Rosemary Focaccia

I have made this focaccia many times and it always turns out beautifully and is so delicious.  It is great for potlucks or picnics, and the rosemary flavor goes well with Mediterranean fare or with grilled foods.  I find that I make focaccia more often in the summer, especially for outdoor meals.  It is best eaten the same day it is made, but if you want, you can start the dough the night before.  Usually though, I just make it all in one day.  It takes about three and a half hours from start to finish due to three different rising steps, so this is a weekend treat for us rather than part of a weekday meal.  It is the multiple rises, including the first step of making a sponge, that give the focaccia its great texture.   I like this focaccia better than any I have had at restaurants or bakeries.

Don’t let the time deter you from making this bread!  Most of the time the yeast is doing the work for you, while you go off and do other things. You just need to come back for a few minutes between rises.

One unusual piece of equipment that I think is important for the focaccia texture and crisp top is a spray bottle of water (plant mister) for squirting into the oven during the early parts of baking.  I keep a spray bottle just for water, primarily for making focaccia, but it is good for misting houseplants too.

Fresh Rosemary is essential for the lovely flavor and scent of this bread.  Rosemary is not hardy in upstate New York, so I grow it in a pot outdoors in the summer and snip sprigs for use in this bread or in other dishes.  The potted Rosemary can be brought indoors for the winter months.

The method is adapted from a recipe for Focaccia with Sage that appeared in the May 1995 issue of Bon Appetit .

Rosemary Focaccia

Sponge:

1 teaspoon dry yeast (not bread machine yeast)
½ cup lukewarm water (105-115° F)
¾ cup unbleached flour (I like King Arthur flour)

Remaining dough ingredients:

1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 to 3 ¼cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

To top the bread before baking:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1-2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

Start by adding a teaspoon of yeast to ½ cup warm water in a medium bowl and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes.  This is partly to make sure that the yeast dissolves completely, but also tests that the yeast is active- it should look a little foamy on top.  Then stir in the ¾ cup flour to make the sponge and let that sit for 40 minutes.

When the sponge is ready (it does not hurt if you are a bit late getting back to it), mix another  1 teaspoon yeast into a cup of warm water and let it stand for a few minutes, then pour it into the sponge along with the olive oil.  Add 1 cup flour, the salt and rosemary, and stir together.  Mix in the rest of the flour until the dough starts to hold together.  Knead for 5-10 minutes on a floured surface, adding more flour as necessary.  I try not to add too much flour- just enough to make it kneadable.

Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl until doubled in size (about  one hour).  Punch the dough down.  At this point you can either put the dough back in the bowl and refrigerate it overnight before continuing, or go on to the next step.

With oiled hands, spread focaccia dough on an oiled baking sheet  (about  11X17”).  Let rise 1 ½ hours if from the fridge, 1 hour if warm.

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Put the oven rack in the middle and take out the top rack (I find it gets in the way).  Ten minutes before baking, put a large heavy baking sheet upside down on the middle rack of the oven. This will provide an even, hot surface for baking the focaccia.

Using your finger tips, press dough all over, creating dimples.  Drizzle the dough with 2 Tablespoons olive oil, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon Kosher salt.  Add chopped fresh rosemary to top.

Place Focaccia pan on the larger baking sheet in the oven .  Spray oven (not the bread!) with water 2-3 times during the first 10 minutes of baking.  Bake for about 25 minutes total, until golden brown.  The bread will also seem stiff, rather than soft.  Remove focaccia from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.

A nice variation is to add halved, pitted Kalamata olives to the top of the focaccia before baking.

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