Recipes and ingredients for making focaccia Italian Bread
The first cookery course I ever attended was an Italian Baking course at the School of Slow, in the The Handmade Bakery in Yorkshire. I loved it; the bread, the people, the conversations. I left with an armful of bread, feeling elated.
Since then I’ve carried on baking bread to the extent it is one of the foodie gifts I’m asked to take to parties.
I do not claim this is an authentic Italian recipe. I’m sure there are many Italians who would find this recipe wanting. It does, however, produce a deliciously scrumptious focaccia for which I’m repeatedly asked the recipe and it’s one of my food gifts at parties. The recipe is a basic white bread dough, with extra water and olive oil added to it, but the real difference is that I use a starter dough called a sponge, which I make the day before. This obviously makes the process longer, but it doesn’t require you to do anything other than leave it alone. You definitely can make a focaccia without the sponge but I think it adds a depth of flavour using one.
When kneading the dough, you will need a dough scraper. This dough is so wet that you have to use one.
400 grammes stong bread flour
225 grammes water
2 grammes yeast
8 grammes salt
600 grammes strong bread flour
8 grammes easy action yeast
12 grammes salt
400 grammes water
10 millilitres olive oil
Fresh Rosemary to garnish
Sea salt to garnish
To make the sponge, simply place the dry ingredients in a bowl, followed by the water and mix them together. Set aside at room temperature for about 20 hours.
To make the dough
Preheat your oven to 200 C. Prepare your tin. This is a very wet dough and will spread if it is not confined in some way. If you choose to use a baking sheet that is not a problem. It just means your bread will be wide and flat and will take less time to cook. I prefer my bread to have some depth. I’m sure this totally lacks authenticity but that doesn’t worry me. I use a medium roasting tin. To prepare the tin use oil and a little polenta if you have it. If not dust the tin after oiling with a small amount of flour.
Add the dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Then add the water. People say this should be tepid, I just use tap water unless it is very cold outside, when I will use tepid water. I have found if it is very cold outside it is easy for the yeast to go into hibernation, so I do everything to encourage it to stay awake!
After you have added the water mix the ingredients together. At this stage you will think that you have made a mistake. You haven’t, it is supposed to be very wet. Now I leave it for 30 minutes. I used to work away at it when it was really sticky until it made a coherent dough. I’ve found, however, that it is easier to work if you leave it for 30 minutes.
When the 30 minutes are finished you should be able to see the yeast has started to work its magic and the mixture is starting to become a dough with a structure. Now you can take the mixture out of the bowl and knead it for 5 minutes, then incorporate the previously made sponge into the dough, a little at a time. Knead for a further 10 minutes. Then add the olive oil and knead it further for another 5 minutes.
Your dough should now be smooth. You can test if it’s ready by taking a small piece and stretching it. If it continues to stretch without tearing, until you can see through it, it is ready. This is called the window pane test. If not continue kneading. If it is ready, the dough is ready for its first prove. Cover the dough and set it aside at room temperature, until it has doubled in size. This may take an hour or longer on a colder day. To cover the dough I use a plastic carrier bag. I find a tea towel always falls in and oiled cling-film just sticks to the dough. The dough must be covered though, otherwise it develops a skin which prevents it from rising.
When the dough has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and lightly press it back. Shape it into a portrait shape. Then take the top third of the dough and bring it down to cover the middle third. Now take the bottom third and bring it over the top third. Place the dough in its prepared baking tin. Leave it for its second prove. This will probably take 45 minutes but could take longer. It will be ready when it has redoubled in size.
Just before you put the dough in the oven, quickly make finger presses with a clawed hand all over the dough. Garnish with rosemary and sea salt. Place in an oven at 200 C for about 45 minutes. It is cooked when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom. This recipe will make 1 large loaf or 2 smaller ones