Focaccia is one of my favourite breads to bake, not least because it’s so startlingly simple to prepare. With the right steps, you can get away with minimal resting time for the dough (unlike other recipes where the dough is left to rise overnight); so if you fancy a flavour-packed focaccia on a whim, you can rustle it up in less than than two hours. Just in time to impress those last minute guests (if we ever go back to life before social distancing!).
Luxuriating in a medley of Mediterranean flavours, this particular recipe manifests in a beautiful loaf bursting with the sweet-and-tart intensity of sun-dried tomatoes and olives. Fresh basil leaves lend their sharp fragrance and there’s lots of sea salt too, adding its characteristic complexity. Feel free to turn this recipe into a pantry raid though, swapping in or adding other fresh herbs and condiments you have on hand, from rosemary to thyme.
To let the flavours really shine through, I’d recommend pairing this focaccia quite simply with a bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It makes for a perfect bite at your pre-dinner Aperitivo hour, washed down with a glug of wine. The rustic flavours are just as moreish side dish at supper-time, whether dunked into a hearty soup or used as scarpetta, to sop up the last of the pasta sauce on your plate!
- 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp sea salt (if you like your bread salty, you can add up to 1 tbsp) + more for garnishing
- 1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
- 2-3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
- ⅓ – ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes
- ⅓ cup diced olives
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 cup water
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- When baking any type of bread, *always* start by proofing your yeast to make sure it’s still active. Heat the water until it’s just warm enough (ideally 110° to 115°; too hot and it will kill the yeast). Stir in the sugar and the yeast.
- Let the mixture sit for 5 – 10 minutes until the yeast has completely dissolved and the mixture is foamy, a sign that the yeast is active. If the mixture isn’t bubbly, your yeast might be old (or dead!) and your dough will simply not rise. At this point, it’s better to throw out the mixture and start afresh with new yeast.
- Next, add the salt and vegetable oil to the yeast mixture, followed by the oregano, garlic, fresh basil and a pinch of black pepper. Mix it all together before stirring in the flour.
- Pull the dough together in the bowl (using a rubber spatula), before turning it onto a lightly-floured surface to knead for five minutes or so, until the dough is smooth, supple and elastic.
- Next, brush a large bowl with olive oil before placing your ball of dough in it (avoid using a metal bowl, which might impede the activity of yeast). Liberally coat the dough all over with more oil and cover the bowl with a damp cloth, leaving it in a warm place for 20 minutes or so.
- Check in on the dough after 20 minutes (it should have risen in volume by now). Punch the dough down with your fists, fold in the diced olives and sun-dried tomatoes and knead again. Leave the dough (covered with a damp cloth; in a warm place) for another 30 minutes to a rise for a second time.
- Pre-heat the oven to 220°C. Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and roll the dough out, patting it into a rectangle shape (with 1/2 inch thickness). Dimple it, making little wells in the surface with your fingers, and brush over these little crevices with olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. I love to scatter flavoured salts (truffle salt or herbed salt are my favourite!) at this point for an added depth of flavour, You can sprinkle over a handful of chopped basil or rosemary leaves as well.
- Put the focaccia to bake in the oven until its’ a beautiful golden-brown on top (15 minutes or so). I’d recommend serving it while it’s deliciously-warm, a touch crusty at the edges but soft and fluffy within!
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