By Jessica Roy A couple of months ago, my husband and I enjoyed a fabulous vacation in Italy. During our stay in Florence, we found this great little cafe that offered "happy hour" style small bites and drinks all day long.
It was the perfect spot to perch for a break from all our shopping and city-wandering (sounds exhausting, I know!), and the one thing on the menu that I just couldn't get enough of was their house-made focaccia bread. The light fluffy inside and crispy salted herb crust, was mouthwatering. Served simply, dipped in local extra virgin olive oil, or loaded with cheesy toppings the bread took on a new life with each bite.
This week, I'm traveling back to the streets of Tuscany for a taste of that beautiful bread. Of course, when creating any sort of bread or pastry recipe, I heed the advice of one of my great pastry chef friends. One of the key things I confirmed with her was how to get maximum "rise" out of this relatively flat bread to reprise that puffy inside of the Florence cafe version. The answer? 1 1/2 packets of yeast. I apologize for the unused half packet, but trust me it's worth it.
To get that beautiful brown crust, be sure to "baste" the bread twice with olive oil while it's baking. Finally, I'm using honey in this recipe both in the dough, and as a thin drizzle atop. If you're honey-d out, feel free to skip the drizzle.
Salted Honey Focaccia
1 1/2 packets active dry yeast (just under 3 1/2 tsp.
1 1/2 c. warm water (100-110 degrees F)
2 Tbs. honey, plus more for topping
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp. fine ground kosher salt
1 tsp. coarse or large ground kosher salt, for topping
3 Tbs. olive oil, plus more for topping
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves roughly chopped
Dissolve the yeast into the warm water, stir in 2 Tbs. honey and allow to "activate" for 5 minutes. The yeast should look foamy, fluffy and almost doubled in size.
Combine the sifted flour and 2 tsp. fine ground salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the water, yeast, and 3 Tbs. olive oil, and mix using the dough hook attachment on low speed. Allow the dough to mix for 6-8 minutes, until a soft, smooth dough ball is formed.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, and cover it with plastic wrap. Trace a circle on the plastic wrap outlining the shape of the dough ball to note its initial size. Place the covered bowl in a warm dry place to "proof" or rise for 1 hour. The dough should double in size.
Coat a half-sheet pan (13" x 18") with 1 Tbs. olive oil. Gently punch down the dough, and transfer it to the prepped pan. Using your fingertips, press and stretch the dough into the rectangular shape of the pan. It may take a couple of minutes of stretching for the dough to stay in place. Allow the dough to rest and rise in a warm place for 25-30 minutes, until puffy.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. "Paint" or spread 2 Tbs. olive oil over the top of the dough. Sprinkle with the coarse salt, and chopped rosemary. Press your fingertips into the top of the dough to create dimples all over the surface. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees.
Remove focaccia from oven, baste with another 1-2 teaspoons olive oil, and lightly drizzle with honey if desired. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until bread is golden brown and crusty. Remove from oven, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer and chef instructor, and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville, where she teaches classes. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/ yourpersonalchef.