Focaccia – my favourite bread

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This yummy bread has become my firm favourite for dunking in soups, a quick option alongside casseroles and great to mopping up gravy. This version is a classic rosemary and garlic version, but experiment with other flavours.

Ingredients

300g strong white bread flour
50g ’00’ flour (sometimes called ciabatta flour)*
9g fine ground seasalt
200ml lukewarm water
15g fresh yeast*
15ml rapeseed oil#
5ml/teaspoon of clear honey

For the Dressing

30ml rapeseed oil#
3 sprigs of rosemary
1 clove of garlic

 

* If you can’t get ’00’ flour just up the ordinary bread flour. I was taught to make bread with fresh yeast by a professional baker – never looked back since. Dried yeast packets maybe ok for a bread machine but you can’t beat fresh yeast for the pleasure of kneading bread by hand.

#Olive oil would give a more authentic Italian taste, but I prefer to stick with rapeseed which is my oil of choice for virtually everything.

  1. Sieve the flours and salt into a large bowl and stir.
  2. Dissolve the yeast into the lukewarm water.
  3. Form a well in in the centre of the flour, stir in a third of the yeast, add the oil, stir again. Add a little more yeast, stir, add the honey stir, add the last of the yeast. This layering of the wet ingredients helps for a even distribution through the dough.
  4. Fold the dough into itself in the bowl as it starts to form a sticky ball and absorbs all the dry flour.
  5. Once you have a simple and very sticky ball turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface. I use flour sparingly for this (barely one heaped dessertspoon of flour on the surface for the entire breadmaking) The recipe is for 350g of flour – if you use another 30-40g on the surface that will be worked in and your finished loaf will be too dry.
  6.  I form the dough into a loose sausage perhaps 8cm diameter and 20cm long -very roughly, fold the right end to the left. Turn the sausage 90 degrees and form a new sausage 8x20cm. Fold it again. Repeat three or four times. you can be quite rough with the dough at this stage. As you do this you will see the dough getting stretched. this is the strings of gluten forming – these are essential later on to trap the gas from the yeast for the perfect bread texture.
  7. By this time the oil and honey should be less noticeable in the dough.
  8. The dough sausage will be sticking to the surface a lot and leaving bits behind. Fear not, with the dough sausage to one side you can use a palette knife or dough scraper to lift the sticky portion off the surface. All of these bits can just be absorbed back into the dough, just roll your dough over the bits.*
  9. Now comes the proper kneading. Lightly flour the surface and light flour your hands. The aim is produce a smooth even dough – that coarse stringy  appearance will disappear into something much more even and finer textured.*
  10. Trying to write down the process of kneading is really hard, fortunately here is a handy video (not me!) to demonstrate.
  11. After 10-12 minutes kneading form the dough into a ball. Lightly grease a large clean bowl and place the dough in the middle. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film (saran wrap for my American readers). Place in a warm place (not hot and out of direct sunlight) for 30-40 minutes until the dough has doubled in size. You may grease the inside of the cling film if you think the risen dough might touch it, generally with this amount of dough I do not have that problem  – if the film is air tight it will balloon up as the yeast in the dough releases CO2.
  12. Gently ease the risen dough out of the bowl onto your lightly floured surface and knock it back. This is a very light kneading, only 4-5 repetitions just to take most of the air out of the dough.  I aim to finish with a fat short sausage shape.
  13. Divide the dough into two equal portions and flatten to a disc – you are aiming for something like a 8″ pizza base. Flatten each disc into a 8″ flan dish, greased, alternatively I line mine with baking parchment.
  14. You now need to prove the loaf, this is a second rising but this time in a warm and steamy environment. In the absence of a specialist proIMG_0855ving oven my baker taught me to use a (scrupulously) clean sink, a shallow bowl of boiling water in the base, risers (coffee mugs in my case) to support a baking tray with the dough on, an upturned tea tray on more risers with clean tea towels around the edges forms the lid. It sounds very “Heath Robinson” but it works. I have seen descriptions of using a barely switched on oven but yet to try it myself, a combination oven should be able to do it with ease.
  15. Leave it to prove for 20-30 minutes, meanwhile turn on the oven to preheat at 220c (fan oven) and prepare the dressing.
  16. For the dressing, simply strip the leaves from three sprigs of rosemary, crush the garlic and mix both into the oil. I make this bread a lot and make up enough dressing for 8-12 loaves in one go and store in a jar in the fridge to let the flavours permeate through the oil.
  17. Take the loaves from the proving oven and create dimples in the surface. Either use your fingers or the  “wrong end” of a wooden spoon. I favour the spoon and stab down to the base. Once dimpled, spread the dressing over the top. The more and the deeper the dimples the more the dressing will soak into the bread for that perfect focaccia.
  18. Place the dressed loaves in the oven and bake for 16-18 minutes until golden brown.
  19. Turn out  onto wire trays to cool.
  20. Serve as a dipping bread with soups, salads and casseroles.

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