Though I love baking, until I went through the process of creating this very aromatic and delicious focaccia loaf, I had never experienced the true therapeutic calm that many claim to experience when baking bread. As this week has been tough on me, I decided to put baking therapy to the test.
It seemed just a short time ago it was so easy to buy a loaf of fresh focaccia bread from the grocery store but now it's near impossible to find fresh, herby, aromatic, authentic, oh-so-satisfying focaccia. So I decided I'd give the whole focaccia thing a try and lose myself and my worries in the process.
My first attempt at focaccia turned out more like a loaf of bread - delicious as far as the standard flavor and texture of bread goes but far too tall and round. It was also missing that distinctive punch of herbs that I look for in a good focaccia.
So the following day I made another attempt, this time adding more herbs, some garlic powder, Parmesan cheese and whole sun dried tomatoes as the sliced sun-dried tomatoes didn't quite stand up to the long baking process. If you wanted too, you could easily stud the top with sliced olives too, I didn't have any on hand so I worked with what I had. While not traditionally focaccia ingredients I also added some some capers and nigella seeds the second time around and I personally loved the flavor.
Stress relief and a flavorsome, moreish focaccia achieved!
Incorporate the herbs into your dough for a fuller flavor not just on the top of the bread
Folding the dough at the end results in a much more authentic focaccia - it is explained in the instructions below
Grease your dough hook with a little oil before using. This will ensure the dough is easy to remove from the hook once you have finished the kneading process
If it's a pleasant sunny day I always keep my bowls and trays outside to get a good rise from my dough. If it's not hot outside, keep it near a heater or turn your oven to the lowest setting and allow it warm up and then turn off and allow your dough to rise in the oven with the residual heat.
This bread has a lot of flavor so would make great toasted sandwiches filled with your favorite flavors too
To remove the thyme leaves from their little branches just take your finger and gently push up the branch to break them off, if the branch is really fine and fresh, it is fine to chop up and pop on top too
YOU WILL NEED
1 + 1/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons dried yeast
2 + 1/2 teaspoons caster sugar
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups + up to 1 cup bread flour (the freshness of your flour will affect how much you will need)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
A little extra olive oil for brushing the dough
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (the powdered but fresh type)
6-7 sun-dried tomatoes (marinated in oil) OR 1/4 cup sliced olives
7-10 capers (mine were marinated in oil with the sun-dried tomato)
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme (leaves only)
Nigella seeds (optional, I just like the flavor and added them on)
In a small jug combine the warm water, yeast and caster sugar, stir to combine cover and set aside in a warm area for 10 minutes or until nice and foamy.
In a large mixing bowl add the flour, oil, salt, garlic powder, dried basil, dried thyme and dried rosemary.
Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture once ready and form into a ball.
If using your hands - bring the dough together into a ball and then turn out and knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic - this will take about 10 minutes.
If using your cake mixer with a dough hook attachment - knead the dough at medium speed until the the dough comes together into a ball and then continue to knead until smooth and elastic.
If the dough seems too wet and does not come into a ball easily during this process add more flour - an 1/8 of a cup at a time until the dough comes together into a ball and then continue to knead until smooth and elastic. This will take around 5 minutes in the machine, 10 minutes by hand. It is okay if the dough seems a bit moist but it should not be sticky.
Grease a large mixing bowl with some olive oil and pop in the dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 45 minutes or until the dough doubles the size.Grease a large mixing bowl with some olive oil and pop in the dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 45 minutes or until the dough doubles the size.
Line your oven tray with baking paper, grease with a little olive oil and set aside.
After 45 minutes turn out the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface and and "punch" the dough with your fist.
Knead for another two minutes or until it reduces back to it's original size.
Stretch the dough out to make a "rectangle" about 34cm x 22cm /13" x 9". Fold the loaf in half and press down a bit and then fold into half again - this step ensures you get the right texture and consistency.
Take the dough, place it into your lined and greased baking tray and again stretch the dough out the dough until it it is approximately 2cm/1/2" thick and measures roughly 34cm x 22cm /13" x 9". Cover with a wet tea towel and and set aside in a warm place for another 20 minutes or until the dough roughly doubles.
Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F.
Use your the knuckle of your index finger to make "dimples" in the dough. Brush with a little more olive oil and then gently press the sun-dried tomatoes or sliced olives and capers gently into the dough and then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese, some fresh thyme and a few nigella seeds, if using them, over the top.
Bake for 25-35 minutes or until golden.
Serve sliced warm or at room temperature with your choice of accompaniments - it's perfect as part of an anti-pasto platter.
SERVES 7-8 AS PART OF AN ANTI-PASTO PLATTER
4-6 IF MAKING TOASTED SANDWICHES