Recipe by: Bruno Albouze
Many historians believe that focaccia was born with either the Etruscans of North Central Italy in the days before the Roman Empire, or long before that in Ancient Greece at the beginning of the first millennium.
Focaccia can be served with just about everything and it makes excellent sandwiches. Popular enhancers for focaccia are rosemary, thyme, fleur de sel or other kind of flaky sea salt. Other toppings such as olives, onions, garlic, fennel, chillies, pesto, tapenade, balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated vegetables, cheese, grapes, figs are commonly added on this Italian bread.
For optimum results, the dough is 75% hydrated. It contains some durum semolina which enhances the colors of the crumb, its texture and crust. Also, and for better handling less olive oil is added during mixing but more afterwards; proofing and once baked. To make this focaccia even better, Bruno chose Opus Black.
Poolish, also called liquid starter or biga, is a leavening method used in indirect baking. It is a pre-ferment that makes bread soft and aromatic. Poolish is a mixture of water, flour and yeast in varying proportions.
*Tap water is perfectly fine to use for baking bread, but you do want to make sure it’s not too hard or soft. Spring water comes from an aquifer and then flows to the earth, where it’s then bottled at the source. The natural minerals within the water are retained.
Combine flour with instant yeast and add dry ingredients to the water and mix. If using fresh yeast, mix it in the water first. Cover with plastic wrap tightly and poke it. Leave mixture out for an hour and place poolish in the refrigerator overnight. You will notice that after a couple of hours of refrigeration, the poolish will begin to bubble. The fermentation will eventually slow down as the mixture gets cooler. Poolish fermentation should not exceed 20 hours.
Before starting the focaccia dough, leave the poolish out for 2 hours. It allows fermentation to be reactivated. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and instant yeast (if using fresh yeast, add it to the water first). Pour water over the bubbling poolish and let stand a minute or so. Transfer poolish to a large bowl and top with dry ingredients and slowly combine. When it comes together and gets sticky, transfer dough onto the work surface and begin to Knead. As you go, the more gluten will develop. This causes the dough to become elastic and stretchy. The total mixing time should not exceed 5 mins. Do not add extra flour during mixing process or it will change the texture of the focaccia into an ugly way. Add olive oil and continue kneading for about 2 mins or until fat is fully incorporated – form a ball. The internal temperature of the dough after mixing should reach 73.5ºF/79ºF (23/26ºC). Place dough in an oiled container, cover with plastic wrap and poke a hole.
Let rest dough for about an hour or until it has doubled in size. Note that the warmer the environment the quicker it will happen. Meanwhile, grease and line a 18X13-inch (45X33 cm) baking tray with parchment.
Flip dough onto the prepared baking tray; skin side down. Gently deflate and fold into a thick pillow. Flip it (skin side up) and cover dough with the saved plastic wrap previously used for the first resting. Let relax for 20 minutes and carefully stretch out dough into a perfect sheet.
Cover and let proof focaccia for about 60 minutes. Add a good drizzle of olive oil and use your fingers to make deep dimples in the focaccia, pushing them all the way through the dough to the bottom. Holes give focaccia its characteristic appearance, it provides little places for the olive oil and other toppings to pool and gather. Let rest again for 20 mins more before baking.
Preheat oven on baking position to 550ºF/290ºC. The use of a pizza stone is preferred. Bake focaccia for ≈ 14 minutes. Remove bread from the oven. Drizzle more olive oil and transfer focaccia onto a cooling rack. Cut out into desired portions – Enjoy!
Store bread and freezer bags, remover excess air and keep refrigerated for up to 5 days. Rewarm in a toaster or oven before eating. Focaccia can also be kept frozen for up to a month or so. Pop frozen bread in the oven for about 5 mins and leave it out for 10 mins before eating.