Apart from being quite hard to spell (but that might just be me!), focaccia can be a relatively easy bread to make.
It’s a flat, pizza like bread, but it is normally topped with just olive oil, salt and sometimes herbs.
I’ve not been making it for too long but these are the things that I’ve learned so far:
1. Focaccia is a high hydration dough
The level of hydration in a recipe basically means the ratio of water to flour. So in focaccia, this ratio of water to flour is higher than other breads.
Hydration is calculated by dividing the total weight of water in the recipe by the total weight of flour. So, as an example, if you put in 40g of water and 50g of flour, then you have 80% hydration (40/50 = 0.8, then 0.8 x 100 = 80).
In one recipe I used, the measurements were 10oz of water and 15oz of flour. That makes a hydration rate of 67% (10/15 x 100). In another, the measurements were 375g of water, 500g of flour, so a 75% hydration (375/500 x 100).
All this is to say, the higher the ‘dough hydration’, the better the focaccia turns out to be.
This is basically because of the moisture it provides (yes, shocking!):
- It allows for a lighter, less dense bread, or crumb. The more moisture there is in bread, the more bubbles there will be, therefore the lighter the bread.
- Focaccia is flat and so there’s a danger it could dry out, therefore more moisture is always good.
- Focaccia does not have to be a tall, stand up sandwich kind of bread so the dough can afford to be wetter and spread out on the tray.
The need for retaining moisture is also one of the reasons that oil is spread over the dough when the bread is baking.
However, because the dough is wet, it does make it quite difficult to work with. So a mixer is useful when making this dough.
2. Focaccia needs long proving times
I’ve just learned that technically, the first rise of the dough is called fermentation and the second rise is called proving. But the term ‘proving’ is generally used to mean both, so that’s what I using!
So, the proving times for focaccia are quite long. This long proving or fermentation gives great flavour and helps with the texture of the bread.
It helps create the light, open, bubbly structure of the bread because:
- the yeast has more time to develop and release the carbon dioxide which makes the bread bubbly and light.
- the gluten has more time to develop its structure and contain the bubbles, so that the bread is not too bubbly!
3. Focaccia works best with a preferment
This is linked to the long proving times. Anything that helps with this process will help the overall structure and flavour of the bread.
Using a preferment makes the process a bit longer, in that you make the preferment the evening before. However it is well worth it in terms of the flavour that it gives.
To make a preferment, you mix a little flour, water and yeast together. You cover it with cling film and it gets busy overnight. The next morning, it is frothy and bubbly and you add it into the rest of the ingredients when you make the bread.
4. Focaccia has a unique shape
Well, I knew that already, as I’m sure you do! But getting the shape can be tricky as you need to be careful not to tear the dough when you are shaping it.
If the dough doesn’t stretch, don’t force it. It might be that in knocking back the dough after it has risen, the gluten has tightened and so it needs to be rested so that it relaxes and the dough can be more stretchy. If doesn’t stretch, rest the dough for ten minutes before trying again.
You can also experiment with a higher hydration dough as that helps it to spread more easily.
The best recipes I’ve tried so far…
- G and B Pattisserie’s recipe was the first one I tried.
- America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe is more difficult but turned out well.
- Bake with Jack’s recipe is also more difficult but was also very tasty.
- This recipe from Bread, Baking and More looks amazing, so will definitely be trying this. I came across it as I was writing this post, so I haven’t had time to try it, but it is on my list!
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