It’s early Summer & thoughts turn to sunny weekends & lazy days, sipping something refreshing in the garden & eating delicious food together. The comforting fragrance of freshly baked bread, garden-grown herbs & sweet garlic wafting through the air, always reminds me of sunny picnics on the patio. While the Husband is gardening his socks off (with refreshing intermissions of something chilled), I enjoy creating a few treats for us to indulge in later.
A favourite nibble is slender squares of fresh focaccia, warm from the oven & dunked in a dish of extra virgin olive oil & dark treacley Balsamic vinegar. Simply topped with herbs, garlic & sparkly shards of sea salt, this fluffy delight is always welcome! This version is a fabulously fruity version, topped with ripe baby tomatoes. As they bake, they become darker, slightly softened & a little jammy, resembling cabachon rubies mounted in a golden cloud of fluffy focaccia. Pardon my poetics, but this type of food can be inspiring! Ready to bake it happen? Hands washed, aprons on & let’s dough it!
What you need:
500g Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for kneading & dusting)
12g Yeast (dried or fresh if you prefer)
330ml Lukewarm Water (dip a finger in it & it should be just warm)
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (plus extra for drizzling)
Half a teaspoon ground Sea Salt
12 Baby Plum or Cherry Tomatoes (washed, dried & halved)
1 sprig Rosemary (preferably fresh but dried is fine)
3-4 cloves Fresh Garlic, chopped finely
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Coarse Semolina (for your baking tray)
What to do:
Firstly, pre-heat your oven to 220*C – it’s going to need a good hour to get hot enough.
Prepare a large baking tray by sprinkling with a little coarse semolina, to stop your dough sticking (you can use a little flour instead if you prefer). If you’re filling the tray, use one with a little lip around the edge to contain your bread, otherwise a flat one will do for free-form focaccia.
Next, dissolve the yeast in the water & give it a good firm stir, until blended into a pale muddy coloured liquid.
Mix the flour & salt separately in a large mixing bowl, making a dip in the centre.
Add the olive oil & pour in the yeast liquid, then bring everything together until you get a soft, sticky dough.
Scoop everything onto a lightly floured worktop, leaving a clean bowl. Dust a little flour into the bottom of the bowl & set aside for later.
Knead the dough for about ten minutes, stretching it by pushing away with the heel of your hand & pulling it back over itself. Turn the dough slightly & repeat. If you’ve got a good sticky dough, you might need a dusting of flour occasionally as you’re doing this – be careful not to overdo this, otherwise it will alter the recipe & become unpleasant. Remember, the effort you put into the kneading now will result in a fluffy, well-risen bread later, so give it some elbow grease – just think of those toned arms!
Once kneaded, pop your dough back in the bowl to prove. Dust lightly with a little flour.
Smudge a few spots of olive oil on a sheet of clingfilm & loosely place over the top of the bowl.
Place somewhere warm & draught-free to rise for at least an hour (a warm airing cupboard is good if you have one). If you can leave it longer, then do so. Sometimes, I’ll make the dough in the morning & let it prove all day, ready for baking in the evening – all the kneading will make the dough silky smooth, soft & pliable.
When your dough has doubled in size, it’s ready for the next stage. Simply take the oiled film off & scoop your dough onto a lightly floured work surface, making sure you remove all remnants from the bowl (you’ve put a lot of work into this, so don’t waste any!).
Give it light kneading for a few seconds, just to knock out any large bubbles that may have formed. On a very lightly floured worktop, roll & stretch your dough to fit your tin, until about half an inch thick.
Carefully place your dough into the tin & drizzle olive oil across the top, gently smoothing it across with your hands. Using your knuckles, make dimples all over your dough.
Dot the tomato halves all over the top, round side up & sprinkle evenly with the chopped garlic, a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper & sea salt. Remove the Rosemary leaves from the stem & either leave whole or chop roughly, before sprinkling them on top too.
Bake in the top of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until your bread is lightly golden & the tomato skins have turned a dark crimson.
To check if your focaccia is cooked, lift it up carefully at one end & tap the bottom – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready!
Remove from the baking tray & slide onto a cooling rack. While it’s still warm, drizzle with more olive oil & give it a couple of minutes to cool slightly.
Transfer to a chopping board & slice into focaccia fingers, ready for dipping & devouring! Add a few accompaniments & turn it into a mini feast – try a few sundried tomatoes, fragrant olives, salami, Proscuitto & a few cheeses. Place the board in the centre of the table & let people help themselves. Perfect for a relaxed afternoon treat or a light lunch. Next time you’re feeling kneady, just dough it! Stay hungry! Aimee 😉 x