Focaccia is one of my favourite breads: glossy and golden on top thanks to the olive oil, but firm and crisp, with a chewy, aerated, oil-soaked crumb with a real spring. You should be able to squish a good focaccia with your hand and watch it slowly rise back up to its former glory.
Focaccia’s a brilliant bread to make if you’re a little nervous of yeast and dough: the ‘shaping’ of focaccia is far easier than that of a traditional loaf, or even a ciabatta or baguette. To make focaccia, you spread your dough out in a tin – an imprecise art – and then paddle it with your fingers, creating divots and dimples. When the dough has proved for its final time, you again dibble the dough with your fingertips, and then pour a generous quantity of olive oil over the top. No workbenches, no folding or rolling, no seams. Just chuck the dough into a tin, press it down, and the job’s done.
The trick to making good focaccia as a novice is a surprisingly simple one: use a relatively small, high-sided tin. This ensures that the dough has something to prove against, and spring from as it bakes, rather than the dough creeping and sprawling until it is so thin that it’s closer to a breadstick than the distinctive focaccia texture you’re going for. I use an 8 inch cake tin when I’m making it to this recipe, which results in a bread about an inch and a half high, that drinks in the olive oil poured onto it without becoming saturated and unwieldy to eat.
Although often served in place of other bread, or as part of antipasti, dunked in vinegar and more oil, focaccia makes a superior base for a sandwich, packed full of flavour, but with structural integrity. Make it in a tin as in the recipe below, and you’ll be able to cut it horizontally (like a bagel) to produce two level halves. Stuffed full of mortadella or salami, grilled Mediterranean vegetables, and daubed with pesto or some good mayonnaise, it’s hard to beat.
The first focaccia I ever made many years ago was a four-cheese variety, which must have contained about a kilo of the various cheeses stuffed into; that was without doubt overkill. The texture of the crumb was more like cutting into a calzone and the flavour of the olive oil was battered by the shouting, pungent cheeses. But that’s not to say that focaccia can’t hold its own against more judiciously applied toppings.I’ve gone minimalist here on toppings: a good glug of olive oil, a little rosemary, and a generous sprinkling of coarse salt, but really, that’s just a jumping-off point. Try small sprigs of thyme or leaves of sage stuck into the dough before baking, or scatter with roasted or sun-dried tomatoes; cooked and sliced potatoes (with more rosemary) are a classic Pugliese topping. Or you can nudge closer and closer to pizza territory with bitter, black pitted olives, sliced red onion, little nests of torn prosciutto, blobs of mozzarella or crumbled blue cheese.
Makes: An 8 inch square of focaccia (enough for 4 as a side, or 2 generous sandwiches)
Takes: 2 hours
Bakes: 25 minutes
250g strong white bread flour
7.5g easy action yeast
10g fine salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 sprigs of rosemary
1. Mix together the flour, yeast, salt water and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and knead for ten minutes in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (if you’re doing it by hand, you’ll need to knead for nearer to fifteen minutes).
2. Turn the dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm or a clean tea towel, and leave for an hour, or until doubled in size.
3. Knock the built-up air from the dough and stretch it out into a square cake tin or roasting dish approximately 20 x 20cm. Press the dough down with your fingertips, creating small divots and craters. Leave to prove for another hour, until the dough has puffed up.
4. While the dough is proving, preheat the oven to 200°C. Just before baking, press your fingers into the dough to create the classic focaccia dimples. Drizzle the 4 tablespoons of olive oil across the dough, and sprinkle with the salt and the sprigs of rosemary. Bake for 25 minutes until puffed and golden.