The holidays are over. Long gone and a thing of the past now. It is hard to believe how fast the new year is already moving along. Especially when some of us are still thinking it is 2012. So much so that we have to practice writing out 2-0-1-3 with such diligence to get it right. Those of us who do not want to move on are quickly realizing that time does not stand still. It will leave us behind if we do not catch up. Despite all of this, January is in full swing and although our vacations are over and our lives are getting back into routine, the cold and damp weather is not letting up. We have no break from it in sight. The chilly winter air, with its low temperatures, is breezing through all around us, cutting our faces and hands like flying daggers. These days we find ourselves braving the outside world with gloves, scarves and heavy sweaters, jackets and coats. We bundle up to make our trips to work, school, the market, or to run our daily errands. Our breath, frosty and icy as we walk in haste to the warmth of the indoors, like moths to a flame.
It seems the only salvation we have from the cold outside world, is the comfort of our homes. More specifically the familiarity of our kitchens. On days when all the clouds have come out to play and the sun is off hibernating in some warm remote tropical island, the cold weather hangs around even more persistently. It holds us in a death grip and does not let go. Do you know those days? It is these moments when turning on the oven and getting in the kitchen is most useful, in more ways than one. We check our baggage and problems at the door, put on our aprons, turn on the music, and forget about everything. We are one in the moment. Cooking and baking to our heart’s content. It is not necessarily about what we are making that is important—although our stomachs will appreciate the end result—rather it is more so about the process of making something. Anything. The meticulous measurements of baking and the not-so-precise movements of cooking. They relax us and force us to live in the moment. To live in the now.
When the days are super cold and ridiculously long and I’m forced to layer up in sweater after sweater, even in my own home, I like to get in the kitchen and make something that takes a while to prepare. A recipe that requires the oven to be on for a long period of time. Any excuse to get more heat throughout the house. Sure, I can easily turn on the heater and call it a day, but when I do that there isn’t a delicious treat waiting for me at the end. At least when I turn on the oven to make something, I will get to enjoy a tasty dish along with the benefit of warming myself up. There is also something magical about taking all the time to make something special like homemade bread. The countless resting and rising time, crossing your fingers and holding your breath that you woke up the yeast properly and hoping against hope that the dough doubled in size in less amount of time indicated. The feeling heightens when you realize you have done everything right and the raw dough itself looks and smells just as tasty as if it were baked. Then you are forced to bake it and wait even longer. As it cooks you suddenly forget about all the anguish and grief the constant kneading and resting and rising has caused you because your nose picks up on the wafting smell of fresh baking bread. Throw rosemary and parmesan into the mix and suddenly the pleasurable aromatic smells coming from the oven are even more irresistible. Even more tempting. What cold air? You forget all about the chilly winter and even stop worrying about getting warm because all your attention seems to be focused on the timer, and you are calculating how long it will take for the bread to cool so you can slice it up and enjoy the fruits of your labor. That ladies and gentleman, is the benefit of winter time baking and cooking.
We start by grabbing a small bowl. We need to wake up the yeast from its slumber.
I’m using active dry yeast, which is not the fresh yeast that is stored in the refrigerator. No, active dry yeast is usually sold in packets of three or four and is stored at room temperature. This yeast needs to be “woken” up by adding it to warm water and feeding it some kind of sugar or honey.
We need the yeast to wake up in order for it to inflate our dough and give it flavor.
So to the bowl, add a bit of sugar. Yeast needs food to eat, and sugar is great food for it.
Dissolve the sugar by adding the warm water.
**Note: It is extremely important that the water be slightly warm. Not hot where it’s going to kill the yeast, but not cold either where it won’t waken it up. The water needs to be warm in order for it to activate the yeast, resulting in better tasting bread that is fluffier and softer.**
You can whisk it together, if you’d like, to allow the sugar to completely dissolve.
Then just sprinkle the yeast. One package of yeast will be fine, which approximates to 2¼ teaspoons yeast.
Some people like to whisk the yeast into the water. I normally just sprinkle it on top and don’t touch it. It’ll work its magic on its own.
The water will start to activate the yeast right before your very eyes, like magic. See? Cooking is magic. Cooking is fun.
Say it with me, “Cooking is magic. Cooking is fun.”
Allow the yeast and water mixture to sit (untouched) for about 10 minutes.
In the meantime, let’s get the rest of the ingredients together.
I’m making this dough with my stand mixer because I’m too lazy to do it by hand and because my stand mixer likes to do all the work. Why should I deprive it of such luxuries. After all, it was made to make difficult jobs easier.
Since this is bread, and we will be kneading this dough, I’m using the dough hook attachment. It normally doesn’t see the light of day because the paddle attachment gets all the attention. Today, it’s the hook’s time to shine.
Add the flour.
