The Great Focaccia Experiment

I used to make focaccia bread quite often but for some reason, it just fell out of my routine and then suddenly I noticed that it had been six years or so since I'd last made it. Which is strange because making bread is one of the those things that I really enjoy doing and yet for some unknown reason, never seem to find the time to do. At any rate, now seemed like as good a time as any to get back into it and so the other day I dug out the bread flour and made some focaccia bread. Of course, it didn't go quite as planned because that recipe that I loved from all of those years ago seems to have vanished into thin air and, being too lazy to turn the computer on that point in the game, I just splayed out my cook books, mashed together a basic bread recipe and went with it. In the end, I kept wavering between the tomato-cheese-basil topping I used to cover it with and the more traditional Italian herbs-- so, I did a 50/50 loaf. In the end, it was a little fluffier than I liked, but filling and not too bad I don't think, for a six year bread hiatus.

4 cups bread flour
3 1/4 tsp dried active yeast (I actually used just over this, but this is the closest measurement that actually makes sense- note though, next time I might try it with the classic 2 1/4 tsp)
1 tbs sea salt
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs honey
About 1 1/2- 1 3/4 C warm water

In large bowl combine bread flour and sea salt (also a good time to toss in any dried herbs you might want to add- I didn't put any this time around but I could see it being good).

In a small bowl combine yeast, a little over 1/4 C warm water (or 1/4 C, if cutting back on yeast), olive oil and honey. Let sit ten minutes until nice and frothy.

Make a well in center of flour mixture. Pour yeast mixture into it and slowly work it into flour. Add additional warm water (the other 1 1/4 -1 1/2 C) a little at a time, mixing flour in gradually. Obviously you want your dough to be cohesive and slightly tacky- not too dry and crumbly nor too water- if it feels like a wet washcloth you've added to much water and will need more flour to compensate- so best to go slow, add water a little at a time and gauge). When dough is slightly tacky and bound together transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead for about ten minutes. Ideally, what I look for at the end of this process is a nice soft dough that is a little less tacky at this point (from the flour on the work surface) and kind of springy. Then I coat it lightly in olive oil (easiest way in my opinion- pour some into your hands, rub them together and roll them over loaf) and set in a warm, draft free place (I usually put mine in my oven which is, obviously, not on yet). Don't peek, don't poke, just leave it to do it's thing for about an hour, or until doubled in size.

Next, pull it out of the bowl, knead it some more for about five to ten minutes and then roll it out into whatever shape you feel like. Mine was sort of oval-like. (To make things easier, I rolled mine out on my parchment paper so I wouldn't risk dropping the dough when transferring it to the baking sheet.) Let rise for another 30-45 minutes, or until doubled in size. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. While waiting on this take your fingers and push nearly to the bottom of the loaf to make indentations. Sprinkle with additional olive oil and dried herbs. I baked for ten minutes and then pulled it out and put my tomato slices and cheese on before placing it back into the over for another seven minutes. However you want to to do it. Total cooking time should be about 15-20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool slightly. Enjoy warm- seriously, this bread is much better warm! Store leftovers in fridge for 2-3 days.

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