It’s bitterly-cold here in New York’s Hudson Valley. It’s dang cold in my kitchen, too. To warm my soul, this morning I fired up the oven and baked a great big loaf of focaccia. Who wants to taste this fabulicious flatbread?
As a rule, focaccia is very easy to make. But depending on the recipe you follow, the bread can turn out tough and dry, or thick and heavy. My recipe produces the same focaccia I enjoyed while visiting Italy. It’s delightfully chewy, olive-oily, and salty. In other words, it’s everything focaccia ought to be!
No standing mixer for you? You can mix and knead the dough entirely by hand, just as all bread-makers did prior to 1940.
(Pssst…I just checked, and KitchenAid mixers are about $20 cheaper this month over at Amazon.)
No pictures of these next 2 steps: Knead the dough at “medium” speed for 3 minutes. Then turn the machine off, and let the dough rest for 2 minutes.
And why do I need a heating pad? Because I live in a very old, very drafty house.
That was not a typo. As I mentioned earlier, plentiful olive oil will result in a better focaccia.
Ha ha ha! The dough will mock your stretching-attempts. It will bounce back every time you pat it out.
This next step will put an end to the dough’s elastic ways:
Brutally — and I do mean brutally — pierce the dough all over with your finger tips. Piercing the dough, not merely marking it with your knuckles, as some recipes recommend, will result in the craggy top for which focaccia is famous. The top should resemble the face of a man who does not follow my grooming advice.
Now is the time to preheat the oven to 425°F.
Before baking, drizzle the top with a little olive oil (yes!) and sprinkle with sea salt. If you hate salt, you can sprinkle the top with minced garlic. Or freshly-chopped rosemary. Or dried Italian seasoning.
You are the boss of your own focaccia topping.
Here’s the only hard part of the recipe: You must not touch the loaf until it has cooled completely. Otherwise, steam will escape, and your focaccia will dry out. Patience is a virtue, baby.
Here’s a printer-friendly version of the above:
A Better Focaccia
Kevin Lee Jacobs (www.kevinleejacobs.com)
Ingredients for 1 12×15-inch loaf
1 3/4 cup warm (110°F) water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup excellent extra virgin olive oil, divided
Toppings: a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of either coarse sea salt, freshly-chopped rosemary, minced garlic, or dried Italian seasoning
Special Equipment: a standing mixer (or, you can knead the dough by hand); a large bowl, lightly greased with olive oil; a rimmed, 12×15-inch baking sheet
In a small bowl or a 2-cup glass measure, whisk together the water, yeast, and sugar. Let stand until foamy — about 5 minutes.
Tip the flour into the workbowl of a standing mixer. Add the kosher salt, 1/2 cup olive oil, and the yeast mixture. Blend at “low” speed until the flour is fully incorporated into the liquid ingredients. Then turn the mixer to “medium” speed, and knead for 3 minutes. Turn the machine off, and let the dough rest for 2 minutes. Then continue kneading at “medium” until the dough is smooth, elastic, and not sticky — about 2 minutes.
Scrape the dough into the greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in volume.
Pour the remaining 1/2 cup oil onto the baking sheet. Punch down the dough, scoop it onto the baking sheet, and pat it into a rough rectangle. Then flip the dough, and stretch it, as much as you are able, to the edges of the sheet. Using your fingertips, roughly pierce the dough all over. Be brutal here — the piercings will result in the famous “craggy” focaccia top. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position, and preheat the oven to 425°F.
Before baking, top the dough with a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkling of either sea salt, freshly-chopped rosemary, minced garlic, or dried Italian seasoning.
Bake until golden — 25-30 minutes. To insure the best texture and taste, let the loaf cool completely before slicing.
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