The weather this weekend has been stunning so I was delighted I’d planned a barbecue surrounded by friends. Barbecues are a great excuse to put on a big spread and try out the sort of recipes I usually never get round to…such as focaccia. I’d wanted to have a go at baking this delicious, Italian, olive-oil-saturated bread for a while and it did not disappoint. I decided to keep it simple, flavouring the bread only with rosemary snipped fresh from the garden and rock salt – but there is a myriad of combinations you could try; red onion, pesto and mozzarella, chilli and tomato, black olive, artichoke and garlic… Hopefully I’ll try them al eventually.
I read through lots of focaccia recipes before deciding on one; Nigel Slater, Dan Lepard, and Paul Hollywood all offer their versions but I wanted something a bit more authentic. I did not want this to be a regular white loaf dressed up as focaccia, I wanted something that would bring back memories of the incredible focaccia eaten in a gorgeous Roman square last year – I wanted to taste Italy! Eventually I found a recipe on BBC Good Food that inspired me and decided to follow this with some of my own tweaks (I’m still not sure how authentic it is – it’s on my list of things to research – but it looked appealing nonetheless).
The finished bread was pretty damn special – perhaps not the stuff of the streets of Rome – but a close second. There are a few things I’d do differently next time (more olive oil being the main thing) but I’d hugely recommend giving this a try.
2 sachets dried active yeast (14g)
300g strong white bread flour
Rosemary infused olive oil
200ml extra-virgin olive oil
200 strong white bread flour
15g sea salt
75ml rosemary infused olive oil, plus extra for kneading and brushing
sprinkle of rough sea salt
Add the flour to a large bowl and pour in the yeast mix and another 250ml hand-hot water. Beat vigorously with your hand for a few minutes – the dough will feel very wet and sticky but that’s fine. Cover tightly with cling film and leave to ferment in the fridge overnight (at least 12 hours).
Next, get started on your rosemary infused oil. Lightly bash the bay leaves and rosemary using a pestle and mortar to release the flavours (not so hard that you end up with a pulverised brown mess) then put in a sterilised bottle or jar.
Heat the oil in a saucepan until just warm, then carefully pour into the bottle using a funnel. Leave to cool before securing with a lid.
The next day, take the starter dough out of the fridge about an hour before you want to make your focaccia – it should have risen considerably.
Mix in the additional flour, the sea salt and rosemary infused oil until it’s soft yet slightly sticky. Knead the dough with extra oil for 5 minutes until smooth and springy. You may need a big of extra flour at this point as well.
Once kneaded, return to a clean, warm bowl and leave to rise until doubled in size – about another hour.
Heat oven to 220C. Turn the risen dough onto a deep oiled baking tray (about 20 x 30cm) and press to a rectangle. Break extra rosemary into small sprigs and push them into the dough. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size.
Once risen, press lots of holes into the dough with your fingers. Brush the top with more rosemary infused oil and sprinkle over some rough sea salt.
Fill a shallow tray with some water and put in the bottom of the oven, with the bread on a shelf above. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden, reducing the temperature to 200C if the bread starts to brown too much.
Remove from the oven, scatter over more rosemary and cover with a clean tea towel to soften the crust.