Apologies for my absence of late – the end of last year passed in a haze of ale, roast dinners, and fine wine and thus blogging sadly took a back seat. Sorry about that Mr Blog.
But I’m here now and I’ve got a super-awesome recipe for any bread-lovers out there who fancy a bit of a challenge…
Are you ready?
Of course you are.
Focaccia is, when done properly, a true wonder of a bread and something that can make a real impact when presented, warm and fragrant, on any table. A soft, irregular crumb with a glossy olive oil top, speckled with flecks of rosemary and flaky salt, a bread that is deeply savoury and wonderfully more-ish. And not actually that difficult to make provided you are prepared to deal with a VERY sticky dough and give it the time it needs to rise and prove and develop. In many of the recipes I looked at when first attempting this bread, I noticed that most call for a slightly wetter (say 65% hydration – so 650ml per 1kg flour) dough than a normal loaf and go for a straightforward first prove of about 1 hour then shaping and proving again before baking. I’m sure this produces a perfectly fine bread but I was curious to know whether there a longer prove might improve both the texture and flavour (as is usually the case) so I contacted an excellent baker/Twitter chum to get his opinion. Aidan Chapman is a true master baker and has provided me with hints, tips, and advice for some years now and ALL of his advice has proved both invaluable and also delicious. He suggested not only an overnight prove in a cool place (I used a shed in the end as the box was too big for the fridge) but also a very wet (80% hydration) dough. He also said to fold the dough four times over four hours before leaving to prove – a technique that helps trap in more air and also give the gluten an extra stretch which results in a soft and wonderful textured loaf (I do it with sourdough and it makes a HUGE difference).
So all of this I did and the results were, well, pretty spectacular. I’m not going to lie, the super wet dough was a tad tricky to handle and if you want to make this recipe I would highly advise using a food mixer with dough hook rather than attempting to knead by hand. Unless you like sticking to everything in the kitchen and universe as you work in which case go for it. The dough remains pretty sticky even after the first prove so be careful when you cover it again for the last rise – use plastic bags with plenty of volume and oil the insides if you can. And of course, if you are too intimidated by the 80% hydration, by all means reduce it but you will be missing out. I promise.
Makes 2 loaves
- 1kg strong white bread flour
- 10g fast action yeast
- 20g fine sea salt
- 800ml water
- 100ml olive oil
- Finely chopped rosemary
- Flaky salt
- Olive oil for drizzling
- Place the flour, salt, yeast, and water in the bowl of a food-mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix on a slow speed to combine.
- When the mixture has come together, add the 100ml olive oil and set to knead on a slow speed for about ten minutes until it is smooth and silky.
- Scrape the dough into a well-oiled plastic container or bowl and cover with cling-film, leaving to rise for an hour.
- After an hour, use a dough scraper to fold the dough over itself, trapping in the air and stretching out the gluten – this will give you the uneven, light crumb you want. Repeat this 3 times – each time you will notice the dough becoming lighter with a myriad of strands and stretches.
- Leave to prove overnight in the fridge or in a very cool place.
- The next day, let the dough return to room temperature and oil two baking trays – about 26x36cm. Make sure your trays are well oiled as the dough will still be very sticky.
- Divide the dough into two and, with oiled hands, roughly shape into rectangles then stretch and squash it into the baking trays, trying to really push it into the corners. Pre-heat your oven to Gas Mark 10/250c.
- Cover and leave to rise for another half hour or so. When the bread looks puffed up and ready to go, dot the surface with your fingers to create indentations to catch and hold the oil you’ll be drizzling over them. Mmm, drizzle.
- Drizzle the oil generously but don’t drown your bread, scatter over the chopped rosemary and flaky salt, then bake for 10mins.
- Turn the oven down to Gas Mark 6/200c and cook for another 10mins or until lightly golden.
- Remove from the oven and cool slightly (about 10mins) on wire racks – focaccia is at its best when served warm.
- Scoff and rejoice!