Focaccia: higher hydration, no knead

This is my take on a standard focaccia, going for a higher water content than many recipes, handling the dough differently and letting the dough sit in the fridge overnight for its first prove (bulk fermentation) to really develop its flavour.

A good focaccia is hard to beat: not too thick with a crisp exterior and a bouncy, moist interior, laden with air pockets of varying sizes. It is a far cry from your average commercial focaccia which is often a dry affair with a few flecks of dried, dusty herbs thrown on top as an after-thought!

With focaccia I like to keep the flavouring simple – with no more than a couple of extras – and the recipe below is for a no-frills focaccia. But a few goodies creeping in from time to time is always exciting!

Eating!

I love to eat focaccia just as it comes or perhaps dipped into extra-virgin olive oil and a good quality balsamic vinegar – the simplest of finger foods that tastes divine.

I also like it sliced in half and then made into sandwiches with a Fontina and Parma Ham filling before griddling, panini-style….

Tips for handling a very wet and sticky dough!

As the dough need to be wet in order to get the right hole structure of a good focaccia, it can be hard to handle compared to a standard bread dough. Here is my approach for achieving a perfect focaccia without stress:

EITHER

(I) Grab a large handful of the dough and lift it up before letting it drop back into the bowl. Repeat this for 5-10 minutes, fairly quickly, rotating the bowl from time to time: the dough will come together during this time, developing elasticity and becoming a little smoother – almost silky. Don’t worry if it doesn’t have the stretchyness of a typical bread dough: the focaccia dough will develop its gluten further during a long overnight prove in the fridge.

The best way to think of this is almost like whisking the dough with your hands!

OR

(II) For total ease, the work can all be done by the dough hook in the mixer, kneading for about 15 minutes on medium-high before its overnight prove but the by-hand method is so therapeutic and gives better results.

Recipe for a standard focaccia (makes 2 large focaccia)

This is my tweak on a standard recipe for focaccia that can be found almost anywhere, with my added comments. I have increased the water content a little, for better hole structure, and reduced the yeast, because of the very slow fermentation (1st rise).

For the dough:

  • 700g strong plain flour
  • 14g crushed sea salt
  • 5g easy-blend instant yeast
  • 600ml cold water
  • 90ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for kneading

To finish:

  • fresh rosemary, finely chopped, mixed with a little oil – optional
  • a few tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • a little crushed sea salt

(1) Make the dough: mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the yeast. Add the olive oil and most of the water. Bring together with your hands, adding more water – a little at a time – to get a VERY sticky dough.

(2) Now go in with oiled hands and grab a handful of dough at a time, lifting it right out of the bowl and dropping it back into the bowl. Repeat fairly rapidly for about 5-10 minutes: until the dough becomes smoother and more elastic: see “tips” above.

(3) Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave to rise until the dough has more than doubled in size: I go for a slow first rise overnight in the fridge at this stage which develops the flavour of the bread significantly. It also develops the gluten further.

(4) Carefully divide the risen dough into two or more, depending on the trays you are using and the thickness you are going for. Be careful not to knock out too much of the air. Using well-oiled hands, gently pat each piece into a greaseproof-lined baking tin and splash over some extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary (if using) and leave to rise for about an hour until puffy.

(5) Bake in a pre-heated oven at 220°C for about 10 minutes, turning the over down to 200°C after this time, before continuing to cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle over a little more olive oil.

Variations:

You can add anything to a focaccia, either kneading it into the dough itself before it proves, poking it into the just-risen dough or simply scattering on top just before baking. For example:

  • olives
  • roasted garlic
  • fresh rosemary
  • Parma ham
  • capers
  • small cubes of cheese
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • caramelised onions

My personal favourite is when the focaccia is generously flavoured with roasted garlic. I add several bulbs of it to the dough: the sweetness of the roasted garlic works very well with the saltiness of the bread and the richness of the olive oil. The most exciting bit for me are the jewels of squidgy garlic that punctuate every mouthful or so!

My particular recipe for this, which also incorporates chunks of Parmesan, is here.

The best roasted garlic:

Separate 3 large bulbs garlic into cloves and peel them. Add a good glug of extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of crushed sea salt and mix together. Place in an oven-proof container and roast for about 45 minutes at 150C(fan) until golden brown and squidgy. Leave to cool in the oil.

The oil will be wonderfully flavoured with garlic and I often use this to drizzle over the focaccia.

 

 

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