Focaccia is delicious. I'm sure you already know that. Today I baked focaccia to go with a soup I made for dinner (Italian sausage with crushed tomatoes, kale, lentils, and orzo, if you were curious), and it makes me swoon a little every time. I wonder why I don't eat focaccia every day.
Time is part of it. Bread making is not necessarily hard, but it is time intensive. It's something best saved for when you'll be home for a few hours at a time to play with dough. Yeast has to ferment, bread has to rise, and it has to bake - this is why I could never just bake bread to have with dinner when I got home from work. This process becomes easier when you stash bread dough away in the refrigerator or freezer (or par-bake it, as I did with pizza crusts that I keep meaning to blog about).
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The focaccia in question were adapted from the Focaccia recipe in Peter Reinhart's book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice . If you really want to get into bread-making (where it takes a while, sometimes two days, and you get your hands doughy), I recommend it because I've had luck from it.
His focaccia recipe makes one big loaf, but he had an adaptation that made 6 pizza-style focaccia - which I then adapted a little more. The recipe can be found online on this blog, and I'll mention what I did differently. To sum - I split the recipe into four and froze two of the balls of dough, which I baked less than a month later.
The dough is simple - bread flour, salt, (I used dry active) yeast, water, and olive oil. I mixed it in my stand mixer for probably about 7 minutes. [My write-up is at the 1-month mark, so please excuse my fuzziness on the details.] The dough will be wet and sticky, and I saved a little flour to add to the dough to make it smooth but still sticky. [I believe you can also mix it by hand - the book suggests wetting the spoon you use to mix if mixing by hand to prevent dough from sticking.]
Make a 6-inch bed of flour on the counter or other surface (I use a pastry cloth to minimize clean-up), and pour/scrape your dough onto it. Dust with flour, pat into a rectangle, and let rest for 5 minutes.
Stretch the sides of the dough out and fold them back over the dough like you're folding a letter. Repeat with the top and bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. Repeat folding, rest 30 minutes, and repeat folding again. Let dough ferment 1 hour.
This is the point where you shape the focaccia - and the point where I changed things a little.
I couldn't imagine eating a giant 12x17 inch pan of focaccia (comfortably). So, I divided the dough in quarters. I coated two balls of dough in flour and placed them together inside a freezer bag, which went promptly in the freezer. These dough balls were still relatively separate when I thawed them.
The other two: I lined a baking sheet with parchment and drizzled olive oil on the bottom. I patted out the dough balls into rough 9-10 inch rectangles on the oil. I had a bottle of herb oil in my pantry, so I drizzled about a tablespoon of it on top of each focaccia, spreading it around to coat it. I used my fingertips to create dimples in the dough where the oil could pool. I covered the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerated it overnight.
The next afternoon, I repeated the process of drizzling the dough with herb oil and dimpling the dough. I let the dough rise for about 3 hours at room temperature (really, in my gas oven, which is warmer than the rest of my kitchen).
I removed the pan from the oven and preheated it to 475F. I sprinkled salt on the focaccia and placed it in the oven, reducing the heat to 450F. I baked them 10 minutes, rotated the pan, and baked them another 5 minutes until they were very golden brown. You're supposed to cool them 20 minutes before serving.
What about the frozen dough? I removed it from the freezer and let it thaw in the fridge overnight. I removed the dough from the fridge and patted each ball of dough out in a well-oiled pan. The dough was very cold, so I had to let it rest so I could stretch it out more. I drizzled the dough with herb oil as before, dimpled it, and let rest for 1 hour. I repeated the oiling and dimpling, and placed one focaccia in the fridge.
I let the other focaccia rise in my kitchen and warm oven for about 3 hours. I salted it and baked it at 450F for a total of 15 minutes (as I did above). The focaccia that's currently in my fridge will be removed to rise 3 hours before I want to bake it and baked the same way.
I'll repeat: focaccia is delicious. And addictive. It's attractive because of the herbs and garlic, no doubt, but the long fermentation process gives the bread itself a nice flavor. It also makes the texture fantastic. The focaccia is crusty on the outside and chewy and springy on the inside. It's the texture I've always wanted to create.
This bread really was easy to make. The challenging thing, aside from waiting, is mixing the dough and getting it to the right consistency - being patient with very sticky, stretchy dough. This is a recipe really worth trying.