creamy tomato soup and focaccia
It was last week, on Christmas morning, that I nearly had a baking catastrophe on my hands. We were still lounging around the house in our pajamas, basking in the glow of the post-stocking-opening frenzy when I nearly brought upon what would have been, for my husband, the equivalent of a lump of coal. I nearly ruined the Christmas biscuits.
The near destruction of the much-anticipated Christmas buttermilk biscuits was in no way intentional. In fact, on that morning, I took extra care with measuring the ingredients and using a light touch to insure that the resulting biscuits were as flaky and buttery as ever. But, despite my best efforts, the dough (if you could even call it that) was a gloppy, soupy mess.
Now it is important to note that this was not some new recipe I tried on a whim. Not at all. This was a tried and true recipe, thoroughly tested by none other than Cook’s Illustrated and posted at Amateur Gourmet in lovely photo-journalistic detail. I have made these biscuits at least a dozen times over the past couple years, and although the dough is certainly quite wet and requires a bit of creativity to form into biscuits, the Christmas morning result was a surprising disaster. In fact, the only way to have put these into the pan for baking would have been to pour the whole mess directly in, producing what I imagine would have produced a buttery, flaky, savory cake. I went back and reviewed the measurements and all were spot on. The only way to save it – to add nearly an entire cup of extra flour. That’s right, an entire CUP.
And that, dear friends, is how I learned an important lesson in baking. Flour is finicky. Particularly when baking in a new place or with new ingredients, flour must be measured by weight or you could be stuck with a mess like the one I ran into on Christmas morning. Thus, I am compelled to start noting the weight of flour in the hard copies of my recipes, so that I can recreate them later. I will start plugging the weight into recipes I post here as well, in case you might some day use it to avoid your own equivalent of the Christmas-morning baking catastrophe.
As you can see, this is not a post about biscuits. It is about another comfort food that makes for an easy post-holiday weeknight dinner. My mother is a focaccia genius, leading to some apprehension in making my own, but this Julia Child recipe is surprisingly simple…and forgiving. It is delicious with this lighter version of a “creamy” tomato soup. It is the addition of a couple pieces of bread that gives the soup a nice, creamy texture, but the secret to its success is caramelization of the tomatoes. Make sure to separate the tomato solids from the juice very well, as explained in the first step of the recipe. This will allow for all of the flavors to develop into savory, tomatoey goodness.
Julia Child’s focaccia
adapted from Baking with Julia
makes 1 loaf of focaccia, serves 6-8
- 1 and 1/4 cups water, room temperature
- 2 and 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil (plus an additional 4-5 Tbsp. for the bowl and greasing pan)
- 3 and 1/4 cups bread flour (14.5 oz)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. coarse-ground sea salt
- fresh herbs (rosemary or thyme are excellent)
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced kalamata olives
- Whisk together yeast and water and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add olive oil and whisk again to fully combine.
- Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Slowly pour wet ingredients into flour, stirring with a rubber spatula to combine.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough becomes elastic and smooth, about 8-10 minutes.
- Place dough in a very well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours. Punch dough down and allow to again rise until doubled again in size, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Pour dough out onto a very well-oiled baking sheet, stretching gently with your hands to create a rectangle that is approximately 10 x 12 inches. (Allow the dough to relax in the pan for a few minutes if it is difficult to stretch, then stretch it gently again.) Using a fork, pierce the surface of the dough about 30 times. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and evenly sprinkle with toppings of your choosing. Bake 15-20 minutes, until surface is golden brown. Serve warm.
Making focaccia in advance: Focaccia dough is best when made at least a day ahead. I highly recommend making the dough the night before you plan to serve it. After the first rise, toss it in a well-oiled plastic bag and refrigerate for around 24 hours. Take the dough out of the refrigerator an hour before baking to allow it to come to room temperature and finish rising. Continue with step 5.
creamless creamy tomato soup
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
- 3 (15 ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely choped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 2 slices white sandwich bread (crusts removed), chopped
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 4 Tbsp. sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (for topping)
- Drain the tomatoes well, reserving the juice. It is important that tomatoes are as dry as possible before preparing the soup. If possible, place the tomatoes in a colander over a large mixing bowl and allow to drain, tossing occasionally, for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they begin to become soft, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and bay leaf and saute for another minute, until garlic becomes fragrant. Pour tomato solids and sugar into bowl. Allow tomatoes to cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is cooked off and tomatoes are caramelizing on the bottom of the pan. This should take about 15 minutes. Once tomatoes begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, cook them for a few minutes longer, turning the tomatoes to allow them to caramelize on all sides. (Don’t worry if tomatoes are not cooking evenly or are beginning to break down.)
- Reduce heat to medium and add reserved juice from tomatoes, bread and broth. Bring to a boil, stirring to incorporate and break down bread. Remove from heat and discard bay leaf. Using a hand blender, blend soup until even and creamy. (Alternatively, the soup could be run through a standing blender or food processor in small batches.) Soup should still be very hot, but can be re-heated over low heat if neccesary.
- Serve immediately, garnished with a Tbsp. of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.