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Focaccia Bread Art - Recipe and Video




See YouTube video here.





























Focaccia is Italian for "from the hearth".


Focaccia is a rich, spongy flatbread of Italian origin. Addictive, airy, with that characteristic earthy yeast aroma. As with most culinary mainstays, there are versions in most every culture, and region. There are sourdough, wholegrain, and potato versions of focaccia. I must note like many things, chefs differ on some of the fundamental aspects of making this mainstay bread. Given that, and having researched and learned from some phenomenal chefs, I have tweaked what's out there over the years to find what works for me in creating the best bread.


Back to FOCACCIA GARDENS:


Imagine this mouthwatering bread as a the chewy base for oils, aromatic herbs, vegetables such as onions and peppers, olives, seeds, nuts, fruits,... decoratively placed on the dough as inspired by your inner artist. Termed "focaccia bread art" or "focaccia garden", these are stunning and delicious creations. And their popularity is soaring, especially given their versatility, beauty, and flavor possibilities!


A few important lessons I discovered from working with this lovely bread art:

  1. As a guideline, cut most or your vegetables to a thickness of 1/4 inch, as your cooking temperature and coating oil allow for them to withstanding cooking at a higher heat longer, without burning, and, if in the oven long enough, begin to char, which I like. I use grapeseed oil to brush on the vegetables before baking, in my experience, it encourages the toppings to char slightly. Use any high temperature oil that you enjoy. If you'd prefer no char, then take the bread out of the oven sooner. Note that my recipe states a baking temperature of 425 degrees. There is some variance to that in the literature. I prefer a hot oven from the beginning in order to really break down and smoke the toppings. One recipe I saw recommended a very high heat that is lowered mid way cooking. I have baked this focaccia with that method as well.

  2. To keep the delicate herbs from discoloration and burning, dip them first in lemon water, dry them well between paper towels. Ensure they are coated well with oil when placed on the bread before baking. Use 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to 1 cup water for the soaking. If using thicker vegetables like french beans, blanch first in boiling water then place in water bath. Use another clear white acid like rice wine vinegar if you don't have lemon juice.

  3. Toppings with low moisture content are ideal, as they retain shape and don't make the bread soggy. Any fruits or vegetables with drainable pulp and liquid can be used as well. Slice cherry tomatoes in half and drain on paper towels before placing on bread. Of if you prefer, put an entire cherry tomato on the bread, knowing the flavor burst of the tomato. Do not use overly ripe fruits or veggies as they will be higher in water content.

  4. Play with the amount of sugar in the bread dough. Most recipes use very little. I unapologetically use 2-3 tablespoons. Personal preference. I have an affinity for yeast bread to have an ever so slight sweetness. Also you may add extracts like vanilla or maple, especially if you will be designing with sweet toppings like underripe strawberries. Also experiment with the liquid in this recipe, and how it will change the flavors.

  5. Regarding aesthetic design, pay attention to how the toppings appear after baking to achieve desired end result. Use colorful, flavorful toppings, and cut them in unexpected shapes. Ensure you push the toppings into the focaccia before baking.

  6. The world of sweet focaccia gardens is delectable. Look for separate recipes and classes on these stunning creations.

  7. This focaccia recipe utilizes a stand mixture, but I encourage you to make it by hand. This experience will really let you experience the spongy nature of this dough, which results in such wonderful texture. I will be adding the by hand recipe soon.

  8. Handling the low flour level of focaccia can be sticky, so make sure your hands are damp or oiled when you do so.



Focaccia Bread


Prep Time: 30 minutes active Yield: 1 half sheet pan or 2 quarter sheet pans

Oven temperature: 425 degrees


Special Equipment:

Stand mixer with bowl and dough hook or paddle attachment

pastry brush

one half sheet pan 12x17 inches or two traditional quarter sized sheet pans

large mixing bowl


INGREDIENTS:


16 ounces warm water (110 degrees), divided into (2) 8 ounce cups

2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1/4 cup olive oil

24 ounces unbleached all purpose flour, approximately 5 cups (some recipes use bread flour...I prefer unbleached AP)

A few tablespoons of oil to coat the bowl that will be used to put the dough in for first rise

High temperature oil for coating the parchment and brushing on bread before baking - *see item number 1 above

course salt, finishing salt


Optional Toppings:

herbs, olives, capers, pickled items, red onions, green onions, peppers, other firm low water vegetables, seeds, nuts, fruits, dried cheeses, the possibilities are endless...Cut into interesting shapes and strips for your final "garden" design.


