We have done it! It has taken us nine months of hard work, writing business plans, submitting development applications, installing and commissioning equipment, but we can now happily say that we have made sea salt. And (even if I do say so myself) what great salt it is. From the results of our many small test batches and slightly larger pilot plant runs, we knew that it could be great. But recreating those fantastic white sea salt flakes on a large scale, with a lot of equipment that was totally new to salt making… when we first arrived here in Tassie nine months ago that seemed like merely a pipe dream. However, I am delighted to say that all expectations have been exceeded and, having sent some very fine sea salt off to market, we are now feeling rather pleased with ourselves.
So how to celebrate? My first thought was, of course, champagne (or rather, of the excellent local Tasmanian sparkling wines that I have come to enjoy just as much, if not more…). Taz, however, has other ideas about what constitutes celebratory fare and instead insisted that all we needed was some homemade bread. Bread, as this possibly suggests, is Taz’s passion. Eating bread, baking bread, even just looking at bread – he loves the stuff. He once had a sourdough starter (a naturally forming yeast that makes a sourdough what it is) which he nurtured so tenderly, day in day out, that my grandmother nicknamed it his ‘baby’. Sadly, he did eventually kill the baby (a treat of two weeks away with no thought of the baby ultimately did for it) but luckily his obsession with bread has been in no way diminished by this tragic end to his sourdough pretentions.
Today’s celebration of salt making calls for something a bit different, a bread that will put our crunchy sea salt flakes front and centre… the Focaccia. A simple Italian olive oil dough, stretched out flat and scattered with whatever delicious bits and pieces you feel like at the time. For this occasion we simply want olive oil, rosemary and a liberal sprinkling of Tasman Sea Salt flakes.
Focaccia with Sea Salt & Rosemary Recipe
600g strong flour
13g fresh yeast
40ml extra virgin olive oil
15g Tasman Sea Salt plus extra for finishing
2 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked
Put the flour and yeast in a large bowl and pour in the water. Use a spoon to mix together until well combined then sit aside for 10 minutes. Add 20ml of the oil and the milk and salt, mixing well. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and start kneading. Knead for 10 minutes, then allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
Place the dough in a container that has been sprayed with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to bulk prove for 1 ½ hours. Knock back the dough every 30 minutes during the prove – you will need to knock back twice in total.
Once the dough has finished proving turn it out onto a floured surface. Press the dough evenly into a 20cm square block. Cut into even halves and trim both halves into oblongs – they should weigh 500g each. Place the loaves on baking trays lined with baking paper and use your fingers to press down into the dough to create shallow indents over the surface. Set aside in a warm, humid place to prove for about 15 minutes.
At this stage you can add the toppings of your choice – olives, caramelised onions, roasted garlic, cherry tomatoes or parmesan all work well. For these loaves simply brush each flatbread with 10ml of the olive oil, and sprinkle half the rosemary and some sea salt flakes over each. Set aside to prove for a further 15 – 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Place the loaves in the oven and spray the oven with water. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, turning around after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before you can safely devour!