Sometimes a girl just wants to have fun! After several weeks of steaming, pureeing, simmering, gratin-ing, sautéing, freezing and preserving my favorite squash – the orange kabocha, aka red kuri or Hokkaido squash – (of which we had a most welcome glut this year thanks to our CSA), I decided to do something I had never done or seen done before: make squash flour and bake with it!
I chose a beautiful bright one…
…washed it, cut it in two, scooped out the seeds, steamed one half for dinner and grated the other half raw, unpeeled, in the food processor. After drying out the grated squash for a few hours in the dehydrator, I had colorful strands of crisp squash (actually quite tasty on their own) which I ground into flour. Half the squash above yielded about 300 g of “flour”.
Now what to do with it? I toyed for a few days with the idea of baking a triple pumpkin bread (pumpkin flour, pumpkin purée and pumpkin seeds) but it might have been led to tastebud overload. Besides I wanted to see how the color of the flour would translate into the crumb on its own.
So I made a simple focaccia with two preferments: a poolish and some liquid levain. Because I love the rustic taste of rye, I put a bit of freshly milled wholegrain rye in the poolish. I only used 10% of kabocha flour in proportion to the total dough flour and while it smelled exquisite when mixing and fermenting/proofing, the flavor had all but disappeared in the one focaccia we tasted (the other one went straight to the freezer). The one we ate had been sprinkled with thinly sliced leek white however. If there were such things as arm-wrestling matches between ingredients, leek would lick squash in a heartbeat! Wrong choice of topping, MC!
Next time I’ll skip the leek and increase the percentage of squash flour to 15 or 20%. Since it has no gluten, it doesn’t do much for the crumb but it doesn’t seem to hamper its development either and that’s basically what I had been wondering about…
Now some of you who may ask why I used two preferments (every time I do I get some mail or comment about that). The only reason really is that my liquid levain was bubbling on the counter next to the mixing bowl and it would have been a waste not to incorporate some of it. No huge brainstorm. Just an opportunity to make use of surplus levain.
Having never baked with pumpkin flour before and not knowing how it would behave, I had originally opted for a poolish instead of a biga (the traditional Italian pre-ferment for a focaccia according to Carol Field): if it helped itself to a large part of the water in the dough, I would end up with a brick. To minimize the risk, I went for a poolish which is equal parts flour and water.
Next time though, I may try and skip the poolish entirely. Breads made with natural starter have a much longer shelf life. Since we eat a lot of bread and usually have two or three kinds out at any given time to be enjoyed at different meals, my preference goes to breads which stay fresh for more than twenty-four hours.
Alternatively I may try and find out how William Leaman of Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle does it. His baguettes are fermented with a mix of poolish and levain and they do stay fresh! I kept half of one on my kitchen counter for almost two days (in a plastic bag) and it wasn’t a bit stale or dried out. It has to be more than just his magic touch. If I ever learn how he does it, I’ll report back. Meanwhile I’ll probably stick to levain (but of course it won’t be a true focaccia, will it?)
I had fun with the olive oil I used to “paint” the focaccie: seeking flavors that would enhance and complement the squash without overpowering it (no wrestling matches allowed), I picked rosemary and sage from the garden and used some of the chile I had bought fresh last fall from a Thai vendor at our farmers’ market, cut up and dehydrated. The oil infused while the dough fermented…
Ingredients (for two focaccie)
For the poolish
- 250 g all-purpose flour, unbleached
- 50 g whole grain rye flour
- pinch of instant yeast
- 700 g all-purpose flour, unbleached
- 100 g kabocha “flour” (see above description of the pumpkin-flour-making process)
- all of the poolish
- 100 g mature white levain at 100% hydration
- 480 g water (you may need more or less according to the dryness of the weather, your flour, etc.)
- 22 g fine sea salt
- Your favorite extra-virgin olive oil (I like the fruitiness of Trader Joe’s Premium cold pressed EVOO, the one that comes with a dispensing cap attached to the neck of the bottle. I have searched high and low for olive oil over the years, seeking one that would be both tasty and reasonably priced. I tried many different supermarket brands, including all (and I mean all) of the ones sold at TJ’s and Costco. Tired of being stuck with less than satisfactory oils for weeks on end – it isn’t as if we could sample before buying – I now always reach for this one and it has never disappointed. I don’t have any shares in TJ’s or any incentive to promote any of their products. I just want them to continue offering the product as I don’t feel like going on an EVOO quest ever again!)
- A mix of fresh or dry rosemary or sage
- Little pieces of dried chile (in a pinch you might use a tiny bit (think half-a-teaspoon) of red pepper flakes but it might stick to the top of the bread and impart too much heat. The beauty of the little pieces of chile is that you can pick them out after baking if you just want the taste, not the spiciness)
- Thinly sliced leek (white part only) or onion
- A pinch of Maldon salt
- Grated cheese (if desired)
Method: (because of the pre-ferments, this bread is made over two days)
The evening before mixing
- Prepare the poolish by mixing the flours and the water and adding a pinch of instant yeast
- Cover and leave to ferment at room temperature
- Feed you levain as you normally do
- Mix the flours, the water, the salt, and the two pre-ferments (I started mixing by hand in a bowl but my wrists protested so I switched to my Kitchen-Aid mixer with the hook, on first speed)
- Mix until you start seeing some gluten development (check the gluten window and stop mixing as soon as you get the beginning of one. It should take less than five minutes in the mixer)
- The dough should have medium soft consistency. Adjust hydration as needed
- Transfer the dough to an oiled container, folding the dough once after thirty minutes if you think it needs it
- Leave it to ferment for as long as it takes for the dough to more than double and stop bouncing back quickly when palpated with a finger (how long it takes is directly linked to dough and room temperatures. In my case, dough temperature was 71°F/22°C which was a bit on the low side and room temp was 65°F/18°C. In my countertop proofer, set at 75°F/24°C, it took the dough close to seven hours to finish fermenting)
- Transfer the dough to a floured countertop and divide it in two
- Stretch each of the two pieces of dough onto a semolina-sprinkled-parchment-paper-lined half-sheet and set to proof inside a large plastic bag (make sure to blow into the bag and close it securely so that the plastic doesn’t touch the bread) for about an hour and a half (or until the dough stops bouncing back immediately when palpated with a finger)
- When the focaccie are done proofing, dimple them all over gently with the tips of your fingers and use a wide pastry brush to “paint” them with the strained olive oil (leftover oil, if any, can be used to sauté potatoes or dress a salad)
- Sprinkle with the desired toppings (I used some of the oil-soaked rosemary on one and leek white on the other, bits of chile and some Maldon salt on both)
- Bake with steam on a baking stone in a pre-heated 400°F/204°C oven for about 25 minutes
- Cool on a rack and remove the toppings that you wouldn’t want to eat, such as rosemary leaves or pieces of roasted chile
The Autumn Focaccia is going to Susan for this week’s issue of Yeastspotting.