If bread making scares you like it scares me, but the lure of authenticity (and a far more inexpensive option than store-bought loafs) is irresistible, then focaccia may be the place to begin. There is absolutely no reason why anyone can’t make this. And there is just nothing like having fresh bread around.
- 450 grams (about 1 pound) strong bread or All Purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons yeast (7 grams)
- 13.5 ounces warm water
- a good handful of green or black olives
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- a clove of garlic
- a small bunch of flat-leaved parsley
- leaves from 4 sprigs thyme
- sea salt flakes
To begin: the flour amount turned out to be about 4 cups for me, but it’s best to weigh flour because the density can vary, meaning measuring by volume is not the most accurate way to go. That said, the amount of flour used is going to vary, even with the same flour, from time to time. I start with 3 1/2 cups and go from there.
First, combine the flour, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Stir it around with a fork to mix the ingredients well. I don’t have a stand mixer (my beloved Kitchen Aid is waiting silently for me in Brooklyn), but I suppose this recipe could easily be made in one.
Next, add the water — should be about the temperature of your skin, perhaps a little warmer. Too hot and it will kill the yeast. I added it a little at a time, incorporating the flour in until all the water was added.
Using your hands, combine the flour with the water, kneading in the bowl. At this point, it’s time to check on how wet the dough is. Mine was too wet — the consistency should be somewhat sticky, but not excessively so.
A good test is this — ask a friend to poke an unfloured finger into the dough (or rinse one of your own off and dry it and do the same). The dough should stick to the finger a bit, but it shouldn’t be impossible to get off. You don’t want it to be gloopy at all. You want to be able to work and knead the dough without the majority of it clumping between your fingers.
Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and just bash it around for five minutes or so, pulling and stretching and folding (or using the stand mixer, just let it run with the dough hook, you lazy schmuck, who I am jealous of). I kept a little plate of flour nearby (and a warm cup of afternoon tea for rejuvenation) so that I could keep adding flour until the wetness was right — I’d work the extra flour between my hands, into the dough that was already stuck to my palms to help remove it, then combine what had just come off my hands into the rest of the dough. Just add it little by little, because you don’t want to over-flour it.
Eventually it should look about like this (notice how it’s a little drier than the similar picture of the dough in the bowl above).
Make sure to scatter a little flour into the bowl before you put the dough back in, to avoid sticking.
Now it’s time for the rising — when the yeast will start its work. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel, and put in a warm place to rise for as long as it takes to double in size, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Once it’s doubled in size, find a baking pan, either round or square or rectangular. I used a 10 x 13 inch rectangle. Drizzle oil in the bottom and rub it all over the surface and up the sides to prevent any sticking. Scatter a little cornmeal also.
Drop the dough in (it will deflate, which is fine) and spread it vaguely around the pan. It’s okay it it doesn’t reach everywhere, but do your best to make it an even thickness. The dough should stretch easily.
Cover the pan again with plastic wrap or the dish towel and put it back in the warm place for another 30 minutes, until it has risen nicely. Preheat the oven to 425 F, and mix together all the topping ingredients (garlic, thyme, parsley, olives, and some oil) in a bowl. When the dough is done rising, use a floured finger to poke a bunch of holes (about 15) all over the surface.
Spoon the topping mixture all over and into some of the holes. Scatter with flaky salt.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is light golden. Remove the pan from the oven, and drizzle a little more olive oil if desired.