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April 24, 2012

Oh the joys of being a student again, trapped by piles of papers and books and feeling the pressure of deadlines and assessments! I decided I needed a non-study activity and set myself the challenge of baking slabs of focaccia bread, an Italian flatbread often dimpled on top of the crust, something I put off for ages after watching a BBC programme last year called The Great British Bake Off. It’s a brilliant show where amateur bakers try their hand at weekly challenges and one of these that intrigued me was focaccia.

If you’ve watched the focaccia episode, there was much hesitation and unfamiliarity from these amateurs as  they were handling the dough. The contestants are given an outline of the recipe each week but they are supposed to use their own knowledge and instinct in preparing each weekly bakery challenge. Apparently, the dough should be very sticky and wet which is different from making a typical loaf of bread so inevitably, some of the contestants didn’t add the required amount of water and some added more flour to the dough mixture as they thought it was too wet. After the dough was baked, expert baker Paul Hollywood sliced each of the contestant’s focaccia and he described that the sign of a well-made one is the appearance of lots of uneven bubbles in the crumb. Unsurprisingly, some of the contestants did badly on this challenge and some baked breads that were too flat and dry but some managed to pull it off making a focaccia with a golden crust and bubbly crumb.

Hmmmmmmmm…….this focaccia does sound like a challenge as I don’t have much experience baking breads. Paul Hollywood published his recipe on the BBC but it doesn’t have pictures to show you how gooey and difficult the dough is to work with. Luckily, I found a masterclass by Paul Hollywood which is very good and shows you what the dough looks like and how to handle it.

After watching the video, me and a friend had a go at making focaccia and it is fairly easy, you just have to be patient and wait for the magic to happen. We used a simple topping of rosemary leaves and sprigs to flavour one of the loaves and chopped black olives with cheese on the other one. I infused extra virgin olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic for a few hours before using this to drizzle over the breads before baking, certainly gives your kitchen a Mediterranean aroma! It’s well worth the wait of letting your focaccia rise slowly and got the bubbles in the breads, RESULT! You don’t need much accompaniments because the breads are so flavoursome, just need balsamic vinegar and your best olive oil to dip your bread in, absolutely gorgeous….NOM NOM NOM.….

Here’s the BBC focaccia recipe with slight changes and photos for clarity:


Make 2 loaves

500g/1lb 2oz strong white bread flour
2 tsp salt
2 sachets fast action yeast (2 x 7g)
2 tbsp olive oil
400ml/14fl oz cold water
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
fine sea salt


  • Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and 300ml/10½fl oz of the water into a large bowl. Gently stir with your hand or a wooden spoon to form a dough then knead the dough in the bowl for five minutes, gradually adding the remaining water.
  • Stretch the dough by hand in the bowl, tuck the sides into the centre, turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat the process for about five minutes.
  • Tip the dough onto an oiled work surface and continue kneading for five more minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size.
  • Line two large baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Drizzle some olive oil on the paper so the dough doesn’t stick too much to the paper. Tip the dough out of the bowl and divide into two portions. Flatten each portion onto a baking sheet using oiled fingers and push down with them so the depth of the dough is about 3cm, drizzle a little olive oil on, then leave to prove for one hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Push more dimples with oiled fingers and drizzle the loaves with oil, sprinkle with sea salt then bake in the oven for 20 minutes until golden.
  • When cooked, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve hot or warm.

Step 1. Mix dough ingredients in bowl, add the water gradually, the dough should feel very wet and sticky. Then knead for 5 min on an oiled work surface.

Step 2. Dough left to rise in an oiled bowl

Step 3. Check for bubbles forming in the dough - this is a good sign that your yeast is working and will create a bubbly aerated crumb

Step 4. Check the dough has doubled in size, this may take about 1-2 hours as it depends on the yeast, also cold water was used as this slows the yeast for prolonged fermentation

Step 5. After preparing 2 lined baking trays, drizzle a little oil on them. Divide the dough mixture into two and spread out on the trays till they are about 3cm in depth. Use oiled fingers to push dimples in before drizzling oil on and leave dough to rise again for 1 hour.

Step 6. Sprinkle topping on - this one has rosemary, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and scatter sea salt over

An alternative topping with chopped olives and small cubes of cheddar cheese and black pepper

Step 7. Bake in a pre=heated oven at 220 deg C for about 20 min until golden on top. Drizzle extra virgin oil on top before cutting into portions, then EAT!

An alternative focaccia topping of olive and cheese

Key tips:

  • When initially mixing the dough, add about three-quarters of the water first and mix before adding the remaining water. Apparently if you add the water all in one go, the result is a horrible mess.
  • Apparently, the water should be cold as the yeast should work slowly resulting in a slow rise – this improves the flavour. (Some people leave their dough in the fridge overnight for a long fermentation process to add depth to the flavour but I’ve not tried this yet to check the difference).
  • The dough mixture should be very sticky and wet, which helps produce the uneven aeration. Don’t add flour when kneading the dough otherwise the aeration in the crumb will be too even like normal bread.
  • Don’t be too scared of adding olive oil when drizzling it over the dough, extra-virgin olive oil adds flavour and stops it becoming dry during the second rise on the baking trays.
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