Fortunately for my relationship with focaccia, I began hearing all about this book "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." It's supposed to be the end-all be-all of bread baking technique books. A carbohydrate bible, if you will. I (kind of accidentally) made one of the recipes when I made English Muffins a month or two back. THOSE turned out great, so I figured, why not check this book out from the library and see what the fuss is all about?
THAT. THAT is what all the fuss is about. Look at that golden color! The crisp, crunchy crust! The salty, herb-infused olive oil coating! The airy, tender crumbs! This is what focaccia should be.
Focaccia (from the Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhardt)
-5 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
-2 teaspoons salt
-2 teaspoons instant yeast
-6 tablespoons olive oil
-1/4-1/2 cup Herb Oil
1. Stir together the flour, salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and water, mixing with a large metal spoon until all the ingredients form a wet, sticky ball. If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 3-5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you're using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom of the bowl . You may need to add additional flour to firm up the dough enough to clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be quite soft and sticky.
2. Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 6" square. Using a scarper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and dust liberally with flour, patting the dough into a rectangle. Wait 5 minutes for the dough to relax.
3. Coat your hands with flour and stretch the dough from each end to twice its size. Fold it, letter-style, over itself to return it to a rectangular shape. Mix the top of the dough with spray oil, dust again with flour, and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
4. Let rest 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough again, mist with spray oil, dust with flour, and cover. After 30 minutes, repeat this one more time.
5. Allow the covered dough to ferment on the counter for 1 hour. It should swell, but not necessarily double in size.
6. Line a 17x12" sheet pan with baking parchment. Drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil all over the paper and spread it with your hands. Lightly oil your hands and, using a plastic or metal pastry scraper, lift the dough off the counter and transfer it to the sheet pan, maintaining the rectangle shape as much as possible. Spoon half of herb oil all over dough. Use your fingers to dimple the dough and spread it to fill the pan simultaneously. Try to keep thickness uniform as you do this. Don't worry if you can't fill the pan 100%--the dough will spread out naturally. Use more herb oil as necessary to ensure the entire surface is coated with oil. (**NOTE: The book was really unclear to me on whether you're supposed to do the oil & dimpling now or in Step 8--it's written differently in the book, because there are diagrams. I let it spread almost all the way out before oil & dimpling, which worked out fine, though the bread may have ended up a bit taller as a result. Who knows? Use your best judgment here.)
7. Loosely cover pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days). (**NOTE: I didn't do this. I don't know exactly what refrigerating the dough accomplishes, but my bread was just fine without this step.)
8. Remove the pan from the refrigerator 3 hours before baking. Drizzle additional oil over top and dimple it in. This should allow you to fill the pan completely with the dough to a thickness of 1/2". Again, cover the pan with plastic and proof the dough at room temperature for 3 hours, or until dough doubles in size, rising to a thickness of 1".
9. Preheat the oven to 500.
10. Place pan in the oven. Lower the oven setting to 450 and bake 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue baking for 5-10 minutes or until it turns a light golden brown. The internal temperature of the dough should register 200".
11. Remove from oven and immediately transfer out of the pan onto a cooling rack, removing the parchment.
12. Allow focaccia to cool at least 20 minutes before slicing or serving.
To make Herb Oil, you can really just follow gut. Pour 1/2-2 cups olive oil into a sauce pan, then toss some herbs in. Obviously, if you only have dried herbs, only put 1 tablespoon or less of each, depending on how much olive oil you started with. If you have fresh herbs, it can be more. For my recipe, I used about 3/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/2 tablespoon black pepper, 4 cloves of minced garlic, and 1/2 tablespoon basil. It was DELICIOUS.
By the way... after making both the English Muffins and the Focaccia, I'm officially throwing my hat into the BBA Challenge. This challenge group is informally structured. You get the BBA book and work your way through every recipe in it on your own time frame. I love it. And I'm so doing it.