Scrumptious Focaccia Bread

Breadmaking is a very satisfying thing to be able to do, and it’s something I’ve always been into. Focaccia bread is, in my opinion, one of the easiest breads to make, as you place it down on the baking tray without much in the way of shaping it. You still need to get your technique right, if you want the bread to rise properly and be light and airy. Dried yeast is available in every baking department in every supermarket. A lot of recipes tell you to mix the yeast straight in with the flour, but I always take the extra step of activating it beforehand. To do this you just mix the yeast with a small amount of tepid water and ½ a teaspoon of sugar, and let it rest for 15 minutes (I usually do this in a coffee mug). This technique not only gives you a better response from the yeast but also lets you know that it is still working. After resting for the allotted time, the yeast will become light and foamy and have increased in size. If this does not happen then it is no good and should not be used.
Kneading is something that takes a little practice. All dough-kneading is sticky and messy at the beginning but, if you’ve got your proportions correct, it will smooth out as you go along. It generally takes 10-15 minutes to properly knead bread so that it is stretchy and elastic in texture, which can seem like quite a long time when you’re doing it. Persevere, because the more thorough your kneading, the better your bread will be. There are two stages of proving to be done, both in a warm place in your house, such as an airing cupboard or near a radiator. The first one takes about an hour and a half, where the dough will double in size. After this is the knocking back process, in which you hit the dough with your fists to knock all the air back out of it. Once you have done this it is time to shape your bread on or in the container you intend to cook it, and add any extra ingredients (in this case rosemary, sea salt and olive oil). Now you prove it again, this time only for about 20 minutes, in which time it will become pretty much the size of the finished loaf.
This is not an essential step, but I always spray the inside of the oven with water from a spray bottle before putting bread in. It adds a little humidity and helps to avoid burning the crust.
If you’ve not made bread before, this one is a good place to start, as it is about as easy as homemade bread gets. I hope you have fun with it.


Prep time: 30 minutes. Proving time: Up to 2 hours. Cooking time: 25 minutes, plus cooling time.
Makes 1 large or 2 small loaves.

Ingredients

2 tsp (10-12g) lose, or 2 sachets of dried yeast
½ tsp sugar
450 ml lukewarm water, a small amount is for the yeast mixture
650g strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading
2 tsp sea salt, plus extra before cooking
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing and brushing
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped.

You will also need a water spray gun to add moisture to the oven, if you are using this method.


Method:

Put the yeast in a mug or small bowl, add the sugar and then enough water to cover the yeast. Mix this with a spoon and set aside for 15 minutes. It will turn foamy after a while.
Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and combine. Add the yeast when it is ready, and the olive oil. Bring all the ingredients together, either with your hands or a table knife, until a dough starts to form. Mix for a minute or so with your hands to really bring it together. Now add a little flour to your work surface and put the dough onto it. It will still be quite sticky at this time. Knead with both hands, stretching, folding and turning the dough repeatedly, adding a little more flour when it sticks too much to the surface. Keep this going for about 10-15 minutes, until you have a smooth elastic dough that doesn’t stick so much to the hands.
Put a little olive oil in a clean mixing bowl and turn the dough around in it to coat it in the oil. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for about 1 ½ hours, until it has doubled in size.
Grease a large baking tray with olive oil.
Bring the dough back to your floured surface and press and punch all the air out of it. This is the knocking back process, where you are bringing the dough back to the state it was in before it was proven. Place the dough on the baking tray and form a large oval with your hands. Press all of your fingers into the top of the dough to create the indents that you see in focaccia bread, then brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and the chopped rosemary. Cover the dough again with the towel and put it back in the warm place for another 20 minutes, until it is about 1 ½ times its size.
Preheat the oven to gas 7/220C/425F.
When the dough is ready, open the oven door and spray water a couple of time into it to create a slightly moist atmosphere. Two sprays will do it. Gently put the bread into the middle of the oven and cook for 25 minutes, until it is risen and browned. Allow to cool on the baking tray for about 10 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Before serving, brush with more olive oil and sea salt if required.


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