Focaccia Bread with Rosemary

Have you ever made your own focaccia bread? I’m not much of a yeast-bread baker, but I’ve been curious about this Italian bread for years. We use it often for sandwiches; it’s filled with the flavor of olive oil, soft and sturdy at the same time, and dimpled all over. Well, if you too have been curious about making focaccia, I’m here to strongly suggest that you try it! Hank taught me how to make it and believe me, this bread is seriously good. Yes, it takes the good part of the day to make (but most of that time goes to just waiting for the dough to rise, thrice). And if you’re lazy like me, or with embarrassingly out-of-shape biceps (also like me), you can easily mix and knead the whole thing in an electric mixer. So it’s easy. No excuses kimosabe. This bread is so good that even though the recipe makes enough for a platoon, I’m pretty sure I could eat the whole thing. I literally had to force myself to give much of the last batch away, to parents, neighbors, anyone within reach with an appetite. Purely selfish motives that was, to save myself from an embarrassing chat with the scale.

This recipe makes enough for 2 good-sized loaves. Or you can do what we've done, which is take 2/3 of the dough and bake it in a 9x15-inch baking pan, and the remaining third of the dough free-form on a baking sheet. You can make it all in free-form loaves that look like puffy pizzas, or shape them into casseroles or cake pans – there are no absolutes on the shape of this bread. The bread takes on the flavor of the olive oil so use a good quality one. Like most breads, this focaccia freezes well. You can also slice several day old focaccia bread and toast it, serving it with butter and/or honey.

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup warm water, about 100 degrees
  • 2 1/4 cups tepid water
  • 2 Tbsp good quality olive oil, plus more for the pan and to paint on top of the bread
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp salt, plus coarse salt (fleur de sel if you have it, otherwise Kosher salt) for sprinkling over the top
  • 2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (can use sage or other herbs such as thyme or oregano, but whatever herb you use, do use fresh herbs, do not use dried)

Method

1 Stir the yeast into the 1/3 cup of slightly warm-to-the-touch water and let it rest for 10 minutes.

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2 In a large bowl, pour in 2 1/4 cups of tepid water and 2 tablespoons olive oil. After the yeast has rested for 10 minutes and has begun to froth, pour it into the water-oil mixture.

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3 Whisk in 2 cups of flour (either the bread flour or the all purpose, at this stage it doesn't matter which) and the tablespoon of salt. Add the rosemary. Then, cup by cup, whisk in the rest of the flour (both the bread flour and all purpose). As the mixture goes from a batter to a thick dough, you'll want to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. By the time you get to the last cup of flour, you will be able to work the dough with your hands. Begin to knead it in the bowl – try to incorporate all the flour stuck to the sides and bottom of the bowl as you begin kneading.

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Once the bowl is pretty clean, turn the dough out onto a board and knead it well for 8 minutes. You might need some extra flour if the dough is sticky.

Note that a KitchenAid mixer (or some other brand of upright electric mixer) works well for the mixing and kneading of the bread dough. About the time you add the last cup of flour you'll want to switch from the standard mixer attachment to the dough hook attachment. Just knead the dough using the dough hook on low speed for 8 minutes. If after a few minutes the dough is still a little sticky, add a little sprinkling of flour to it.

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4 In a large clean bowl, pour in about a tablespoon of oil and put the dough on top of it. Spread the oil all over the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise (in a relatively warm spot or at room temp) for an hour and a half. It should just about double in size.

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5 Spread a little olive oil in your baking pan or baking sheet (will make it easier to remove the bread). Place the dough in your baking pans or form it into free-form rounds on a baking sheet. This recipe will do two nice-sized loaves or one big one and a little one. Cover the breads and set aside for another 30 minutes. focaccia-rosemary-14.jpg

6 Dimple the breads with your thumb. Push in to about the end of your thumbnail, roughly 1/2-inch. Cover again and leave it to rise for its final rise, about 2 hours.

7 With 30 minutes to go before the rise finishes, preheat your oven to 400°F. If you have a pizza stone put it in.

8 Once the dough has done its final rise, gently paint the top with olive oil – as much as you want. Then sprinkle the coarse salt on top from about a foot over the bread; this lets the salt spread out better on its way down and helps reduce clumps of salt.

9 Put the bread in the oven. If you are doing free-form breads, put it right on the pizza stone. Bake for a total of 20-25 minutes. If you have a water spritzer bottle, spritz a little water in the oven right before you put the bread in to create steam, and then a couple of times while the bread is baking.

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When the bread comes out of the oven, turn it out onto a rack within 3-5 minutes; this way you'll keep the bottom of the bread crispy. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before eating.

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