Everytime I have people over for dinner, the most frequently requested bread is the focaccia, not that I do not like a good focaccia. I mean, what is not there to like? Yummy bread drizzled with olive oil flavoured with fresh herbs, maybe a sprinkling of topping and on the side a little dish of greeny-gold olive oil with some punchy flavours, all ready to dip your bread in. But sometimes you have had just enough. I had almost reached that stage of focaccia saturation when I came across this recipe on Bread Experience.
It seemed like the dough would be a lot wetter than my usual focaccia dough and best of all, it hardly required any kneading. Yes, it required a little planning because you needed to make a poolish the previous night, but then, come on, you surely can mix a little flour and water (not knead, just mix). The blog post called it a “Spring Focaccia” but here in Chennai, we have left spring far behind. In fact, all the lovely green produce now looks wilted and sad. So now I had to think of other things to add to the focaccia. Scrolling down the list, I found listed fennel seeds. Yes, I had that. Then came thyme. Big tick in the box. Lemon hmmmmmm. . . I was a little ambivalent. All the salad greens, a definite no. But I did have some tomatoes and some olives. I decided to go with the tomatoes.
I had some bread flour left over from a previous experiment. That came out of the pantry. The poolish was mixed and after an hour outside, into the refrigerator it went. The next day, all I needed to do was give all the ingredients a good mix and just let it be. A stretch and a fold every now and then, the dough was surprisingly easy to work with. The last time I lined the tray with parchment paper when I was baking a baguette, I had the paper sticking to the baked bread. This time, I wanted no such issues. After debating a while, all the time staring at my parchment paper, It decided to coat it with a spray of oil and sprinkle it with cornmeal. I was being double sure.
I divided the dough into two and made a pizza on day one. It was so really, really good that before I could think of taking some pictures, the pie was woofed down. A few days later the second half (which I had stashed away in the fridge) which I should have made into a focaccia made its appearance. It was amazing how much of an oven spring the bread had once it was in the oven. It puffed up, a little charry around the edges and had a lovely crunchy crust and the most spectacular crumb I had seen in a focaccia. A small confession here, purists close your eyes–I baked this in my microwave oven on a convection setting. My regular oven was making my kitchen too hot and I just could not take the heat anymore.
I made half the quantity
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the bread flour and yeast. Add the water and combine using a wooden spoon.( I just used my good ol’ hands) Scrape down the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter at room temperature (75 degrees F. /25 degrees C.) for 12 to 14 hours. The temperature that day was 40 C. So you can see why I put mine in the fridge.
- The next day, or when ready to mix the final dough, whisk together the flours and yeast in a large bowl. Pour the water and oil over the poolish and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add the water gradually, reserving the 25 grams to mix with the salt. The amount of water you will use depends on the kind of flour that you use. It will be a very wet and sticky dough. Cover and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Pour the remaining 25 grams of water over the salt to dissolve it. Using wet hands, thoroughly incorporate the salt into the dough. Suddenly you will find the texture changing. The dough will get tighter and start holding some shape. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Using wet hands, stretch and fold the dough from all sides. Then gently tuck the seams under. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set the dough aside for the third time to ferment for 20 minutes.
- Stretch and fold the dough one last time. Tuck the seams under and place it back in the bowl. Cover and set it aside to ferment for 2 hours.
- An hour before you plan to bake the focaccia, place a baking stone or tiles in the oven ( I used a cast iron tava) and preheat it to 260 degrees C. If you plan to use a pan for steam, place it in the oven at this time.
- Sprinkle your work surface with water. Transfer the dough to the work surface and divide it into four equal pieces. (I made half the quantity so I got two)
- Shape each piece into a round and cover with plastic. Let them bench rest for 15 minutes.
- I put away one ball of dough in an oiled plastic bag into the fridge to be used later.
- Lightly oil a parchment paper and sprinkle cornmeal. Place the dough ball on the sheet. Gently press on the dough to degas it and then shape each piece into a flattish round. Cover the rounds with plastic wrap and let them proof for 45 minutes.
- Uncover the dough, drizzle olive oil over the top and gently stretch each piece into an oval disk the length of the parchment paper, or to the desired size. Sprinkle the top with fennel seeds, thyme and sea salt (optional) and place thinly sliced tomatoes as desired.
- Transfer the focaccia with the parchment to the preheated baking stone. If using steam, add ice cubes or ice cold water to the steam pan.
- Bake the focaccia for 10 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and crisp around the edges. Remove the parchment paper partway through baking to allow the bottom to firm up.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Slice and crunch and chew away.
I also realised that this is the bread of the month for the Bread Baking Babes. I was so busy enjoying the texture of this absolutely lovely bread, that almost slipped my line of vision.