Speed Bread: Focaccia

by Kelly on March 17, 2010   

Very versatile, very fast focaccia

I’m celebrating a decade of baking this bread. Ten years ago almost to the day a profile of Suzanne Dunaway, the proprietress of a small bakery called Buona Forchetta, appeared in our local paper. The article included a recipe for this bread and I tried it that day. I’ve been making it ever since, with some changes, mostly unintentional. I still have that tattered newspaper — it stays folded up and jammed in with my cookbooks in the kitchen. I rarely pull it out, but I noticed that I’ve tweaked the amount of yeast. I like it, so I’m leaving it. I’ve also over the years made holes in the bread which aren’t exactly like hers, and are even less like a traditional focaccia. I’m unconcerned. It creates more “edges,” which we gleefully admit we love on this anniversary of one of my family’s regular staples.

Focaccia dough is very straightforward: flour, yeast, water, salt, the basis for most bread and pizza doughs. It isn’t kneaded, though, and is only allowed to rise for half an hour or so. It is more a cousin to a flat, unleavened bread than a loaf. The dough is wetter than kneaded bread doughs, which may be why it forms such a nice crust and has an airy texture. When the wet dough goes into the very hot oven it releases a lot of steam — important to forming a good crust.

“Focaccia” is thought to derive from the Latin word for fireplace or hearth. Not surprisingly its meaning is interchangeable with center, or focal point. This panis focacius may be fireplace bread, but I think of it as the dead center of all things good.

Focaccia | 1 large flat bread

Focaccia was likely the precursor to pizza, but it can be used as a pizza dough of sorts with this recipe. I make it simple, with just a little fresh rosemary and salt, or more elaborate, with tomatoes, garlic (raw or gently sautéed in olive oil), artichoke hearts, even pepperoni. Divide the dough into blobs for fantastic rolls or buns for sandwiches or hamburgers. It’s sticky and blobby, but just bomb ahead.

2 cups warm water, about 90°F
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
4 cups unbleached flour, preferably bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
Toppings, such as tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, garlic, pepperoni (optional)
Olive oil
Fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (for the top of the bread)

Measure the water into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Stir well to dissolve.

The water should be warm enough to activate the yeast but not so hot that it kills it

This is really a stirred dough rather than a kneaded one

Add 2 cups of the flour and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and stir until smooth, about 2 minutes.

A wooden spoon works best for this task

In two minutes it will be nice and smooth

Add the remaining two cups of flour and stir until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl, about another 2 minutes. If the dough seems too sticky and wet, add up to another 1/3 cup of flour.

The stirring action builds the gluten rather than kneading

The dough is tacky but it stills pulls away from the sides

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise for 30 to 40 minutes. The plastic wrap keeps in the moisture and warmth.

Meanwhile, prepare any toppings you may want to use on the focaccia.

Just a few of the different items I've thrown on the top of a focaccia...

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Oil a large, heavy baking sheet.

Pour a little olive oil on the pan and use your fingers to spread it evenly over the surface

Carefully scrape the dough onto the oiled pan. Pour a small amount of oil onto the dough and begin stretching and pulling the dough to cover the surface.

Pour just a little bit of oil -- maybe a teaspoon -- right onto the dough

Gently pull and coax it out to the edges of the pan

Poke through the dough to the pan, stretching holes into it

Sprinkle the dough with rosemary leaves and the additional 1 teaspoon salt.

Use the rosemary leaves whole or chop them smaller

Instead of rosemary, add toppings (optional).

I've made the other half of this focaccia with tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pine nuts, and small sweet peppers

I finished it off with a little fresh basil and grated Romano

Place the focaccia in the preheated 475°F oven and immediately reduce the heat to 450°F. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the bread is nicely browned on top.

Mangia, subito!

Let this be the start of a very happy decade of focaccia baking.

Kelly McCune © 2010
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lisa March 27, 2010 at 10:49 pm

This looks fantastic and you make it sound so easy! I think Number One Son would flip for this–and we wouldn’t have to go to Souplantation for their bread anymore…

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