I like to use a combination of both all-purpose and bread flour. Why? Because I think that the balance between both is perfect for focaccia bread.
To the flour, add the salt.
I normally bake with regular table salt. But when I make hearty recipes such as these—a good dough like focaccia—I like to use a grainier salt like kosher to give it more flavor and texture.
We’re adding a tablespoon of salt.
Now I know, I know. I’ll probably get a lot of complaints about using a whole tablespoon of salt for one recipe BUT before you send those angry e-mails, know this, this recipe makes A LOT of focaccia bread. So in the grand scheme of things, one tablespoon for a bunch of bread isn’t that much.
Trust me and give it a try.
Add the extra-virgin olive oil.
By now the yeast should be slightly foamy and ready to be added.
Add it to the mixing bowl.
So just to be on the safe side, the only two ingredients not being added at the moment are the rosemary and the parmesan. We’re saving those for later.
If you are doing this by hand, this is the part where you can start crying because it’s going to take a lot out of you to knead for 7 to 10 minutes. But more power to you for being adventurous in the kitchen.
Me? Not so much. All I’m going to do is bring down the top part of the machine. Lock it in place. Flip the switch on to low and stand back.
Once the dough starts to come together and there isn’t much flour in the bowl, you can turn the speed up. The dough should form a somewhat sticky ball and come off the sides.
**Tip: If the dough is dry, add a bit of water. A little at a time until it comes together and away from the sides. At the same time, if the dough is too sticky and wet, add a bit of flour. A little at a time until it comes together away from the sides.**
When it does form a ball, turn the mixer to medium high and allow to knead for about 7 to 10 minutes. You might have to supervise as when my mixer kneads dough it likes to move around the counter. I have to hold it in place to make sure it doesn’t fall off.
If you are doing this by hand, at this point, you can flour a work surface, transfer the dough, and knead until it is smooth and elastic.
After about 10 minutes your dough will be soft and supple and smooth and elastic and perfect.
It’ll look like this.
Take it out of the bowl and place it on a lightly floured work surface.
Oil the inside of the same bowl you used to knead it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like washing dishes so the less I dirty the better. Why not utilize the same bowl? Saves us from having to clean more.
The oil will prevent the dough from sticking to the bowl as it rises. You can use cooking spray if you have some on hand and don’t feel like using oil. Focaccia is a very oily bread with tons of flavor. It develops it’s flavor from the olive oil. Keep that in mind.
Lightly knead the dough into a ball and dump it back into the greased bowl. Turn it over to grease both sides of the dough.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, lightly covered don’t stretch it on tight. And then place a damp kitchen towel over the plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in a warm place for about 1 hour.
**Tip: I find that the best place to let dough rise in my kitchen is the oven. Place the bowl in the oven and forget about it for an hour. DO NOT turn on the oven or anything. Just leave it off. It’s still somewhat warm and perfect for rising bread.**
After an hour the dough should be doubled in size.
Before we proceed to working with the dough and getting our hands dirty, let’s prepare the baking pan.
You’ll need a half sheet pan. I’m not sure on the exact measurements. But like a big cookie sheet or jelly roll pan will work just fine.
Line it with a piece of parchment paper (making the clean up a lot easier) and drizzle with olive oil (again, olive oil equals flavor).
Okay, now for the fun part.
Playing with your food.
The dough is all puffed up with air at the moment. So you have to squish it down to let the air out. Deflate.
Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan.
Our goal now is to spread out the dough into an even layer.
Work it with your hands until it is stretched and completely covering the entire pan. It might appear like it wont fit the pan, as if there isn’t enough dough for it, but don’t be afraid to stretch and pull. If it tears that’s okay. Just squish it.
It’s going to rise one more time so don’t worry too much about making it look perfect at this point.
One of the distinguishing factors of focaccia bread is the dented top.
It normally, always has grooves at the top, which is what allows the toppings to nestle in nicely. To make those grooves, just use your fingers to poke holes right through the dough.
Make actual holes in the dough, to the point where you can see the bottom of the pan. Don’t be afraid, just do it. Once the dough rises for the last time, the holes will disappear and the dents will remain.
Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap.
Cover with a damp towel, place in the oven (turned off) and allow to rise for another hour.
It will double in size and get puffy.
We’re almost there, don’t start getting anxious and impatient. There is a lot of idle time with this recipe but I promise you that it is well worth your wait.
After an hour the dough will look like this:
We’re almost ready for baking.
We need to prepare the other ingredients. The toppings.
First up is the rosemary.
Strip off the leaves from the stems. Rosemary isn’t like thyme, the stems are very strong and you can’t really cut through them so only use the green leafy parts.
Give it a rough chop.
And now for the parmesan.
Fresh parmesan that you grate yourself, please.
