Bread baking has taken the world by storm over the last month or so as many of us have decided to fill our larders by doing more baking from scratch. When it comes to yeast bread, there are few varieties that are easier to prepare than focaccia. The Italian flatbread is akin to thick-crust pizza, but the dough is rich with olive oil and topped with a refined simplicity. Classic focaccia is traditionally finished with little more than a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt or fresh herbs, though we have featured variations topped with everything from cherries and olives to thinly sliced apples and heirloom tomatoes. Read on for our basic recipe, then scroll down for some simple variations.
- 2 packages (5 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 1 3/4 cups (14 fl. oz./440 ml.) warm water (105-115°F/40-46°C)
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./180 ml.) extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 cups (25 oz./780 g.) all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
- 2 tsp. fine sea salt
- 1 tsp. coarse sea salt (optional)
By hand: In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./120 ml.) of the olive oil, the flour and the fine sea salt and stir with your hand or a wooden spoon until a rough ball forms. Using a plastic pastry scraper, scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. Add up to 1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g.) flour to the work surface while kneading to prevent the dough from sticking.
By stand mixer: In the 5-qt. (5-l.) bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./120 ml.) olive oil, the flour and the fine sea salt. Place the bowl on the mixer, attach the dough hook, and knead on low speed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. Add up to 1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz./75 g.) flour while kneading to prevent the dough from sticking. Remove the dough from the bowl.
Form the dough into a ball, transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, 1-1 1/2 hours. For a more flavorful bread, make the dough up to this point, punch it down, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Let the dough come to room temperature before shaping.
Pour the remaining 1/4 cup (2 fl. oz./60 ml.) oil evenly into a half-sheet pan. Turn the dough out into the pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan. If it is too elastic to spread without springing back, let it rest for 5 minutes. Cover the pan loosely with a dry kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat to 450°F (230° C). Dimple the dough by pressing your fingertips all the way into it at 1-inch (2.5-cm.) intervals over the entire surface. Sprinkle it with the coarse salt, if desired.
Bake the focaccia until golden brown, 20-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan. Cut it into squares and serve warm or at room temperature. Store tightly wrapped in aluminum foil at room temperature for up to 1 day or freeze for up to 2 weeks. Reheat at 375°F (190°C) for 10 minutes. Makes 1 large flatbread.
Pepper Focaccia: Seed and thinly slice 3 bell peppers — 1 red, 1 green and 1 yellow. In a frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the sliced peppers and saute until they soften, about 5 minutes. Let cool. Just before dimpling the dough, spread the peppers on top. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper along with the coarse salt.
Onion, Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia: Thinly slice 2 yellow onions. In a frying pan over high heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and saute until dark brown and caramelized, about 12 minutes. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary to the onions and cook for 2 minutes longer. Just before dimpling the dough, spread the onion mixture on top. Sprinkle with coarse salt.