This focaccia recipe alone is worth the price of the book. It’s one of the few BBA breads I’ve made more than once since the challenge started because it’s so spectacular, we just needed to have it again, in spite of the fact that our bread drawer and freezer are now overflowing with bread (really, even for bread loving people, there’s only so much we can eat in a week).
How much did we love it? It’s the bread we chose to make for Michael’s 50th birthday party. That’s how much.
I wasn’t inspired at all to make this bread. Any focaccia I’d eaten before was bland, starchy, and tough. But as I read about fellow BBA Challenge participants who had gotten to this recipe before me and had loved it, I started to get excited.
The BBA provides two methods for making this bread — using a poolish created the day before or retarding the mixed dough in the refrigerator overnight — both of which allow for the long, slow fermentation that results in spectacular flavor and crumb. The recipe says that either method will achieve those results, so it was really a coin toss decision. I chose to go with the poolish method.
The day before I made the bread, I mixed up a poolish of flour, water, and yeast, let it ferment on the counter for four hours, and then put it in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, after letting the poolish come to room temperature, I mixed the dough (flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, water, and poolish), then kneaded it in the mixer. This is an extremely wet, sticky dough, so kneading it in the mixer is a big help. When the dough was kneaded sufficiently (after about 5 minutes), I turned it out onto a well-floured counter, dusted the dough with more flour, and let it relax. Then I used the stretch-and-fold technique to fold it over itself into a rectangle. This stretch-and-fold routine is a gentle way of kneading and firming the dough, while, at the same time, allowing the dough to relax and retain its lightness. I repeated the stretch-and-fold two more times, then let the dough ferment for an hour.
Then came the fun part. I lined a sheet pan with parchment, coated it with olive oil, transferred the dough to the pan, poured herb oil (which I’d made while the dough was fermenting) over the dough, and then dimpled the dough with my fingertips to spread the dough to fill the pan and give the dough the distinctive pocked appearance. Each hole was filled with oil and herbs. My hands were coated in oil. Everything was coated in oil. There is so much oil in the recipe, you can’t believe it will all get absorbed, but it mostly does (and if the amount of oil in the recipe gives you hives, feel free to use less; the focaccia will still be amazing).
Proof. Drizzle on more herbed oil (if you dare). Bake.
What comes out of your oven will be puffy, fragrant, brown, with a crispy crust and a light, airy crumb. You will stand there at your kitchen counter and eat a third of it before you even know what’s happening. Hypothetically speaking, that is.
You can see the step-by-step pictures for this bread here.
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge is a group of home bakers, scattered across the planet, focused on one goal: completing every recipe in Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, in order, and writing about our experience. Want to join us? Buy or borrow a copy of the book, open a big bag of flour, and plunge in!