Grate a heaping handful of it. If you love cheese like I do, well then by all means, grate as much as you’d like. This is up to you, I’m giving you the power.
The next step is to drizzle a bit more oil on the top of the bread. I know, I know, tons of oil we’re using. But not really. It’s just a drizzle over there and a drizzle over here. No biggie.
Plus the oil on top helps the toppings stick to the bread, remember?
Sprinkle the chopped rosemary evenly, all throughout the top of the bread.
And repeat that complicated step with the grated cheese.
I also like to sprinkle it with a tiny bit of salt. And I do mean tiny. The parmesan is rather salty already, so be careful. We don’t want to over salt this thing. And crack a bit of fresh black pepper on the top as well while you’re at it. It’s all about building up flavor folks.
Bake in a preheated 400° F oven for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown all over.
Rotate the pan halfway through baking to ensure even browning.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack, for about 20 minutes. Cut and serve right away.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature. It will keep for about 5 days. Although I can guarantee you that it wont last for five days. If you have a hard time eating it all, call me and I’ll come over and eat some. I love this stuff.
If you eat leftovers, just warm up the bread in the oven for a few minutes. It makes all the difference.
You can cut the focaccia in squares—like I did up above—or you can cut them into thin strips and serve them as breadsticks.
Although, I guess it doesn’t really matter how you cut them. It’s the taste that is important in the end. You won’t be disappointed.
The fact that it makes a lot of bread might discourage you. Well fight it. Don’t let that deter you from making it. Cut half for now and then wrap the other half tightly in plastic wrap, place in a freezer bag and freeze.
Just thaw it out later on when you want fresh bread but don’t want to go through all the hassle of making it.
Focaccia is usually topped with various different ingredients. Each one giving the bread a distinct flavor. If you’re not the biggest fan of rosemary and parmesan, or if you just want other ideas, you can top focaccia with almost anything.
But what else do you recommend Jonathan? Well thank you for asking.
Some good ideas are:
Sliced black olives
Sliced roma tomatoes
Strawberries and balsamic vinger (crazy, but very tasty)
Give them all a try. If you’re a simpleton and none of those toppings called out to you, then you can just do a simple sprinkling of sea salt and call it a day.
Which ever you decided to make, whatever toppings you choose, I hope you give this recipe a try very soon. Once you make it for the first time, you’ll want to make it again and again.
I’ve found any excuse to bake this bread. And then I’ll eat it with breakfast, with lunch and with dinner. There’s no stopping me whenever there is warm fresh focaccia in the house.
Serve this alongside a hearty soup and you won’t be able to get rid of me.
A soup. Yes a soup, would be the best companion to this bread. Let’s make that happen. Perhaps soup is in the forecast?
Rosemary Parmesan Focaccia
yield: about 24 medium squares, 8 to 10 servings
- 1¾ cups warm water (not too hot and not too cold)
- 1 package active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling at the top
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
- ¼ to ½ cup freshly grated parmesan
- freshly cracked black pepper
1. In a small bowl dissolve the sugar into the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast on top and give it a light stir. Set aside and allow to rest, in a warm place, until the yeast is bubbling and foamy. Give it at least, minimum, 15 minutes.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the all-purpose and bread flours, the tablespoon of salt, ½ cup of the extra-virgin olive oil, and the frothy yeast mixture. Mix on low speed until the ingredients come together. Once the dough has formed a slightly sticky ball and has come off the sides of the bowl, raise the speed to medium-high and knead for about 7 to 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and soft. If the dough is dry looking, sprinkle in a bit of water (a little at a time) or if the dough is too sticky, sprinkle in a bit of flour (a little at a time) until it is smooth and soft.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, such as a wooden cutting board, and knead by hand one to two times. Coat the inside of the same bowl you used for kneading, with a bit of the remaining oil. Put the dough back into the greased bowl, turning it over to coat both sides. Lightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and cover with a damp towel. Place in a warm place—such as an oven that is turned off—and allow to rest until it is doubled in size, about 1 hour.
4. After an hour, prepare a jelly roll pan, or half sheet pan, by lining it with a piece of parchment paper. Drizzle a bit of the remaining oil and spread it out evenly. Place the dough in the baking pan and spread it out with your hands. Stretch the dough to fit the pan. Once the dough is fitted into the pan, use your fingers to poke holes all throughout the dough. It’s weird but it gives the focaccia that dented look that it is known for. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and a damp towel and place in a warm place—the oven will do fine again, just make sure it’s turned off—and allow to rest for another hour until it is doubled in size.
5. Preheat oven to 400° F. Drizzle the top of the bread with the remaining oil. Sprinkle it with the chopped rosemary and grated parmesan. Season with a bit of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Bake the dough for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Rotate the pan halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Remove the focaccia from the oven and allow to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting and serving. Eat right away. Store any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature. Enjoy!