Over the last fifteen to twenty years, we North Americans have become a lot more bread savvy. I think this stems partially from the notion that if one is going to eat bread, it has to be really good bread. We are lucky to have a number of great artisanal bakeries here in Ottawa, but I still love baking my own bread at home – it’s an intensely satisfying thing plus it makes our home smell absolutely delicious! Focaccia is a favourite for me – I first tasted it at cooking school in Tuscany many years ago and instantly fell in love. This soft, moist bread typically consists of lightly seasoned dough topped with olive oil and salt (and sometimes grated Parmigiano) although it also appears in a pizza-like form topped with vegetables and meat. A characteristic of focaccia is its dimpled surface – created by making little indentations with the fingertips; this creates little wells to hold the olive oil that gets brushed on top before baking. I love to serve focaccia with Italian-themed meals, especially with a pasta course, along with dippers of balsamic and olive oil. I usually make two loaves at a time so we have leftovers for panini the next day.
- 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (210 mL) warm water
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) dry yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) sugar
- 2 cups (9 ounces / 130 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) dried oregano or fresh rosemary, chopped fine
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) drained, chopped kalamata olives (optional)
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) freshly grated parmesan (optional)
- coarse salt to taste
- olive oil and balsamic for dipping
- In mixing bowl (use a stand mixer if you have one), stir together water, yeast, sugar and let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes). If the yeast does not foam, discard and start again with fresh yeast. Note that yeast does go stale so it is best stored in the refrigerator.
- Add flour, oregano or rosemary, olives (if using), 1 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until dough comes together in a ball, adding a little extra water, 1 teaspoon at a time, if needed to make a smooth dough.
- Remove dough and knead briefly on floured surface, then put in oiled bowl to rise in a warm place till doubled (about 45 minutes).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Remove dough from bowl then spread to an oval or rectangle about ¾ inch thick on the lined baking sheet.
- Cover with a clean towel and let rise again for 30 minutes.
- As dough nears the end of its second rise, preheat oven to 400F.
- With fingertips, make 1/4” deep indentations all over surface of dough, about 1” apart. Brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan (if using) and coarse salt.
- Bake 15 minutes at 400F or until golden.
- Serve slices of focaccia warm or cold with olive oil and balsamic for dipping.
Makes 1 flat loaf to serve 6 – 8 portions.