Thursday 22 August 2013

Olive & Rosemary Focaccia

Ladies & gentlemen, we are back with a classic and delicious Italian bread. I present to you, Focaccia. It is a flat, yeasty bread that is similar to pizza dough. There are endless ways that you can personalize it (herbs, spices, olives, onions, sundried tomatoes, meat, vegetables, etc...) or you could even leave it plain and make the most sensational Mediterranean sandwiches. You could dress a focaccia like a pizza with the sauce, cheese and/or toppings of your choice. I admit, fresh bread making is not something I do very often but it is always a treat when I do. There is something about the smell of fresh baked bread that is so inviting.

There hasn't been a lot of bread making yet on the blog, but be sure to check out my fail-proof pizza dough recipe if it tickles your fancy. I have made focaccia before with all purpose flour and it does work. In this application I used a mixture of durum semolina and unbleached bread flour (bread flour has a slightly higher protein content, therefore more gluten and a soft, chewy texture). So if you only have all-purpose flour, just use the same quantity of that. It won't hurt. If you can get durum semolina and bread flour then I recommend you take advantage of it for a stellar focaccia.  

Focaccia requires more oil than one might think for making bread. Good quality extra virgin olive oil has at least five applications throughout the whole process. Don't fret, olive oil is quite good for you and it is integral to a focaccia's flavour. 


2 1/2 cups cups bread flour (plus extra for kneading)
1/4 cup durum semolina flour
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 oz)
1 cup warm (not hot) water
1 tsp of sea salt
2 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups of kalamata olives, pitted and ripped into rustic pieces
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus some extra throughout) 

In a large bowl, add the warm water and yeast. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. You want it to be very warm but comfortable to the touch. Whisk together.

Add the olive oil, sea salt, half of the rosemary and durum semolina. Whisk together then switch to a spoon or rubber spatula.. Add the bread flour in thirds, mixing to combine between each addition. Eventually it will become too annoying to stir. At that point, pour the contents of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for about seven minutes. Throughout the kneading process, add more flour if it gets too sticky and add more olive oil if it gets too dry. I recommend kneading 2 or 3 tsps of olive oil (1 at a time) while kneading anyway. You know you are done when the rosemary is distributed evenly throughout and the dough is soft and elastic. 

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl (not metal). Cover with a plate or towel and keep in a warm, dry place until it doubles in size (an hour to an hour and a half). How long the dough will take to rise depends entirely on where you live and what time of year it is. If it's warmer, dough tends to rise quicker. You also want to make sure it is left somewhere free of drafts. In a microwave or oven (not turned on, of course) would be perfect. 

When it's ready, it should look something like this:

Lightly oil a baking tray and empty the bowl onto it. Press the dough down with your fingers until it is spread out to about half an inch thick. Don't worry about making a perfect shape. Focaccia is a rustic bread. The imperfections are what make it beautiful. 

Seal the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes. The dough will probably rise a little more over that time. That's fine. The main intent is to let the dough relax. 

Alright, here's the fun part! Apply some more olive oil to the dough. Using your fingers, make deep indentations all over the dough. The dough will spring back right away so make sure the tips of your fingers penetrate the dough and touch the pan beneath. The holes will cover back up immediately. 

Take your kalamata olives and press down on each one with your thumb until you force out the pit. When the pit is removed, the olive will easily tear into 2-3 pieces. Discard the pits and fill the craters of the focaccia dough with the olive pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm, draft-free place to rise again for 45 minutes to an hour. The dough will expand and hold those olive pieces snugly in place. 

After your dough has proofed (or "risen") for the second time, brush on a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, the remaining rosemary and a generous sprinkling of coarse sea salt. Then place in the middle of a preheated 475 F/246 C for 12-15 minutes or until it is just as golden brown as this:

While the bread is still warm, lightly brush all over with even more extra virgin olive oil. You won't need more than a tbsp or two in each application, but there are a few applications. I warned you! Anyway, this is the last one. When the bread is just cool enough to handle, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

The smell alone is enough to drive you wild. Personalize this recipe any way you want. It is best served a little warm or room temperature. It makes great sandwiches or a side for soup or salad. The only downside is that focaccia is best eaten the day it's made. After a day it rapidly loses its freshness. This is just a price you'll have to pay as a foodie. A few other hungry mouths to help you finish it is the best solution to avoid waste. Focaccia is definitrly a crowd pleaser. This is one you definitely want to try.

Man, that felt good. It was nice to share a recipe again! I'll try to update as often as I can for now. Until next time... 


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