In which I make delightful focaccia and then completely forget about it.

Poor focaccia. It's like the middle child in a family of seven siblings that never gets any attention. I admit that I am responsible for focaccia's poor self-esteem: I decided to make focaccia at the same time I was making croissant dough for the first time, and I was obsessed with the croissant dough (because it's fun). Also, I made both the focaccia and the croissants the night before our son's eighth birthday party and right before I was laid off from my full-time job, so my attention was further divided, like that of parents who each work three jobs in order to support their seven children.

Poor focaccia.

But WAIT!

Focaccia doesn't need our pity! It's like the middle child in a family of seven siblings who grows up to be an astrophysicist and the only kid in the family who doesn't spend his days in dark, grungy pubs, drinking shots of whiskey and his sorrows. Focaccia is delicious! And gorgeous!

First, Paul Hollywood's focaccia recipe from How to Bake:

Ingredients

  • 140ml olive oil, plus extra for kneading and to finish

  • 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting

  • 360ml cool water

  • 10g salt

  • 10g instant yeast

  • Fine semolina for dusting (optional)

To finish:

  • Dried oregano

  • Flaky sea salt

Method

  1. Lightly oil a 2–3 litre square plastic container. (Make sure you use a square tub as it helps shape the dough.)

  2. Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the yeast to one side of the bowl and the salt to the other.

  3. Add three-quarters of the water and 40ml of olive oil, and turn the mixture round with your fingers. Continue to add water, a little at a time, until you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more. You want your dough to be very soft – wetter than a standard bread dough. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.

  4. Coat the work surface with some of the remaining olive oil, then tip the dough onto it and begin to knead. Knead for around 5–10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft, smooth skin. (It's best to avoid adding any more flour as it is supposed to have a wet, sticky consistency.)

  5. When your dough feels soft and elastic, put the dough into the oiled tub. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until at least doubled in size – about 1 hour.

  6. Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment and drizzle with olive oil.

  7. Put more olive oil on the work surface and dust with fine semolina if you have some. Carefully tip the dough onto the surface. Handle the dough very gently so you keep as much air in it as possible. Divide the dough in half. Stretch each piece out to a flat, even piece and place on a baking tray.

  8. Put each tray into a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for about 1 hour, until the dough is doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger.

  9. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 220˚C/425˚F/Gas Mark 7.

  10. Use your fingers to make deep dimples in the focaccia, pushing them all the way through the dough to the bottom. Drizzle each focaccia with olive oil and sprinkle with a little flaky sea salt and oregano, then bake for 15 minutes, or until cooked through.

  11. Tap the bottom of the focaccia and you should hear a hollow sound. Trickle with more olive oil, then cool on a wire rack.

Here is the focaccia dough rising (top) next to the croissant dough. I don't know why I take these pictures. They are not exciting.

Because I've made focaccia since this first time, I know now that this first batch didn't have enough water in it--the dough is supposed to spread to fill out the bottom of the container. This dough was super easy to work with, unlike sticky, wet dough, but wasn't correct. Like ciabatta, baked focaccia is supposed to have a fairly open, irregular structure (from what I understand), and at least a couple of things are required to end up with this structure: a slack, sticky dough and lots of air. Because my dough didn't spread out on its own, I decided to shmoosh it down because I knew it was supposed to spread out. Soooooooo . . . that was fairly stupid. Shmooshing = loss of air. However, it did rise after that, quite a bit, and then rose again during the final proof. It just didn't have the correct internal structure once baked.

Shmooshed dough:

But it rose!

And it was super easy to divide in two for the two loaves.

Since the dough wasn't slack enough, it was very easy to work with and to shape into loaves for the final proof. You just stretch the rectangles out.

After proofing, you poke your finger in the dough to make wells, although I just realized that I don't know why this is done. Perhaps to serve as little holes for holding the olive oil and oregano? Little, lovely wells of flavor?

Next, the dough then gets a sprinkle of olive oil and then of oregano.

And that's it! What you get are beautiful, delightful focaccia loaves.

I suspect that I didn't use quite enough oregano, but I tend to be a little reserved when baking something for the first time, like a middle child of a family of seven siblings, venturing out into the world of astrophysics for the first time on her own.

And here you can see, in this blurry photo (so sorry--I was clearly distracted by the croissant dough by this time), the internal structure that was not NEARLY irregular enough.

However, I've made it again since then, and it turned out the way it was supposed to because the dough was SO HARD TO WORK WITH because it was sticky and slack. I wasn't able to cut into it because I'd made it for someone else, but because it rose well in addition to being impossible to work with, I assume the text inside was more irregular, the way it should be. My second attempt:

I'm by no means a focaccia expert, but this batch was poofier and prettier. (And I used more oregano.)

So there you have it. I made the focacccia on March 19 and wrote about it on May 14 because I was laid off from my job on March 23 and quickly succumbed to Unemployment Brain and Time-Consuming Job Search Mania. And, also, because it didn't seem nearly as much fun to write about as croissants and kouign amann. I don't know what to tell you. Laminated dough is fun. Lungo focaccia dal vivo!


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