Rosemary-Onion & Basil-Onion Focaccia Bread

I've rarely made a loaf of bread now and then but I've never been much of a baking enthusiast. Recently I had a craving for savory breads and after making them a few times I settled on focaccia as my favorite because I like its taste and texture, I like its flexibility with stuffings and toppings, and I particularly like that it doesn't have to be any specific shape so it's unnecessary to have a bread pan. Generally focaccia loaves are flat and round, oval or rectangular, and are about an inch or two thick. It's interesting that focaccia dough and pizza dough very similar except that pizza dough is flattened out just before baking while focaccia is given more time to rise, and pizza is baked at a higher temperature for a shorter time. I've made pizza using this same recipe with good results.

The measurements shown below will make one large focaccia or two small ones. I like to divide the batter and make two different varieties at the same time. The measurements of the optional stuffings are suitable for half the full recipe if you're making two varieties, but they are so uncritical and approximate that you can just use whatever amounts you like. I was surprised that the onion flavor was subtle particularly considering the amount used, however it seems that the main effect of the onion is to contribute moistness to the bread. I always add the onion to the full amount and then vary what stuffings and toppings I use. If you don't want onion you can leave it out. I like to make a slightly sweet bread but you can reduce the honey or sugar by half if you want less sweetness.

One thing that amazes me is how insensitive this recipe is to quantities or proportions. I've varied the amounts to discover which were critical but my variations made hardly any difference at all. You should experiment using your own ideas for stuffings and toppings and you can make your own unique focaccia. The only critical measurement is the ratio of flour to water, and you just add a bit more of one or the other to adjust the batter to the proper moistness.

Basic Ingredients:

1/2 packet yeast (1 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons honey (or 1-2 teaspoons sugar)
2 to 2-1/2 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 cups chopped brown onion
1 tablespoon olive oil for sauté

Optional Stuffings:

1/2 to 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 to 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup rosemary leaves (grind up a bit using mortar and pestle)

Optional Toppings:

coarse sea salt
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
rosemary leaves

Sauté the chopped onion in a small amount of EVOO until it is limp and then set it aside to cool. Don't add the onion to your batter direcly from a hot pan. Add the honey to about 1/4 cup of warm water, then mix in the yeast and let it proof for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will be bubbly when it's ready to use.

Measure the flour, salt and olive oil into a large mixing bowl, then add the sautéed onions and stir. Add the basil or rosemary if you want the whole batch to be one flavor, or save the herbs for later if you intend to divide your batch and make two flavors. The optional Parmesan cheese should also be saved for later.

Add the yeast mixture to the bowl and stir, then continue adding water in small amounts as you mix (about another 1/4 cup) until the batter sticks together but not so much that it gooey. You can use your fingers to do the mixing. If the batter is too wet and sticks to your fingers then add more flour. If it's too dry add more water. It's perfect when it balls together without being overly sticky and has incorporated all the flour without leaving any on the bowl.

Continue mixing about another five minutes using a spoon or your hands, then put a small amount of olive oil in a bowl, add the ball of batter and turn it over a few times until it is coated on all surfaces. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and let the dough rise for about an hour. Some cooks say to use a moist kitchen towel but I haven't noticed any difference either way. It is best if you can let the batter rise in a warm area, not too hot and not too cold.

When the batter has doubled in volume mash it together with your hands and work it for a few minutes until it is uniformly mixed. Optionally you can let it rise one or more times by returning the batter to the bowl, adding a bit more olive oil if necessary, and let it rise for another hour or two. Or you can let it rise overnight although that's not necessary. When I leave mine overnight I just leave it on the counter although some cooks say to refrigerate it. Or just proceed to the next step if you want your bread to be done sooner.

You can have one large focaccia loaf or two smaller ones. If the latter, divide the dough in halves. Add any optional basil or rosemary that wasn't added earlier, like if you're dividing your batch to make two different flavors. If you're adding Parmesan cheese I think it has a better result if you add it mid way in the next mixing step and leave it just partially mixed for a more rustic result. Prepare a baking dish or cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, then coat the dish or sheet with a light film of olive oil. Aerosol spray EVOO works great for this.

Work the batter a bit more and then flatten it out using your fingers or a rolling pin. Spread it out on the cookie sheet or baking dish and let it rise for 30-60 minutes. You can cover it with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel during rising.

Punch it down by poking it with your fingers then add any optional toppings. If you're making one big loaf you can divide it into areas and use different toppings, or if making two small loaves you can top them the same or differently.

You can drizzle one or two tablespoons of EVOO over the top as is often traditionally done. (I use the EVOO spray.) You can sprinkle the top with coarse sea salt or rosemary leaves or some other herb or herb mixture.

Let the dough rise one final time for about 15 minutes, then bake in a 375-400 degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes until the top is nicely browned. Check it frequently during the latter stages so you won't burn it. Optionally, if you want a Parmesan cheese topping you should add that during the last 5-10 minutes of baking so that the cheese won't get burned.

Focaccia can be reheated by loosely wrapping in aluminum foil and warming in your oven. Do not microwave.

Credit: My own original recipe.

Filed under Side Dishes   Tagged bread, original, signature, Italian