Recently I was invited to an open house and wanted to bring bread, but didn’t have time to make it from scratch. So this was my opportunity to use Bridgeford Ready-Dough, easily found in the freezer department of all supermarkets. I had used the frozen ready-made loaves when I first started baking when I was still afraid to make a dough from scratch, but not since and was curious to see if it was still a good alternative to homemade.
Using the three 1-pound loaves that come in one package, I decided to make the Italian flatbread focaccia. You can use the white, or honey wheat, if you can find it, interchangeably. If frozen bread dough sounds strange to you, remember that yeast does not die at low temperatures, just goes to sleep, and many large baking establishments utilize frozen dough products, rising and baking them off at the site where they will be sold.
Utilizing one-stop shopping, I then scoured the deli department of my local supermarket for special topping ingredients. I was able to buy imported Greek olives, Peluso’s teleme cheese from Bodega Bay, Mozzarella Fresca and Polly-O whole milk mozzarella, Sonoma brand smoked jack cheese, roasted red peppers, and a log of fresh French goat cheese. These foods were once only available at gourmet cheese shops. I got a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and walnut oil. In the produce department, I got delightfully fresh walnut meats, on sale, from a bulk bin.
I decided to set the dough out to defrost on the kitchen counter overnight in the package, about 8 hours. You can also let it rise for double the amount of time in the refrigerator, especially if you have a warm kitchen. Be sure to leave it in the bag or else the dough will dry out and develop a thick skin. The dough was room temperature, puffy, and straining at the constraints of the packaging when I awoke. If you can’t prepare the flatbreads right away, put the package in the refrigerator for a few hours.
I preheated the oven and pulled out one of my favorite pieces of baking equipment: a ceramic baking sheet from Sassafras Enterprises, made from the same material as a baking stone and the domed clay baker called La Cloche (which they don’t seem to be making anymore), the indispensable tool placed on the oven rack to help home bakers recreate a hearth oven atmosphere for crusty breads.
You can use a regular baking sheet as well and then use the ceramic baking stone, which can be left in the oven all the time, not just when you are baking. You put the pan directly on the stone to bake. I sprinkled the pan with cornmeal since it didn’t need to be greased, and then took one section of dough, pressing it into an uneven, flat oval on the pan; you can also press it evenly to the edges of the pan for a square or rectangular loaf. After letting it rest 10 minutes, I used my fingers to dimple the slightly puffy dough and sprinkle on the toppings.
You can use any combination of ingredients that you want, but it is important to have the right ones, nothing too goopy. And never too much. First the dough is moistened with some oil. It is okay that the oil pools into the indentations. Don’t worry, it will soak deliciously into the dough during the baking. Then a bit of vegetables or nuts pressed into the top for flavor and color, then a sprinkling of cheese. It is a balance of layering the ingredients. Focaccia is even good with just oil and sprinkled with some coarse salt in case you dont have a thing in the house to top it with.
What emerges from the oven, hot and savory, is a quite stunning, beautiful, rustic flatbread. It is ready to be served immediately, cut with a serrated knife, for an appetizer or with dinner. It can be reheated day-old and sliced horizontally for sandwiches, and even eaten with coffee for breakfast. The bread was so good, I forgot that it came from pre-made dough.