Whether it’s mandated or self-initiated, the coronavirus quarantine is on. Hopefully, by now you’ve gotten yourself a few supplies — don’t hoard toilet paper! make chicken broth! — and you’re feeling some degree of safety and security. This next stage is going to be a hard one: staying inside, keeping out of public spaces, and not going to large social gatherings.
You’re likely to get a little stir crazy. Okay, maybe a lot stir crazy.
To help you through the quarantine, we’re going to be offering recipes throughout the month that will allow you to level up your cooking game and eat well at home. The ingredients we’re using are easily available through delivery services (and stores). If you do go to the store or a market, remember to wash produce (and yourself) thoroughly.
– Steve Bramucci, LIFE Editorial Director
For anyone who reads my writing, it’s no secret that I really like Italy. I travel there probably more than any other location. And, I’m not going to lie, the driving force behind all that travel is the food. I don’t have a drop of Italian blood in me. I wasn’t raised anywhere near Italian culture — European or American. But there’s just something about the culture, the place, the people, and the food and drink that just speaks to me on a sub-atomic level. Plus, I live in Central Europe and can usually get there in an hour or two for the cost of a couple of trips to the movie theater. That helps.
Anyway, I like to cook all things Italiano. And one of my favorite recipes that I’ve been reveling in recently is focaccia. This crunchy, light yet thick, and salty bread is the perfect comfort food to bake right now. It’s fairly low-impact and will warm you to your very bones. It’s also fully adaptable. You can top it with anything or not. Hell, I’ve seen the stuff topped with hot dogs and fries in Sicily.
I’m using Samin Nosrat’s recipe from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat without the salt brine at the end. Not because I don’t like salt. I just don’t think it’s necessary if you’re throwing a few topping on the bread. All-in, you’ll need bread flour (AP is fine), dry yeast, salt, honey, olive oil, and water. After that, it’s up to you. I use dried thyme, oregano, and basil as well. Also, in this case, I’m topping this focaccia with low-moisture mozz, black olives, and slices of ripe tomato.
This bread needs 12 hours to rise. So my advice is to make this before you go to bed so you can bake it for lunch the next day.
I’m weighing everything out so it’s exact and I get the same results consistently.
First, I weigh out 600 grams (21.16 ounces) of luke water tap water and add 15 grams (0.53 ounces) of honey. I then add 3 grams (0.1 ounces) of active dry yeast.
I set that aside to bloom. The extra sugars from the honey will accelerate that process and you should be able to see the yeast blooming with your eyes.
Next, I weigh out 800 grams (28.2 ounces) of all-purpose bread flour. I add in 18 grams (0.63 ounces) of fine sea salt. Lastly, I add-in 50 grams (1.76 ounces) of good olive oil. I then add in the yeast and water mix and start hydrating the flour with my right hand.
You don’t have to go crazy. You just want to hydrate the flour and bring everything together. This is a no-knead bread recipe. Keep that dough in the bowl, fam!
The addition of olive oil will help keep the stickiness down and bring it together fairly quickly. Finally, I cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm, dry spot to rest of 12 to 14 hours.
The next day, the dough has more than doubled in size and is alive with bubbles. It has taken on an ever-so-slight sour smell and is ready to become focaccia.
The first thing I do is use a rubber spatula to pull the dough from the sides of the bowl. You need to do this gingerly but with enough effort to release the dough from the bowl. You should also have long strands of gluten — as you can see from the photo above.
I then use the spatula to release the dough into a well-oiled baking pan — again, use olive oil and don’t skimp. The dough should almost roll out of the bowl. Be careful not to press down or deflate the dough as you transfer it to the pan. Then you need to let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
I also use this time to preheat my oven. I crank it up to around 425F and place an upside-down cookie sheet on the middle shelf. If you have a pizza stone, use that. I (oddly) do not, so a cookie sheet it is.
After about 30 minutes of resting, oil up your fingers and create dimples over the whole focaccia. Just dip your fingers right in there and pull back once you hit the bottom.
Lastly, I top my focaccia. You can go in two main directions at this point. You can go simple (see below) with just a nice herb, salt, and more olive oil. Or, if you’re feeling maximalist, you go a bit more for the sfincione you see in bakeries in Sicily — fresh tomato, black olives, low-moisture mozzarella, a mix of thyme, oregano, and basil, and a good punch of sea salt and olive oil. It ends up being like a proto-pizza. The order of toppings is: Olive oil, sea salt, tomato, cheese, olives, dried herbs, another hit of salt and another hit of olive oil.
That then goes in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes. It’ll depend on your oven. I check it after 20 minutes and turn the baking pan 180 degrees for a more even bake and then bake for another 8 minutes.
I remove the focaccia from the oven and immediately transfer it to a cooling rack. The bread should slide right out of the pan with little to no effort thanks to the crazy amount of olive oil involved.
I let the bread rest of at least 30 minutes. It’s best to serve while it’s still nice and warm but all the toppings are set.
I cut the focaccia into 12 single servings and that’s it. You’re ready to tuck in!
The bread has an amazingly crunchy — almost fried — bottom. This provides an olive-oil-infused base that supports light and salty bread.
The interior of the bread is the real star of the show. There are bubbles galore with slight sour bite. It’s thick, comforting, and delicious. I ate two pieces without hesitation. No regrets.
As mentioned above, you can make this with simple toppings and use it as sandwich bread too. The above is the exact same recipe with only olive oil, salt, and dried thyme. Everything else is exactly the same.
I then used that bread to make focaccia BLTs and, holy shit, those were amazing sandwiches. If you’re into the Twitter/ internet trend of baking during the quarantine and you want to try bread, this is the perfect place to start. It’s relatively easy and insanely tasty — the perfect combo for the (stuck at) home cook.
- All-Purpose Bread Flour
- High-grade Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
- Dry Active Yeast
- Fresh Honey
- Dried Thyme, Oregano, and Basil
- Toppings of your choosing