A warm welcome to author Matthew Lang joining us today to talk about his new release “Better with Bacon”.
Better with Bacon – Author Matthew Lang’s perfect picnic food
I like picnics. They combine awesome people, fresh air, and awesome food. If I have anything to say about it, they’ll likely be Frisbee, cold brew ice tea, and music being pumped through Bluetooth speakers. And for ages, I’ve been making a fresh baked garlic focaccia. And I was very proud of it.
I was quilting – making a new picnic blanket out of old jeans, actually – when I found out I was making my focaccia all wrong. Well, okay, making it English rather than Italian. My garlic focaccia recipe started with 3 cups of flour to 1 cup of water, and turned out a thick bready loaf. It tasted great when fresh, but I always found it dried out quickly, and rarely kept more than a few hours to my tastebuds, even if other people disagreed. But there I was, stitching squares cut from old jeans together with my headphones on to watch (well, listen) to the Great British Bake Off while I crafted, and there was Paul Hollywood, the king of Bread, setting the contestants a technical challenge – focaccia – and tutting over the fact that many of them didn’t add all the water, and created a bready, English style loaf.
Apparently, proper Italian focaccia is made using a 1:1 ratio of flour to water, and creates a ‘dough’ that’s almost more a sticky slurry, and is baked in oil, creating a more open textured, softer loaf. Stung by that, I experimented. I still haven’t been brave enough to try the full Italian…bread…recipe with 3 cups of flour to 3 cups of water, but I’ve created a compromise that works well. And this one’s an exclusive. You won’t find it anywhere else because it’s genuinely one I’ve created.
Caramelised Onion Focaccia
3 cups flour
2 cups water
2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil.
Olive oil and salt for baking.
If you need to activate your yeast, add it to a small bowl, along with two teaspoons of sugar and two tablespoons of water, and leave it somewhere warm for 15 minutes, or until bubbly. Add this to the dry ingredients with the water in the recipe below.
Sift your flour into a mixing bowl. Add salt on one side of the bowl, and sugar and dried yeast (if you’re using the type that doesn’t need to activate) away from the salt.
Create a well in the flour and add oil and slowly add the water, mixing as you go.
You’ll end up with a sticky dough that isn’t quite a slurry, but is close. Cover the mixing bowl with clingfilm and set aside to rise – I like to leave it for 6 hours, or even overnight in the fridge. The longer you leave it, the more flavour you get, but essentially, you want to see the dough rising up to fill the volume of the bowl and press up against the cling film.
Once ready to bake, slice your onions finely, and fry them over a medium heat with oil and a teaspoon of sugar until clear, soft and brown. Set them aside to cool.
Take the cling film off your bowl, trying to keep the dough in the bowl rather than on the plastic wrap, and release the gas in the dough. You can do this by the traditional way and punch the dough with your fist – but it’ll stick to your skin unless you cover your hand in olive oil. I like to oil the blade of a silicon spatula, and use that to work the dough – you’ll see it noticeably deflate. Add 2/3 of the onion to the dough and mix in carefully.
For this recipe, select a baking tray with a lip all the way around, and crack salt into the dish – not too much, but enough to scatter over the bottom of the tray. You may also want to use salt flakes. Pour enough olive oil into the tray to just coat the bottom.
Pour the dough into the centre of the tray, and use your oiled spatula to help spread it out into a flattish shape – this will be your loaf.
Sprinkle the rest of your caramelised onion over the top of the dough. Crack some salt over the top of the loaf, and then oil up your fingers and use them to press down gently on the top of the loaf. You want to press the onion down into the loaf, but you also want to create small divots in the top of the bread. Then you want to drizzle olive oil over the dough – you’ll see those divots collecting the oil, which is exactly what you want.
Pre-heat your oven at 160 degrees Celcius (320 degrees farenheit).
Cover your baking tray with more clingfilm and leave somewhere warm to prove for 20 minutes.
Remove the clingfilm and bake in the oven until golden (usually 25-30 minutes).
When you remove the tray from the oven you’ll see the oil bubbling around the loaf, and it’ll look like a fair amount. This is fine. Leave the tray to cool, and when you come back, the oil will be mostly gone – all absorbed into the bread.
Turn onto a board, slice and serve. You’ll get a soft, light sweet loaf that doesn’t need the olive oil and balsamic vinegar you might automatically reach for. Trust me, it’s pretty magic.
Anyway, for me, that’s one of the ultimate picnic foods, and if you can’t do onions, or maybe have a friend who’s fructose intolerant, try adding in cubes of a semi-hard cheese like cheddar, and dice up slices of ham and mix those into the dough instead. You’ll end up with a focaccia that tears apart, and if you may find you get strings of cheese if you put large enough chunks in. It’s entirely possible this recipe will be Better with Bacon, but I honestly haven’t tried it yet. Usually the bacon gets eaten before the dough has finished rising the first time.
When Patrick’s long-term girlfriend Li Ling dumps him just as he’s working up the nerve to propose, he ends up drunk on David’s couch—and later in David’s bed. Although initially reluctant to pursue anything beyond a one-time drunken tryst, David throws caution to the wind during an intimate dinner, where the two men also discuss Patrick’s dream of entering the food industry. Just as the friends-turned-lovers are settling into their new romance, Li Ling calls Patrick—she’s pregnant.
Convinced the announcement spells the end of their love affair and a return to their platonic friendship, David flees to Sydney to escape his heartbreak. But upon his return to Melbourne, David discovers the situation hasn’t gone the way he’d expected. There might still be a chance for David and Patrick’s dreams to come true if they can forgive each other’s mistakes and move forward.
Matthew Lang writes behind a desk, in the park, on the tram, and sometimes backstage at amateur theater productions. He has been known to sing and dance in public and analyze the plots of movies and TV shows, and is a confessed Masterchef addict. He has dabbled in film, machinema, event management, and even insurance, but his first love has always been the written word. He is suspected of frequenting libraries and hanging around in bookstores, and his therapists believe he may be plotting some form of literature.
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