Focaccia is the yeast bread that is the sweetest way to enter the bread making world.
First of all, focaccia is fun. It is flavourful, and it isn’t fussy. It is fabulous to serve as a side to soups etc, or sliced in half for a panini sandwich. It isn’t a formal, elegant bread. Rather, it is the bread of the people. And I should have said this blog post is brought to you by the letter ‘F’!
Unlike most yeasted or sourdough breads, there is no kneading or shaping required for focaccia. You create the dough, leave it in an oiled bowl to proof on its own, and then place it onto an oiled baking sheet or pan for the second rise. The second rise doesn’t take long, and next thing you know, you are gently stretching the dough out to roughly fill the pan and then making dimples in it with your fingers. This is my favourite step! There is something so soothing and tranquil about having your fingers and hands lightly oiled and then pressing down into the pliant and fluffy dough.
That’s it. This is now the point where you can add some flavours to take it from bland to fantastic. Oooh, another ‘f’ word! And then pop it in the oven for 30 minutes or so, and next thing you know, you have a chewy, tasty bread with a fun crust.
While I usually make a sourdough version of focaccia, I realize that most of you guys out there reading this little blog post may not have access to any sourdough starter. So I am using a recipe for focaccia that only requires yeast. It was the base for my Potato, Rosemary and Blue Cheese Focaccia last year. And that one is a popular recipe on this blog, for good reason. It comes together easily, and is addictively delicious! So to avoid rocking the boat, and trying to fix something that doesn’t need fixing, let’s just stick with that recipe.
How to Make Classic Focaccia:
You will take yeast and water and combine it in the bowl of a stand mixer. Five and one half cups of bread flour are added, and the mixer is turned on to low. After a few minutes it will have come together, and then the speed is increased to medium and the dough is mixed until it looks like muffin batter. At this point you will turn off the mixer and let the dough sit for 10 minutes. This will allow the flour to absorb the water fully, or hydrate.
Next you will add some olive oil, salt and sugar to the dough. Then on low speed again you will incorporate this and then let the dough continue to come together. With varying speeds it will finally come together fully and begin to make a slapping noise against the walls of the bowl. The dough will also have a slight sheen.
Now is the time to make a window pane test. You do this by pulling off a small portion with floured fingers and stretching it out in all directions. You want to see a thin, nearly transparent film form that you can see light through if you were holding it up to a window. If you can do this without tearing it, then the glutens are well developed and the dough is ready for rising. Add the piece back into the dough and give it a few turns with the machine to work it back in. If it tears, then place it back in with the rest of the dough and continue machine kneading until it passes the test.
Now it is ready for a good rise. Place the dough into a well oiled bowl, fold the dough onto itself several times, and then cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rise to almost double in size, which should take about two hours. Then it will be transferred to an oiled baking sheet(s). Don’t skimp on the oil- this will help in giving the final bread a crispy and golden crust. Using oiled hands gently stretch it to fill the pan. But don’t force it. If the dough resists, simply let it rest for 10 minutes and then try again. Keep repeating this till the dough willingly stretches into the corners. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes.
When it is time to bake, heat the oven to 400F. Uncover the dough, and using just your finger tips, press into the dough to touch the bottom of the pan but not puncture the dough. Make dimples all over the bread. Brush with some more olive oil, and garnish as you want. At a minimum sprinkle a generous amount of kosher salt all over. Bake it on the centre rack till golden and crispy on the outside. This should take around 30 minutes. Let it cool slightly and then you can use an off-set spatula to help lift it out. Slice and serve. Best served warm, but I have been known to raid the bread container for cold leftovers as well.
This is where you can really have fun with your focaccia, and personalize it. For today’s recipe, I used thinly sliced lemon rounds, parmesan cheese, kosher salt, cracked pepper, and rosemary. Ideally if you can get Meyer lemons, they would be wonderful. They bake into an even sweeter version of themselves. But good organic lemons work wonderfully as well. The key is to slice them very thin. A good sharp knife will be your friend at this point. And once baked up, the rind cooks down and is quite edible. But don’t feel obligated to eat it. It can be removed easily be the eater him or herself. I was going for the flavour profile of one of my favourite pasta dishes. I love combining freshly grated parmesan, lemon juice and zest, cracked pepper and salt for a bright and simple sauce. The fresh rosemary helps to add an earthy element to the dish. And they all work great on this bread as well! Yay!
