Ever since you were a little kid, you loved foods with holes.
You stuck black olives on your tiny fingers. And when your fingers got bigger, you moved on to doughnuts. Oh, the hole foods you loved: bagels, Bundt cakes and cherry-flavored Life Savers.
Our fascination with food with holes goes beyond the whimsical. Would English muffins be anything more than a bland roll if it weren’t for all those holes waiting for sweet butter and jam? A French bread as intriguing?
“I always say that good bread should have a consistently inconsistent texture. You can see the nooks and crannies,” says Daniel Leader, cookbook author and founder of Bread Alone bakery in upstate New York. “The holes are often – not always, but often – an indication of nice, slow fermentation.”
Beer, bread and more would not be as interesting were it not for a chemical reaction that produces the gas (carbon dioxide) that prompts all those holes, bubbles and foams.
“Much of what we ingest is in foamy form, where the nutritious part is combined with gas, which lends no sustenance but enhances the texture, appearance and pure enjoyment of what we eat and drink,” writes Emory University physics professor Sidney Perkowitz, the author of “Universal Foam.”
Most cultures include such food and drinks in their cuisine, notes Perkowitz, from England’s Yorkshire pudding to Switzerland’s Emmenthal and Gruyere cheeses and France’s mousses, meringues and souffles.
Fermentation and its gas bubbles, crucial to the texture of many baked goods, can be prompted by yeast, baking powder or another leavening agent.
“Gas bubbles are what make leavened doughs and batters light and tender,” notes Harold McGee in “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.” “The more bubbles produced during the preparation of a dough or batter, the finer and tenderer the result.”
Leader is a firm believer in nooks and crannies in breads. In fact, his latest book, written with Lauren Chattman, is “Simply Great Breads: Sweet and Savory Yeasted Treats” (The Taunton Press; $22). The book’s images celebrate holes from Navajo fry bread to Middle Eastern mana’eesh.
Leader prefers slow fermentation, favoring instant active dry yeast over rapid-rise yeast.
Afraid of yeast? “Whenever I teach a baking class, especially a beginning baking class, I say to people, let go of all your yeast phobia,” he says. “And second, trust your scale.”
Focaccia From Genoa
Prep: 50 minutes
Rise: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Makes: 1 focaccia, 12 servings
1 package (2-1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2-1/2 cups plus 2 teaspoons flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for sprinkling
For the sponge, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large bowl; stir. Set aside until creamy, 10 minutes. Stir in the flour; beat until smooth. Cover tightly with plastic wrap; let rise until puffy and bubbling, about 30 minutes.
For the dough, add the water, wine and 1/3 cup of the olive oil to the sponge; beat together with a mixer using the paddle attachment. Add the flour and 2 teaspoons of the salt; mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook; knead at medium speed, stopping once or twice to press the dough into a ball to aid kneading, 3 minutes. Remove dough from the bowl; knead by hand, using 1 to 2 tablespoons flour as needed, 6 to 8 turns at most.
Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Set aside until doubled, about 1 hour. The dough should be soft, full of air bubbles and should stretch easily. Press it into a well-oiled 17-by-12-inch jelly roll pan; dimple it well with your fingertips. If the dough springs back before it is completely stretched, set it aside to relax a few minutes, then stretch again. Cover with a towel; let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees with a baking stone inside on the lowest shelf. Dimple the top again; drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil so it pools in the indentations; sprinkle with coarse salt.
Place the pan directly on the stone; reduce temperature to 400 degrees. Place a shallow metal container of water on the floor of the oven to make steam. Bake until the focaccia is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool briefly on a rack.
Source: Adapted from “Focaccia” by Carol Field.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 231 calories, 35 percent of calories from fat, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 32 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 420 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
Prep: 20 minutes
Rest: 1 1/2 hours
Cook: 10 minutes
Makes 24 crumpets
2 cups room temperature water (70-78 degrees), plus more if necessary
2-1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1-2/3 cups flour
2 cups bread flour
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2-1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup room-temperature milk
Whisk together 2 cups water, yeast and sugar in a medium bowl; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Put flours, cream of tartar and salt in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Stir to combine. Pour in yeast mixture; mix on low speed to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let stand at room temperature, 1-1/2 hours.
Dissolve baking soda in milk. Pour into bowl with the batter; stir to combine. Batter should be the consistency of pancake batter. If it’s too stiff, crumpets won’t have enough bubbles and holes. If necessary, add more water, a tablespoon at a time to reach the right consistency. (You may need as much as 1/3 to 1/2 cup.)
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Grease 4-inch crumpet rings with butter; place in skillet. Pour batter into each ring to three-quarters full. Cook until holes begin to form on surface, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove rings, flip crumpets; cook until nicely toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with butter.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 78 calories, 5 percent of calories from fat, 0.4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 230 mg sodium, 1 g fiber