With its salty crust and oil-soaked dough, focaccia is the perfect partner to anything you might want to eat in lockdown.
We may not have any bottomless brunches or dinner dates in our diaries right now, but that doesn’t mean we’re not spending a lot of time thinking about what we want to eat. Lockdown has transformed many of us into habitual snackers and meticulous meal planners – mapping out our days according to what we’re going to eat at any given time. According to new research by Waitrose and John Lewis, half of UK adults are now working harder to use store cupboard ingredients and not waste food, while almost a third have been more organised about cooking.
But what do you do with the leftovers from those diligently prepared dinners? The tagliatelle you couldn’t quite finish, the half-eaten salad bag, the deli-style selection of dips that need using up fast? Wasting food was never a good look, but it’s especially inadvisable during lockdown. So to bring all those odds and ends together in a delicious standalone meal, you need fresh bread – specifically, focaccia.
Using bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, spinach, and other such vegetables, these amateur bakers recreate the image of flowers or other plants as a topping to their bread, resulting in focaccia that looks far too pretty to eat.
Here are just a few examples:
Whether you’re into focaccia art or not, the bread itself is surprisingly simple to whip up and makes a perfect lockdown lunch staple, whether you want to use it in a sandwich or as an accompaniment to a simple salad. It also lends itself brilliantly to different toppings – so it’s the ideal way to use up that half-eaten jar of pesto, wilting chilli or random bunch of herbs languishing in the fridge.
Ahead, we’ve got four focaccia recipes, courtesy of top bakers, bakeries and restaurants: Joanna Gaines’ classic sea salt-and-rosemary recipe, a red onion loaf from Michelin-starred pub The Sportsman, James Morton’s contemporary sourdough version and Bread Ahead’s focaccia strewn with cherry tomatoes. Bring a taste of the Mediterranean to your lockdown meals – and remember, there’s no such thing as too much olive oil.
The Sportsman’s focaccia recipe
The Sportsman’s chef-founder Stephen Harris says: “It may seem strange that we make focaccia in a restaurant that highlights English food, but this bread is on the menu for sentimental reasons. Just before opening The Sportsman I visited The Walnut Tree restaurant in Wales. I was impressed by many things, but the bread board knocked me out: it has a cheese bread, black bread and this focaccia.”
Makes 1 loaf
- 20g/¾ oz fresh yeast
- 700g/1lb 9 oz (5 ½ cups) bread flour
- 20g/¾ oz (1 tablespoon) sea salt
- 15g/½ oz (1 tablespoon) caster (superfine) sugar
- olive oil
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 stalks rosemary, picked into small sprigs
Crumble the fresh yeast into a bowl and pour over 500ml/17 fl oz (generous 2 cups) warm water. Leave for 30 minutes to give the yeast time to activate.
Meanwhile, put the flour, salt and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a bread hook. If kneading by hand, combine in a large mixing bowl. With the mixer on a medium setting, add the year and water mixture to the dough and knead for around 5 minutes. The dough should be shiny and spring back when pressed with a finger; this means the glutens are in line. Leave the dough in the mixing bowl and allow to rise for an hour.
While the dough is rising, take a deep baking tin, around 30 x 24 cm/12 x 9 ½ inches and oil it very generously.
Knock the air out of the dough and turn out onto a floured work counter. Knead the dough for around 5 minutes to get it back to the shiny stage.
Swirl the oil in the pan to make sure all the inside surfaces are well-oiled. Put the dough into the pan and press into the sides and corners. Turn it over so that it is completely coated with oil. Spread the onion slices over the surface and tuck in the rosemary sprigs, distributing them evenly.
Leave for 2 hours, loosely covered with a tea towel, until the dough has risen almost to the top of the tin. Preheat the oven to 250C/500F.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the focaccia is golden brown. In the restaurant we turn it upside down in the pan and bake for another 10 minutes to ensure it is evenly browned all over, but this is cosmetic rather than essential.
Turn out the focaccia onto a wire rack and leave for at least an hour before slicing.
