How to Make Panty-Dropping Focaccia Bread
I have reason to believe that 70% of the people that communicate with me on a regular basis are only my friends because of my food, and in particular, my homemade focaccia bread. The first time that I attempted to make the original recipe from Marcella Hazan’s book, Essentials of Italian Cooking, was during a period in which I had recently graduated from college and was desperate to find a hobby that would pass the time until an executive found my résumé to be of value.
The taste of focaccia brings me back to the end of my time in Italy when I stayed with my language assistant’s sister in Parma, the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. She sent me off on the train with a freshly-baked and still-warm loaf of the oily bread that had thin, scalloped potatoes layered on top. I took a bite, and suddenly, Pandora’s Box of Carbohydrates told me that the sky was the limit.
This is the feeling that I hope to instill within whoever eats or makes my own adaptation of Marcella’s recipe. I want you to feel like you are on the ferrovia with the Tuscan landscape passing you by with your lips, coated in oil and salt, upturned into a smile.
You may doubt your bread-making abilities. This is normal. I probably should have been more wary of my own upon my first attempt because the loaf came out feeling and tasting like a seasoned brick. Follow the directions carefully, allot yourself enough time, but don’t take yourself too seriously because whether or not you succeed on the first try, the word “yeast” will still make you giggle.
Whole Wheat Rosemary Focaccia Bread
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s recipe
Serves one football player heading into double sessions.
Ingredients for the Dough
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 4 cups unbleached flour
- 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
You will also need a few sprigs of rosemary at the very end of the process.
- Activate the yeast by dissolving it in 1/2 cup lukewarm water and letting it chill out in there for 10 minutes. This will be the worst-smelling step in the entire process.
- Mix the two flours together with a whisk in a medium bowl
- In a large bowl, combine the activated yeast with 1 cup of the flour mixture until they are well-acquainted. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, 3/4 cup of water and 2 3/4 cups of the remaining flour. Mix it until it feels soft and doesn’t stick to your hands.
- Now listen here: This step is important (ok so maybe all of them are). Add half of the remaining flour and half of the remaining water. Mix. Then, depending on the weather, the ratios of the remaining water and flour are going to vary each time that you make the recipe.
On a rainy or humid day: Add the majority of the rest of the flour, then add water as needed.
On a dry day: Add half of that flour and focus on hydrating the mass with as much water as it needs.
- Gawk at how COOL science is!!
- Prepare a clean surface by dusting it with flour. Plop the ball of dough onto that surface and slap it down, hard, several times until it spreads itself out lengthwise.
- KNEAD! You are going to need to knead this puppy for ten minutes, so set up a good playlist. I recommend one with Drake. Marcella’s book provided an illustration on how to knead, but I updated it because it was so white and boring :(.
From Marcella (Read in your best Italian accent):
1. Reach for the far end of the dough, fold it a short distance toward you, push it away with the heel of your palm, flexing your wrist.
2. Fold it, and push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you. It will have a tapered, roll-like shape.
8. Repeat this for ten minutes. Test if it’s done by cutting into it with a knife. If there are air bubbles inside, knead for a few more minutes. If not, sing.
9. Pat it into a ball.
10. Smear a baking tray with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and put your ball of dough on top of it. Cover the ball with a damp cloth and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours.
11. Binge-watch every episode of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke.
12. After the rising time is complete, stretch out the dough on the baking pan until it’s spread out from end to end. It should be about 1/4 inch high. Cover it with the damp towel and let it rise again for 45 minutes. (PLEASE KEEP GOING IT’S WORTH IT I SWEAR.) If you’re baking it now, stick a separate baking tray into the oven and preheat it to 450°F. If not, preheat it 30 minutes before your proposed baking time.
Make Your Oily Mixture: Combine 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons water, and one tablespoon salt with a fork.
De-Sprig Your Rosemary: Harvest your leafy ends from the stem by doing this.
13. When the final rising time is complete, remove the towel and poke a gillion dimples into the surface with your thumb. Whisk your oily mixture once more and pour it all over the dough (don’t forget the edges!) so that it pools in your little dents. Spread the oil with a pastry brush if you have one. If not, just use your fingers.
14. Move the dough to the baking sheet that was preheating in the oven. Crank coarse sea salt on top of the bread (I like Himalaya because it’s pink) and then put it into the oven.
15. Check the bread after fifteen minutes. Drizzle more olive oil on top, flip the tray the opposite way so that it bakes evenly and bake for five more minutes.
16. Sprinkle the bread with your rosemary sprigs. Bake for two more minutes.
17. Move your bread to a cooling rack. Serve it warm or at room temperature, though warm tastes infinitely better. Spread this olive tapenade on it (a recipe from the same time in my life when I had time to Snapchat my own cooking show), or eat it as sandwich bread with prosciutto, arugula, tomato, the tapenade, a drizzle of EVOO and a crank of black pepper to recreate one of the best paninos that I've ever had in my life.