What the Focaccia!
Focaccia’s are like the mystique of Italian baked goods. Wherever you go outside of Italy, they seem to take on a different form. My first memory of having focaccia was when I was nine and my family took me to a quaint panificio (bakery) in Messina, Sicily. My Papa’ proudly presented me with a slice of focaccia with verdure (greens), which was a childhood favourite of his. I then became obsessed with the flat-oven baked bread, which resembles a pizza. When I returned to Australia I was always hunting down these authentic focaccias but was constantly served a thick, doughy bread which resembled Turkish bread more than an Italian focaccia. There’s a big misconception with focaccia. The baked treat, which originates from Liguria, is in fact meant to be light, thin and airy and it’s absolutely delicious. Below is a recipe for what is hands down, one of the best focaccia dough recipes and I’ve included one of my family’s favourite focaccia toppings – potatoes and rosemary.
½ teaspoon caster (superfine) sugar
2 teaspoons dried yeast or 15g fresh yeast
810 ml (3¼ cups) Lukewarm water
1 kg plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Put the sugar and yeast in a small bowl and stir in 60 ml (1/4 cup) of the water. Leave in a draught-free spot to activate. If the yeast does not foam or bubble in 5 minutes, throw it away and start again.
Mix flour and salt in a bowl or in a food processor with a plastic blade. Add olive oil, yeast mixture and three-quarters of the remaining water. Mix it all together and then add the rest of the water, a little at a time, until the dough loosely clumps together. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes until smooth.
Rub the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Roll the ball of dough around in the bowl to coat it with oil, and then use a knife to cut a shallow cross on the top of the ball. Leave the dough in the bowl to rest. Either cover it with a tea towel or put the dough in a plastic bag and leave in a draught-free spot for 1-1½ hours until the dough has doubled in size. Alternatively you can leave it in the fridge for 8 hours to rise slowly.
Punch down the dough to its original size, and divide it into two pieces. (The dough can be left in the fridge for 4 hours, or frozen. Bring back to room temperature before continuing). Roll each piece of dough out to roughly a 28X20 cm rectangle. Use the heels of your hands to stretch out the dough.
Lightly oil 2 baking trays and dust them with polenta. Put a piece of dough in the middle of each tray and press it out to fill the tray. Place the trays inside a plastic bag and seal and leave them in a draught-free spot for 2 hours so they can rise again. The dough is now ready to use.
Focaccia di Patate – Focaccia with Potatoes
½ quantity of Focaccia dough
3 medium peeled potatoes thinly sliced
1 sprig of rosemary
1 tablespoon of Olive Oil
1 tablespoon of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 220°. Place the sliced potatoes in a bowl and drizzle olive oil over them. Sprinkle with rock salt and stir. When the dough has risen a second time, layer the potato slices over the top. Drizzle a bit more olive oil over them and sprinkle with rosemary and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.