Fluffy, bubbly soft bread with a crisp, olive oil-scented crust. It’s the stuff of the 00’s café menu sandwich bread and the canvas for a vegetable art piece. It's focaccia.
Despite any lick of Italian influence in my family lineage, my father would occasionally bake focaccia as a treat for us growing up. I continued the tradition throughout uni and quickly became known for being able to bake fresh bread. On a Friday evening, I’d prepare a loaf, pull it out of the oven and pop it straight onto my passenger seat letting it cool as whiel driving out to friends' houses for regular get-togethers where focaccia, salami and cheese platters were the main meal.
A few years later, an Italian chef and friend shared with me his secret of resting the dough in the fridge for up to three nights before baking to add flavour and improve the texture. That was five years ago now, and the recipe has remained mostly unchanged since, except for a couple of minor tweaks.
How to make focaccia while you sleep
Just like the hand-pulled noodles and crusty white loaf, we’re letting the gluten form through hydration. Here's how:
Add 4 cups of bread flour, 1 tsp instant yeast and 1 tsp salt to a bowl (I like to mix in a plastic tub which goes straight into the fridge to rest). Add a generous lug of olive oil and 2 cups of water gradually until you have a very sticky dough. It should come together like loose pizza dough but also be too sticky to handle with your hands. You don’t want it to be really sloppy like a batter though.
Cover the bowl/pop the lid on the container and leave it in the fridge for between one to three nights. It will bubble and rise in the fridge so make sure there’s enough headroom in your bowl or tub.
On the day of baking (the one in the photos was just rested for one night), remove the dough from the fridge and generously oil a roasting pan for your bread. Gently pour/scrape the dough into the pan – an oiled rubber spatula helps here.
Drizzle a little more olive oil and spread the dough out to evenly cover the bottom of the pan, it’s ok if you knock a fair few bubbles out as the dough is about to have its second rise.
Leave in a warm spot while you preheat the oven until the dough is warmed through and has risen again by about ¼-⅓ and appears jiggly and full of air pockets.
Wet your hands and push fingers into the dough making the signature indentations (add more oil if needed). Add any toppings you please like herbs, garlic or just a bit of flaky salt, then allow to rise again for 10 minutes before baking.
Bake at 200°C for 20-30 minutes or until evenly golden and cooked through. To test, press the middle of the loaf gently and if it springs back and is nice and golden you’re good to go.
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