My friends will all be surprised to see this post, because I have made focaccia for two years now. It’s the bread I kept making when I didn’t make bread. It’s the bread that was not just expected but *demanded* for events. It’s the bread that people refer to as “a tradition” for our friends’ Bread and Soup party, even though this year was only the second year that I’ve brought it.
It’s that good.
But I never wrote it up back when I first made it. Which, from the dates on the pictures, was November of 2012. I’ve probably made it a dozen times now. But writing it up is standing in the way of moving forward, so let’s do this thing.
First, focaccia requires some planning. You make it the day before you bake it, so you have to have room in your fridge for a large pan of dough to rest overnight. Secondly, you need to make the topping oil the day before, so that it can soak up all the flavors overnight. So plan it for an evening you’re going to be around.
Second, the dough for focaccia is very soft, bordering on wet. This isn’t a dough you knead, it is a dough you fold onto itself. The ingredients get measured into a mixing bowl, then you spend about 5 minutes just slopping them around in the bowl. Honestly, this would be a good job for the stand mixer, but I’ve done it all be hand up until now, so I just wear out my arm scooping dough in a clockwise pattern for a minute, then counterclockwise for as long as I can take it, then clockwise again.
Once this is done, you can let it rest for a short time while you dust the heck out of your countertop with flour. The instructions say a surface about 6 inches across. I say, “AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!” This dough sticks like crazy, so be ready for that.
Then you pour it out onto the counter. At this point it has the consistency of oobleck. Maybe a little thicker. You pat it down a bit, then lift one side up, let it slump away from you, then fold it over the rest of the dough. It’s a lot like the ciabatta, but not quite as goopy:
You do this a few times, let the dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes, do it again, repeating 3 times. After this, stretch the dough out onto a jelly roll pan that you’ve placed parchment paper into. The dough will be very elastic and not the least bit interested in stretching to the corners of the pan. Give it some time, coax it along, but resign yourself to never actually reaching a square. Cover it with plastic wrap and slide it into the fridge.
Now it’s time to make the topping oil. I make it with rosemary, garlic, and coarse sea salt. A lot of garlic. Like, I chop an entire head of garlic. Strip fresh rosemary off the stems and chop both pretty fine. Pour about a cup of high-quality olive oil into a saucepan and add the finely chopped rosemary and garlic. Set this to simmering slowly–don’t burn the garlic; you want it to just get a little color. Then turn it down low.
Taste it now, and it will probably be a little bitter. Add the sea salt and taste again. It’s like magic! Let this all warm for the rest of the evening and fill your house with delicious aromas.
(If you don’t like rosemary and garlic? You can try other combinations of flavors. But you’re on your own; for me, this is perfection.)
About 3 hours before baking, the bread needs to come out of the fridge. You will look at it and think, “well, that didn’t amount to much” because it will not have risen much, if at all. Fear not; the night was not wasted because the yeast beasties were doing their slow thing. Be sure to pull the plastic wrap away and resettle it on the bread, because things are gonna start moving now.
This is the place where I really depart from the instructions in the BBA book. They say to put the oil on the bread at the beginning of this rise. The one time I did that, the bread was too high and didn’t taste like focaccia. So I say, wait until you’re just about ready to put it in the oven.
2 and a half hours after you’ve taken the bread out, turn your oven up to 500. Yes, really. Once it’s nice and hot, take your saucepan of flavored oil and start scooping it over the bread. You need to scoop because you want to distribute all the rosemary and garlic goodness all over the bread. You will appear to have way too much oil. Set it aside about halfway done.
Then comes the fun part. Pounce the fingertips of both hands all over the bread, pushing holes into it that the oil and goodies will enter. Do this over the whole bread. Don’t be alarmed that you are deflating it terribly. Pop the giant air bubbles that will appear. Then pour on the rest of the oil and do it some more. Slide that baby into the oven, lower the heat to 450, and keep the door closed for 10 minutes. Your bread will spring in the oven and suck up all that oil. After 10 minutes, rotate it and cook for 5-10 more. When you pull it out, let it sit for 5 minutes, then slide it off the pan and onto a wire rack so the bottom doesn’t get mushy. It will look like this:
At least it will for about 5 minutes. Minutes after you cut into it, it will look like this: