Judith's Focaccia

From Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham

i tried this recipe for the first time during the winter of 2003, when every week brought another massive snowstorm or ice storm that left us stuck inside for days. That was my first attempt at baking bread of any kind. It came out beautifully. Focaccia has rapidly become one of my favorite "show off for company" recipes; it fills the house with the amazing smells of baking bread and garlic. Although I have a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook, I don't use it for this recipe; when I tried it I had to add a lot of extra flour to get the dough to come together and wound up with a much denser loaf. It's okay that way (you really can't go wrong smothering something in olive oil, rosemary, garlic, and salt), but it's much lighter and bubblier done by hand.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing mixing bowl and baking sheet
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups bread flour (I like Gold Medal Better for Bread; all-purpose will work too)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 big cloves garlic
1 tbs (approximately!) dried rosemary or 3 sprigs of fresh
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil.

Fill a 1/2 cup measuring cup with warm -- not hot -- water. (I always use the "Can I hold my finger in the water comfortably?" test -- works every time.) Pour the water into a large mixing bowl, add the yeast, and stir. Let stand for 5 minutes so the yeast has time to dissolve and get foamy.

Add another 1 cup warm water to the large mixing bowl and stir. Add 2 cups of the flour and the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Using a large spoon or your hands, mix the ingredients together vigorously at least one minute. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to incorporate all the loose flour into the dough.

Sprinkle some flour on a board or countertop. Scoop the dough out of the bowl and onto the floured board.

Flour your hands well (this dough will be sticky) and start kneading gently. Knead lightly for a couple of minutes, until the dough is smooth and springy to the touch.

When the dough is well-kneaded, put it in another clean mixing bowl that has had olive oil smeared around the inside. Turn the dough inside the bowl and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk, about one hour depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

While the dough rises, remove the outer skins from the garlic cloves and cut into tiny pieces. If using fresh rosemary, pick the small needlelike leaves from the stem of the rosemary. You'll need at least 1 tablespoon of the leaves.

When the dough has risen, punch it down and place it onto a lightly floured board. Using your fingers, pat and press the dough into a rough rectangle. (Mine always ends up much longer than it is wide; the cookbook says it should be about 8 x 10 inches. It doesn't seem to matter much.) Sprinkle the slivers of garlic over one half of the length of the dough and fold the other half over it.

Lift the dough onto the oiled baking sheet and pat and press it into a rectangle shape. Let the dough settle and rise for about 10 minutes. While the dough is rising again, preheat the oven to 400° F.

Smear about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top of the dough. At intervals of about an inch over the top of the dough, poke a few of the rosemary leaves into the focaccia. Sprinkle the kosher salt evenly over the top.

Put the focaccia in the bottom third of the oven to bake. Cook for 25 minutes, then check to see if it is golden brown all over the top. If it's still light-colored, let it bake another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven. Let the loaf cool for about 10 minutes and cut into strips. Serve warm. Don't count on having much left over if this is for company.

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