Put 550 ml/18 fl oz of the warm water in the mixing bowl, together with the yeast, salt, sugar and oil.
Using the dough hook and starting at a low speed, pour the flour into the liquid and work for 6 minutes. If the dough is not holding and is pulling apart in strands, add more water and increase to a higher speed, working for a further 2 minutes until elastic.
Turn off and push the dough with your fingers. It should be quite springy and a little sticky. If too resistant to the touch, turn on again, add a last tablespoon of water and work for a minute.
Turn out on a floured surface and knock into a ball. Put this into a bowl large enough to allow it to treble in size and brush it with olive oil. Cover the top loosely with cling film and put to rise in a cool but draught-free place. Excessive heat should be avoided as this will force the dough and deliver a heavier result.
After 90 minutes to 2 hours, when the dough has risen fully, transfer to a heavily floured surface and knock down. It will be very moist, sticky and elastic when you take it from the bowl. Knead by hand for a minute. It is now ready to shape for whatever type of bread you want to make.
For focaccia (this amount will make 2 focaccia the size of Swiss-roll tins): divide the dough into 2 and fill the tins, pushing and stretching it to cover the surface to a depth of about 1 cm/½ in. Brush the surface generously with olive oil, cover with cloths and leave to prove for an hour before baking.
You can flavour the bread with rosemary or garlic by pressing them into the dough while stretching and pushing it into the baking tins. Alternatively, give the focaccia an Eastern flavour by scattering the top with chopped raw red onions, cumin, coriander and mint.
For pitta (pocket bread): cut the dough into 12 equal parts and shape into balls. Flatten with the heel of your hand, then roll on a floured surface into discs about 5 mm/¼ in thick. Dust lightly with flour and cover with a cloth. Leave to stand for an hour in a cool place to rise. Fold each disc in half and again roll to a round about 5mm/¼ in thick.
You can make an interesting variation by adding 1 tablespoon of honey to the mix before starting to knead the dough.
For pizza (this amount will make 3 Swiss-roll-tin-sized pizzas, enough to feed 12 comfortably): divide the dough into 3 and push the dough thinner; working from the centre, press the dough outwards until you have an even layer about 1 cm/½ in thick.
After its second proving in the tins, cover the tops with, say, chopped Oven-dried Tomatoes, anchovies, olives and a scattering of finely diced buffalo Mozzarella. Keep this topping quite sparse — the aim is a base with a crisp bottom crust, not a leaden pie smothered with too many things.
While the dough is proving, preheat the oven.
For pitta (pocket bread):
For pan-grilled bread: proceed as for pitta, but cook in a hot dry frying pan for 1—2 minutes a side, pressing down with a spatula as it cooks. This encourages the bread to balloon. This type of bread can also be cooked on a barbecue or grill, but a heavy pan delivers the best results.
For pizza: dribble olive oil generously over the surface and
© 1995 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.