Joy made a comment on my last post about having made Focaccia that was too dense & without any nice air bubbles. So here's what I know about actually making Focaccia and how to get it airy & light. Focaccia, and Ciabatta are made from dough that had a lot more water than typical loaf breads. They're about half a step beyond batter and very loose to work with so you have to get used to a different kneading technique for developing gluten...the stretchy stuff that holds the air released by yeast fermentation and water evaporation. The more water you put into a dough, the more potential for a nice airy interior with the big bubbles like you normally find in Focaccia, Ciabatta and other slack doughs. I was thinking about trying to talk about baker's percentages and hydration, but that's pretty boring and I'd end up confusing myself for sure and probably everyone else too. If you're interested in trying this, read all the directions before proceeding. My cooks have royally screwed up recipes by not reading all the way through.
My Focaccia recipe starts with a Poolish. Poolish is a pre-ferment that adds a little tanginess like a sourdough starter, but doesn't take weeks to make like sourdough starter. You can do all this recipe in one day, including the Poolish. Although if you think ahead and let your Poolish do its thing overnight and bake the next day you'll notice a stronger flavor and a better rise.
.25 teaspoon instant yeast
2.5 Cups Bread Flour
1.5 Cups Water
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until all the flour is incorporated. It should look like really thick pancake batter. Cover and ignore for at least 4 hours until it looks bubbly and foamy. If you thought ahead and are going to bake then next day, put it in the refrigerator. By the way, this is called "retarding" the dough because it almost puts the yeast back to sleep. Just give it an hour at room temp. before proceeding with the recipe so it can wake up again.
1 Recipe Poolish
2.66 Cups Bread Flour
2 teaspoons Salt
1.5 teaspoons Instant Yeast
6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
.75 Cup Water
.5 Cup Herb oil --Sorry I forgot to tell you to make this earlier. Just take an assortment of your pantry herbs (thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, dehydrated onion, pepper, chile flakes, whatever you like) and warm them up in the oil until it smells nice.
1. Stir together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. A kitchen-aid makes this a lot easier, but you can do it by hand in a bowl with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
2. Add the dry ingredients and mix until everything is combined. If you're using a mixer, put it on medium speed for 7 minutes. If you're doing it by hand, stir it vigorously, reversing direction periodically, for 5 minutes until its smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. I usually end up adding more flour up to about and extra half cup to get the dough to the pulling away from the sides of the bowl stage. It will still stick to the bottom. You will think that its too loose and you'll never be able to work with it. Remember, the higher the percentage of water, the better hole structure you'll get in the finished product.
3. Sprinkle enough flour on your counter to make about an 8 inch square. Scrape the dough out onto this floured area and dust the top, and your hands, with more flour. Let it rest for 5 minutes.
4. Gently pick up each end of the dough and stretch it until its length is doubled and fold it back on itself "letter style" (according to Peter Reinhart, bread god). Spray it with spray oil, dust it and cover it with plastic wrap for 30 minutes. Repeat this stretch and fold technique 3 times, each time resting the dough for 30 minutes.
5. After the third stretch & fold, allow the dough to ferment for 1 hour. By this time, you should see it swelling and some bubbles forming in the dough.
6. Take a 12x17inch baking pan, preferably non-stick and drizzle herb oil all over it liberally.
7. Carefully lift the dough onto the pan and using your fingers to dimple the dough, spread it out gently until it mostly fills the pan. If you want to top it with something that is likely to burn like nuts or peppers or sundried tomatoes this is the time to put those kinds of things on and dimple them into the dough a little. Cover loosely with wrap and let it ferment in the pan for about 2 hours or until it fills the pan. You should definitely see nice big bubbles by now.
8. Heat the oven to 500. Less fragile stuff like some meats, moist cheeses etc can go on now. Drizzle liberally with more herb oil.
9. Put it in the oven and reduce the temp to 450. Bake for 10 minutes. If you want to put on hard cheeses or similar, now is the time. Bake for 5 minutes more. Take a look. It will probably need another few minutes, but don't let it go beyond golden brown to burnt.
10. Take it out & transfer it immediately to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before eating it. It's still cooking during this time.
This seemed like a lot of directions, but I actually simplified it in comparison to Reinharts recipe. It's a lot easier than it looks if you get everything you need together before you start. It's worked for me every time. You can actually use this recipe for Ciabatta, but that takes a little more effort in forming the final dough and you need a baking stone. If you like making bread, Peter Reinharts books are the best I've found and he's thoroughly researched bread of all kinds. The only problem with his books is that his bake times are off and I think he probably based everything on convection oven times...a luxury I don't have.