With apologies to ciabatta-lovers, focaccia is the Italian bread par excellence. Its pillowy, soft texture, coupled with a crisp outside, a slight crunch of salt flakes and the aroma of olive oil simply can’t be beaten.
My focaccia recipe is, to be honest, a bit of a mongrel. Prior to this strange year, I was visiting Italy around twice a year, but the best focaccia I have ever had was not made by an Italian but by an Indian chef at a hotel in the mountains of Oman who swore by a triple proving. The softest, most pillowy dough – my ideal focaccia consistency – comes from the kneading method in the Persian flatbread recipe in Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana. I’ve gone for Giorgio Locatelli’s recommendation for flour (from his Made in Italy, via Felicity Cloake’s round-up recipe in her excellent “The perfect xyz” series in The Guardian), and done toppings as suggested by Italian-American Maurizio, aka The Perfect Loaf. Personally, I think the results are well worth the extra effort, but there are certainly shortcuts available if you’re pushed for time.
Two important variables are the salt and oil content. I eat a fairly low salt diet and the amount in here is about the maximum I can take. For some, even this will be too much; for others, this won’t be nearly enough compared to the salt hit they expect from a focaccia. My focaccia is also relatively low in oil: you may prefer to drizzle on a lot more than me. You’re just going to have to experiment until you get these to your taste.
Also, I’ve opted for a 40cm x 30cm tray, which gives a flattish focaccia with a relatively short, hot baking time. A variation would be to use a smaller, higher-sided tin and a lower temperature (say 200℃) for a loaf with a higher ratio of inside softness to outside crust.
- 400ml warm water (around 40℃)
- 20g sugar
- 8g dried yeast
- 375g strong white bread flour
- 375g OO flour
- 10g salt
- 100ml olive oil, plus 30ml for the drizzle
- A tablespoon or so semolina flour (optional)
- 12 cherry tomatoes
- 24 black olives, pitted
- Half a dozen sprigs of rosemary
- 20ml cold water
- 10g sea salt flakes
There are some options as to how to prepare baking trays. You’re trying to get high heat onto the base of your focaccia as soon as you can, so Cloake suggests that you preheat a pizza stone in your oven and “transfer” the focaccia to it. That’s all very well, but it’s difficult to transfer a large rectangle of dough while keeping its shape, without the toppings falling off. I opted for a metal baking tray placed onto the stone: metal is a good conductor and this did the job just fine. An alternative is to lay out your focaccia on baking parchment: if you don’t have a pizza stone, you’ll want to preheat the metal tray and then move your dough to the heated tray while still on its parchment base.
As ever, rising times depend completely on the temperature in your kitchen, and the alternatives should be obvious if you don’t have a stand mixer.
- Combine water, sugar and yeast; leave for a few minutes until frothy
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the flours and salt and stir until mixed evenly
- Add the wet mix and 100ml olive oil to the dry mix
- With the standard paddle, mix for a minute or so until you have a smooth dough: you should find that it comes away cleanly from the sides of bowl
- Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes
- Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then knead for another 2 minutes. Repeat this.
- Brush a little olive oil over the surface of a large bowl, transfer your ball of dough to it, cover and leave to rise for around 60-90 minutes.
- If you’re using baking parchment, line your baking tray with it. Optionally, dust a tablespoon or two of semolina flour over this.
- Knock back the dough and shape it into a rectangle covering the whole tray, Make it as even as you can: you’ll get some resistance, but you can pull it around with little danger of tearing.
- Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 45 minutes or so.
- If using a pizza stone, put it into your oven now. Otherwise, slide the parchment sheet off your baking tray and put the tray into the oven.
- Preheat oven to 250℃ fan (or as near as you can get).
- Leave the dough for its second rise, around 45-60 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare your toppings: chop of blitz the rosemary very fine, halve the cherry tomatoes. If your olives came in brine, wash them thoroughly to remove the salt.
- Uncover the dough and with a finger, press a pattern of 6 x 8 indentations into it with a finger, going deep. Press the cherry tomato halves and the olives into the indentations in a chequerboard pattern (that’s why I’ve been fussy about the numbers). Sprinkle the rosemary evenly over the top.
- Cover with a tea towel again and leave for another 30-45 minutes.
- Prepare a mixture of 30ml olive oil and 20ml water, whisking with a fork until emulsified. Spread this evenly over the focaccia.
- Sprinkle the sea salt flakes evenly over.
- Now work quickly: open the oven, take out the stone or tray, transfer your focaccia to it, replace it in the oven and close. Now reduce the oven temperature to 225℃.
- Bake for around 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
- Remove from the oven, slide the focaccia onto whatever board or tray you’re going to serve it on, and leave to cool for a few minutes before eating. This may be the hardest thing in the recipe, but you don’t want to burn your mouth!