No my dear friends. This is not a character from a Shakespearean play.
Focaccia, derived from the Roman ‘panis focacius’, meaning ‘hearth bread’, was traditionally baked in coals during Roman times. Back then, it was a plain flat bread made with rough flour, yeast, water, oil and salt.
It’s also called ‘pizza bianca’ in Italy since it resembles a flat pizza. It is similar in style and texture to a pizza. While pizza is baked after one cycle of fermentation, a focaccia is put aside for a second rise or proving. This second proving causes the bread to rise more and makes it extremely fluffy. This is why it is ideal for sandwiches.
Focaccia is no longer as plain and humble as it was when it was first baked during Roman times. Now it is one of the most fashionable and ‘decorated’ bread, as it is a base for cheese, olives, veggies, meat, herbs and is made both as a savoury and sweet bread. The sweet ones can be topped with honey, raisins, sugar, grapes and lemon or orange peels etc.
In fact, this bread is quite popular in our group.
The dough for this bread is similar to our bun dough. The only difference is that as the recipe requires olive oil for texture and flavour, the butter or vegetable oil is substituted by olive oil.
- Whole wheat flour – 1&½ cup (210 grams)
- Maida – 1&½ cup (180 grams)
- Yeast – 2 tsp
- Warm water – 2 cups (480 ml)
- Olive Oil – 3 to 4 tbsp (¼ cup or 50 ml) for kneading & 2 tbsp for drizzling before baking
- Salt – 1 tsp
- Coarse sea salt (optional)
- Toppings of your choice-peppers, herbs, onion, cheese,cold cuts, berries, grapes, nuts etc.
- Sugar or honey – 1 tbsp
- Baking soda – ¼ tsp
- 1 egg (beat well) OR thick curd – 2 tbsp (optional)
- White vinegar – 1 tsp OR Lemon juice – 1 tsp
Why the Optional ingredients
Whole wheat flour needs some assistance as gluten development is slow and limited. The optional ingredients enhance the gluten development.
These ingredients are not required if you are using AP flour and/or Bread flour or ONLY maida. In India maida is used as a substitute for bread flour and AP flour.
Mix all the dry ingredients and sift the flour well, as aeration helps in baking well structured breads. Do not add salt now, as it interferes with the activity of yeast and onset of fermentation process. We will add it later.
Add the wet ingredients gradually, stir well and keep the dough aside for ½ an hour or so. This process is called autolyse. It helps in breaking down the enzymes and aids gluten formation for well structured and flavoured breads.
Now you can add salt to the dough.
Add salt and knead well for 10 minutes or so. Resist adding flour. It will take shape. Remember, the hydration in Focaccias is higher than other breads — the dough will be a bit more malleable. But it will come together — just keep folding it onto itself, as show in the clip.
You could choose to add a bit of olive oil to make the dough soft and smooth, but it will become smooth over time — it takes about 10 minutes of kneading for the gluten to develop.
After the dough becomes smooth, start molding the dough in a large ball. As shown in the clip, place the ball on the kneading surface and drag it towards yourself. Repeat this a few times.
Place the ball in a large greased bowl (preferably a glass bowl). Cover and keep the bowl in a dark and warm place. The fermentation process will double the dough in size, so make sure your bowl is large enough. The dough should not over ferment (i.e. the dough should not rise more than double its original size, else it then sinks).
To test whether the dough has fermented and risen well, the dough should spring back after a gentle press. In my experience, fermentation time in an Indian kitchen in warm weather (when kitchen temperature is about 35 degrees celsius) would be around 45 minutes to 1 hour. In cool weather (when kitchen temperature is about 15 to 20 degrees celsius), it would be about 1&½ to 2 hours ( that too in a closed warm cupboard or oven).
Gently take the dough out from the bowl. Because of the greasing, it should slide out. Do not pull it out, else you will disturb the activity of the yeast. Again, gently deflate the dough with your fingertips. Don’t punch it down.
Once deflated, pull the dough from the edges towards the center, so that the smooth side is out. Place it seam side down.
Gently stretch the dough into a rectangular shape, like a pizza. Do not thin it completely — keep the thickness to about 1 inch. Use your hands to spread it on a greased baking tray with small edges. If that seems like too much work, use a rolling pin — but this might be too harsh on the dough.
Now keep the dough aside for proving. Prove for about 20 minutes in summers (when the kitchen temperature is about 35℃) and for about 45 minutes in cool weather (when kitchen temperature is about 15 to 20 degrees celsius). The proving time for focaccia is slightly less than bread and buns as this gives the bread a better oven spring.
When proving is done, make indents/dimples with your fingertips all over the surface.
Put your favourite topping of cheese, tomatoes, bell peppers, herbs or meat, and drizzle olive oil in the dimples and along the edges. Sprinkle sea salt at this step.
We can also make sweet focaccia bread with honey, nuts, berries, grapes etc. Then let it rise for 10 minutes again.
Preheat the oven to 190℃. Bake at 190℃ for 20 minutes. If making a rosemary or sage or basil focaccia, for the last 5 mins, cover the dish with foil so that the herbs don’t get burnt.
You can also brush the focaccia with olive oil once done. Please, please, let it cool to room temperature before cutting — the bread will be extremely soft.
- Baking soda, egg, curd, lemon juice, if added, will help to make a very soft dough and also help in raising the bread. These are needed as half the flour used is wholewheat flour due to which the gluten formation is less (remember we are not using the Bread or AP flour mentioned in the recipes in the baking diaries of Pro bakers).
- Olive oil in this recipe is important but it is not sacrosanct. It is a norm in Italy and other European countries to use only olive oil for this bread, as olive oil is regularly used in their cooking and baking. In India, we rarely use olive oil. In case you don’t have olive oil and still want to bake it, go for it. It will still be just as good with any other oil or butter only that you will miss out on the flavour.
- When baking your first focaccia, top it with herbs and olive oil for the authentic taste. Later, having some experience, you can get more creative with the recipe. It can be savoury or spicy or sweet, or have whatever topping you like.
- The dimples should be made gently and not very deep, else the last proving and baking process will be disturbed.
- Beginners can use 2 cups of maida and 1 cup of atta for soft and fluffy focaccias. They can later graduate to 50% each of wholewheat and maida, once they start feeling confident.
- Saute the onion and bell peppers before adding on top of the bread for baking, for best results.
- Add fresh herbs to the dough while kneading for flavour. While kneading you can add dried herbs too. Keep aside some fresh herbs to be added after the baking is done for aroma and flavour.
- More hydration ( upto 75 %) in this recipe is good, as it gives a soft dough and a fluffy, spongy focaccia.
- You can store it in a bread box wrapped in cotton cloth for 3 to 4 days. Just warm it before eating.
- The dough can be made and kept overnight in the refrigerator for proving, for baking a fresh focaccia in the morning.
Focaccia is my personal favourite! It comes in handy for breakfast, lunch or dinner; as a side dish or sandwich and at times a complete mini meal by itself. And of course, the choice of toppings and sandwich combinations are endless.
Try it out on Sunday, and share your experience!