I did it, you guys! I baked my first bread! I’m ridiculously proud of myself – so what if this recipe is laughably simple. Baby steps, my friends, baby steps. I don’t have a loaf tin (yet) and of course I’m too intimidated by all the fancy breads (hello, viennoiserie!), so I’ve done the obvious and started my bread-baking adventures with a simple flatbread!
What better to turn to than Italian cuisine when one is looking for something simple, rustic (because I have the sophistication of a chipmunk) with loads of flavour! So turn to Italian I did and into my mind popped a bread I loved and had had too many times to count – the focaccia! I was so thrilled when I looked up a few recipes – it was SO simple and perfect for a bread-baking virgin like me. This recipe is very forgiving and rewards you with a fragrant, hearty bread that you cannot have enough of!
There I was in my kitchen, all excited and organized, having measured out all my ingredients beforehand. I quickly dissolved the yeast in water and watched the murky liquid in my bowl in utter fascination, waiting for it to come alive. Five minutes, nothing. Ten minutes, still nothing. Fifteen minutes of staring later, I sadly decided it wasn’t going to foam after all. What a great start! Despite the stupid passive yeast, I chucked it into my flour mix and ambitiously tried to mix it all together with a wooden spatula. I don’t know how exactly, but at some point, the spatula just got stuck in there and wouldn’t move. Out went the spatula and I, with my years of experience of kneading doughfor rotis, complacently thought it would be so much easier to mix and knead it with my hands. Ah, the naiveté of youth. Suffice to say that I consider myself very brave for attempting this by hand my very first time – this dough is obscenely sticky and needs to be kneaded well for at least 8-10 minutes or till your arm falls off, whichever is earlier.
Thankfully, post all the wrestling with the dough, things went fairly well. My dough rose like a champ, was wonderfully soft and pliable and my bread turned out just a touch chewy and dense, but so soft and delicious! Focaccia isn’t a light sort of bread anyway, so I am over the moon that it turned out so well for my first time. Yay! *jig* My only teeny-tiny gripe is that it rose more than I expected while baking, making the focaccia quite thick, so next time I’m just going to pat the dough down thinner in the pan!
Just a word of caution though, this recipe makes a HUGE focaccia, enough for at least 8 people if served as a side or snack. I didn’t have a baking sheet big enough for all of the dough to go in at once, so I baked one rectangle and one round focaccia, with different toppings – a super simple oregano/olive topping and a caprese style topping (fresh tomatoes, mozzarella & basil). Hubs & I pretty much devoured the Focaccia Caprese as soon as it came out of the oven. So good!
FOCACCIA TWO WAYS
Adapted from The Kitchn
Prep Time: ~3 hours | Cook Time: 25 mins | Makes 1 5×10” + 1 8” focaccia
- First, proof the yeast by dissolving 2 tsp active dry yeast in 1¾ cup warm water (37-40°C). Set aside for a few minutes till it starts foaming. (Mine didn’t but my bread turned out fine!)
- While that’s happening, measure out 4 cups flour. To this, add 2 tsp salt, 2 tbsp olive oil and the foaming yeast mixture.
- Using an electric hand mixer fitted with dough hooks, mix together until the dough starts coming together and forms a ball. If using your hands (or a strong wooden spoon), make sure to mix well for at least 8-10 minutes by clock. Once the dough starts coming together, turn it onto a lightly floured and knead briskly till it’s smooth and less sticky than when you started.
- In a large bowl, add 2 tbsp of olive oil. Place the dough in this and turn it to coat it with oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with a kitchen napkin and leave it in a warm place for about 2 hours.
- After 2 hours, the dough should have doubled in volume. Punch the dough to deflate it and place it in a greased baking sheet. Using your fingers, stretch the dough out so that it covers the whole sheet and is reasonably uniform in thickness throughout (½ to ¾ inch). Cover with a kitchen napkin and leave to rise for about 30-40 minutes.
- Divide it into 2 or more pieces with a sharp knife if you’re making smaller focaccia and follow the same steps as above.
- Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 220°C/450°F and prep your topping. (Each tops up a large focaccia made with all of the dough)
- Oregano & Olives – Pick the leaves off 3-4 sprigs of fresh oregano and chop them up. Also slice a dozen black olives (Kalamata olives are my favourite!) and keep aside.
- Caprese – Make a herb oil by heating ¼ cup olive oil in a small wok and sautéing 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 tsp dried rosemary & 3-4 cloves of garlic (minced) in it. Set aside for at least 15 minutes so that the oil absorbs all the flavours. Thinly slice 3 medium tomatoes and 100g of fresh buffalo mozzarella. Pick the leaves off a 1-2 sprigs of basil, clean & set aside.
- The dough should have puffed up just a little bit after resting. Dimple the surface by making small indentations with your fingertips. Drizzle 2-3 tbsp of olive oil over the dough, so that it pools in the indentations.
Okay, so from this point on, I’m splitting the instructions for the two types of focaccia –
Oregano & Olive Focaccia
- Simply scatter the prepped oregano & olives evenly over the loaf. Lightly press the olives into the dough, so they don’t fall off later on.
- Bake at 200°C for 20-25 minutes or till top of the bread turns golden. (My smaller focaccia was perfect at 25 minutes, so keep an eye on it!)
- Use a spatula to coax the bread out of the baking sheet and turn it onto a cooling rack for a couple of minutes. Slice & serve warm by itself or with a creamy soup!
- Bake at 200°C for 18-20 minutes till the crust turns pale gold. Remove it from the oven and drizzle half the herbed oil on the crust.
- Now, arrange the sliced mozzarella evenly to cover the crust and top with the tomato slices. Drizzle the rest of the herbed oil over it. Pop the bread back into the oven for 5-6 minutes or until the mozzarella has melted.
- Remove it from the oven and using a spatula, turn it onto a cooling rack for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle the fresh basil while it’s cooling, slice & serve warm!
ADAPTATIONS & HACKS
- If you don’t have fresh herbs, feel free to use dried ones – I did and the flavours were great! Of course, fresh is always better!
- Use the basic focaccia recipe to play around with flavours and toppings of your own – for ex., a Focaccia Pugliese uses thinly sliced potatoes!
- You can easily refrigerate/ freeze this dough for later use – I haven’t done this myself, but several people online swear you can!
- Serve a simple, herbed version of this with a hot, creamy soup like a leek or pumpkin soup – it’s PERFECT to sop up the last remnants of soup from your bowl!
- Totally switch it up and make a Focaccia Dolce / Sweet Focaccia by skipping all the savoury toppings including olive oil and lightly sprinkling sugar, dried berries/currants/raisins, honey etc. (I haven’t tried it, but it’s out there!)