By Sonya Sanford
(The Nosher via JTA) — Focaccia is made with a very soft dough, slightly rich from generous amounts of added oil that helps it become crisp-edged as it bakes. As I was working on this recipe, Netflix’s “Salt Fat Acid Heat” premiered, and suddenly making focaccia felt particularly timely.
In Samin Nostrat’s excellent, highly acclaimed series about the fundamental elements of making good food, she invites the viewer to learn how to make Ligurian focaccia. In Liguria, Italy, they add the unique step of topping the focaccia with a salt brine before baking the dough. I was captivated by the simplicity and beauty of the focaccia-making process, and have rewatched that part of the “FAT” episode countless times.
While the focaccia recipe here differs from its Ligurian counterpart, the essential components are the same and the lessons learned from Nostrat are helpfully applicable. Primarily, one is reminded that when a recipe has so few ingredients, each ingredient should be of good quality. Focaccia requires extra virgin olive oil, and that olive oil should be good, fresh and have a robust flavor.
Choosing the olive oil can be a matter of preference. I’m partial to California olive oils with their smooth butteriness; high quality affordable varieties can be found in most grocery stores. You could also splurge on an Italian olive oil from a specialty market. The olive oil will help your focaccia get a crisp crust, and will perfume the dough with its flavor.
I like using kalamata olives in this recipe for their fruity wine-like flavor, but you could certainly use your favorite olive variety. The olives serve to accentuate the flavors in the oil, and the dough also gets topped with za’atar to bring a welcome herby earthiness to this rich bread.
Just before putting it in the oven, I top the focaccia with flake salt for crunch and savoriness. After oil, salt is focaccia’s best friend.
I love to serve this olive and za’atar bread with an Israeli-style spread: fresh salads, good feta, hummus and baba ganoush. Leftover focaccia is always a gift, and it can be turned into delicious croutons, stored in the freezer for future snacking or even become the base of an unexpected Middle Eastern-inspired stuffing. Thanksgiving is around the corner, after all.
And soon after Thanksgiving is Hanukkah, which provides another opportunity for this oil-centric recipe.
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 3/4 cups warm water (105-110 F.)
5 cups bread flour plus more as needed
2 teaspoons kosher salt, Diamond brand (use less if using table salt or Morton brand)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 tablespoon za’atar, or to taste
Flake salt, to taste
- Dissolve the yeast with sugar in the warm water, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes, or until the mixture looks foamy and bubbly.
- If using a measuring cup instead of a scale, spoon flour into the measuring cup and then level it off with the back of a knife. Add the flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Alternatively, you can make this dough by hand, but note that the dough is on the sticky side.
- Add the water and yeast mixture and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the flour mixture. Turn the mixer to stir, and allow it to mix until a shaggy dough is just formed. Turn up the stand mixer to medium for 5-6 minutes, or until a smooth, soft and elastic dough forms. It’s OK if it is a little sticky; if it’s not forming a cohesive dough at all, you can add a little more flour a spoonful at a time. Remove the dough from the mixer, gently form into a ball and transfer to a well-oiled bowl. Turn the dough in the bowl so that all sides have touched the oil. Cover the dough with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap, and then cover everything with a kitchen towel. Place the covered dough in a warm part of the kitchen and allow it to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil to a rimmed baking sheet. Punch down the dough that has risen in the bowl, then transfer it to the baking sheet. Gently press the dough into the edges of the baking sheet to form a rectangular shape, and flip it over so that both sides of the dough are equally covered in the oil. Press your fingertips deeply into each part of the dough, making dimples and helping the dough hold its shape. Cover the dough loosely with a well-oiled piece of plastic wrap. Let the dough rise again for 45 minutes to an hour. While the dough is rising again, preheat the oven to 425 F.
- Before baking, top the dough with the olives, za’atar and a generous sprinkle of flake salt. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown with a crisp crust.
- Once out of the oven, drizzle with more olive oil and allow to cool slightly before serving. Serves 6-8.
(Sonya Sanford is a chef, food stylist and writer based out of Los Angeles.)
The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.