While you bake I like to waccia.
I’m so glad I gaccia–
My dear focaccia…
OK, blame it on the upcoming long weekend: it's got me feeling footloose and fancy-free already. What better way to celebrate summer than with an ode to my favorite flatbread, focaccia? Or, make that doggerel, rather than ode. Whatever. I just had to sing this simple bread’s praises.
“Simple?” Yes, simple. As in both “basic” and “easy.” Even if you’re not a dyed-in-the-wool bread-baker, you can make a great focaccia. After all, there’s no tricky shaping involved; no nerve-wracking wait for an ultra-high rise in a loaf pan. This friendly flatbread is content to rise just about an inch before it goes into the oven. And even if it deflates somewhere along the way, the only downside is bread that’s more chewy than airy.
If you think focaccia looks suspiciously like pizza, you’re right. The only difference between focaccia and thick-crust pizza, in my book, is that focaccia doesn’t have to carry the ungainly load of tomato sauce and melted cheese and pepperoni and all that other stuff we heap on pizza. Instead, focaccia is almost bare-naked, save for a minimalist’s sprinkle of dried rosemary and cracked pepper, or maybe some Italian herbs. And a drizzle of olive oil. A heavy drizzle. More on that later.
My most recent focaccia discovery involves its place in the pantheon of breakfast breads. I mean, who knew this simple, crusty bread could enclose golden raisins, don a coat of crunchy sugar, and become morning toast? Not I… till I thought outside the savory box. And now I’m a convert. Don’t like raisins? Stuff it with dried cranberries, or whatever dried fruit you DO like.
And then there’s cheese-stuffed focaccia. Instead of raisins inside—melting cheese. Herbs on top. Be still, my heart! Are you beginning to see why focaccia makes me break into song?
If you find yourself with some lazy down time this long weekend, consider a foray into focaccia. I guarantee, you’ll be singing its praises as loudly as I do.
First, let's make an overnight starter. This particular starter will look like a very thick batter or a very wet dough.
Overnight, it'll rise nicely.
Mix it with the remaining dough ingredients.
Here's the dough as it's just coming together.
Seven minutes of kneading in a stand mixer turns it soft, silky, and sinuous; not overwhelmingly sticky, but nice and elastic.
Put it in a covered container to rise for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, deflate it, and let it rise again. Look how vigorous this second rise is! The dough has just about tripled in bulk from its original volume. That's because the yeast has had that much longer to grow and reproduce.
Lightly grease a half-sheet pan (18” x 13”, the baker's best friend). Drizzle olive oil into the bottom of the pan. Greasing the pan will keep the bread from sticking; olive oil will give it a tasty bottom crust.
Let the dough rise, covered, for 2 to 3 hours, until it gets REALLY billowy. It's kind of problematic finding something to cover it with when it's in this large a pan. I've been able to use some really big plastic covers from supermarket deli trays. You can also used well-greased plastic wrap—and I mean WELL-greased. You don't want the wrap to stick to your risen dough.
Dimple the dough with your fingers. Press down firmly, but gently. You don't want to deflate the dough. It'll settle a little bit, but shouldn't look like a popped balloon.
Spritz with warm water, then drizzle with more oil. That's why you've dimpled the dough; so oil can collect in its pockets. Sprinkle with pizza seasoning, Italian herbs, rosemary and cracked black pepper, or your favorite dried herbs.
Bake till golden brown. Remove from the pan, and cool on a rack...
...then cut into squares to serve. Or just rip it apart, if you're with friends.
You can also make focaccia sticks. Once the loaf is cool—and especially if you've only eaten part of it, and the rest is getting a bit stale—cut it into 1/3” strips.
Place the strips on an ungreased baking sheet, and drizzle or spray with olive oil. Yes, I like olive oil. A lot. Can you tell?
Bake in a 325°F to 350°F oven till light golden brown and crisp. 10 minutes? 15 minutes? Somewhere in that range, probably. Pretty elegant, huh?
Next up: Sweet Breakfast Focaccia.
Flatten the risen focaccia dough. Pile about 1 2/3 cups of raisins on top.
Enfold the raisins as though you were making an envelope. Tuck them in so none are showing.
Put the raisin-stuffed dough on a lightly greased half-sheet pan (no olive oil—fooled you!).
Press to the edges of the pan as well as you can, without exposing too many of the raisins. Some will pop through; don't stress about it. Let the dough rise, covered.
Once it's risen, dimple it, spritz it with warm water, and sprinkle with coarse sparkling sugar or Demerara sugar.
Bake till golden brown; the sugar will partially melt, forming a crackly/crunchy topping.
Cut in squares to serve. Toast briefly, for best flavor. I say briefly, because if you let it stay in the toaster too long the sugar melts and makes a mess. But then again, that's what toaster bags are for.
OK, we're not done yet: how about cheese-stuffed focaccia? Just knead 1 cup of crumbled feta cheese (or your favorite cheese) into the dough after it's been through its initial rises, then pat it into the pan.
Sprinkle a bit more feta on top. Bake, and enjoy hot, melty-cheesy focaccia. Oo-la-la!
If you like, cut it in strips for dipping in olive oil (there it is again!).
And there you have it: focaccia five ways. Plain, sticks, breakfast, cheese-stuffed, and dipping strips.
Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Golden Focaccia.