But why not try potato or zucchini slices, cherry tomatoes, garlic cloves, grapes, prosciutto, caramelized onions, shallots, or even pesto? Chopped thyme or pesto are great additions to the bread before it bakes up. Add fresh basil at the end though. Most sliced cheeses (fontina, gruyere, swiss, mozzarella etc) can be added over the oil and salt before baking. Once you start playing with this recipe, you will come up with all sorts of ideas, I promise!
Focaccia is a great snacking bread. It can be served in a bread basket for a casual luncheon or dinner. It can be used for grilled cheese sandwiches if you slice a section through horizontally. It works great to soak up egg yolk on a breakfast plate. Really, this is a great bread to add to your repertoire.
Lemon, Rosemary and Parmesan Focaccia
The recipe for classic focaccia is easy and fool proof. The toppings are bright and fresh, making this bread practically a meal unto itself! Chewy and airy, this will be your go-to focaccia from now on!
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 3/4 cups 630 g water
- 5 1/2 cups 700 g bread flour
- 4 tbsp 55 g extra virgin olive oil, plus more for coating the pan and shaping
- 1 tbsp kosher salt plus more for sprinkling on the spread-out dough in the pan
- 3/4 tsp sugar
- 1-2 organic lemons washed or Meyer lemons if available
- 1 tbsp 20 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt divided
- 1 tsp freshly cracked pepper
Stir together the yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the flour and mix on low speed until the ingredients are well combined. Mix on medium speed until the dough looks like thick muffin batter, about 2 minutes.
Turn the mixer off and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to allow the flour to fully hydrate (absorb all the water).
Add 2 tbsp (30 grams) of the olive oil, the salt and sugar and then mix on low speed until combined, about 1 minute.
Turn the speed up one notch and mix until the dough is quite thick and starting pull away slightly from the sides of the bowl, about 3 minutes. It will be very sticky at this point.
Increase the speed to high and let the dough mix until it comes together, making a slapping noise as it turns, the bowl is clean, and there is a slight sheen to the dough, about 6 minutes.
Stop the mixer and make a window pane test, by pulling off a small portion with floured fingers and stretching it out in all directions. You want to see a thin, nearly transparent film form that you can see light through if you were holding it up to a window.
If you can do this without tearing it, then the glutens are well developed and the dough is ready for rising. Add the piece back into the dough and give it a few turns with the machine to work it back in.
If it tears, then place it back in with the rest of the dough and continue machine kneading until it passes the test.
Coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil and transfer the dough to the bowl. Fold the dough over itself several times. and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or place it in a bag, and let it rise at room temperature until it is 1 1/2 times its original volume, about 2 hours.
Generously oil a 12x16 baking sheet. If you only have smaller sheets, then use two, and don't force it to the edges. You will want to make two at no larger than 7x9 or so.
Remove the dough from the bowl with oiled hands and press the dough into the pan with your fingers so that it evenly covers the pan. If the dough resists, simply let it rest for 10 minutes and then try again. Keep repeating this till the dough willingly stretches into the corners.
Loosely cover the focaccia dough with plastic wrap and let it rest 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400F (205C)
Uncover the dough. Use your fingers to firmly dimple the surface. Press down until you feel the hard surface of the pan, being careful not to tear the dough. Use a pastry brush to paint the focaccia with 2 tbsp of olive oil and then sprinkle it evenly with about 3/4 teaspoon of salt.
Use a very sharp knife to thinly slice the lemons. Remove any pits.
Scatter the parmesan cheese evenly over the olive oil brushed surface of the dough.
Spread out the lemons over the cheese, laying them close to each other.
Sprinkle the surface with one final 3/4 tsp of salt and the cracked pepper. Finish with the rosemary sprigs
Drizzle the remaining olive oil over everything.
Bake the focaccia on the centre rack until it is nicely browned and the underside is crisp, about 30 minutes. Remove the tray to a cooling rack.
Let the focaccia cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Use a good serrated knife to make clean cuts through the lemons and down into the puffed bread.
The lemon rinds if thin enough are totally edible. But if you choose not to, that's cool as well.
Store leftovers in an airtight bag at room temperature. Pieces can be reheated at 300F for 8 minutes or so to bring the crunch back!
Original Focaccia Recipe adapted from The Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook.