What is Focaccia?
Focaccia (pronounced fuh-KAA-chuh) is an Italian flatbread made with olive oil. Its signature look is its dimpled texture made with your fingertips just before you bake it. It has a crusty exterior and a soft interior. You can make it in a smaller pan for thicker bread, or in a large rimmed baking sheet for thinner, crispy bread. You can knead the dough by hand or use a mixer. I admit that I do not find kneading bread as therapeutic as some people do, so I like to use a mixer when I can. I have tried making it both ways, and it came out the same whether kneaded by hand or mixer.
My interest in focaccia is twofold. First, my family loves this bread. One of our favorite Italian restaurants has the perfect focaccia. It is thick with a very soft interior. The top is very crispy with an olive oil taste and has been showered with rosemary and sea salt scattered in and around all the dimples. I have been searching for a focaccia recipe to duplicate this perfect recipe. The one caveat: I wanted an easy recipe that could be made in just a few hours.
My second interest in focaccia is making focaccia bread art. I have been dazzled by all the beautiful images of decorated focaccia I have seen on social media. While some people find kneading bread relaxing, my favorite is decorating it with cut vegetables. Not only is it a great way to use up leftover vegetables, but all you need is a pair of kitchen shears and a knife to create unique designs.
Short Rising Time
This focaccia recipe uses a short rising time, whereas some recipes let the focaccia rise for 24-48 hours. You can make this focaccia and eat it a few hours later.
Proof the Yeast
When you use active dry yeast to make bread, it is always a good idea to “proof” it before you start. This means checking that the yeast is alive and fresh by placing it in warm water. If it is living, it will create bubbles on top of the water. If it is old, it will make little or no bubbles. Do not use old yeast because your bread will not rise properly. To help keep yeast fresh, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator or the freezer. But always do the proof test before using it in bread.
Proofing is Easy
Add yeast to lukewarm water that is 105 – 115 degrees F. Add a little sugar to give the yeast something to eat. If the yeast is alive, it will bubble, making foam on top of the water. Now you are ready to make the focaccia.
Mix the Oil and Flour
Start by adding olive oil to the yeast and water. Focaccia is made with olive oil, and you will use olive oil throughout this recipe. Add salt and flour to the yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix well. If you prefer a mixer, use a paddle to mix the ingredients.
Making the Dough by Hand
Once the dough is formed, flour a working surface and place the dough on it. Then knead the dough for about 6 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. Add a little extra flour if needed.
Making the Dough with a Mixer
After stirring the ingredients to form a dough, use a dough hook to knead the dough. Set the mixer to low and knead the dough for about 3 minutes. The dough should make a ball and pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Add a little extra flour if needed.
Prepare a Bowl for Dough Rising
Coat a bowl generously with olive oil. Add the dough to the bowl. Turn it over so that the olive oil coats it on all sides.
Let the Dough Rise
Place plastic wrap on the bowl and set it in a warm place. Some people like to place the bowl in an oven with the light on. Others prefer putting the bowl in an area where the sun shines onto the bowl. Let the dough rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should double in size during this first rising.
Prepare the Baking Pan
If you want thicker focaccia, put the dough into a 9 x 13-inch pan. If you want thinner focaccia, use a large baking sheet approximately 13 x 18 inches with sides. Remember, thin focaccia will be crispy. Oil the pan with olive oil.
Prepare the Dough for the Second Rising
Place the dough into the oiled baking dish (or pan) and stretch it to cover the bottom of the pan. Then let it rest for 10 minutes. After a 10-minute rest, re-stretch the dough, pulling it into the corners of the pan. Make sure the bottom of the pan is covered with dough. Brush the top with olive oil. Then let the dough rise for 30 minutes.
Dimple the Dough
Use your fingers to dimple the dough. There is no set rule for how many dimples to put into the dough but add a lot. Press your fingers to the bottom of the dough to make the dimples stay.
Add the Vegetable Decorations
Place the cut vegetables into whatever pattern you would like. Gently push the decorations into the dough to prevent movement while baking. In the above photo, rosemary leaves were used to make grass. Then the leftover rosemary stems were used as flower stems. Roma tomatoes were sliced to make tulip buds. Green onions were cut to make tulip leaves.
Bake the Focaccia
Bake the focaccia for 20-25 minutes to lightly brown it. The above photo shows the focaccia and tulips after baking. The decorations stayed in place, and the bright green colors changed to olive shades. The tomatoes are also lighter in color.
Focaccia is delicious with rosemary and sea salt. Add sea salt and fresh (or dried) rosemary leaves before baking. Add as much or as little as you like to suit your taste.
Focaccia is best eaten right after baking it but can be kept for eating later if it is stored in an airtight container to keep it from drying out. It is delicious dipped in a mixture of balsamic vinegar and olive oil or olive oil with dried herbs.