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Breadable

Following an inspirational visit from friends and their tales of wondrous farinaceous delight, I decided my life needed more foccacia. Indeed, yours probably does as well. So I listened the savoury songs they sang, and translated their vision into bread. Much like when Michaelangelo translated the Bayeux Tapestry into rap on So You Think You Can Dance. Our friends left ten days ago (as at time of writing) and I’ve made four focaccia since then. EACH MORE WONDERFUL THAN THE LAST. (Actually, more of a constant high plateau.)

I came away from their magical bready tales with three key secrets: high hydration, lots of oil, and smoosh the toppings right into the bread when shaping. All three tips were right on the money.

First up: high hydration. Hydration, for those who haven’t been paying attention, is the proportion of water to flour in your bread dough. For sandwich bread, I shoot for around 70%. For sourdough, I shoot for 60% (because the sourdough starter provides a fair whack of water, bringing the total close to 70%). For pizza bases, I shoot for 63%. For focaccaia, you gotta wet that shit. 85% OR HIGHER. I usually accidentally-on-purpose-no-really-accidentally get it slightly higher, but 85% is the minimum. That makes a wet dough, one that’s tricky to knead, but IF YOU WANT IT that’s cool. Get kneading.

Second up: lots of oil. Seriously, more than you think. I add about a quarter of a cup of olive oil to my dough, and then — this is the best bit — before the final shaping, get a cooking tray out and baste it liberally with oil. I’m talking liberal. I’m talking anarchy. Anarchically slather your tray with oil. Then sloop your dough straight onto/into it and shape on the tray.

Third up: smoosh those toppings waaaaaay in. My favourite has been olives, feta and rosemary, smooshed in until you feel the tray through the dough. Throw in loads of extra dimples: not every dimple has to have a snack (words to live by).

Splodgey finger dips: a key ingredient in the finest cuisines.

Get all that? Those three steps will help guide you to flawless focaccia, all crispy-based, open-holed, topping-laden, golden-slippered bready awesomeness.

NOMG

I made the above focaccia on the hottest day Canberra has known this summer, with the thermometer bounding happily up to 40°C. (“Hey you guys, I should bake some bread!”) The rising time for this batch was reduced by two thirds. You could hear it rising. The speed of the rise (I think) created a finer crumb than I usually like, and damn it was delicious.

You’ll be wanting some notes:

Mean ph0caccia

  • 500g wheat flour
  • 425g water
  • 10g salt
  • 3 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/4c olive oil, plus (a lot) more for basting
  • toppings of choice
  1. Mix flour, water, salt and yeast, then knead into a dough — ten minutes by hand, I’ve no idea how long by machine.
  2. Rise for 20 minutes; first fold! (Fold = fold the dough into thirds like a sheet of paper to go into an envelope; rotate 90°, repeat)
  3. Rise for 40 mintues; second fold!
  4. Chop up your toppings and get your cooking tray ready. Baste with a few generous tablespoons of olive oil.
  5. Flop the dough onto the oil, spread out to more or less fill the tray: the best way to do this is to stab your fingers into it, starting from the centre and spreading outwards, leaving dimples as you go. Push toppings into the dimples: you want the toppings below the surface of the dough. As the dough rises, it’ll push them out. Sprinkle with salt!
  6. Let it rise for another 30 minutes or so: meanwhile, heat the oven to about 250°C. When the dough looks big and puffy, into the oven it goes!
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until crispy-brown and delicious.

If your phocaccia base isn’t quite crispy enough, you can slip it out of its tray and bake it for a few more minutes, either on a pizza stone or on the oven racks. You can top these babies with anything you want: roast capsicum strips, sundried tomatoes (both out if you’re on the nightshade-free thing, as I am), caramelised onions, feta, olives, herbs, blue cheese and figs, artichoke hearts, pesto, tapenade — okay, that’s enough. Figure out the rest yourself.

Dear readers: the Mean ph0caccia. Mad propz to phatc0re.

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