Fresh, homemade bread can sound like one of those crazy luxuries that only people with too much time on their hands or Martha Stewart-like abilities can achieve. The thing is, it also sounds like pretty much to the nicest words in the English language, especially when strung together in the form of an offer—preferably when that offer is hot and fresh out of the oven.
The only thing that feels possibly less achievable, but equally dreamboaty: Fresh. Homemade. Pizza. We light up like Rudy in Monster Squad at the mere possibility. The determination in our faces might appear frightening to the untrained eye. We start dreaming up big, saucy cheese-filled dreams… And then we remember we’re two ladies with shit to do. Do we have time to make sauce and dough and cook up some toppings AND get everyone in one place to eat right as the pizzas come out of the oven? Some days… but not most.
The answer: Focaccia. Our focaccia recipe is like the beautiful baby of seriously good pizza and bread. Focaccia dough has two risings and rises higher than pizza. Airy, salty, soft, dimpled with little pools of olive oil (these are crucial to unmitigated focaccia joy), topped with whatever you please. A perfect mouthful. (And one of the all-time greatest midnight snacks.)
The best focaccia you’ll ever have has two secrets:
- Don’t deflate the dough after it rises. Be careful as you pull and stretch it into the pan. You want the dough to be light.
- Lots of olive oil.
Because it’s just as delicious at room temperature as it is hot—and because it might even be better the next day after the flavors have all seeped into the bread—you can even make focaccia ahead of time. (Though it does taste and smell amazing right out of the oven.) Plus, in our recipe, you don’t even have to cook the toppings before the focaccia goes in the oven. Unfussy and delicious.
Speaking of toppings, there’s no limit—vegetables, herbs, cheese, you name it. Focaccia is a delicious vehicle for whatever you’re in the mood for. And in this case, the vehicle is just as good as the goodness on top. It all works together beautifully to create the best bite. The focaccia itself is so great on its own that you could certainly make it plain, sprinkled with some sea salt and olive oil, and be really happy. But… as long as you’re in the kitchen, you might as well find a few tasty things to top it off…
For this recipe, we’ve gone fall: sunchokes and potatoes and onions and herbs. Savory, salty, fresh.
If you’re not familiar with sunchokes: welcome to the party. Also called Jerusalem artichokes, these nubby little guys are tubers (like potatoes) and do taste a little like artichokes, but with a much more delicate, almost lemony, flavor. Raw they’re crunchy, fresh, and bright (and so good thinly sliced into a salad). Cooked they’re potato-like in texture and more artichoke-y in flavor. Along with making the focaccia more delicious, adding toppings also makes it more filling. Serve a generous slice with soup or salad and you’ve got one heck of a meal. Serve smaller slices as appetizers or alongside more filling meals. But you should know: it’s really, really tough to stop at just one piece.
While this recipe takes some time from start to finish, a lot of it’s downtime. The dough takes a while to rise, but your active time is minimal, which means you can take care of everything you need to AND still sit down with some beautiful homemade focaccia once you’re done, or… wrap a slice in a napkin to-go as you run out the door to keep checking things off your to-do list. (Focaccia: you can take it with you.)
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Potato and Sunchoke Focaccia
Makes one 15 x 10 inch pan
Note: If you have a mandolin, this is a great time to use it since the potatoes and sunchokes should be very thinly sliced. If you don’t have one, a sharp knife will do!
– One 15 x 10 inch sheet pan
– 1 package active dry yeast
– 1 3/4 cups warm water (100° F)
– 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 tbs kosher or sea salt + more for sprinkling on top
– 4 small sunchokes
– 2 red or new potatoes
– 1 small red onion or half of a larger one
– 1 tbs fresh thyme, stripped from the stem
– 1 tbs fresh oregano, stripped from the stem
– A handful of basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
– Zest of 1 lemon
– A generous amount of olive oil
- In a small bowl, gently stir the yeast into 1/2 cup of the warm water with a fork. Let sit until yeast dissolves—about 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer or a large bowl if you’ll be kneading with your hands, mix the flour and salt together. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture.
- Gently incorporate the flour into the yeast using a fork. When the liquid is fully incorporated, scrape anything that’s stuck to your fork back into the bowl, and get your hands in there to work the dough or start your stand mixer kneading with the dough hook attachment at a medium-slow speed. Add about 1/3 of the remaining warm water as you knead, and increase the mixer speed to medium (if using).
- Once the water is incorporated, add a little more at a time, kneading between additions, until you have a nice, soft dough. You may not need the entire remaining 1 1/4 cups.
- Either turn the dough out onto a floured work surface where you can knead, or let your mixer knead at medium speed for another 5 or 6 minutes until you have a smooth dough that’s pulled away from the sides of the bowl. If you’re nearing the end of the kneading time and the dough is still really sticky, add a spoonful of flour. If still needed after it’s mixed in, add another.
- Lightly grease a bowl large enough for the dough using some olive oil. When you’re done kneading, loosely shape the dough into a round and add it to the greased bowl. Cover the top of the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. If it’s not really sealed, wrap more plastic or a rubber band around the edge of the bowl.
- Set the bowl in a warm spot in your house (just to give you an idea of what “warm” means here: around 70° F or just below is ideal). Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
- When the dough has risen, generously grease one 15 x 10 inch baking sheet with olive oil: You’ll need about 5 tbs so there’s a very shallow pool on the bottom.
- Working with the dough on a floured surface with floured hands, press and stretch out the dough so that it is roughly the shape of your baking sheet. Try not to deflate it too much!
- Put the dough into your sheet pan and press/stretch it into the corners. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm spot for another 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place two racks in the oven. One at the 2nd position from the bottom and the other at the 2nd position from the top. Pre-heat to 425° F.
- Peel the sunchokes, then thinly slice them. Slice the onion and potatoes equally thinly. Mix the sliced vegetables in a bowl with enough olive oil to coat, along with the lemon zest and herbs.
- Once the 2nd rising is done, remove the dish towel, and make scattered indentations in the dough with your fingertips.
- Scatter the vegetable mixture over the dough. Finish with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle salt.
- Bake on the rack 2nd from the bottom of your oven for 20 minutes. Move the focaccia to the rack 2nd from the top of your oven and bake for 5 more minutes, or until vegetables are cooked through (and starting to brown around the edges) and the focaccia is golden brown.
- Serve warm or at room temperature as the perfect snack or pair with any meal.
© 2015 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved