There's a first time for everything, and this time was my first making focaccia. I've made various other breads, but never once had I made a flatbread of any sort. Somehow I'm not surprised that it's easy. The process takes about 5½ hours, so have something else to do if you want to make this all in one day. This recipe makes 3-4 focacce.
Focaccia alla Genovese
1 packet active dry yeast (2½-3 teaspoons) or 18g fresh yeast
¼ cup warm water
Stir together in a mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer and let sit for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is creamy.
2¼ cups room temperature water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
7 cups flour (bread flour works best, all-purpose flour will be just fine)
1 tablespoon fine sea salt (fleur de sel works nicely)
Add these ingredients to the yeast mixture and mix until the dough comes together. If it's a bit dry or doesn't want to form a dough, add 1-2 tablespoons of room temperature water. If you're using a stand mixture, switch to the dough hook and knead for 4-5 minutes. Otherwise, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for about 6-7 minutes.
Now you're ready for the 1st rise. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise about 1½-2 hours, until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a floured work surface. Divide the dough into three or four equal portions. If you're making the whole batch right away, continue below. If you're making all or part of the recipe ahead of time, put the portions you're setting aside into sealable plastic bags and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to one month. If freezing, remove from the freezer and thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Let the chilled dough sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so to get the chill off and reawaken the yeast before continuing.
About half an hour or so before the rising is finished, put a baking stone into your oven and preheat the oven to a good high heat, at least 400°F (200°C) but as high as 500°F (260°C) will be just fine. If you're baking on a sheet, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.
Now it's time to finish the focaccia. At a minimum, brush on some extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle coarse sea salt over the top. Bake until done, about 20-25 minutes at 400°F. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
My favorite variation (so far) is to use oil from my ever-present jar of garlic confit as the oil in the dough as well as on top. I'll also add several cloves of garlic confit to the dough while mixing, along with a generous portion of minced fresh rosemary. When I top the bread, I mash a few cloves of garlic confit with my fingers and gently press it into the dough. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
I'm having a blast trying new variations. Maybe next time I'll add sun-dried tomatoes, minced fresh basil, and pecorino-romano cheese. Or perhaps I'll knead some diced proscuitto into the dough. What's your favorite?