Focaccia is Pizza’s classy cousin. She looks down on everyone else from above, turns her nose up at those greasy late-night parties that pizza is always down for, and she’s rolling in dough. And while Pizza is so often gussied up with questionable accessories (don’t worry, I still love you, pineapple), Focaccia has managed to retain a refined sensibility, shirking any over-the-top accoutrements.

Exception to the rule

Actually, I know of one exception to this from my my days at university. At the food court on campus, you could find woks searing out their next stir-fry next to slow-cooked middle-eastern stews, rubbing shoulders with burger joints and a hole-in-the-wall sushi shop (uni students are not the most refined eaters). In between them all, was a store that sold a bread-heavy pizza/focaccia mash-up that was guaranteed to leave you in a food coma (not ideal when the rest of your afternoon was packed with lectures on thermodynamics). Unfortunately, the toppings just weren’t enough to make up for the burden of dense bread. I digress, but there is are a few lessons here: make sure your Focaccia is light and airy, and make sure the toppings are the icing on the proverbial cake.

Sourdough is next level

But what of sourdough Focaccia? Well, I guess she’s the older but no less graceful mother. She resembles her daughter, but sourdough has lived longer and had more time to develop complexity and character.

In fact, Focaccia starts out in much the same way as any other bread—with that unassuming combination of flour, water, salt and yeast—but with something golden that elevates it, and which imparts incredible richness. Olive oil is added at almost every stage—a little when you’re mixing the dough, as a bed to rest on for its first proof, as a gentle lubricant in its final resting place; and then—as if that weren’t enough—a baptism in the final act. When you’re done, your hands will be well moisturised.

Focaccia is fermented slowly over a long period to develop beautiful flavour. Because it’s a bread-heavy affair and since there’s no concern with butter falling through the cracks, I prefer mine with lots of flavour and obscenely large bubbles. Push it further than you would with a boule or a batard; leave it as far as you dare. A shallow dish will contain it and provide structure in lieu of a stronger dough. When it’s done, it pulls apart like marshmallow, and has just the right amount of resistance when you bite into it.

Simplicity

There’s something simple about making Focaccia too. No stress about developing strength, a few fresh ingredients, vague proofing times. It’s perfect for lazy afternoons. If you close your eyes, you can almost sense the dappled sunlight reaching you from an overhead grape vine.

One of my favourite combinations could not be simpler or tastier: home-grown tomatoes, a smattering of aged cheese, flecks of mild chilli, olive oil, salt. Just enough to let the bread shine through and subtly complement it.

If true style is timeless, then it turns out that Focaccia was right all along: simple is best.

Sourdough Focaccia

Serves 4 Makes 8 slices Cook Time: 17 hours 33 minutes Total Time: 17 hours 33 minutes
  1. Make the dough base 16 hours 45 minutes
    • 250 grams wholemeal flour
    • 250 grams baker's flour
    • 9 grams salt
    • 5 grams malted barely (optional)
    • 100 grams ripe levain
    • 400 grams warm water
    • 12 grams olive oil
    1. 2 minutes
      Mix flours Mix the flours, salt and barley together in a clear container.
    2. 2 minutes
      Mix wet ingredients Mix the ripe levain, water and olive oil in a measuring jug.
    3. 5 minutes
      Combine everything Add the wet ingredients to the flours and combine thoroughly.
    4. 1 hour
      Rest Let the dough sit for 1 hour to develop strength.
    5. 1 hour 30 minutes
      Stretch and fold Perform 4 sets of stretch and folds spaced half an hour apart.
    6. 1 minute
      Oil a baking dish Oil a shallow baking dish generously with olive oil.
    7. 5 minutes
      Shape the dough Loosely shape the dough and place it into the baking dish.
    8. 12 hours
      Cold retard Leave the dough in your fridge overnight.
    9. 2 hours
      Bench rest Remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit for a few hours on your benchtop until there are large bubbles visible on under its surface.
  2. Dress with toppings 8 minutes
    • Shallow baking dish
    • 2 small tomatoes
    • 10 grams aged cheddar
    • 3 small jalapenos
    • 1 handful basil
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • 10 grams olive oil
    • 1 pinch salt
    1. 1 minute
      Dimple the dough Dimple the dough with your fingers.
    2. 1 minute
      Drizzle with olive oil Drizzle the focaccia with olive oil, the minced garlic and sprinkle it with salt.
    3. 5 minutes
      Prepare ingredients Chop the tomato into small cubes, slice the jalapenos, finely chop the basil and grate the cheese.
    4. 1 minute
      Top with ingredients Scatter all of the remaining ingredients over the focaccia.
  3. Bake and serve 40 minutes
    • Dutch oven
    1. 20 minutes
      Bake Bake at 230°C (446°F) for 20 minutes.
    2. 20 minutes
      Serve Remove from the oven and rest on the counter for 20 minutes before serving.

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