I am a bread nut. I love any kind of bread – sweet, savory, quick, yeast, loaves, flatbreads – anything. The biggest problem with focaccia is that most recipes for home bakers makes 12×17 inch sheets of this crispy on the outside, soft on the inside treat. To make matters more frustrating, most recipes tell you, “it is best eaten the day it is made”. Now my husband loves bread also, but eat as we might we couldn’t make a dent in these huge sheets. So I went to work to see if I could successfully cut it to a manageable size.
After a lot of bread making, I succeeded in finding the crisp on the outside, soft on the inside bread I was looking for. I whittled this down to a 9×13 inch size, then give you the option of dividing it again into two 8×8 focaccias. I freeze the second for a treat for another day. To thaw and heat it, I wrap the bread in foil, leaving an opening at the top. I pop it into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until thawed and hot. Good as just baked!! This is a compilation of about 4 recipes for focaccia, each offering something to make this unique and of a more manageable size. What I like even more, is that this can be made over several days with a minimum of activity each day. Don’t try to hurry this bread or the texture and taste will suffer.The use of the zippy garlic oil both within the bread and on the outside provides flavor as well as aiding the crust to crisp. By oiling the bottom of the pan liberally as well as the top you insure a crispy, golden brown crust. While the oil can be made several days ahead if desired, the garlic must be removed after about an hour. Long term, room temperature holding with the garlic in the oil risks the formation of botulism. Once the garlic is removed from the oil, the oil is perfectly safe. To be on the safe side, I store my oil in the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before using.
The starter, which is made before the finished dough, provides a powerhouse of rising ability with a relatively small amount of yeast. Sponges are used when you want to increase the rising ability but limit the yeast taste. By making a starter, a very little yeast will multiply into millions more little rising agents. Long rises add to the flavor as well as the texture. The use of bread flour allows for maximum rise. To this end, I make the starter the day before and let it rise. After stirring down, I refrigerate it overnight to develop more flavor. I room temperature it before using it in the final dough. When covering the starter or dough with film while it rises, I write the time on the film when it starts to rise. That way, I can’t forget – which I am prone to doing!
This bread can be made in one day by starting early or over several days. I prefer to do it over a number of days to develop more flavor. I am designating day 1, day 2 and day 3. Each juncture takes less than 20 minutes or less to execute. The rest of the time it is rising.
I used to mist the oven when I put the bread in to help it develop a crisp crust. However, one time I accidently hit the oven light with the water and it exploded. Fortunately, I had not yet put the bread in to bake. My current method of getting steam into the oven is to
put a pan in the bottom of the oven and throw 3 or 4 ice cubes into it several minutes before putting the bread in to bake. In this time, some of the ice will melt and turn into steam. I quickly put the bread in and start baking at a fairly high temperature to start the rising, then lower it to complete the baking.
Focaccia is great plain and can be split horizontally and filled with anything from roasted veggies and cheese to hearty Italian meats such as capocolla, Genoa salami, bresaola or mortadella topped with provolone and giardiniera. Alternatively, put toppings on the bread before baking and eat it with some cheese, olives and roasted veggies for an inside out sandwich. One of my very favorite focaccia’s was the one I found many, many years ago at the then new concept of Eatzi’s in Dallas, Texas. I remember well, buying a piece, rushing back to the hotel and sitting on the bed where my husband and I devoured the still warm bread topped with calamata olives, red peppers and artichokes. Hardly a word was spoken as we satiated our appetites. So strong was the impression this bread made, I have completely forgotten the other items we purchased and brought back.
So feel free to add herbs inside or out, top with asagio or parmesan cheeses, add whatever your favorite flavors are. The versatility of this bread is one of it’s many charms. Another charm it that it truly is a lazy man’s fococcia.
Zippy Garlic Oil
2/3 cup olive oil
3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 large garlic cloves, smashed
In a small saucepan, heat all over very, very low heat until the garlic is a medium brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. The garlic will continue to brown as it cools, so do not let it get too brown while on the heat. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to steep for 1 hour. Do not leave longer than 1 hour with the garlic in the oil and do not store with the garlic in the oil as there a chance of botulism setting in. As long as you remove the garlic, the oil is perfectly safe. Strain the solids and use only the remaining oil. Set aside and use as directed. Refrigerate in a covered container if storing overnight. Bring to room temperature to use.
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup all purpose flour (140 grams or 5 ounces)
1 1/2 cup water (about 100 degrees)
3 tablespoons zippy garlic oil from above
4 cups bread flour (560 grams or 1 1/4 pounds)
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
Coarse sea salt
Combine the water, oil and starter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low until they are completely combined and the starter is dissolved. Add the bread flour and salt and mix until it comes together. Beat for 4 minutes to knead. The mixture will look more like a batter and that is as it should be. Spray a bowl at least twice as large as the dough with a cooking spray. Pour the batter into the bowl, turn the batter over, cover and let rise for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Punch down, recover and place in the refrigerator.
Spray one 9×13 inch pan or two 8 inch square pans with cooking spray. If using one pan, add half of the remaining oil in the bottom. If using two pans, pour 1/2 of the oil between the two pans. Pour the dough into the pan and stretch it out with your fingers to fill the pan. If it doesn’t want to stay where you put it, let it rest 5 or ten minutes and finish the job. Cover with film and either allow to rise at room temperature for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or refrigerate overnight. If refrigerated, add 30 to 60 minutes for rising. If using two pans, divide the dough in half and proceed as above.
Once risen, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Dimple the dough with your fingers. If adding toppings put them on now. In any case, sprinkle with sea salt. Pour any remaining oil over the top. Place a pan in the bottom of the oven. Just before putting the foccacia in, throw 3 or 4 ice cubes in the pan. Wait about 1 minute and quickly add the bread. Bake for 15 minutes. Without opening the door, lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown and crusty.