Decorated Focaccia is the Easiest Bread!
In these days of “stay the F#%! home,” many of you have been finding time to bake. If anything good comes from our current disaster, I hope that it is a new and sustained interest in baking and cooking at home. Home made has always been the best way to make sure you are getting the freshest, cleanest, and most customized things to eat.
Who else knows exactly what you like?
My facebook and instagram feeds are full of lovely snapshots of my friends’ sourdough starters and their crusty, homespun loaves, so I figure you probably already have a sourdough whisperer. What I want to share today is a method for making a no-knead, overnight focaccia that you will be able to make anytime, even after we get our “normal” lives back.
Because life will go on, and we’ll find a way to make this experience part of our lives. The decorated focaccia is the silver lining in the massive, hulking, depressing dark cloud we are under right now. Some day, we all look back at this time and say,”But at least I had time to bake!”
If your store shelves are wiped out and you can’t find yeast you can order it online.
Keep It Simple, or Make Decorated Focaccia
If you have ever made bread, it probably involved kneading. Baking experts much smarter than me figured out that a loose dough, folded a few times, then refrigerated, will form the gluten strands that we thought we were making with all that “elbow grease.” To start this one, I just “bloomed” the yeast in warm water to get it going, then stirred it into a 100% whole wheat flour, mixed with a little gluten flour and salt.
I added a little gluten flour to help it build a sturdy structure. One of the differences in baking with whole wheat flour is that whole flour has a certain percentage of bran and germ, which has no gluten. White flour has had that removed, so every cup of it has more gluten, and less weight to lift, so when you bake with white flour is easy to get big open bubbles in your baked goods. We’d rather have the protein, vitamins and minerals that are in the bran and germ. So a little added gluten helps the dough hold all those nice, open holes in the finished focaccia.
You don’t have to knead, just stir it up, then let it rest. The dough will relax and spread out into a springy, slightly sticky layer. Then, the little trick I learned from the folks at the Bread Lab is the fold and rest. Because you let it relax in this rectangular container, it will form a neat shape that you can fold like a piece of paper going into an envelope. You’ll do this three times, letting it rest for 10 minutes in between the folds, then let the final batter rise for 2 hours before putting it in the refrigerator. Remember, you don’t punch it down, ever.
Once the dough has rested in the fridge, it will have expanded, and be full of big, open holes. Then you’ll oil a baking sheet and invert the container over the pan, so the dough will plop gently on the pan. DON’T FLATTEN IT. Just cover it with a wet kitchen towel. Let it rise. It will spread to the size it wants to be.
Now comes the part you finally have time to do. You are going to make a decorated focaccia, by pretending the dough is a canvas and composing vegetables and herbs across the rectangle. Of course, if you just want some plain focaccia for sandwiches or soups, you can stop right here and just poke in a few dimples, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and herbs.
Now comes the fun part. You can improv to your heart’s content. Pepper strips make lovely petals, broccoli looks like tiny trees, scallions make graceful stems and leaves for flowers, or just grassy backgrounds. Let go of representation and make abstract patterns with onion slices and slivers of olive. Spell our your name in vegetable pieces. If you are a cheese eater, sprinkle some parmesan on under the veggies, for a little salty umami.
To serve, just slide out onto a board and put out a serrated knife and some spreads. It’s tall enough to spit for sandwiches, and I stuffed a chunk of mine with the avocado and tomatoes I had on hand.
Now that you finally have time to bake, a Decorated Focaccia is a fun way to make mealtime into an artful moment. I sincerely hope that you and all your loved ones are well, and that this recipe can help, in some small way, to make this time a little easier, and tastier, for you.
Whole Wheat Decorated Focaccia
- 2 1/4 cups warm water
- 2 1/2 teaspoons active yeast
- 1 tablespoon organic sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons gluten flour (vital wheat gluten)
- 4 cups whole wheat, white whole wheat, or spelt flour
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for pan and topping
- 8 large red, orange and yellow grape tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
- 4 stems fresh parsley
- 2 slices red onion
- a few sprigs fresh rosemary
- Coarse salt
- In a large liquid measuring cup, stir the yeast and brown sugar into thewater and let stand for about 20 minutes until it starts to bubble.
- In a large rectangular storage tub with a lid (almost as big as your baking sheet), measure the salt and flours and stir.
- When the yeast has bloomed, stir the olive oil into the water and yeast mixture, then into the flour mixture. Stir just until mixed. It will be loose , lumpy, and sticky. Cover with a damp towel or loosely with the lid of the tub.Let stand for 20 minutes, to relax the dough.
- Then, use a spatula to fold 1/3 of the dough toward the center, and then gently flip the other 1/3 of the dough over that, and with wet hands, gently flatten. Let stand for 10 minutes, then turn the dough and repeat. Do this again in 10 minutes, for a total of three folds. Then let the dough stand,loosely covered, for 2 hours, until the batter rises to double the volume.Cover and refrigerate overnight, or for up to 2 days.
- To bake, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let warm on the counter for a few minutes. If it is cooler than 75° F in your kitchen, turn your oven to 250° F for 5 minutes, then turn off., so you can put the cold dough in a warm oven to help it rise.
- Generously oil a large baking sheet with olive oil. Use a thin spatula to go around the dough in the container, just to loosen, then dump the dough onto the oiled pan. Don’t flatten it or press. Cover loosely with a damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let stand for 2 hours, in or on top of the warm oven, or in a warm spot, until the dough has risen a bit and spread out in the pan. Preheat the oven to 400 F.
- Arrange the toppings as you want to- I started with the parsley, making stems, then made little groupings of chopped olives for the center of the flowers. I sliced the walls of the tomatoes away from the cores and pulp, then sliced the walls to make petals. I arranged them around the olives, then arranged some red onion slices at the base. I dimpled the open spaces between things, and sprinkled with rosemary. I drizzled it all with olive oil, using my fingers to dab the parsley leaves flat against the dough. A sprinkle of flaky salt, and it's ready to rise again for 20 minutes.
- Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant. Let cool on a rack.