laughs, but  my husband obligingly adopts a curmudgeonly sneer. That’s all the encouragement I need.

I consider this a joke worth repeating because 1) “21st century skill” is a new(-ish) educational buzzword, and my husband and I are a pair of iconoclasts. Although now and then we begrudgingly acknowledge that yes, internet literacy is a 21st century skills, or, yes, problem solving is a 21st century skill (though one wonders how humans made it through so many previous centuries without it), whenever possible, we scoff. (“Cross-disciplinary collaboration,” I’m looking at you!)

And, more importantly, this declaration cracks me up because 2) We are not, no matter how you look at it, flexible.

My hunky husband, performing the same workout regimen that he has performed every other day since he was in 4th grade (only, he would have me tell you, continually and slowly increasing his repetitions until  now, at age 39, he’s stronger than ever) and I, walking the same 10,000-step route that I’ve walked at least 5-6 days per week for the past few years; he, leaving for school sometime between 7:20 and 7:23 every morning, at risk of psychological self-immolation; and I, every Friday, cleaning the house from bottom to top, in a choreographed pattern so that the mop pads and microfiber cloths are not used in the bathrooms until they’ve already been nearly exhausted by the less germy rooms and can be deposited efficiently into the washing machine immediately afterward.

We are not flexible people: That’s just the way it is. Know thyself. (That’s an every-century skills, just in case you are wondering.)

So I think it’s probably a little out of character that I’m not especially precise (except linguistically). Hunky hubby is precise and inflexible–a natural pairing–which is why he’s a carpenter…and so much fun to live with. (Only kidding, my love!)  On the other hand, I am slightly haphazard and inflexible at the same time, which is what makes me  so charmingly enigmatic a cook and not a seamstress. It’s also why you can count on me never to present you with a recipe for a souffle or a fussy cake.

I realize that many people believe bread falls into the fussy category, but they are wrong–and probably missing out on countless opportunities to bake tasty goodies off the cuff, as a result. I know that bread isn’t fussy because I spent my childhood watching my mom make bread very regularly without measuring her flour at all. She just added and kneaded and added and kneaded until it felt right. So when I see a recipe that tells me to weigh my flour, I know it’s not the bread for me.

Breads for me look more like this. No need to knead and no need to have developed a lifelong intuition about how dough ought to feel. No need to weigh flour or to heat water to exact temperatures. Lots of room for error.

I like my recipes flexible precisely because I am not. They have to make up for my shortcomings. And this one really, really does. Watch this:

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 2/3 cups room temperature water

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

~1 cup sourdough starter (optional)*

1 1/2 teaspoons yeast

1 1/4 teaspoons sugar

olive oil

kosher salt or a salty seasoning blend of your choice

  1. Combine the flour, water, sourdough starter, and salt on low speed with your stand mixer and your dough hook. Mix just until combined.

Dump unfussily


Mix unfussily for a few minutes

2. Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes, more or less. If you forget about it for longer than that, it won’t hurt anything.

3. Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the dough. Mix them on low speed for a couple of minutes, just until combined. Then open her up and let her rip. (This is the only tricky part. You have to crank your mixer up to high speed and let it whiz for several minutes. I shoot for five minutes, and that takes some patience because I can’t walk away from the mixer or it would very likely rock itself right off the counter, unplugging itself along the way, crashing to the ground, denting the wood floor and breaking my gorgeous glass mixing bowl. Poo.) Babysit your mixer while it does its thing: Push it back into place now and then and try not to be afraid. I don’t think it will actually blow up.


Action shot. Can you see the speed?

When it’s done, it will look like this: ribbony.



Battery. Not at all like “dough.”

4. Cover it and let it rise for a little while.

(My house is seriously cold this time of year…like mid-60s most of the time, and this dough puffed right up in a matter of 3 hours. So much it almost dislodged the lid from the bowl.)



When I took the lid off, it collapsed. I wasn’t worried because I know this is flexible bread.

5. About an hour before baking, coat a cake pan with cooking spray and then add a good bit of olive oil. A few tablespoons at least. Dump the dough into the pan and then flip it over. You want to coat it.


5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and sprinkle the top of the dough with something savory.


I used Penzey’s Greek Seasoning this time, but almost anything will work. If it’s savory and will pair well with an olive-oil flavored bread,  it will work.


6. Bake it until puffy and golden brown all over–about 30 minutes.


7. If it sticks to the pan (and it might), let it cool for a while before flipping it out. Don’t worry: it won’t fall or crumble.


It’s just beautiful. Springy, chewy, and sturdy at the same time.

It doesn’t need butter, but butter is good, so why not?


*If you do not possess a sourdough starter, just leave it out. Seriously. The bread will still be perfect–only a little less thick and perhaps a smidgen less “complex.” You won’t notice the difference.