Focaccia for Fall
An adaptable dough with lots of possibilities
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Somehow, September—which just got here—is nearly over. I’m always sorry to see the end of these slightly magical transitional weeks that allow us to hang on to the idea of summer for a little longer. But I’m also ready for fall, for crisp mornings and apple cakes, for nourishing soups and cozy bakes.
Earlier this month, my husband and I popped up to Vermont (a mere 10-hour drive!) to visit our son. We were a little early for fall color, but there was a definite, and welcome, chill to the early morning air, and a gossamer mist on Lake Champlain, all of which made my daily maple lattes taste even better than usual.
The weather also put me in a mood to bake, though (perhaps because of all those maple lattes) I was craving savory over sweet. When I got home, I remembered this whole-wheat focaccia, a recipe I developed a while ago (before the pandemic focaccia craze!), but never published. It’s quite different from the Ligurian focaccia I wrote about last spring, less fussy, no brine. I call it “whole-wheat” but really, it’s a mix of whole-wheat, all-purpose, and bread flours, a combination that gives the focaccia its pleasingly chewy yet tender texture and sweet, slightly grassy wheat flavor.
If you have never made focaccia, or any type of bread, this is a good place to start. The dough, although soft and tacky, is fairly easy to handle. Because it is mixed in a mixer, you don’t have to knead it for long. But do give it a few turns, mainly because it feels really good, springy and smooth beneath your hands.
I love this dough because it is so adaptable. You can switch up the flour ratios, using more whole-wheat or bread flour, for example, to make it more wheat-forward or chewier in texture. You can experiment with other flours, like farro or einkorn. You can shape it any number of ways: make one large focaccia, two mediums, or a dozen small. You can sprinkle rosemary on top, as I’ve done here, or not. You can add other toppings: tomatoes, onions, grated cheese, etc.
I’ll be sharing two of my favorite variations—pull-apart focaccia and grape focaccine (mini focaccias) with anise sugar, with paid members in a bonus newsletter that goes out tomorrow. (There’s still time to upgrade your subscription.)
Tips for Making Focaccia
The flours: I developed this recipe with King Arthur brand flours because they are widely available. However, I enjoy trying flours from small local (and non-local) mills, which often have a selection of heirloom or lesser-known varieties. They add texture and flavor complexity and are fun to experiment with. Just know that you may need to adjust the amount of water in your dough depending on how “thirsty” your flour is.
The yeast: I use SAF gold instant yeast, which doesn’t require proofing like standard dry yeast. Do not use rapid-rise yeast, which does not work well in slow-rise recipes such as this one.
Mixing: You can mix the dough by hand, but a sturdy mixer fitted with the paddle attachment makes quick work of the process and requires less elbow grease, with only a few minutes of kneading.
Oil: Use good quality extra-virgin olive oil, both in the dough and also to coat the baking pan. Also, use oil rather than flour to coat your hands and work surface while shaping the dough. This will make the dough easier to handle without toughening it with excess flour.
Patience. Give the dough the time it needs to rise and develop flavor. Can you speed it up by adding a pinch more yeast? Yes, if you are short on time, but the slow rise will give you richer-tasting focaccia.
Baking pan: Use a rimmed 11- by 17-inch baking sheet for one large focaccia, or two quarter-sheet pans for two smaller ones. Be sure the pan(s) are well-oiled to prevent the focaccia from sticking during baking. The oil will also help produce a crispy bottom.
Toppings: From cherry tomatoes to cheese, there are lots of choices. Just don’t overdo it—it’s not pizza.
RECIPE: Whole-Wheat Focaccia
Makes 12 or more servings
3 cups (375 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (125 g) bread flour
1 cup (120 g) whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons (16 g) fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon (2 g) dried yeast (I used SAF gold instant yeast)
1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons (425 g) tepid water
3 tablespoons (40 g) extra-virgin olive oil for the dough, plus several more for handling and baking
2 teaspoons (16 g) honey
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
1. Fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Combine the flours, salt, and yeast in the mixing bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly pour in 2/3 of the water and mix until just absorbed. Drizzle in 3 tablespoons olive oil and the honey, and then pour in the rest of the water.
Increase the speed by one notch and continue to mix the dough until all the liquid is absorbed and the dough has wrapped itself around the paddle. This will take a couple of minutes; the dough will be slack and stringy at first but will soon come together. Turn off the mixer and use a sturdy spatula to scrape the dough off the paddle. The dough will be somewhat sticky.
2. Lightly coat a clean work surface and your hands with a couple of teaspoons of oil. Lift the dough out of the mixing bowl and set it on the oiled surface. Knead briefly to smooth it out, giving the dough a quarter-turn as you knead and folding it over on itself. Flip the dough so that the seam is on the bottom and rotate with your hands to create a smooth ball—focaccia dough is somewhat slack, so the ball of dough won’t be very tight; this is fine.
Transfer the ball to a lightly oiled glass or ceramic bowl or plastic container (I use a 6-quart Cambro plastic tub with a lid). Cover and let it rise in a warmish spot until at least tripled in size. The amount of time will depend on how warm it is in your kitchen. I usually leave mine on top of the kitchen counter near the stove, under the hood light, for 3 to 4 hours.
3. Transfer the covered bowl or container to the refrigerator and let it rest for 24 to 36 hours. Remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit for 3 to 4 hours to come fully to room temperature.
4. Use your hands to coat the bottom and sides of an 11- x 17-inch rimmed baking sheet with 2 tablespoons olive oil. With oiled hands, gently coax the dough out of the bowl or container, using your fingers to pry it away from the sides and let it fall softly onto the baking sheet. Without pressing, fold the dough lightly into thirds, like a business letter, to achieve a rough rectangular shape. Flip it so the seam is on the bottom and pat it gently to even it out. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes to relax.
5. Carefully work your hands under the dough and stretch it gently towards the edges of the baking sheet. Try to stretch it evenly, so that it is the same thickness all over. If it resists, let it relax a few minutes longer. Do this two or three times over the course of 15 to 30 minutes, until the dough fills the baking sheet to the edges and corners. Cover and let it rise for 30 to 45 minutes, until puffed. Poke the dough all over with your fingers to create depressions. Cover again and let it sit another 30 minutes to puff up a little around the depressions.
6. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425° F (220° C). Warm 2 tablespoons oil in a small pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the rosemary leaves. Let the mixture steep until the focaccia is ready. Then brush or drizzle the oil over the surface and arrange the rosemary leaves on top (they will clump, so just pick them apart and spread them out). Sprinkle 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes, until cooked throughout and beautifully browned on top.
7. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack for 5 minutes. With a large, angled metal spatula, gently lift the focaccia out of the pan and slide it onto the rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before cutting into rectangles. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Readers: Have you made focaccia? What are your favorite toppings?
Premium members: recipes for these two will land in your inbox tomorrow.
ITALY VERMONT: Waterbury, Fall 2022
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