Focaccia

I have a guilty secret. One that’s hard for a budding baking blogger to admit. In the past couple of weeks, I have found myself – gulp – getting a bit sick of sweets. When I started this blog I don’t think I was prepared for the amount of stamina required to bake and eat two batches of baking a week.

The obvious antidote to sugar overload would be a spot of bread baking. But to me it always seems easier to buy a really good loaf than to make one myself. When I do make my own, even though I believe salt to be the single most important ingredient in food, I always, always undersalt for fear of oversalting. And then after all that work, my underseasoned bread lasts for a single day before it goes stale.

But when I saw a focaccia recipe in Nigel Slater’s column in the Observer Magazine last Sunday, I decided that it was perhaps the perfect opportunity to switch tack and take a break from the sweet stuff. In my family we are big fans of Nigel Slater. Well I’m sure my dad couldn’t care less, (amended to say that apparently my dad LOVES Nigel Slater and consults Real Food and Real Fast Food regularly!) but my sister and I are big fans, and my mother is a big, big fan. So much so that I’m pretty sure if Nigel told her to sacrifice her first born, I would just escape with my life…

But she likes him that much with good reason! Nigel is a brilliant and thoroughly entertaining food writer and he is all about good ingredients and simple recipes – nothing too fancy. His focaccia recipe looked so easy that I couldn’t not give it a go.

And it was easy. After some simple mixing and kneading, two shorts risings (rises?) and a half hour bake in the oven, I had this lovely looking loaf on my hands.

It looked charmingly rustic and had a lovely chewy texture, but I wasn’t wild about the garlic-olive-parsley-thyme topping. And, true to form, I had undersalted! (Even Ed thought so, and this is a guy who won’t even salt pasta water unless supervised.)

This is why I leave the bread baking to the professionals. Maybe you’ll have more luck?

Focaccia
Recipe by Nigel Slater from the Observer Magazine
You can put whatever you want on top of this bread – garlic, sundried tomatoes, herbs, olives…

450g / 2 cups strong bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
7g / 2 tsp fast-acting yeast
400ml / 1 3/4 cups warm water
Cornmeal
Sea salt

Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl or a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Pour in the water and mix to make a sticky dough.

Flour a work surface very generously then tip out the dough and knead in some of the flour from the work surface. Add more flour if the dough remains sticky. It shouldn’t be too sticky and should come away cleanly from the work surface, but it will be a bit more moist than usual bread dough. Keep kneading for about 5 minutes. Technique is really not important here!

Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and put in a warm place to rise until it is doubled in size. This can take up to an hour.

Rub the bottom of a 30cm-ish baking pan (a pan with a removable base is best) with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. This helps the bread to not stick to the bottom of the pan and keeps it crisp.

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C. Remove the dough from the bowl and press into the pan, covering the whole base. Cover and set aside again for 30 minutes until well risen.

With your finger, poke several holes deep into the dough, then spread whatever topping mixture you are using over the dough followed by a good sprinkling of salt flakes. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and crisp on top. Drizzle with one or two tablespoons of olive oil.