Finally! It’s taken some time to build up the desire to set about making this, since there’s surprisingly more steps and factors with making it than I actually expected, but I’m finally getting to go for what is ultimately my absolute favorite bread: Focaccia. No matter what I can think of, how it’s baked, what it’s flavored or stuffed with, when it comes to eating hot and crispy, as-is, there is no bread that beats that rich and crunchy flavor/texture, fatty personality, and especially that extra addition of garlic/herb personality that is this classic Italian creation.
The book offer two methods to produce this so as to get the ‘perfect honeycombed texture,’ one being to rely on an overnight Poolish dough to use as a starter, while the other starts from scratch but leaves the bulk fermentation to occur in the fridge, stretching it out over a looooong period of time overnight, thus developing more of those flavors and ideal textures we want in our final bread. I’ll be doing the latter, since it seems more rustic and natural to the region… and I feel if I WERE to use a starter for an Italian bread, it should be biga, not poolish… but that’s probably a stupid reason.
Of course it’s not focaccia without oil and toppings! You always want to start off with an herb/garlic/spiced oil which is used to cover and push into the dough during the shaping/fermenting/proofing stages; this mass of Italian fat gets sucked straight in to give that almost buttery flavor and texture we so crave. After that though, one can basically put about anything on it they want; it basically is the Ligurian cousin to the Neapolitan Pizza. But there are rules! As things go, there are three designated times in which one can put toppings on top of their dough, mainly depending on what kind of ingredients they are. Those toppings are as follows:
Pre-Proof toppings: done right after the night of fermentation and a bit of extra oil adding/shaping, these include sturdy items that can stay out for hours as needed, like Nuts, Fresh/Dry Herbs, Sun-Dried Tomatoes [or other dried things], sautéed Mushrooms/Peppers, Roasted Garlic, etc.
Pre-Bake Toppings: as the name suggests, right before popping in the oven. These are mainly your really Moist Cheeses [goat, blue, fea, mozzarella, etc], Fresh Tomatoes/Veggies, Coarse Salt/Sugar and other Spices, etc.
During-Bake Toppings: halfway through cooking, you can add harder, melt-focused cheeses like Cheddar, Parmesan, Swiss, etc so they don’t burn from a longer, high temperature bake; and also any potential sauce one might want [I assume adding earlier would have it soak in more, which wouldn’t mainly be the goal for most].
I myself went with an Herb Oil that infused garlic and a lotta dried basil I had left over from my herb pots, some really good oil-packed Italian Green Olives I got from work, some Pine Nuts we had in the pantry, and Lemon Sea Salt that I got as a gift from the sister and want to put to more use! Should turn out quite num!
2 cups/16oz Water, room temp
2tsp/0.22oz Dry Yeast
5 cups/22.5oz Bread Flour
6Tb/3oz Olive Oil + ¼ cup
¼ – ½ cup, or more, Herb Oil
- Mix Water and Yeast, leaving to bloom at least 5 minutes
- Mix Flour, Salt, and 6 Tb Oil in stand mixer, adding in yeast and water mixer before turning on low until it all comes together in a big, sticky ball
- Switch to dough hook and knead 5-7 minutes, give or take, until it’s smooth; it will still be sticky, and should clear the sides of the bowl but still stick to the bottom, may still need to add extra flour
- Sprinkle clean counter with a 6×6” square of flour and transfer the dough on top, using a scraper/spatula dipped in water. Generously dust top with more flour and press into a rectangle. Let rest 5 minutes
- Pick up by the ends, letting the dough naturally stretch until about doubled in size. Lay back down, fold each end over ‘letter style,’ spray with oil and give another generous flour dusting, let rest for 30 minutes, covering loosely with plastic wrap or a towel
- Repeat twice, letting it rest another 30 minutes after the second time and a full hour after the first; the dough should swell and almost double in size after each, and especially the last, time
- Line sheet pan with parchment paper, pour remaining ¼ cup olive oil on bottom, spreading it around evenly before placing dough on top.
