Foccacia and bread cubes

Foccacia quickly stales and cuts easily into cubes, making it a great candidate for stuffing.

At this point in the Thanksgiving countdown — now in the single digits — I have bread cubes on the brain. If stuffing is on your to-do list too, readying the bread is one of those chores that can (and should) be done in advance. Cutting up bread into cubes is time consuming, especially if you’re working with a thick-crusted loaf.

Last week, while pondering stuffing plans, I had an idea: I love making focaccia, usually topped with seasonal produce as an alternative to pizza. But a pan of plain focaccia just might make great stuffing cubes. It stales pretty quickly, it’s seasoned with olive oil and the crust is practically a nonissue. What could be bad?

Nothing, as it turns out. The focaccia was easy to work with, leaving me with leftovers for next-day snacks. The cubes quickly toasted in a low oven, and after they cooled, I filled a few bags for the freezer. If all goes to plan, my kid brother, who’s visiting from Florida, will help me get our stuffing into shape the day before. That’s right; you can assemble stuffing a day in advance and bake for about 30 minutes before you want to sit down. (The rest of our stuffing FAQs are on Page B4.) If gluten is not your friend, we’ve got you covered with a wild rice and roasted cranberry combo that is so satisfying you may not want to share.

Class dismissed. Now let’s get busy.

FOCCACIA 
STUFFING CUBES

Adapted from “Bianco” by Chris Bianco.

  • Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 cups very warm water (about 105 F)
  • 5 to 5 1/2 cups bread flour, using the dip and sweep method
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • Olive oil for greasing, plus 1/4 cup
  • Optional: Fresh rosemary removed from 2 or 3 sprigs, very finely chopped and coarse salt

Directions:

1. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and whisk with a fork until dissolved. Cover with a towel and place in a non-drafty spot until the mixture is slightly foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Place 3 cups of the flour in a large bowl and pour the yeast mixture on top. Stir until just combined. Gradually add 2 more cups of the flour, then the salt. Mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl; it’s OK to use your hands to bring the dough together and if it looks shaggy at this point.

3. Lightly dust a work surface with flour, then dump the dough on top. Knead the dough by pressing, folding and turning until smooth, stretchy and even a little sticky, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Drizzle the bottom of a large bowl with olive oil, then roll the dough in the oil until coated on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and place in a nondrafty spot until doubled in size, about 3 hours. Press your finger into the dough; if the indentation remains, the dough is ready.

4. Pour the 1/4 cup of olive oil into a half sheet pan (18-by-13 inches). Place the dough on top, then turn it over to coat the second side. With your hands, gently press the dough toward the edges; at this point, it may not reach the edges. Cover with plastic wrap and let proof until the dough is slightly bubbling and filling up the pan, about 90 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 500 F (or to 510 F, if your oven allows).

6. Using your knuckles or index fingers, press into the dough all over. Sprinkle with rosemary and/or salt, if using. Bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan front to back. Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, about 10 minutes more. Cool completely before cutting into cubes or cut yourself a small piece while you wait.

To make stuffing cubes:

Cut the focaccia in half and work with one half at a time. Remove the edges and set aside for a cook’s treat. Cut each half in half, then in half again, until you have a piece that is manageable to work with, about 5-by-5 inches. Cut into strips, about 1-inch wide, then each strip into 1/2-inch cubes.

Place cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and toast in the oven (or in a toaster oven) at about 250 F. Toast until just cubes are slightly hardened, about 10 minutes. Cool completely before freezing.

An entire focaccia yields about 12 cups of bread cubes, enough for 10 to 12 servings. Any focaccia left behind reheats well for sandwiches and dipping into bowls of soup.

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