Italian hearth bread

Focaccia

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    2

    loaves

Appears in

Although pizza may be the best-loved product of the Italian baker’s oven, it could soon be challenged by the focaccia. Both are hearth breads, originally cooked on the oven floor before the chief event of the day, the baking of the really big loaves. The French version of focaccia, fougasse.

Focaccia was the baker’s hors d’oeuvre. As soon as the fire had been raked out, he popped these inside the door to cook quickly while the temperature of the oven settled, the hot-spots on the roof died down, so that the large loaves, that would be left in for an hour or more, would not be irretrievably burned. (Burned bread is almost a thing of the past today, but it happened as regular as clockwork in the old ovens. Grandfathers will remember that their parents would often ask the baker for an outside loaf - one that had been cooked right at the edge of the oven, where the heat was at its most fierce and the crust correspondingly dark.)

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Ingredients

  • 30 g/1 oz fresh yeast
  • 280 ml/ fl oz warm water
  • 60 ml/2 fl oz white wine
  • 600 g/ lb unbleached white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt crystals and extra virgin olive oil for the topping

Method

  1. Cream the yeast in the water and the wine. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the salt and make a well in the centre. Pour in the liquid and mix to a dough. Mix vigorously until it comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl. Add the olive oil and mix to incorporate.
  2. Turn out the dough on to a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes. The dough will be moist so keep the hands clean and use the dough scraper to assist in the handling. Use as little dusting flour as possible while working the dough. Leave the dough to rise in a bowl covered with oiled clingfilm in a warm place (26°C/80°F) for 1-1½ hours, until at least doubled in size.
  3. Turn out on to the lightly floured work surface, divide in half and mould into two balls. Pat them flat and extend them with palms and fingers to discs about 25 cm/10 inches in diameter. If they resist your stretching, then let them rest for a few minutes under a sheet of oiled clingfilm. Put them in well greased pizza tins.
  4. Cover them with oiled clingfilm and leave them to prove in a (26°C/80°F) for 30 minutes. Remove the clingfilm and dimple the focaccia with the fingertips, pressing nearly to the bottom of the loaf. Replace the clingfilm and let them recover for up to 2 hours. Meanwhile, heat the warm place (oven to 230°C/450°F/gas 8.
  5. Scatter crystals of sea salt over the surface of the loaves and drizzle oil into the dimples. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, spraying water into the oven with an atomizer three times in the first 5 minutes. If you have to put the tins on different shelves of the oven, swap them from top to bottom halfway through the cooking time. Cool on wire racks.