From The Sportsman by Stephen Harris (£29.95, Phaidon), out now
Joanna Gaines’ classic focaccia recipe
Makes 12 servings
To prep: 2 hours 25 minutes
To cook: under 25 minutes
To cool: under 10 minutes
For the dough
- 420ml (1 ¾ cups) warm water (35-45°C/95-110°F)
- One 7g (¼ oz) packet active dry yeast
- 3 teaspoons sugar
- 625g (5 cups) bread flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 180ml (½ cup plus 2 tablespoons) olive oil
- Cooking spray
For the topping
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
To make the dough
In a small bowl, combine 1⁄4 cup of the warm water, the yeast, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour and kosher salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the yeast mixture, the remaining 11⁄2 cups of warm water, 1⁄2 cup of the olive oil, and the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and mix for 5 minutes. The dough will form a ball and pull away from the sides.
Spray a large bowl lightly with cooking spray and place the ball of dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil onto a rimmed 17 × 13-inch sheet pan.
Punch down the dough to release the air. Place it on the prepared pan and press it out with lightly oiled hands to fill the pan, pushing your fingers into the dough to create small divots in it.
Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and place the dough in a warm area to rise until pillowy, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F.
To make the topping
Drizzle the top of the dough with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the sea salt, and rosemary.
Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the top of the focaccia is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into 12 pieces.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
From Magnolia Table, Volume 2: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering by Joanna Gaines (£25, William Morrow), out now
Bread Ahead’s focaccia recipe
Bread Ahead says: “This beautiful Italian olive oil bread can be topped with an array of seasonal produce. It makes the perfect centrepiece to any family feast.”
- 500g strong white bread flour
- 10g salt
- 6g fresh yeast (or 3g instant/quick/fast-acting dried yeast)
- 400g cold water
- 80g olive oil for folding and topping
- sea salt flakes and seasonal produce (i.e. cherry tomatoes, rosemary, olives etc) for topping
Place the flour and salt in a bowl and combine.
In another bowl, add the yeast to the water, then mix until dissolved (if using instant/quick/fast-acting dried yeast, mix the yeast through the dry mixture instead).
Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the liquid. Bring the mixture together to form a loose dough.
Tip the dough onto your work surface, ensuring you scrape all of the dough out to leave a clean bowl.
With the heel of your hand, push the dough into the table and stretch and tear for 5 minutes, making sure you scrape your dough to the centre throughout the mix.
Pour ¾ of the oil into the bottom of your bowl and place the dough back in the bowl.
Spread the oil from the bowl over the top of the dough, then give your dough a fold. To do so, place your hands under one side of the dough, pull it up and stretch over to the other side. Do this from the bottom, the top and each of the two sides (this is considered a single fold). This will help to merge the oil with the dough.
Leave to rest for half an hour. Give your dough 3 more folds resting for 30minutes each time. After the final fold, move to the fridge and leave for 10 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 220°C/fan 230°C/gas mark 7 or as hot as your oven will go.
Gently slide your dough onto a lightly oiled tray, fold in half (like a giant Cornish pasty) and massage the rest of the oil into the surface of the dough making sure it is evenly covered.
Press your fingers into the top of the dough to spread out into the tray. Make sure you press the whole surface (this will give your focaccia its dimpled appearance).
Top with your desired toppings and leave your dough for 30 minutes. If you choose, you can now hold your focaccia for up to 6 hours in the fridge.
Sprinkle with salt, then place your tray in the oven and lightly spritz the oven chamber with a water spray.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Take out, glaze with olive oil, cool and serve.
From Bread Ahead’s Online Baking E-Book (£5, Bread Ahead), out now
Bread Ahead have extended their delivery and are now covering the majority of London. Find out more here
James Morton’s sourdough focaccia integrale recipe
James Morton says: “To those who feel that the principle of this recipe is an abomination, I implore you to try it. Integrale means wholemeal. My version of this Italian flatbread is made with good British flour and a decent portion of wholewheat or rye flour – for ease, we’ll use whichever makes up your starter. While the focaccia is indeed an ancient bread, the idea that it must only be made with white flour is modern – flours have never been as refined as they are today, and we are hopefully beginning to revolt against this.
This is a recipe for you to play with. The dough is soft and forgiving, and you can incorporate loads of things into it: nuts, chopped olives, onions, garlic or sundried tomatoes all work well. The high oil content helps give it a crumb structure that is rather eccentric and uneven, as it interrupts your gluten – that’s why we add it after the mixing. Further oil doused over the top is essential.
