When Playing With Your Food Leads to Something Great
A gardenscape focaccia inspired by Bittman Bread
Food tastes better when it’s pretty, and focaccia happens to be an excellent medium for making edible art. For my fourth bake with “Dough’sephine Baker” — that’s what I’ve named my sourdough starter — it’s the focaccia from Bittman Bread that I’ve also made into a gardenscape.
I didn’t make any changes to the recipe in the book, just added a little extra effort with toppings. Between the third and fourth folds, I started prepping the vegetables. This batch used scallions, cherry tomatoes, shallots, and nasturtium leaves. After the fourth fold (it’s the same four folds as described in the book), I placed the dough in a parchment-lined 10” springform pan, gently dimpled the dough with my fingertips, and thought about my design; the veggies go on after the fourth fold and the dough is in the pan.
I find it’s better to be generous with the toppings, as previous breads have shown how things can shrink and shift once baked. Soft, herby greens tend to display better post-bake when bunched together — a single chive will shrivel and brown and won’t pop as much on the background of browned, baked bread. I like to coat the toppings in a little olive oil or give them a quick squirt of cooking spray oil to help keep from scorching, especially leafy greens and herbs.
If you’re looking for design inspiration, look no further than Blondie & Rye, whose bread creations range from trees to stained glass to little jeweled pretzel bites and I’m obsessed with everything she does. After I saw her art on Instagram the first time, I probably made ten gardenscape focaccia in two months. I just wanted to play and create.
I’ve cut tiny holes into large spinach to make them look like Monstera leaves. Scallions, with capers staggered on both sides, can mimic ferns. Cherry tomatoes make great flowers, and 2” sections of green onion scattered across the bottom of your dough can be a cut-grass moment. Once, I added squid ink to the dough to color it pitch black, and added tiny enoki mushroom caps scattered across the top to look like stars. My favorite piece of vegetable-turned-art so far has been cutting up a shallot and separating the layers to resemble flower petals.
How do you play with your food?
Bittman Bread Focaccia
Makes: 1 square or round focaccia
Time: 8 to 12 hours for the jumpstarter; about 3 hours intermittent activity to mix and fold the dough; about 90 minutes to shape, rest, and bake the focaccia