If like me, you’ve succumbed to sourdough baking, you’ll be searching for more ways to use up your frothy starter. Beyond the basic sourdough boule, there are a host of things that you can use a sourdough starter for – including focaccia (which literally means ‘flatbread’). While making focaccia isn’t tricky, it’s certainly not just a case of grabbing some basic sourdough and flattening it into a baking tray with an olive oil glaze.
Authentic focaccia has a unique texture that is as far from sourdough as brioche. In the case of focaccia, the dough is enriched with honey and olive oil (or sometimes lard) so that the texture of the baked bread is light, very moist and chewy and slightly crisp on the outside. You really don’t need to butter focaccia to enjoy it – and the combination of ingredients means that it’s best for a couple of hours after baking, edible the next morning but within 24 hours from when it’s taken from the oven it will start to become stale.
I like to enjoy this with cold meat and cheeses for lunch, fresh out of the oven and still warm. And, I eat the leftovers warmed up for breakfast the next day. I generally make pretty plain and almost traditional focaccia with nothing more than good olive oil, a little rosemary and sometimes some garlic and olives to flavour it. For me adding a lot of other ingredients to make a focaccia garden (a trend which seems to have originated in the USA) would spoil the texture because you’d lose the all-important dimples which should be filled with your salamoia (the olive oil, water and salt brine that is used to give focaccia a perfect crust). That said, I’m intrigued by the idea that you can use the same salamoia to lightly pickle shreds of onion and make flavoured focaccia. And even in Liguria, focaccia is sometimes topped with a few cherry tomatoes, olives and fine slices of onion before baking, though the toppings are usually pushed into the dimples of the bread. There’s even a version made with two thin layers of dough and a filling of soft cheese (recco focaccia). But, the focus of focaccia should always be the bread, not the topping. Otherwise, you are essentially making a sourdough pizza. Focaccia, as the name implies should also be quite thin – around 2cm. The undulating crispy crust comes from literally dimpling the dough after the second proving. And that salamoia is vital – some Italians will literally pour it over the dough before baking so that each dimple is full of salty oil and water.
Now, I can’t claim to know the intricacies of a genuinely authentic Focaccia Genovese. I have, however, visited a bakery in Genoa that was famous for its focaccia and tried their own version straight from the oven. So I know what I’m aiming for in terms of texture and flavour and I’ve been experimenting with my own sourdough starter. The version I’ve ended up with is a hybrid of recipes I’ve found – there are a lot of focaccia recipes that use dry yeast or bakers yeast rather than a sourdough starter for instance. I use honey because that’s what I have in the store cupboard. You can use malt or even caster sugar if you prefer. And, I like a light olive oil – you need a lot of oil and if you use a strongly flavoured one, your focaccia will be overpowered. I don’t have Ligurian oil at home right now instead I’m using that wonderfully British substitute, Essential Light in Colour Olive Oil from Waitrose!
Here’s my easy sourdough focaccia recipe – a no-knead recipe that needs extended proving just like my easy sourdough recipe. My own sourdough starter is 50% hydration – if yours is not, you will need to adjust the amount of water accordingly.
- 100 g sourdough starter fed and lively
- 250 ml water
- 2 tsp honey
- 90 ml light olive oil
- 10 g salt
- 375 g bread flour
- 30 ml olive oil
- 30 ml water
- 5 g sea salt flakes
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- Put the starter into a large bowl. Add water, honey and 60ml of olive oil. Stir well
- Add the flour and salt and use a large fork to mix into a sticky dough
- Cover the dough and allow it to rest for 30 minutes
- Wet your hands and stretch and fold the dough 4 times, turning the bowl 90 degrees for each stretch and fold
- Then cover and rest for a further 30 minutes before repeating the stretch and fold. If possible do this four times in total.
- Cover the dough and place in the fridge overnight. In the morning, remove from the fridge and allow to rise for a further 2 hours
- Cover a large baking tray with a silicon liner, then pour in 30 ml of the oil
- Turn the dough out onto it and fold into a rectangle
- Flip the rectangle over and use the palms of your hands to gently push the dough out as far as possible till it is no more than 1cm deep
- Cover and allow to rise in a warm place till it has doubled in size
- Pre-heat your oven to 220c
- Now very gently use your finger tips to make dimples in the dough, pressing right through to almost the base of the tray
- Make up your salamoia by whisking together 30ml of oil, 30 ml of water and 5 g of sea salt
- Use a pastry brush to liberally baste the dough. You can allow the salamoia to fill the dimples of the focaccia, it will help keep the dough light and soft
- Scatter the rosemary into the dimples of the dough
- Bake for 20-25 minutes till the focaccia is golden brown
- If you like, you can baste the still warm focaccia with more oil
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving warm
Do you make Focaccia? It’s such an easy bread to make – and tastes so special.