Focaccia with Young Garlic, Olives and Flaked Sea Salt

Edit:  There is a newer, and in my opinion, even better recipe for focaccia here, but unlike this one, it calls for a sourdough starter and overnight fermentation.  This is still the better go-to recipe when you want some focaccia and you want it now!

This morning, I woke up with a headache.

It’d plagued me all of yesterday afternoon, and when it was not gone after a good night’s sleep, I knew I had to make war on it or have it ruin the entirety of today as well.  War on headache is something of a specialty of mine, as I have suffered from migraines for (approximately) the past 15 years.  Among other things, for me at least, eating carbohydrates (but not actually sugar) tends to help against headache.  Since I ration my intake of bread and the like, I figure that if I am going to eat carbohydrates, then by God (… by Food?), it will be something yummy.

Yes. Yummy.

And so, in-between loading the dishwasher and mixing up sourdough bread for tomorrow, this focaccia came to be.

Focaccia is a flattish loaf of bread which originates from Liguria.  Liguria is the locale that also gave us pesto Genovese, anchovies in oil, and a number of other delicious things (what part of Italy hadn’t?!).  Like much of Ligurian cuisine, focaccia is not meant to be bland.  In fact, the defining characteristic of focaccia is not how flat it is, but its extra-virgin olive oil and salt content – it is what gives it its characteristic robust flavor and golden color.  (For the record, I refuse to acknowledge the existence of those miserable dense flattened-to-death things some supermarkets and even cafes call ‘focaccia’.)

I am not sure why it was that I settled on focaccia, though possibly it was the ease and speed of preparation (and it does bake faster than rounder bread shapes), but as I didn’t actually have a standby recipe for focaccia of my own (this may become it now, after the loud acclaim-while-munching from T), I turned to my much-favored Mediterranean cookbook by Joanna Farrow and Jacqueline Clark.

I’ve adapted the original recipe somewhat (slightly smaller batch of dough, toppings), but I believe in giving credit where credit is due.  My recipe adaptation follows shortly.

And yes, I’ve baked, eaten, had coffee and my head is much better now.  All I have to worry about is how to keep myself away from the wonderful leftovers.

What you need:

  • 4.5dl strong (high-protein content – at least 11%) bread flour + more for work surface
  • 20g fresh yeast or equivalent amount of instant dry yeast
  • 2.5dl finger-warm water + a little more as needed (flour moisture varies)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil + more to drizzle on top and dip into later
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder or granules (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (I used pounded-down coarse sea salt)
  • Flaked sea salt for topping
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 5-6 olives
  • 3 cloves of young garlic, peeled and chopped (young garlic is juicier and thus does not dry as fast and burns less.  You can use regular garlic just fine too.)

What to do:

  • Break up and dissolve fresh yeast in about 1.5 dl of warm water.  Let stand.  (If using dry yeast, follow manufacturer’s instructions for it – some call for mixing into liquid, others are for mixing into flour.)
  • Put flour, salt, and garlic powder into a bowl and stir with a whisk to combine.
  • If yeast has settled to the bottom (normal with fresh yeast), stir the liquid and add to the flour along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Begin mixing with a wooden spoon or with a mixer equipped with dough hooks on low speed.  Add approximately 1dl of water, or more if necessary to make a very soft dough – mix until just combined.  Let stand for 10 minutes.
  • After 10 min, mix a bit longer, then turn onto a well-floured surface and knead a few times with floured hands.
  • Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl.  Turn to coat and cover with plastic wrap (clingfilm).  Let stand at room temperature for 30-60min or until doubled in bulk.
  • Preheat oven to 210°C.  Roughly line a cake tin (I use my standard springform pan) with a sheet of baking parchment.
  • Tip the risen dough onto a floured surface, and knead once or twice gently, avoiding squeezing the air out.
  • Shape the dough into a ball, and stretch either on the surface or in the air to make a flat round shape.
  • Place the dough into the baking tin and gently push at it with fingertips to fill up as much of the surface as possible, and to flatten out evenly.  Cover with a dish towel and allow to rise while you make the topping, approximately 20 minutes.
  • Peel and chop garlic and rosemary.  Place in a small bowl and add 2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Pit the olives if necessary (pitting olives can be done by placing them on a board and smashing them under the flat of the knife – the stone will come out easily after), and chop coarsely.
  • Once the bread is risen a little, poke it with clean fingertips to dimple and stretch more if necessary.
  • Drizzle or brush the olive oil with garlic and rosemary all over the surface of the bread.  Scatter olives and flaked salt over, and push in with fingers a little.
  • Place bread in preheated oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from the oven, take out of tin, and cool on a rack.  If bottom of bread looks too pale, bread can be placed in the oven with bottom heat on for another 5 minutes without the tin.

This is fantastic both warm or cold, with a little bit of dipping oil or butter, and cheese or salad.  Or all on its own, as headache medicine.

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