Focaccia is an Italian bread that can be topped lightly or substantially, or used as sandwich bread. Its popularity in North America has resulted in overly simplified recipes using prepared pizza dough. I like Peter Reinhart’s recipe from his very well-rated book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Although it is a 1 to 2 day process (most of the time spent rising the dough), it is well worth the effort. Everyone that tried this bread loved it.
I made focaccia for the first time one weekend, while studying for a designation exam. Each step between rising became a study break. Since I had a variety of fresh herbs on hand, I made herbed focaccia. See my sun dried tomato focaccia recipe here.
Some other suggestions:
- olives, roasted garlic, herbs, sundried tomatoes, or garlic infused oil (dimple these in before the 2 hour proofing time)
- hard cheeses such as parmesan, chedder, swiss, or Monterey Jack (add this 5 minutes before the finished baking time)
- soft cheeses like mozzarella or feta (add these about 10 min before the finished baking time)
- try topping the finished focaccia with an assortment of meat and/or vegetables (ie. carmelized onions and goats cheese)
- try slicing the focaccia in half and using it as a sandwich bread
Herbed Focaccia Recipe
adapted from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice; Note: The original recipe called for instant yeast. I have adapted the recipe for active dry yeast.
for the poolish:
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
pinch of granulated white sugar
for the bread:
3 cups poolish (if chilled, allow it to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before using)
2 2/3 cups bread flour
2 tsp salt + coarse sea salt for sprinkling
2 tsp active dry yeast
6 tablespoons olive oil + plus more for spraying/brushing
3/4 cup warm water
pinch of granulated white sugar
for the herb oil:
1 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic minced
1/2 cup of chopped fresh herbs (Note: I used flat leaf parsley and basil in equal amounts, a smaller amount of thyme and an even smaller amount of rosemary. Use any combination that you like, fresh and/or dried. If using only dried herbs, use 1/6 cup.)
Make the poolish:
In a large bowl, mix together the warm water, dry yeast, and sugar. Let it sit for a few minutes, undisturbed, for the yeast to activate. Then, using a wooden spoon, mix in the bread flour until all of the flour is moist. The dough will be soft, sticky, and thick. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature to ferment for about 4 hours. It will look bubbly and foamy when done. Then leave it in the refrigerator until 1 hour before you are ready to use it. Or, if your house is cool at night, you can leave it out in a dark space.
Make the herb oil:
In a small sauce pot, over medium-low heat, heat the oil until it is warmer than lukewarm. Then add the garlic and the herbs. Turn off the heat and allow the garlic and herbs to infuse the oil until ready to use. Once cool, cover with a lid and store in the refrigerator if it will be sitting out for more than 12 hours. Otherwise, you can leave it at room temperature, out of the sun.
Make the bread:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the warm water, salt, sugar, and yeast. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Then add the flour, oil, and poolish. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until everything is well combined. You will have a wet, sticky dough. Then use the dough hook attachment and mix on medium speed until your dough becomes smooth. Mix for at least 5 minutes before adding more flour or water as needed to achieve a dough that clears the sides of the bowl but still sticks to the bottom. Generously dust a large, clean work surface with flour. Use a dough scraper or a plastic spatula to transfer the dough from the bowl to your work surface. Generously dust the top of the dough and gently pat the dough down into the shape of a rectangle. See photo below. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 5 minutes.
Working quickly, use your hands to lift the left side of the dough, while stretching it by about 50%, and fold it over itself. See photo below on the left. Then, working quickly, lift the right side of the dough, stretch it out by about 50%, and fold it over the first fold. See photo below on the right. Your dough should still be in the shape of a rectangle. Spray or brush lightly with olive oil, dust lightly with flour, and cover loosely with a large piece of plastic wrap. Sprinkle your work surface with more flour as needed. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat the steps of stretching and folding the dough as described above. But this time, instead of folding it in from the left and right sides, fold it top down and bottom up. Allow it to rest for 30 minutes. The dough will become easier to work with. Repeat the stretching and folding steps from the left and right sides one more time. Allow it to rest for 1 hour. It will rise, but it won’t necesarily double in size. See photo below.
Line a sheet pan (17 inch x 12 inch) with a silpat (silicone) mat or a sheet of parchment paper. Then transfer the dough onto the baking sheet, moving quickly. See photo below.
Spoon half of the herb oil over the bread. Use all of your finger tips (not your thumbs) to dimple the dough. Start in the middle of the dough, creating a line with your fingers down the length of the dough. Push your fingers into the dough to create the dimples and work your way outwards as you dimple the dough and gently spread it outwards to roughly fill the pan. Make sure that you are not tearing or flattening the dough. Add more herb oil as the dough fills the pan to make sure that the surface is completely coated with oil. The dough should be an even thickness throughout. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and proof (ie. rest to obtain the desired lightness/texture) at room temperature for 2 hours. For pictures of these steps (shaping the focaccia), see page 162 (available on google books).
Fifteen minutes before the end of the proofing time, pour on any remaining herb oil (if available). Gently dimple it into the dough and make sure that the dough fills the pan, even the corners, with a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Allow it to rest for 15 to 30 minutes, until the dough rises to a thickness of 1 inch (photo above). Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 F. Place the pan into the middle of the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 450 F. Bake for 10 minutes and rotate the pan 180 degrees. Bake for 5 to 10 more minutes until the top is a light golden brown colour. When the focaccia is done baking, immediately transfer it from the sheet pan to a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. You can enjoy this as is or with additional toppings. You could also slice your focaccia in half and use it for sandwiches.