During 2020, a lot of stuff has happened. Most related to food, a number of people have started baking much more, especially with all the free time at home they’ve suddenly got on their hands. I’m one of those people, and over the last few months, I’ve probably made about twenty focaccia. In this article, I’m going to share my top three tips that I’ve picked up along the way.
Use Sourdough + Yeast
Sourdough is another food trend that’s seen a popularity surge during 2020! I’ve got my own sourdough starter, that sits on a shelf in my kitchen just… chilling out.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, don’t worry: it’s a pretty simple one. Basically, you need yeast to make bread rise. If you don’t have access to dried yeast that you’d throw into a loaf of bread, you can grow your own yeast! You mix together flour and water, regularly adding more of each, and eventually, you’ll catch and cultivate wild yeast. This yeast can be used to help bread rise, and it also gives a unique flavor and texture.
As this yeast is technically live (as opposed to the dormant yeast that goes into other types of bread), it gives a hugely different texture. I find that sourdough bread is typically lighter and more aerated than conventional yeast.
In my experiments, I’ve found that a mixture of the two is the best option. I’ll use up the right amount of sourdough for the recipe, and then supplement it with half a teaspoon of dried yeast. This is a great idea as dried yeast is particularly resilient, compared to sourdough, so you’re essentially enhancing the growing ability of your bread while it’s in the fermentation stage.
Use High-Quality Olive Oil
High-quality olive oil is something else! It has a unique, potent nutty flavor that can really come through in your bread, especially considering how saturated loaves of focaccia tend to be.
Furthermore, high-quality olive oil will be much purer than a low-quality one. This means that it will tend to have a higher smoke point, so when you’re baking your bread, it’s less likely to evaporate off. This will make it much easier to get your bread out of the baking vessel, as well as give your bread a great flavor.
Since high-quality olive oil can get that much hotter, it will also ensure a better crust on the outside of your bread. The thing that makes focaccia so good is that the outside is fried, while the inside is steamed. Using a hotter oil will crisp up the outside of the loaf much better than a cooler one.
Brine Your Bread Before You Bake It
This is a really unconventional one, but it’s made all my bread so much more delicious!
Typically, if I were making focaccia, I would put salt on the top by sprinkling crystals of rock or sea salt on top. This is great, and allows for a great flavor, though it also adds the risk of your crunching down on a whole salt crystal. I’ve done this several times, and I would not recommend it.
By brining, you allow the salt to permeate through the entire bread, making your bread lighter as it gets wetter, while also maintaining that powerful salt flavor.
This salty solution can also contain other herbs, too. Typically, I’ll mince some garlic and add it along with some oregano. By putting it in the brine, you ensure a much more even spreading of these toppings, instead of little clusters all over the bread.
For a standard loaf of focaccia, I would dissolve five grams of salt in eighty milliliters of water. I’d complement this with five or six skinned and minced garlic cloves, and a heaped teaspoon of diced oregano.
Pour the brine over the bread, and then press your fingers into the dough to create the iconic holes in the focaccia. Leave it for ten minutes or so before baking, and put into a pre-heated oven.
Focaccia is one of my absolute favorite dishes, be it aside, a main, or a starter. Going from the loaves that are all over my social media, I’d guess there are lots of people who agree with me! Try out my tips on the next loaf you make, and happy baking!