The best thing since sliced bread is making your own. FACT. I’m a recent convert, but I’ve totally got the bug. Making a loaf of some description has become one of the things I look forward to doing at the weekend. It’s sad but true, but when you start doing it yourself, you discover how bloody satisfying it is.
One of the first loaves I baked was a Focaccia. It’s surprisingly easy to make, and looks pretty impressive. Win win. Here’s how you make it.
500g strong white bread flour (you can also use Italian tipo ’00’ flour) plus more for dusting
5g powdered dried yeast
7g ground salt
325ml warm water
Teaspoon of honey
Salt flakes and rosemary to garnish
Measure out 325ml of water in a measuring jug and stir in the honey and about a tablespoon of olive oil. When the honey has dissolved, add the yeast to the mixture and set aside while you measure out the other ingredients. This will give the yeast a chance to activate. Measure out the flour and salt in a large bowl and mix together. Then add the liquid to the flour and stir. The mixture will quickly come together, forming a dough. It’s best to get your hands in there now to form the dough into one lump.
When ready, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and start to knead it. The dough will feel silky and and quite giving, but will become more resistant as you knead. This is a sign that the gluten is forming as you work it. If the dough sticks to the surface, dust with more flour. You need to knead it for around 10-15 minutes.
When you’ve done this flatten the dough into a disc around half an inch thick. Then pinch the edge, pull out slightly and then fold over and stick it to the centre of the disc. Do this all the way round, and then turn the dough over. You should have a rough ball. Now make this ball more even by cupping your hands around it, and bringing your hands together underneath, almost pinching the bass of the dough ball. Rotate the dough as you do this. It’s a bit of a technique, but you quickly get the hang of it.
Cover the dough ball in a light coating of olive oil and place in a bowl or proving basket, and put it somewhere warm covered with a damp tea towel or plastic bag for about an hour. Whilst the dough is rising, take a baking tray about 26 x 36 cm and oil it. I then like to sprinkle polenta on the tray, coating the inner surface as it gives the base of the Focaccia a nice finish.
After the hour, the dough should have more than doubled in size. Take it out of the bowl and ‘knock it back’. This basically means knocking the air out of it. Once you’ve done this, place it in the baking tray, and press the dough with your fingers so it covers the bottom of the tray, up to the corners. Cover again and place it in the same warm place.
The dough is now ‘proving’, which will take about another hour. Whilst it is doing this, put your oven on as high as it will go (at least 250ºC). After an hour or so, the dough will have risen again. Take off the towel and make indentations all over the surface by pressing your index finger into the dough almost all the way to the bottom. Then generously drizzle olive oil all over the surface of the dough, filling up the wells you’ve created with your finger. Then sprinkle with sea salt flakes and fresh rosemary.
The bread is ready for baking. Place it in the oven on a middle or high shelf and then close the door. Don’t disturb it at all for the next 10 minutes and this is when the bread will rise for the last time. After 10 minutes turn the oven down. Open the door and take a peek. If the crust is looking very brown turn the oven down to 180º or if golden to 200º. Bake for a futher 10 minutes, and then remove from the oven. Take the bread out of the tray, place on a cooling rack and drizzle with more olive oil.
It’s best eaten warm, so resist the tempatition of getting stuck in right away. Eat with a griddled aubergine, mozarella, tomato and basil salad. Nom nom nom.