Some would say use cheap oil for inside and expensive oil on top. Instead, just use the best oil, all the time. Buy it in bulk if you can, directly from the producers in France, Italy, Spain or Greece. Each country has its own varieties and terroirs, and each will make a different focaccia – this is also part of the fun.”
Makes 1 large focaccia
- 150g rye or wholemeal (wholewheat) sourdough starter
- 425g strong white flour
- 8g table salt
- 350g tepid-warm water
- 100g good-quality extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling and drizzling
- 2–3 tsp good-quality sea salt flakes
- herbs or toppings as you see fit – I like a handful of olives, a few tomatoes on the vine, a sliced red onion or a sprig or two of rosemary
Ideally, take your starter out of the fridge at least 8–14 hours before you want to bake. If it hasn’t been fed recently, give it a feed when you take it out. You can use it straight from the fridge, but your first prove will take quite a bit longer.
In a large bowl, weigh your flour. Add the table salt, then mix this in using your fingers. Add in your sourdough starter. Mix warm and cool water in a jug to 25ºC (77ºF) (colder than a swimming pool, warmer than tepid), and pour this in. Mix everything roughly until you have a very wet dough.
Let the dough rest for about 20–30 minutes – even allowing for a short autolyse of 10 minutes makes a difference. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or a plate to stop it drying out during this time.
Knead your dough – for this dough (which is very wet), stretching and folding intermittently works very well, but I’d still give it a little bit of working before adding the oil. The slap and fold method also works well. Give it 5 minutes of mixing, and as soon as it feels smooth, add your oil. Mix this until completely combined and you’ve got a very soft, shiny dough.
Wrap your bowl in a couple of large tea towels to keep it warm and stop the dough drying out. Leave in a relatively warm place for about 4 hours. Alternatively, you could retard this prove overnight in a cool place, covering the dough with a plastic bag. I would do a stretch and fold following this, if so, then leave it in a warm place for 1 hour before shaping.
This dough should appear large and slightly terrifying, with loads of big bubbles. If it isn’t, leave it a little longer. Once it is, oil a roasting tin and then add a little oil on top of your proven dough. Your hands should be very oily, too. Use your hands or a dough scraper to scrape your dough out of the bowl and into the tin. If it sticks, don’t worry – you can lift it off with your scraper and then add more oil.
Flatten your dough slightly, being careful to maintain its delicate air bubbles. Fold your dough in half, and then fold your new, longer dough in half again. I think of this like folding an A4 piece of paper twice so that you’ve got a smaller piece of paper. Add more oil if it’s sticking, and gently push your dough out into the corners of a 30 x 40cm (12 x 16in) roasting tin.
Stick your tin inside a plastic bag and leave to prove for 2–3 more hours at room temperature. Alternatively, you can retard this prove overnight or for up to 24 hours until your bread is ready to bake. You want it to grow further by about half.
Preheat your oven to 250ºC (480ºF)/230ºC (450ºF) fan/Gas 9 at least 30–40 minutes before you expect to bake your bread. If you have a stone, place in the oven to heat up. Just before it’s ready to bake, remove the focaccia from the plastic bag and poke indentations using oiled fingers in the dough, giving the focaccia its characteristic holes. Top with some flaked sea salt, at least, and any olives, vegetables or herbs you like. Drench the whole thing with generous drizzles of oil.
Place in the oven and add steam using your chosen method – for example, adding some water into a cast iron pan that’s sitting in the bottom of the oven. Turn the oven down to 220ºC (430ºF)/200ºC (400ºF) fan/Gas 7. Bake for 20 minutes, and then vent the oven by opening the door and allowing the steam to escape. Bake for another 15–20 minutes, or until a good golden brown.
Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes. Then add more oil on top. Slice and serve hot if you like, but it does also keep extremely well. Just add more oil when you serve it.
From Super Sourdough: The Foolproof Guide to Making World-Class Bread at Home by James Morton (£20, Quadrille), out now
Photography: Bread Ahead; Toby Glanville; Amy Neunsinger; Andy Sewell