Go Focaccia Yourself

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Focaccia bread is a rustic Italian flatbread made with simple ingredients. Here it is topped with salt and rosemary, but other tasty toppings include olives, pancetta, anchovies, softened onions, or grapes. Traditionally, focaccia is baked straight on the hearth, but a good way to get a crisp crust at home is to bake it in cake pans. This version also takes advantage of using a “sponge” (a pre-fermented portion of the overall dough) to get even more flavor out of the finished bread. The recipe follows:

Makes 2   9-inch focaccia

Sponge

1/2 cup all-purpose flour                                                                                                                       1/3 cup warm water                                                                                                                               1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

Combine flour, water, and yeast in a small bowl and stir to combine and no dry bits of flour remain. Cover bowl tightly and leave out at room temperature overnight.

Dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping                                                                       1 1/4 cups warm water                                                                                                                          1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast                                                                                               Kosher salt                                                                                                                                               4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil                                                                                                    2 teaspoons minced, fresh rosemary

Stir water, sponge, flour, and yeast in a large bowl until combined and no dry bits of flour remain. You may need to use your hands to finish mixing. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of salt over dough and mix in using wet hands. Dough will be very wet and sticky. Cover bowl with kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. To achieve the open and airy crumb that characterizes focaccia bread, it is best to use a gentle kneading method. After the first 30 minutes, get your hand wet and pull one side of the dough up and over itself. This is called a fold. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and fold again. Do a total of 8 folds. Cover the bowl and let rest another 30 minutes. Fold dough another 8 times. Cover the bowl and let rest another 30 minutes. Fold dough another 8 times. Cover bowl and let rest for the last 30 minutes. To review, the dough will rise for a total of 2 hours, with 3 sessions of folding, every half hour.

One hour before baking, place a baking stone or overturned rimmed baking sheet on upper-middle rack of oven, and heat oven to 450 degrees.

Gently transfer dough to a floured work surface. Lightly flour top of dough and divide in half. Shape each piece of dough into a round by pulling edges of dough into the middle. Coat 2 9-inch cake pans with 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan with 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt. Place round of dough in 1 pan, top side down, slide dough around pan to coat bottom and sides with oil, then flip over. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover pans with kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes.

Using fingertips, gently press dough out toward edges of pan, taking care not to tear it. If dough resists, let sit another 5 minutes. Using a fork, poke entire surface or dough 20-25 times, popping any large bubbles. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over dough. Let rest until slightly bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.

Place pans on baking stone or baking sheet and bake for 25-28 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, until tops are golden brown. Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Take loaves out of pans and return to rack. Brush tops of bread with any remaining oil in pans. Let cool for 30 minutes. Tear bread apart and enjoy.

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