Homemade Focaccia

caramelized cipollini onion focaccia

The Bay Area is full of beautifully baked fresh bread. From small operations like Tartine and La Farine, to bakeries with larger distributions, freshly baked bread can be found in almost every neighborhood. Even Cotsco has an aisle selling fresh Acme bread. I cannot stress enough how lucky we are. When I was growing up in North County San Diego, crunchy fresh bread was an exotic treat, only obtainable when we traveled to New York or sometimes Los Angeles, but nowhere to be seen in the near vicinity of my house. Yet although a fresh loaf can be found within a five-minute walk from where I live now, I still like to occasionally bake my own bread.

Like most people, I love the smell of freshly-baked bread. I’m a smelly person. Not smelly, as in I smell bad (at least I hope not), but smelly, as in I am very olfactory-driven. This is both a blessing and a curse. While I am able to smell hints of lavender or citrus not always discernible to others, smells I hate – such as disinfectant or what it disinfects — seem to shoot through my nasal passages and into my brain (right below my right eye). So making bread is an act to not only feed my family and myself, but to nourish my nose as well. Homemade bread fills the house with the most wonderful lingering aroma, and as a bonus I also get to eat it.

One bread I enjoy making at home is focaccia. In addition to thinking it’s one of the easier breads to bake, I also love that it can accommodate a variety of toppings. Although it is most often baked with sea salt and rosemary, you can easily add thyme or sage instead, not to mention goat cheese, caramelized onions, olives, garlic, nuts, anchovies, and fresh tomatoes.

Focaccia is a traditional Italian bread; its recipe dates at least as far back as ancient Rome, when it was called panis focacius. Like pizza, it is made from a simple yeast dough that is often cooked with olive oil. The dough is pretty straightforward and easy to make. Best of all, making focaccia at home will fill your kitchen with warm and comforting smells, which is something you can’t buy at Costco.

Following is my recipe for caramelized cipollini onion focaccia. The onions add a sweet flavor that plays off the salt nicely. Feel free to use chopped kalamata olives instead, add goat cheese, or just use herbs and salt. Whatever you do, your house will smell delicious.

Caramelized Cipollini Onion Focaccia
Makes: one loaf
Ingredients:
2 packages of active dry yeast
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tsp sugar
4-5 cups of flour
1 ½ tsp sea salt
5 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, or sage
1 cup carmelized cipollini onions

Preparation by Hand:
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let sit for five minutes or until the mixture becomes foamy.
2. Stir 4 cups of flour, 1 ½ tsp salt, and 3 Tbsp olive oil into the yeast mixture and then stir thoroughly until you can make a rough ball. You will probably need to use your hands.
3. Sprinkle flour onto a work surface (either a solid countertop or large wooden board) and turn the dough out onto the floured surface.
4. Knead the dough for at least five minutes, adding the last cup of flour as needed to prevent the dough from getting too sticky. You may not need the full cup. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth.
5. Set dough in large bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with a dish towel and set in a warm draft-free spot for at least an hour or until the dough doubles in size.
6. After dough has risen, coat the bottom of a large cookie sheet with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil.
7. Turn the dough onto the oiled cookie sheet and press down so it fits into the pan. If the dough does not stretch, let it rest another five or 10 minutes covered with the dish towel.
8. Press your fingers into the dough to dimple it. This will help the dough bake evenly and prevent it from inflating too much when baking.
9. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for another hour.
10. Sprinkle the course salt, herbs, and onions onto dough.
11. Set dough in a preheated 450 degree oven.
12. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.Note: Be sure to check the bread after about 10 minutes if using a convection oven.

Preparation with a Stand Mixer Using the Bread Dough Attachment:
1. In your mixer’s bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water. Let sit for five minutes or until the mixture becomes foamy.
2. Add 4 cups of flour, 1 ½ tsp salt, and 3 Tbsp olive oil into the yeast mixture. Using the bread dough attachment, mix until a rough ball forms.
3. Sprinkle flour onto a work surface (either a solid countertop or large wooden board) and turn the dough out onto the floured surface.
4. Knead the dough for at least five minutes, adding the last cup of flour as needed to prevent the dough from getting too sticky. You may not need the full cup. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth.
5. Set dough in large bowl coated with olive oil. Cover with a dish towel and set in a warm draft-free spot for at least an hour or until the dough doubles in size.
6. After dough has risen, coat the bottom of a large cookie sheet with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil.
7. Turn the dough onto the oiled cookie sheet and press down so it fits into the pan. If the dough does not stretch, let it rest another five or 10 minutes covered with the dish towel.
8. Press your fingers into the dough to dimple it. This will help the dough bake evenly and prevent it from inflating too much when baking.
9. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for another hour.
10. Sprinkle the course salt, herbs, and onions onto dough.
11. Set dough in a preheated 450 degree oven.
12. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Note: Be sure to check the bread after about 10 minutes if using a convection oven.

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