It’s been a while since I last made focaccia. My buddy Billiam used to make it fairly often and bring it to pre-race dinners, where hungry runners (like me) would wolf it down in a carb-loading frenzy. Back then he used to make the dough in a bread machine, then pat it out and bake it in an aluminum foil pan (so he didn’t have to worry about getting the pan back). He and his wife would top it with various things, but my favorite was a mix of salt, herbs and cheese. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it!
I have many fond memories of those times of fun and friendship. Fast forward about 10-15 years. It’s now 2010, and this year my wife and I are baking all our own bread products, but one bread we haven’t made yet is focaccia. Today I am going to change that. I am on a quest for the purr-fect focaccia recipe.
I am starting with this recipe from King Arthur Flour, which sounded good to me (if a bit labor intensive). You make a starter dough with white whole wheat flour, and let it sit overnight. Then you add the rest of the ingredients (unbleached AP flour, yeast, olive oil, etc) , knead briefly, and let it rise twice.
The dough then gets stretched out (not rolled) into a half baking sheet that has been liberally greased up with cooking spray and olive oil. I found that stretching it out partway, then letting the dough rest for about 10 minutes before finishing the stretching made it easier. The dough is then covered and left to rise for 60-90 minutes.
Now the fun begins. It’s time to dimple the dough. First you brush the dough with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then you use your fingers (or thumbs) and press down into the risen dough to make dimples. The indentations collect olive oil (and other toppings) as the bread bakes. They also give the focaccia it’s distinctive look.
Today I decided to try two different toppings for the bread. For one half, I sprinkled on about a tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary, and then added a little kosher salt. For the other half, I spread on some chopped oil-cured black olives from our local Italian deli, plus some roasted garlic from the garden (two heads worth).
Next, the pan goes into a preheated 400F oven to bake for 15-20 minutes. This batch took a full 20 minutes to start getting a little brown on top.
This bread played a starring role in lunch today here at Happy Acres. When I went to the deli yesterday I also picked up a few slices of imported prosciutto crudo and and some nice mortadella. I sliced the bread in half horizontally, and we used that to make sandwiches with the meat, along with pesto, and some oven roasted tomatoes.
By the time the bread was ready, we were so hungry I barely remembered to get a photo of a sandwich before it was all gone! The photo below isn’t great but it was the best I could manage with a growling, hungry stomach screaming “feed me”!
In the final analysis, my wife and I both liked this recipe, but agreed it was way too salty for our tastes. The recipe calls for 1-1/4 teaspoons of salt in the dough, and by the time you add extra salt on top plus salty olives it was over the top with salt! Also, even though this recipe was supposed to be sliced in half and used for sandwiches, it wasn’t really thick enough for that purpose. It was a real struggle to get it sliced.
But, if you cut back on the salt, this recipe would be great for general snacking, or even for open-faced sandwiches. We loved the texture, and the whole wheat flour gave it a great flavor. I found another recipe that calls for 3-3/4 cups of flour (instead of the 3 cups in the KA recipe) that should make a thicker dough for slicing up for sandwiches. My next effort might use the extra flour and less salt. I might even use half white whole wheat flour, instead of the 1/3 whole wheat that was in today’s bread.
At any rate, it was nice to have some freshly baked focaccia. We’ll try freezing the leftovers – if there are any. And Billiam, since you were the first one to introduce me to focaccia way back when, I had a bite just for you. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!