…AND ONE TO BAKE YOURSELF (Focaccia recipe)

11 Dec

The best artisan breads are usually demanding to make at home, but there is one exception. With focaccia, you can match and even beat the professionals. When I first triumphed with this classic Italian loaf, I thought it was down to an innate genius for bread-making. Later I read the “River Cottage Handbook: Bread” (Bloomsbury) by Daniel Stevens: “Focaccia is quite forgiving…it can be under-kneaded and over-proved and you will still end up with bread you can be proud of.”

Professional focaccia has to be of modest size for both transport and sale, but the homemade version can be of more ambitious dimensions. It can also contain more olive oil than is commercially feasible. Studded with sprigs of rosemary, black olives and rings of red onion, my mammoth focaccia looks a bit like Hubble’s deep-space images of stars and nebulae. Coincidentally, it also tastes out of this world.

I use the recipe in Katie Caldesi’s “The Italian Cookery Course” (Kyle Cathie), which comes up trumps every time. In a large bowl mix together 500g of strong or “00” white flour with two level teaspoons of salt. Mix well with 15g of fresh yeast (or 7.5g of dried) thoroughly dissolved in 300ml tepid water and 2.5 tablespoons of olive oil. When the flour and liquid has amalgamated into dough, knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes until it has acquired elasticity and bounce. Form it into a ball and tip into an oiled bowl, turn to ensure the dough is coated with oil, then cover with a cloth or clingfilm and leave in a warm place for an hour until it has doubled in size.

Transfer the dough to an oiled baking tray and spread with your palms into a large oval about 3cm deep. Poke with your fingers to make indentations (an enjoyable process). Drizzle with olive oil and embed thin slices of red onion, black olives and rosemary sprigs. Allow dough to rise again for 40 minutes before transferring to the oven, pre-heated to 220°C. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Eat in finger-width slices until you’re full, or the focaccia has vanished—whichever comes first.




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