From Uri Scheft, author of Breaking Breads: If you’re familiar with Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread technique, this focaccia lives in the same realm, which makes it a great “beginner” bread recipe. The recipe depends on the stretch-and-fold technique and time and yeast to work the dough from the inside out. This process activates the gluten naturally by turning sugar into carbon dioxide gas (the bubbles and air in the dough). That’s why it’s important to treat focaccia dough gently and not to mash and knead it with too much force, which would push out all the air.
Make a batch of dough and top it with your favorite ingredients. I use it to make Shakshuka Focaccia . I’ve even finished focaccia sashimi-style with raw hamachi tuna and salmon! And there’s no reason to stop at savory: top focaccia dough with fresh apricots or other stone fruits for dessert focaccia (drizzle with honey before serving). Let your imagination and creativity inspire you to come up with something original. And by the way, you can also use focaccia dough rolled very thin to make a really great pizza.
Excerpted from Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2016. —Ali Slagle
- Makes 8 focaccia (1.5 kilos / 3 1/3 pounds of dough)
(3 cups) cool room-temperature water
(1 1/4 tablespoons) fresh yeast or or 3 grams (1/2 teaspoon) active dry yeast
(6 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour (sifted, 11.7%) or “00” pizza flour, plus lots of extra flour for dusting and kneading
(2 teaspoons) sugar
(2 teaspoons) fine salt
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
Fresh oregano, as needed, finely chopped
Sesame seeds, as needed
Coarse salt, as needed
- Make the dough: Pour the water into a large bowl. If you are using fresh yeast, crumble the yeast into the water and whisk until it is completely dissolved (since there is no kneading, it’s very important that the yeast be completely dissolved). If you are using active dry yeast, mix the yeast into the flour. Then, in this order, add the flour, sugar, and salt to the water in the bowl. Use your hand to swirl the ingredients together; then use a plastic dough scraper to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Continue to mix the dough by hand in the bowl (it’s very sticky, so you’re really just scooping it away from the sides of the bowl with a cupped hand and folding it on top of itself) until there aren’t any clumps, about 1 minute. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside at room temperature until the dough has relaxed into the bowl and risen slightly (not a lot happens visually in this stage), about 30 minutes.
- Stretch and fold the dough: Remove the plastic wrap and drizzle a little olive oil around the edges of the dough and over your hands. Use a dough scraper to help you grab one-quarter of the dough, stretch it up, and flop it over onto itself without pressing down on the dough. You’re really just gently folding the edges onto the middle, giving the dough 4 folds without pressing on it, which would release the gas in the dough. Slide the dough scraper under the dough and turn it over. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside for about 20 minutes, until, when you grab a small knob of the dough, you can see that there is a little gluten development, but if you stretch it too far, it rips easily.
- Repeat the folding of 4 “corners” as you did in step 2. Turn the dough over again and let it rest for 20 minutes. After this rest, it will look a bit smoother, and when a small piece of dough is stretched, you should be able to feel and see a lot of gluten development.
- While the dough rests, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 475° F. (If you have another sheet pan, you can use that instead of a pizza stone. If the sheet pan is rimmed, turn it upside down so you have a completely flat surface. The heat from the oven may cause the pan to warp slightly, but it will flatten out after it comes out of the oven.) You want the stone to be very hot when you put the bread in, so even after the oven is up to temperature, let the stone heat for at least 20 minutes before baking the focaccia.
- Stretch and divide the dough: Heavily flour your work surface. Use the dough scraper to lift and transfer the dough to the floured surface, and flour the top of the dough (don’t be cheap with the flour!). Gently lift, pull, and stretch the dough into a 14-by-8-inch rectangle. Use a bench scraper to divide the dough in half lengthwise so you have 2 long strips, and then divide the strips into 4 pieces each for a total of 8 pieces.
- Shape and proof the dough: Place a piece of dough with a short edge facing you. Using your fingers and starting at the short edge, roll the dough over a quarter turn to start making a cylinder shape. Use your fingertips to firmly press the edge onto the dough, trying to only seal the edge and not press down on the body of the roll (you don’t want to press out the trapped gas in the dough). Then roll the dough again and press the cylinder down to tack it onto the dough. Repeat twice, until you have a completed cylinder. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Place the rolled pieces of dough on a heavily floured sheet pan (or leave them on your work surface) and cover it with a kitchen towel. Set it aside in a warm, draft-free spot until you see a few bubbles on the surface of the dough and each piece of dough has increased in volume by 50%, about 30 minutes (or a little less or a little longer depending on the temperature of the dough and the temperature of your kitchen).
- Dimple and season the dough: Place a small bowl of flour on the work surface. Set a long sheet of parchment paper on a pizza peel, large cutting board, or upside-down sheet pan (a cool one, not the one in the oven!). You can also use a large piece of cardboard. Flour the parchment lightly and stretch 2 pieces of dough on top, creating two 8-by-4-inch rectangles. Dip your fingers into the flour and make deep depressions in the dough. Drizzle some olive oil over the dough, and then sprinkle the dough with a few generous pinches of oregano, sesame seeds, and coarse salt. Use your fingertips to further deepen the initial dimples in the dough.
- Bake the focaccia: Open the oven door and quickly slide the dough-topped parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake until the breads are nicely browned around the edges and golden brown everywhere else, 9 to 11 minutes. Slide the parchment onto a wire rack and drizzle the hot focaccia with more olive oil. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Serve warm or at room temperature.