Baker Uri Scheft calls this a great "beginner" bread recipe, in part because, instead of lots of kneading, it depends on a stretch-and-fold technique, plus time and yeast to work the dough from the inside out. The process activates the gluten naturally; it is important to treat the dough gently so you don't push out all the bubbles of carbon dioxide gas.
In "Breaking Breads," Scheft offers several variations for topping the focaccia with spinach, strips of pepper and even a shakshuka-type topping with red sauce and an egg. He also recommends rolling this dough thin to make individual pizzas.
For consistency's sake in testing, we've used the King Arthur Flour ingredient weight chart to standardize the book's original cups-to-grams equivalents.
You'll need a pizza stone for best results.
Make Ahead: The dough needs to rest a total of four times: for 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 to 45 minutes and 30 minutes.
Servings: 8 focaccia
- 3 cups (670 grams) cool-room-temperature water
- 1 1/4 tablespoons (10 grams) fresh yeast or 1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) active dry yeast
- 6 3/4 cups (810 grams) all-purpose or 00 pizza flour, sifted, plus more as needed
- 2 teaspoons (about 10 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons (10 grams) fine sea salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Chopped fresh oregano, for sprinkling
- Sesame seeds, for sprinkling
- Coarse salt, for sprinkling
Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. If you are using fresh yeast, crumble the yeast into the water and whisk until it is completely dissolved. (Because there is no kneading, that is a key step.) If you are using active dry yeast, mix the yeast into the flour.
Then, in this order, add the flour, sugar and salt to the water in the bowl. Use your hand to swirl the ingredients together; then use a plastic dough scraper to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Continue to mix the dough by hand in the bowl (it's very sticky, so you're really just scooping it away from the sides of the bowl with a cupped hand and folding it on top of itself) until there are no clumps, about 1 minute. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes, until the dough has relaxed into the bowl and risen slightly. (Not a lot happens visually in this stage.)
Remove the plastic wrap and drizzle a little oil around the edges of the dough and over your hands. Use the dough scraper to help you grab one-quarter of the dough, stretch it up, and flop it over onto itself without pressing down on it. You're really just gently folding the edges onto the middle, giving the dough four folds without pressing on it, which would release the gas in the dough. Slide the dough scraper under the dough and turn it over. cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it rest for about 20 minutes, until, when you grab a small knob of the dough, you can see that there is a little gluten development (because it stretches), but if you stretch it too far, it rips easily.
Repeat the folding of four "corners," as you did in the previous step. Turn the dough over again and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes. After this rest, it will look a bit smoother, and when a small piece of dough is stretched, you should be able to feel and see more gluten development.
While the dough rests, place a pizza stone in the oven (middle rack); preheat to 475 degrees. (If you have another baking sheet, you can use that instead of a pizza stone. If the baking sheet is rimmed, turn it upside down so you have a completely flat surface. The heat from the oven may cause the pan to warp slightly, but it will flatten out after it comes out of the oven.) You want the stone to be very hot when you put the bread in, so even after the oven is up to temperature, let the stone heat for at least 20 minutes before baking the focaccia.
Heavily flour your work surface. Use the dough scraper to lift and transfer the dough to the floured surface, and flour the top of the dough generously. Gently lift, pull and stretch the dough into a 14-by-8-inch rectangle. Use a bench scraper to divide the dough in half lengthwise so you have 2 long strips, then divide the strips into 4 pieces each, for a total of 8 pieces.
Place a piece of dough with a short edge facing you. Using your fingers and starting at the short edge, roll the dough over a quarter turn to start making a cylinder shape. Use your fingertips to firmly press the edges onto the dough, trying to only seal the edge and not press down on the body of the roll (you don't want to press out the trapped gas in the dough). Then roll the dough again and press the cylinder down to tack it onto the dough. Repeat twice, until you have a completed cylinder. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Place the rolled pieces of dough on a heavily floured baking sheet (or leave them on your work surface) and cover with a kitchen towel. Let them rest in a warm, draft-free spot until you see a few bubbles on the surface of the dough and each piece of dough has increased in volume by 50 percent, about 30 minutes (or a little less or a little longer, depending on the temperature of the dough and the temperature of your kitchen).
Place a small bowl of flour on the work surface. Set a long sheet of parchment paper on a pizza peel, large cutting board or upside-down baking sheet (a cool one, not the one in the oven). You can also use a large piece of cardboard. Lightly flour the parchment.
Stretch two pieces of dough on top of the parchment, creating two 8-by-4-inch rectangles. Dip your fingers into some flour and then use them to make deep depressions in the dough. Drizzle some oil over the dough, then sprinkle the dough with a few generous pinches of oregano, sesame seeds and coarse salt. Use your fingertips to further deepen the initial dimples of dough.
Open the oven door and quickly slide the dough-topped parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, until the breads are nicely browned around the edges and golden brown everywhere else. Slide the parchment onto a wire rack and drizzle the hot focaccia with more oil. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Adapted from "Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking -- Flatbreads, Stuffed Breads, Challahs, Cookies, and the Legendary Chocolate Babka," by Uri Scheft (Artisan, 2016).
Tested by Kathleen O'Boyle.
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