I guess it’s about time I live up to my bread obsession reputation and discuss making bread in your Airstream. I must say I have a fear of the oven in my trailer. It tends to burn things, both on the top and the bottom, and there isn’t a lot of space in there to distribute the heat. The first thing I recommend is that you get an oven thermometer and see what the actual temp is when you set the dial at 350 degrees. The temp can fluctuate wildly from oven to oven and even from trip to trip (it’s not like we are bouncing around on the highway or anything). The next thing is to make sure you use a sheet pan for this that actually fits in your oven. A 9” x 13” pan is about right, and the heavier the better! A thin pan is more likely to burn the bottom of cookies (and this bread). If you can only fit one cookie sheet in your Airstream, buy the best you can afford.
This bread can be topped with anything, and I mean anything. It is a base for pizza, garlic bread, caramelized onions (yum), roasted garlic, tomatoes, shrimp, or nothing but olive oil and herbs. Olive oil is used in copious amounts, so get the good stuff. Greek olive oil is my favorite. Though Italian is considered by some to be the best, there is a lot of ersatz Italian olive oil out in the world for sale. Use extra virgin and buy from a reputable store. And check the date: fresher is better.
Yeast comes in many types. I use Red Star instant. If you keep some packets in your trailer in the fridge, it will last longer. Instant yeast is not “instant” in the way that it sounds. It means that you can add the yeast directly to the flour and not have to “proof” it in water. Be careful when adding the salt. Salt slows the yeast reaction, and if salt is added directly on top the yeast it can kill it. Mix in the flour and yeast first, and then the water, and add the salt last.
Focaccia a la Airstream
In the largest bowl you have, mix 2 ½ cups flour (all-purpose, bread flour, wheat flour, or a mixture of all 3), 1 tsp of instant yeast (about ½ of a packet of yeast), 3 Tablespoons of olive oil, and one cup of water. Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands until combined. Add 1 tsp of salt. Do not use iodized salt in bread – the iodine interferes with the yeast. Sea salt is my go-to. Mix/knead until the dough is smooth, silky, stretchy and smells lovely. This will take at least 10 minutes. If you would like to know how to knead, there are many videos on YouTube. I am assuming most of you do not have a stand mixer in your Airstream, but if you have one at home you can use that. The dough should be tacky, slightly sticky, but not so sticky that you can’t manage it. The flour absorbs the water slowly and with kneading (and time) the dough will be less sticky. If you err on the side of too dry or too sticky, too sticky is better. I use a little olive oil on my hands and the counter to keep it from sticking while kneading. Try to avoid using more flour unless you have a shaggy mess. All flour is different, and you may use more or less each time you make it. Weather is also a factor.
Put the dough back in the bowl and cover. Go out for a bike ride and come back in an hour. Scoop out the dough with your hands or a bowl scraper (indispensable in my opinion) and stretch and fold back on itself a couple of times. Put back in the bowl and cover. Let rise until about double. Remember that hot weather will speed up the reaction and cold weather will slow it down. Rising can vary from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
After the 2nd rise, pour olive oil in the bottom of the sheet pan to cover generously. Remove the dough and place it in the sheet pan. Using your fingertips, pat and stretch (be gentle!) until the dough fills the pan. Do not be too aggressive with the dough, it doesn’t like it. Try not to tear holes in it. A gentle stretch takes time, the gluten wants to retract, so patience is needed. If it’s too obstinate, let it rest for 5 minutes. Cover the dough with about ¼ cup of olive oil. Spread around using your hands, then dimple the dough all over with your fingertips. Add your toppings, but go lightly. Too much weight will prevent the dough from rising. A good first try is halved cherry tomatoes layered over the olive oil then dotted all over with pesto. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rest while you preheat your oven to 450 degrees. When doubled or risen to just under the edge of the pan, remove the plastic wrap. If the dough has absorbed all the olive oil, add more and place in the oven. Putting it on a pizza stone or on top another cookie sheet may keep it from burning on the bottom. Bake 5-10 minutes, then rotate. Bake until golden.
Gina Eggers and boyfriend Mark Katsen are owners of a 27' FB International Serenity, "Something Shiny." Gina has been a lifelong camper and foodie, attending classes and seminars around the United States on breads, grains and vegetarian/vegan and raw foods. She has been teaching classes at a kitchen store in Wisconsin and in hers and others homes, and will be reaching pasta-making at the Marquette Farmer's Marketing in Michigan this summer. She is a member of the Bread Baker's Guild of America. You can find her on Instagram.