Bread of life

Updated: 2011-03-26 07:49

By Pauline D. Loh (China Daily)

Twitter Facebook Myspace Yahoo! Linkedin Mixx

Bread of life

Making your own bread not only satisfies the tummy but comforts the soul. Pauline D. Loh shows the way to simple but delicious breads you can speedily make at home.

When I was a law student stressed out by final exams, I would knock up a batch of bread dough late at night after the marathon study sessions. The physical workout relieved some of the mental stress and the soothing, rhythmic kneading gave me time to reflect on my lessons and paved the way to a restful night.

My roommates had no complaints. It simply meant they would get piping hot buns fresh from the oven in the morning.

So many decades and so many cities later, lifestyle changes and an increased pace of life mean I no longer have the luxury of raising bread dough patiently. So, my family gets simple Italian breads instead, like foccacio or pizza.

Even my son has learned to make these easy breads. It's a throw-it-all-together recipe, and the only thing you have to make absolutely sure is the freshness of the dried yeast. Always check the sell-by or expiry date. Dead yeast means a whole bowl of tough dough.

Foccacio is a yeasted flatbread that can be made plain, with just a scattering of sea salt on top, or made fancier with the addition of anything from chopped garlic, rosemary or thyme sprigs to salty slices of Parma ham.

This year, we had a bumper harvest of tiny cherry tomatoes in our Kunming garden and so I dried them in the oven and then decorated my foccacio with them. They turned out honey-sweet, like little bright red raisins.

Foccacio demands lots of olive oil, and it pays to invest in a really good bottle of extra virgin olive oil because you can really taste the difference.

I am giving you the recipe for a basic dough here, with variations. The basic dough also makes a good pizza base and you can even shape little buns with it, stuffed with your choice of either sweet or savory fillings, with meat or vegetables or fruit.

There is minimal kneading. Mix it until it's even and smooth, and turn it into an oiled mixing bowl, covered with a damp towel. Place it in a nice warm place where there is no draught, and all you do next is wait.

Depending on the season of the year and the freshness of your yeast, it may take just 30 minutes, or an hour and a half. This recent batch I made took a little longer to double its size but it was still within the hour. It's still less than 10 C outside and the central heating's already off, so the dough needed extra time to wake up. But you don't have to watch it. Leave it and do something else.

I like to place my mixing bowl near a warm oven, or on top of some water in a rice-cooker on the "keep warm" setting. It miraculously fluffs up the dough when you are baking in winter or when it's a cold spring.

Making bread is a labor of love, but it is very rewarding. There really is no place like home when you are biting into a slice of hot, freshly baked foccacio.

Recipe | Basic foccacio dough


500 g bread or strong or high gluten flour

1 tsp dried yeast

Half cup good olive oil

1 tsp salt

1 cup warm water (blood temperature)


1. Tip flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center.

2. Add dried yeast, salt, olive oil and half the warm water.

3. Using your hand, mix in the flour working from outside inward.

4. Add more water until you feel the dough coming together into a ball. The sides of the bowl will become clean as the flour clings together.

5. Gather the dough with the fingers and then knead or push it back out with the heel of your hand. Repeat a few times until you can feel the dough smoothening out.

6. Transfer the dough ball into an oiled mixing bowl and cover with a damp towel. Leave to rise until the dough doubles in size and fluffs up.

7. Prepare a baking tray with slightly raised sides. Oil it well. Tip the dough ball onto the tray and flatten into a rough oval. Push your finger tips into the dough to make regular depressions. Drizzle more olive oil over so it flows into the "dimples" and then sprinkle sea salt flakes over it.

8. Bake at 200 C for 15 to 20 minutes until the foccacio is golden and fluffy. Eat hot.

Recipe | Rosemary and garlic foccacio


Bread of life

1 quantity basic foccacio dough

2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

Sea salt

Olive oil


1. Spread out basic dough on oiled baking tray into a rough rectangle and poke out dimples with your fingers.

2. Scatter the rosemary on top, and add the garlic. Press some of the rosemary and garlic deep into the dimples.

3. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over the dough and drizzle olive oil generously over the dough.

4. Bake in a 200 C oven for 15 to 20 minutes until foccacio is nicely browned.

Recipe | Foccacio buns


1 quantity basic foccacio dough

1 egg, beaten

Your choice of filling (*see Food Notes)


Bread of life

1. Divide the dough into six to eight pieces.

2. Take a piece of dough and press it into a round with the heel of your hand.

3. Place a mound of filling in the center and pinch edges together tightly, making sure there are no leaks.

4. Turn the bun upside-down so crimped edges are tucked away underneath.

5. Place on a papered baking tray. Brush beaten egg over the top of the buns.

6. Bake in a hot 200 C oven for about 20 minutes. Five minutes before the buns are ready, give them another glaze of beaten egg. (You can also use honey or sugar and water as a glaze if you are using a sweet filling.)

Food notes:

This is a great way to use up over-ripe fruit or left-over chicken. My favorite savory filling is left-over chicken curry and I'll mash up the potatoes and de-bone the chicken. Mushroom and chicken stew is great, too, and I have even used chopped up vegetable stir-fry.

For sweet fillings, you may want to try skinned and diced peaches sweetened with honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Add a few soaked raisins for variety. When persimmons are in season, I like using a pulp made from very ripe fruit, seasoned with a pinch of ginger. Even a spoonful of thick jam or fruit preserves works well. Just make sure the filling is not too runny or you get a rather messy oven if it leaks.

Recipe | Roasted tomato foccacio


1 quantity basic foccacio dough

300 g cherry tomatoes

Sea salt

Olive oil


1. Wash and drain the cherry tomatoes and squeeze each slightly so the pulp and juices leak out. (You don't want the juices or the tomatoes will take forever to dry.)

2. Spread out the cherry tomatoes on a well-oiled baking tray and then allow them to dry in a low 150 C oven for about 40 minutes to an hour. While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the dough.

3. Spread out basic dough on an oiled baking tray into a rough rectangle and poke out dimples with your fingers.

4. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and arrange them on the dough, pressing them down well. If the tomatoes are oily enough, you won't need to add extra olive oil.

5. Sprinkle sea salt evenly and bake in a 200 C oven for 15 to 20 minutes until foccacio is golden and the cherry tomatoes are lightly caramelized.


Green mission

Tony blair believes China will take a leading role to fight climate change and cut emissions.

Stepping on to success
French connection
Generation gaps

European Edition


Have you any wool?

The new stars of Chinese animation are edging out old childhood icons like Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty.

Fill dad's shoes

Daughter and son are beginning to take over the family business of making shoes.

Virtual memorial

High-Tech touches to traditional tombsweeping festival help environment.

Beloved polar bear died
Panic buying of salt
'Super moon'