Friday, 8 January 2016

Holy Focaccia!

I like to think I’m pretty good at healthy eating. I don’t like to blow my own trumpet but it’s definitely one of my key skills. I think I’m just lucky that I happen to love most healthy foods. What’s more when I eat the foods my body needs I feel good, more energised and manage to maintain a weight I’m happy with. This makes the practice a whole lot easier and more rewarding. Plus I haven’t really got a sweet tooth so I never have cravings for desserts or chocolate, this helps me to keep a cap on the fat and calories I consume. There are however two main things that really trip me up.

1 Alcohol, well Prosecco to be precise.
2 Bread. (I consider pizza to fall under the bread umbrella, any fermented, flour based, baked goods)

Here my willpower really goes out the window. My other half says my face involuntarily lights up at just the sound of a cork being popped from a bottle. In my defence I just think I am a smiley person….

Real bread to me is a thing of pure beauty. It’s like edible art - just perfect. I could look at (stuff my face with) bread all day. Hence the obsession with good pizza. Neapolitan pizza, the proper stuff (that I make in my wood oven) the ‘cornicione’ or crust as we know it is about as good as any artisan bread you can find. It has a sweet, tangy flavour which is developed over the long, cold prove and a beautiful, pillowy texture created in the intense heat of the hot clay oven. Bread should never merely dissolve in your mouth upon biting. No, no, no! Good bread, like a good date, should make you work for it. There’s nothing fast about good bread. I consider myself a fussy addict, I mean it’s not like I’m wandering the streets swigging on warm Strongbow and eating Hovis straight out the bag. Hey, we all have our vices.

Having said all that, everyone has to start somewhere. I often make sourdough Focaccia, it is delicious, chewy and has a lovely firm, golden crust. The downside is it takes a lot of time… DAYS!! This recipe gives you a slightly different - but still very good- focaccia. It’s one the quickest breads I make so it’s a perfect weekend day project.

I’m using 3 x 7 inch round tins, as I am taking one for the team and showing you 3 different topping ideas. But you can make one big rectangle focaccia instead using a large baking tray or roasting tin, measuring about 40cm x 30cm. Serve with lots of Prosecco. Have a lovely weekend.


600g strong white bread flour
7g sachet of fast-action yeast
1 tsp honey
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp flavoured olive oil; I used homemade garlic and chilli, plus extra for greasing
360ml warm water
1 pack rosemary, the standard supermarket size, you’ll have some left but you want to choose all the nice sprigs.  Pull them off from the stem, each sprig should have about 3-4 needles in it.
A couple of garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced. (This is about the only time I ever use ‘real’ garlic, apart from when I make my infused oils; I am willing to admit I used garlic puree, the stuff from the oriental supermarket. I hate preparing garlic, you can never get rid of the smell and I use my hands so much it lingers for ages.
3 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Chilli flakes, optional
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large brown or red onions
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp sherry, cider or white wine vinegar
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
100g goats cheese

NB the third topping was supposed to be sun blush tomato & olive. When I looked in the cupboard I’d run out of both. I did however have chorizo, oregano and red chilli pesto. You can figure out the rest of the story.

About 100g chorizo or even better Italian salami, OR EVEN BETTER Nduja, cut into chunks.
3 tbsp red chilli pesto or red pesto
fresh oregano leaves

1 To make the dough, put the flour, yeast, honey, oil and salt the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Weigh out the water, this will give you the correct amount, you need 360g of lukewarm water. Pour it on to the flour mixture. Start the mixer on a low speed and allow to knead for about 10 minutes, the dough will look quite smooth and will be soft.

2 Oil your hands and remove the dough from the hook and the sides of the bowl, shaping it into a ball by folding the dough back on itself. Oiled hands will make this easier and means you don’t need to add any extra flour. This is good as focaccia is quite a wet dough. Leave to rise in the mixing bowl, covered with oiled cling film (or use a clean shower cap, stolen from a hotel. It’s like I always tell the boy, they want you to take them, or they wouldn’t keep replacing them). It will take between 1-2 hours to double in size, depending on the conditions in the room.

3 Take your large baking tray or roasting tin, or small round tins. Give it a good old glug of oil, be generous, this is Focaccia, use good olive oil or flavoured oil if you want to. Add a generous pinch of sea salt too.

4 Turn the dough out on to your well-oiled tin, using oiled hands (no flour remember) knock it back with your knuckles. Press the dough into the tray using your finger tips to ease it to the edges, don’t worry too much about how it looks – it’s meant to be rustic and might not spread out all the way to the edges yet but will be easier to shape once it’s rested. Cover with oiled cling film and leave for 30 minutes. Use this time to prepare your chosen toppings.

5 Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/Gas 7. After 30 minutes, the focaccia should look a little puffed up and spongy. Use your index finger to poke dimples all over the dough right through to the bottom of the tray, this should help it reach the edges of the tin as well.

Poke a sprig of rosemary & a sliver of garlic into each alternate hole. Drizzle the focaccia with the olive oil, allowing it to seep into the dimply holes. Sprinkle with sea salt, black pepper and some chilli flakes, if you like. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minute more. Remove the film before cooking.

Peel the onions, leaving the root in tact. Using a sharp knife or mandolin slice the onions as thinly as you can. Holding it by the root will make this easier. Heat the oil and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan, add the onions and cook gently until really soft and pale golden, stirring often. This will take about 20 minutes. Add the brown sugar, vinegar and the garlic, turn up the heat and stir until caramelised. Add the leaves from the fresh thyme. Allow to cool a little then spread over the focaccia, crumbling on the goat’s cheese. To be fair I probably should have told you to do this bit earlier, or you’ll be pushed for time, so do this when the bread is having it’s initial rise. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minutes more. Remove the film before cooking.

Scatter with the chunks of meat, pushing some into the holes and then spoons of the pesto. Season with salt and black pepper and push some oregano leaves into some of the other holes. Cover with the cling film again and leave for 30 minutes more. Remove the film before cooking.

6 To cook, bake in the centre of the oven. Mine took 25 minutes, check them after 20, then should be risen and deep golden brown. If you’re making a large one check after 25, it may take up to 35 mins, if it’s getting a bit dark cover It with foil. Once cooked brush or drizzle with more oil and sprinkle on some more sea salt. Cool on a wire rack then remove from the tin and cut into squares serve warm or at room temperature. For best results eat on the day you’ve made it. If you’re anything like me this will not be hard.

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