Instructions:


Warm one cup of the water to 110 degrees, pouring it into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix in the yeast and sugar with a hand whisk or fork. Let rest for 20 minutes as the yeast begins to activate. This is your fermentation step...your "starter", and it is very important in development of all those characteristic bread bubbles.


After resting, add in one cup of flour, mixing on low until flour is incorporated.


Add a second glass of warm water, and 1/4 cup olive oil. Continue adding the remaining flour, a cup at a time. Do not overbeat.


Add more flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and sticky, add more flour, a quarter cup at a time.

Continue to mix the dough on medium low for a few minutes. The dough will be ready when it is not overly sticky yet spongy and begins to detach from side of bowl easily when using your hand to do so. Note: coat your hands with a bit of oil or simply dampen slightly with water before handling to dough to move to the next step.


Science Note: Why does focaccia have all those air bubbles? That's why we want a sticky dough! The wet dough helps produce bread with air pockets. Additionally, the amount of yeast produces a better rise.


In a large bowl, place a tablespoon of olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it over once to ensure it is coated thoroughly. Cover in plastic wrap, then cover with a towel, placing in a warm resting place. Let rise until doubled in volume, from 45 minutes - 2 hours. If you bake yeast bread often, your rise time could be as short as 30 minutes!


Punch down and remove the dough from the bowl. Divide into 2 large pieces, if desired, or allow to remain as one. If you divide the dough, you will need two traditional quarter sized sheet pans to separately bake the focaccia in. If you do not divide the dough, you will use a half sized sheet pan.


To prepare sheet pans, line with parchment paper, then drizzle and spread a teaspoon or two on the parchment.

Place dough on the parchment, and begin gently stretching it. If it becomes stiff, that's the gluten stiffening, it may be too cold if dough came from refrigerator, so wait 30 minutes or so until it is not cold, and stretch again. Once the dough has relaxed, stretch the dough until it is approximately 1/2 inch thick. Create whatever shape you desire. You can also place in a cast iron pan, more on that in another post.


Once the dough has been stretched, cover it with plastic film.

(If you have the time and option, place the well sealed pan in refrigerator overnight to develop the yeast flavor. I find it easy and convenient to store a divided recipe as a ball of dough, unstretched, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days before using. It is true that the bread takes on an earthier flavor the longer the dough sits in the refrigerator.


You can also skip this step and begin the design and baking of the bread right away.


Cover the baking sheet with the stretched dough with plastic wrap and let rest and rise for 20-30 minutes.


Remove the plastic wrap. Oil your fingers, then dimple the surface of the risen dough by pressing your fingers deep into the dough.





Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil on the top of the bread, ensuring the dimples now contain oil. Lightly sprinkle the dough with salt.

If your focaccia appears flat, allow it to rise for another 10-20 minutes, then proceed with dimpiling it.


After the bread has risen, begin placing your "garden" on the focaccia, ensuring you press the toppings into the bread well with your fingertips, as before when you dimpled the surface. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.


Use the pastry brush to glaze the decorated bread with either remaining olive or grapeseed oil, at this point I prefer using the grapeseed oil.





Now the bread is ready for the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, or until bread is golden brown in color. I also extend the cooking time if I desire a char on some of the toppings, which I highly recommend!


Remove from oven and place baking sheet on wire rack to cool. Once bread is warm, remove from sheet. Lightly brush the finished focaccia with simple EVOO or the oil of your choice. Enjoy!!!


Please share your designs with me! I hope you'll share this recipe with fellow focaccia lovers! Also, I hope you will subscribe to my YouTube channel (Paula Naumcheff) for food and lifestyle videos.

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Addition: If you are taking and baking, like we do in my classes, follow these at home steps to complete your delectable masterpiece!


Baking Instructions for our Take & Bake Focaccia.


Bake at 425 degrees within 30 minutes of creating. Baking time varies between 20-30 minutes. Look for a golden brown color. Let cool on wire rack for ten minutes before cutting.


Or place in refrigerator for up to three days, covered in plastic wrap and a dish towel.


When ready to bake, remove from refrigerator, remove coverings, then recover with new plastic wrap and dish towel. Let rise in warm area for 30 minutes.


Drizzle with a bit of grapeseed or other high heat oil, press gently into dough any toppings that need it.


Bake at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Look for a golden brown color. Let cool on wire rack for ten minutes before cutting.









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