Unfortunately for him, my eldest brother doesn’t like cake. He does, however, inhale bread and olive oil. Focaccia is his weakness. The first time I tried to make this for his birthday I couldn’t get the dough to rise and I gave it up as a lost cause – until I realised that the yeast I’d been using from my Mum’s cupboard was a couple of years out of date.
In fact, much to my brother’s delight, focaccia is a simple bread to make. Drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and oregano, this loaf rarely lasts more than a few hours in our house.
500g strong white bread flour
10g table salt
10g easy bake yeast
350ml cool water
100ml virgin olive oil
Sea salt and oregano
Makes two loaves.
Grease a large bowl with olive oil and set aside.
Put the flour into the bowl of your standalone mixer. Add the yeast and table salt to opposite sides of the bowl (direct exposure to salt retards yeast).
Pour 50ml of olive oil into the bowl along with two-thirds of the water. Mix on a low speed until, adding the rest of the water a bit at a time until all the flour has come away from the sides of he bowl and a rough dough has formed.
Continue to mix for 5-10 minutes until you have a soft, elastic dough. It will be wetter than traditional bread doughs.
Tip into the pre-greased bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature (if your house is below 22 degrees, pop the heating on).
When recipes say “leave to rise for xx, or until doubled in size”, doubled in size is what you’re aiming for. If it takes longer than the recipe says, wait. If it takes longer than four hours to rise a dough like this, it’s time to give up and start again. In this case, it should take about an hour.
In the meantime, line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and drizzle with oil.
Once your dough has doubled in size, gently tip it out onto an oiled surface – we’re using oil here to avoid adding extra flour to the dough. Often at this stage you’d knock back, but we want to keep as much air in the focaccia as possible so handle it gently.
Divide the dough in two and stretch each piece out to form a rough loaf shape, tucking the ends under neatly. Transfer the two loaves to your baking trays, cover with clean plastic bags (the supermarket kind do just fine) and leave to prove for an hour, or until the dough is soft and springs back immediately when pressed with your fingertip. 20 minutes before time, preheat your oven to 200°C fan.
Use your fingers to make holes into the loaves at regular intervals, pushing right through until you feel the baking tray. Drizzle with more oil and sprinkle with flakes of sea salt and oregano.
Bake for 15 minutes, until the loaves are evenly golden-brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Drizzle more oil over the top for good measure and tuck straight in.