With the sun getting lower in the sky and the chill of autumn creeping upon us, I finally decided to wake my oven from its summer-long slumber to bake some bread. Given that it’s been about six months since I’ve done any baking, I decided to start with something simple and familiar.
Focaccia is a great beginner bread because it’s fun to shape, can be topped with almost anything, and involves a one step baking process unlike some breads (such as bagels or baguettes).
As with most breads that come out of my oven, I like starting with a no-knead dough, because as the name implies, it does not require kneading. Aversion to physical exertion aside, no-knead doughs have a couple of other advantages. Since they rely on longer rising times for the formation of gluten bonds, they tend to use only a small quantity of yeast.
This means you’ll be able to store the dough a lot longer before the alcohol created in the fermentation process kills off the yeast. Kept in the fridge, it should last for nearly a week, so you can have fresh baked bread any night of the week. I also find that starting with a smaller amount of yeast makes the bread taste less yeasty, allowing the wonderful nutty flavor of the flour to shine through.
Since flour is easily compacted while being scooped into a measuring cup, the amount of flour in one cup can vary wildly, depending on how you scoop and even the shape of your measuring cup. Using weight, rather than volume measures, for flour prevents doughs that are too wet or too dry. This is why I tend to use weight measures for flour in baked goods. With compact digital kitchen scales available for around ten bucks, there’s really no reason why any cook shouldn’t have one in their kitchen.
For this batch I made a Middle Eastern spice blend called Za’atar that I sprinkled on top. I love the way the nutty sesame, the citrusy sumac and fragrant oregano and thyme dance around in my mouth, but if you want something more traditional, rosemary and olives, or Asiago and onions make wonderful toppings for focaccia.
Za’atar Focaccia Bread
Try this no-knead focaccia bread recipe to learn how to bake bread even if it is your first time. Grab some flour, yeast, salt, water and oil to get started.
- 500 grams all-purpose or bread flour (17.5 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/3 cups warm water
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, in a small bowl
- 2 teaspoons ground toasted black sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons sumac
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon Maldon (or other coarse) sea salt
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast to evenly distribute all the ingredients. Add the water and 1/4 cup olive oil, and then mix everything together until you have a uniform dough. You can use your hands, but you'll lose a bunch of dough because it will stick to your fingers. Using something narrow and sturdy like metal chopsticks or the handle of a wooden paddle works great because they have very little surface area for the dough to stick to.
- Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place for 18-24 hours to rise.
- Once the dough has risen, you can either make one giant focaccia with all the dough, or split it up and bake smaller loaves. I use a pan that’s 7.5" x 9.25", and it's perfect for half the dough. If you end up keeping some of the dough for later, just cover it back up and put it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
- Put the olive oil in a small bowl and use a pastry brush to brush the bottom and sides of the pan with a generous coating of oil. Drop half the dough into the pan, and turn it over a few times to coat it with oil so it doesn't stick to your fingers. Press the dough towards the edges of the pan in an even layer with your fingertips. This is how the focaccia gets its dimpling, so while you want the dough to be roughly the same thickness, the little divots your fingers leave are a good thing.
- Use the pastry brush to spread a layer of olive oil onto the top of the dough. Cover and let it sit in a warm place until it doubles in height.
- When your dough is almost done rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (205 C). Add the sesame, sumac, oregano, thyme and salt to a small bowl and stir to combine.
- When the dough is finished rising, sprinkle the za’atar onto the top of the bread. Put the pan in the oven and let it bake until the top is golden brown (about 20-30 minutes).
- Remove the pan from the oven, and then carefully transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool. The focaccia is best eaten the same day, but you can put it in a sealed container once it’s cooled all the way if you want to keep it for longer.
Yield: 2 medium sized focaccias
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.