- Pour over half the amount of Herb Oil you’re using [don’t be afraid to go up to if not over ½ cup in total, it will absorb it all easily], and press into focaccia with just the tips of the fingers, using the motion and pressure to spread it as far to the edge as you can, ‘dimpling’ the surface
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap and move to refrigerator overnight
- Remove, pour remaining herb oil over top and dimple it in, which should fill the pan completely with bread now. Sprinkle with any desired ‘Pre-Proof Toppings,’ making sure to lightly press in any that need it, and leave to proof, covered with plastic, until doubled in size/1 inch thick, up to 3 hours
- Preheat oven to 500F
- Place any ‘Pre-Bake Toppings’ on your bread and slide pan into the oven, immediately turning down to 450F and leaving for 10 minutes
- Spin pan 180 degrees, quick sprinkle on any last-minute ‘During-Bake Toppings,’ and leave an additional 5-10 minutes, or until evenly golden brown
- Remove and slide onto a cooling rack, leaving at least 20 minutes to cool before slicing… I personally can’t claim I was able to wait before cutting off a small corner
- Chop Garlic and Herbs, toss in sauce pot along with Oil and Seasonings
- Heat to 100F, take off heat and let slowly cool. Reserve for use
What Have I Learned This Time?
I don’t care what the book says, Pine Nuts are a big no-no with this kind of focaccia recipe; unless you’re making a small-ish loaf that only takes up to 10 minutes to back, those bastards gonna burn.
Once again, I seriously need to double-check and plan some details out more; not only did I put it in the oven after only 2 hours of proofing instead of 3, which I don’t think actually affected it but is still something I shouldn’t have done, and I didn’t notice that it said 5-10 minutes after baking after turning, thought it was just a full 10; thus the noticeably darker-than-desired top areas. Actually, I just looked over the recipe a third time, and realized I missed the bit where I was supposed to turn the oven down to 450F after starting. God I feel stupid. And why on focaccia!? I love it so much… I don’t want to make it suffer, I swear!
Dimpling technique and what it’s used for; the actual effect of letting the non-compressed parts rise and poof and brown while any of the excess air is pushed out. It’s an interesting effect to see, considering no other bread I’m aware of actually applies this technique; if anything I’d say it’s heavily visual but does make a distinctive eating texture for the final product, not sure if I’d like it so much if it was an even, risen landscape.
It really can soak up a lot of oil, and I think I’m definitely going ¾-1 whole cup of the herb oil next time, just to see how it’d end up! I did at first think there wasn’t enough, when it was hot, but interestingly the rich fattiness of the oil came out more when cooled, another learned item; but I still wanna see how far it can go!
Speaking of which, it tends to soak through the paper bag I keep my bread in for storage; after a few days it sorta looks like a philly cheesesteak to-go bag.
I’m rather sad that I didn’t complete it ideally, it deserves more respect than that… especially since the dough was doing really well all the way to the proofing stage! God, almost nothing in bread-making feels worse than putting all the effort to making a dough that looks really good and almost perfect and then screw up the baking… though at least it wasn’t that big of a screw up. It still tasted awesome, the inside was soft, flavorful, oily in all the right ways… mmmmm. Didn’t go in the toaster all that well, but I wanna find a good way to transform… maybe buttered, insides of course, and griddled, like grilled cheese? That’s an obvious.
Can’t wait to try different toppings too. I really wanna get some slices of tomato and chunks of goat cheese on before-bake, get that roasted tomato-cheese pizza feel… ooooh! Speaking of which, I so have to use this for pizza one day, press it into a pan or something, cuz it totally has that distinctive buttery, crunchy-soft-ish chew type sensation of the typical Dominoes/Pizza Hut crusts, and deep dishes.
Does the Dough Like Me Yet?
It’s recognized my nervousness with sticky doughs and has responded slightly in kind… plus I think it’s perturbed that I didn’t pay enough attention to it while baking.