Adventures in Baking: Focaccia
So in an effort to work on my food photography I’m doing this thing called Souvenir Foto School – Food+Foto. Each week for four weeks, we’re given different courses of a virtual dinner party to make and photograph. Recipes are provided but we can also use our own recipes or buy in our own food. I’m feeling particularly inspired as the menu given is an Italian one, so it gives me a chance to go back to my Italian roots.
This week the first course of the dinner party was ‘ flatbreads and infused oils’, which gave me a great excuse to bake my favourite focaccia recipe, which comes from Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy. As an aside I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s packed full of comparatively simple but very traditional Italian recipes, the sort of thing my Italian family cooks all the time – plus lots of little anecdotes and stories from Roden’s travels.
1kg (2lbs) plain or all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
25g/1oz dried yeast (1 sachet is perfect)
About 500 ml (2 1/4 cups) warm water
4 tbps good olive oil
Additional oil for oiling the baking sheet and brushing the bread
Coarse sel gris, rosemary, sage, thinly sliced red onions or cherry tomatoes for the toppings
Put the flour in a big bowl and make a well in the centre. Activate the yeast according to the packet instructions and add it to the flour (either hydrate it in some of water or just stir it into the flour). Add the salt and olive oil.
Then add enough warm water to make a workable but slightly sticky dough. I ended up adding a little more water this time round.
Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it is soft and elastic. You need to get to about medium gluten development on the window pane test, but I don’t normally get that technical.
When it’s ready, cover the dough with oil and leave it in a clean bowl in a warm place until it has at least doubled in bulk. You could leave it in the fridge overnight if necessary.
After the initial rise, punch the dough down and divide into two. Shape each portion into a rectangle and place on an oiled baking sheet (I find 13’ by 9’ pans perfect for this).
Use your fingers to press and push the dough out until it fits the pans. It should end up being about 1 inch thick and you should be able to see the indentations from your fingers in the dough. They are what catches the oil and flavourings, so push firmly.
Brush with oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and herbs, or add thinly sliced red onions, or halved cherry tomatoes. Let the dough rise again until it’s puffy all over and about two inches thick.
Whack your oven up to the highest setting and set a cast iron pan or similar in the bottom. Put the bread in the oven, and simultaneously add a cup or two of water to the hot pan in the bottom to create steam. Shut the oven door quickly and don’t open it for about 15 minutes. Your bread should be golden brown and ready after about 20 minutes. When ready, tip it from the pans, brush it again with oil and serve warm.
I also made a couple of simple infused oils.. I just added some springs of rosemary to one batch, and some small whole dried chilies, slivers of garlic and strips of lemon zest to the other.