2018 was the year of the Focaccia. Outside of a couple of different types of cinnamon rolls, bread baking wasn’t really on my radar. Then, my brother turned into a bread-making savant and I took class on pizza-making. Automatically hooked. Bread making is supremely satisfying. You start with simple ingredients of flour, water, yeast and salt and along with a bit of patience and end up with something quite amazing.
I wanted to try EVERY bread imaginable. Sourdough. Challah. Brioche. Love them all, by my all time favorite is Focaccia. Full of bubbles, a little chewy, perfect plain or dressed up with rosemary or tomatoes. One of my favorite restaurants serves warm focaccia with oil and red pepper sauce and every single time I tell myself that I am not going to eat that much bread before a meal …. and every single time I eat my body weight in bread before the meal. My thought is that left-overs can go in a to-go box, but warm bread MUST be consumed immediately.
My timing isn’t the greatest, since it seems like every person I know is doing Keto, which is a kill-joy because I have fewer people to off-load my baked goods onto. Fortunately, The New Yorker announced that “Bread is making a Comeback!” which reminded me of when Justin Timberlake announced that Sexy was back and no one realized it left. Moving, along..
The recipes comes from Bon Appetit , but the method is largely influenced by Nancy Silverton. Nancy, who is a master chef and someone who I am not on a first name basis with, traveled to Italy to learn how to make “good” focaccia. She observes the techniques used in the Italian kitchens and realizes that small changes greatly impact the quality of the bread. Two of the major technique updates:
Instead of rectangle focaccia, the finished product is round.Per Nancy, I use 2 9-inch round cake pans, but if you really want the traditional rectangle focaccia, go ahead and use the a half sheet pan. This immediately made sense to me because who doesn’t love a nice thick slice of focaccia? Look at that:
The second observation is sheer quantity of olive oil. The goal here isn’t to just grease the pan. You have to dig really deep and use all of the olive oil. Seriously. Pour a healthy amount that would make your cardiologist cringe, then maybe add another splash. The dough should be floating in a sea of olive oil. FLOATING. If you don’t feel uncomfortable about how much olive oil you used, then you didn’t use enough. Nancy says ⅛ to ¼ of an inch of oil. This is the only way to get the beautiful crisp bottom and it adds so much flavor to the bread.
Another thing I love about focaccia is that you don’t need a ton much equipment to pull this off.
- Stand mixer or the willingness to knead a sticky dough.
- A thermometer.
- 2 9-inch round pans or a half sheet pan
- A large glass bowl
If you want to get a good rise in your bread you a) need good yeast and b) need to let it rise in a warm spot. Generally speaking, the warmer the location of the proofing, the shorter the proof time. If the Focaccia is rising in a location with a temperature around 70ºF it may take an extra hour to rise properly. Similarly, if the location is 80ºF the Focaccia rise time will be shorter. I always shoot for 75ºF at a minimum.
My go-to places to let bread rise are the following:
- The microwave after boiling a cup of water for 2-3 minutes.
- Turning the oven on for 2-3 minutes to preheat and then turning it back off.
- On top of my dryer in the laundry room while the dryer is running.
Top the focaccia with anything your heart desires: sea salt; rosemary; garlic; tomatoes, thyme. You can make a pizza. Literally anything you want, throw it on there.
I am partial to rosemary and sea salt, but for the Superbowl, I made a massive sheet pan of focaccia three ways: cheese; pepperoni and rosemary.
- 6¼ cups bread flour (30 oz. or 850g)
- 2 ½ cups water (room temperature)
- 2¼ tsp. active dry yeast (from one ¼-oz. packet)
- Pinch of sugar
- ½ cup warm water (105ºF to 110ºF)
- 1 Tbsp. Morton kosher salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Flaky sea salt
- Fresh rosemary (chopped)
In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour and room temperature water and stir on the lowest setting until a loose dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure there are no dry bits of flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours.
- In a small measuring cup stir together dry yeast, pinch of sugar and ½ cup of warm water. Set aside until the yeast is frothy about 5-10 minutes. If the yeast doesn’t start bubbling in 10 minutes, your yeast is likely bad, so try again.
- Pour the yeast mixture into the flour mixture and stir on a low speed until all of the water is incorporated. Add in the salt and increase the mixer speed to medium. Stir for five minutes.
- Grease a large glass bowl with 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and scrape the dough into the oiled bowl. Cover and set in a warm place (75ºF to 80ºF) for 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.
- Coat the pans (rounds or half sheet pan) with olive oil, aiming for ⅛ to ¼ inch of oil.
- If you are using two 9-inch rounds, turn the dough out gently on a clean work surface and divide the dough in half. If you are using the half sheet pan turn the dough out directly on the pan.
- Gently stretch the dough to fit the size of the pan(s). If the dough starts to spring back, cover the pan quickly and let the dough relax for 5-10 minutes. Then continue stretching the dough to the appropropriate size. Cover with a piece of oiled plastic and refrigerate for 8-24 hours.
- Set the pans in a warm place until the dough rises to the tops of the pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour. While the dough is completing the second rise, preheat the oven to 450ºF.
- Drizzle olive oil on the top of the dough and then using greased hands, make indentions in the dough by pressing your finger all the way to the bottom of the dough. Creating a “dimpled” effect. Top with rosemary or other toppings.
- Bake for 25 to 35 minutes.