by Joan Saunders | photos by Kathryn Alvarez Photography –
October means a bit of a shift in cooking; as the weather starts to change we look to heartier stews and soups to warm us up as it cools down. To go with these types of meals, I highly recommend homemade focaccia. It not only looks glorious: it also tastes amazing. No matter who is enjoying this bread, whether it’s part of a dinner party with friends or for a family night in, I promise that it will disappear very quickly as the toppings add fabulous flavours and make it so appealing to the eye as well as to the palate.
What I’ve learned about making focaccia (and with cooking in general) is that it’s essential to use good olive oil. With this bread, olive oil does two things: it lends a wonderful flavour that is deep, rich and often sort of fruity, and it helps to create a tender crumb and crisp crust. Focaccia is a great recipe for beginner bread makers, as it doesn’t require any special equipment as long as you’re up for a little bit of a workout as you have to knead the dough thoroughly if you don’t use a bread hook and mixer.
The dough is stretched out to fit a standard 9×13 pan, so you don’t have to worry about shaping it. What you do have to commit to, however, is the time it takes to prove the dough. Other than that, it’s an easy and impressive way to delve into the wonderful world of bread making. It’s also so versatile because you can add or omit any toppings that strike your fancy. Not interested in onion? No worries: just throw on more tomatoes or olives. Classic focaccia recipes often just call for oil, salt and rosemary, but feel free to jazz it up with what most appeals to you.
As you get more confident with making focaccia, play around with the toppings. Add thinly-sliced apples along with some blue cheese. Caramelized onions and chunks of cooked bacon are fantastic, as are chopped grapes with goat cheese. Or try grated mozzarella along with sundried tomatoes and bits of Genoa salami. Yes, indeed.
But whatever you add in terms of toppings, you’ll create a golden, crusty, salty bread with a light, chewy texture. With its wonderful sponginess, it will squish in the very best way possible and, I’m sure, become one of your go-to recipes.
4 cups flour
¾ tsp salt
3 ¾ tsp instant yeast
2 tbsp olive oil (plus lots more for pan, bowls)
1 ½ cups of water
Toppings (omit the ones you don’t like, or substitute others)
⅓ cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half or thirds
¼ of a red onion, cut into very slim wedges
6-8 cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in small chunks
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary
⅔ cup (approximately)
flaky sea salt
Put all of the dough ingredients into a large bowl; stir together to combine. I use a mixer with a dough hook to knead for 2-3 minutes on slow and 6-7 minutes on medium speed. If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, stir and mix well for a few minutes, then turn dough out onto lightly-oiled surface and knead for 10 minutes, or until it’s soft and elastic.
Put dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let rise for about two hours at room temperature. The dough should at least double in size.
Generously oil base of a 9×13 inch baking pan. Tip dough into well-oiled pan; stretch it out to fit pan. Drizzle with lots of olive oil; make indentations in dough with your fingers. Go deep here with the indentations, as the bread is still going to rise again.
Put bread pan into a roomy freezer bag or cover lightly with plastic wrap; proof again for 1½ hours at room temperature.
Heat oven to 450°. Remove pan from bag/plastic wrap. Now add the toppings. Press the cut olives, sliced onion and chopped tomatoes into the indentations made in the dough. Drizzle dough with more olive oil, sprinkle with dried rosemary and oregano, then with a good amount of sea salt.
Bake focaccia for 20-24 minutes or until golden brown. Once you’ve taken the focaccia from the oven, drizzle on a bit more olive oil. Cool slightly on rack, remove from pan and cool. Cut into chunks and serve!
Bake by Paul Hollywood, Bloomsbury Publishing