There is probably no hors d’oeuvre more universally loved than focaccia: really good chewy pizza dough baked with flavorings that excite the appetite.
Once you have the dough, focaccia is easy to make: roll or pat the dough flat, scatter over the flavorings – slivered garlic and sage leaves; thinly slice onion and fennel seed; slivered pancetta or prosciutto; black oil-cured olives and thyme leaves. Then brush or drizzle with oil. My all-time favorite is this Rosemary, Lemon and Pepper Focaccia I learned from Kevin Taylor when he was chef of Zenith American Grill in Denver years ago.
My recipe for Pizza and Focaccia dough is below and can be made in batches and frozen. When I am just too busy to make my own, I use the best commercial pizza dough I can find, sometimes buying it directly from pizza parlors.
Professional bakers use brick-lined ovens to insure their breads, focaccia and pizzas have a good crust. You can easily fashion a make-shift baker’s oven at home using a baking stone or quarry tiles which can endure very intense heat for long periods. Thirty minutes before baking your breads, place the stone on the oven rack to heat. When you slide the risen dough directly onto the hot stone, the stones’ intense heat will dry the bottom of the dough, creating a chewy crust.
If you don’t have a baking stone, the next best thing is a large cast-iron skillet or griddle turned smooth bottom side up, or a heavy professional-gauge sheet pan which can withstand heating without warping.
Recipe: Rosemary, Lemon and Pepper Focaccia
You can roll out the dough well in advance of assembling the focaccia. Arrange it on the parchment, wrap well in plastic wrap and freeze until ready to use.
Serves 6 as an hors
Flour for rolling
16 ounces Pizza and Focaccia Dough (recipe below) or commercial pizza dough
About 2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 lemon, scrubbed and dried
1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 425′. Thirty minutes before baking, place a pizza stone, a large inverted cast iron skillet or griddle, or a heavy sheet pan in the oven to heat.
Flour the work surface lightly and roll the dough into a rough circle 11″ in diameter. Place a sheet of parchment paper roughly the size of the dough on a rimless cookie sheet or an inverted sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the parchment and reshape it with your fingers. Prick the dough with a fork.
Brush the dough lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with the rosemary and grind freshly ground pepper over it. Cut the lemon in half through the stem (reserve one half for another use). Slice the remaining half crosswise as thinly as you can, removing any seeds. Arrange the lemon slices in a single layer over the dough. Brush them lightly with the olive oil. Cover lightly with plastic and set aside to rise 15 minutes.
Slide the focaccia (still on the parchment) directly onto the hot stone or pan. Bake the focaccia until the crust is golden brown and puffed, about 20 minutes. Brush the dough with the remaining oil and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese or coarse salt. Cut into wedges and serve at once.
Recipe: Pizza and Focaccia Dough
This chewy yeasty dough is very easy to make and works well for either thin or thick crusted pizza and focaccia. Letting the dough rise slowly, either all day or in the refrigerator overnight, will greatly improve both flavor and texture. (I like to mix the dough in the morning before work to bake it that night) If you are in a hurry, however, you can mix the dough —by hand or using a food processor or mixer —and let it rise in a warm place; it will take under an hour for it to double in bulk so you can bake your pizzas within a couple of hours.
Makes about 1 1/2 pounds dough (This recipe can be halved or doubled).
1 cup lukewarm water (105′ to 110′), preferably spring water
1 package active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus 2-3 tablespoons for kneading and shaping
(1 pound total)
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
About 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pour the lukewarm water and the sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over it. Set aside 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve completely.
To mix the dough by hand: combine 3 cups of the unbleached flour and the salt in a large bowl. Gradually stir in the yeast mixture and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the olive oil until a stiff dough has formed.
Gather the dough together and, adding only enough flour to keep it from sticking to the work surface, knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes. (When you press your finger in the dough, it will spring back immediately).
To mix the dough in a food processor: Add 3 cups of the unbleached flour and the salt to the work bowl. With the motor running, pour in the yeast mixture and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Process until the mixture is uniform: it will either have the texture of coarse meal or will gather into one or two balls near the blade.
(If the dough causes the food processor blade to stick making it difficult to remove, pour some hot water into the work bowl and let the processor run for a few minutes).
To make in an electric mixer: In a small bowl, combine the lukewarm water and the yeast. Set aside 5 minutes. Add 3 cups of the flour and the salt to the mixer bowl. Using the balloon whisk or paddle on medium speed, drizzle in the yeast and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the olive oil until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. Change to a dough hook. Knead at medium speed, adding more flour as necessary make a smooth dough. Knead until the dough is very elastic, about 5-6 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface and continue kneading a minute or 2 longer until it is soft and velvety, and does not stick at all to the counter. (When you press your finger in the dough, it will spring back immediately).
Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Brush the top of the dough lightly with oil. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Punch down the dough. You can use it now or let it rise a second time will give it a finer texture and flavor. Cover the dough again with a damp kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise 40 minutes longer. Punch the dough down again.
The dough can be refrigerated up to 4 days. You can also freeze pre-rolled pizza and focaccia dough up to 2 months to defrost and bake at a moments notice: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into the desired round or freeform shape. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze until dough is frozen solid, at least 45 minutes. Carefully pry dough off baking sheet without cracking it and wrap it in plastic wrap. Freeze until ready to use. Let the dough thaw at room temperature for 1 hour before using.
Sponge Method Variation: Pizza dough made with a sponge – a short preliminary fermentation of the yeast with flour and water – have a chewier texture and more fully developed flavor than regular dough. In the recipe above, mix the yeast with 1/2 cup of the water and 1/4 cup of flour. Cover and set aside 1 hour until it is thick, foamy and has increased in volume. Then proceed as directed above, mixing the sponge, the water and the oil into the flour and the salt.