A bit of kneading but a lot of versatility

New York TimesMay 7, 2013 

Despite an obsession with pizza and a great love of flatbreads, I’ve spent strangely little time making focaccia.

Every year or so, I’ll make one, devour it, and then forget about it as soon as the last of its crumbs are licked off my fingers. Because of this, I hadn’t spent much time delving into what I really wanted a focaccia to be.

There are a lot of focaccia styles – thick and fluffy ones, loaded with toppings, and crispy, oily ones with a minimalist sprinkle of salt. Then there’s everything in between.

I decided to stick to this middle ground and bake up something that had crisp edges while still being light and soft in the center.

Baking the focaccia in a cake pan, a trick I learned from the Los Angeles chef Nancy Silverton, does just that. It encourages the exterior of the loaf to turn crunchy as it absorbs heat from the sides of the pan, while allowing the dough to rise nicely in the middle. A cake pan also made for a nice-looking, gently domed loaf, more evenly shaped than the flatter, hand-pressed focaccias I’ve made in the past.

The dough itself is pretty basic, enriched with olive oil and a little whole-wheat flour – not so much that it brings to mind words like “fiber” or “healthful,” but enough to increase complexity. Another way to add flavor is to let the dough rise slowly in the fridge overnight.

Baking the rhubarb focaccia on a sheet pan, rather than in a cake pan will allow more of the heat to reach the center to prevent sogginess. If you can’t find ramps, you can substitute mature spinach leaves for the ramp greens, and sliced shallots for the ramp bulbs, caramelizing the shallots in a skillet before laying them on the dough.

This dough recipe makes enough for three focaccias. But unless you’re feeding a crowd, I recommend baking one loaf at a time and freezing the remaining dough. Focaccias are best eaten the day they are baked. With the dough on hand, it will be easy to bake them often.

For a printable copy of the recipes, click the links:

Focaccia Dough

Sweet Rhubarb Focaccia

Ramp Focaccia

Potato, Sage and Lemon Zest Focaccia

Focaccia Dough 3 3 / 4 teaspoons active dry yeast 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed 1 tablespoon kosher salt 2 teaspoons sugar About 4 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed About 1 cup whole-wheat flour

PLACE 1 1 / 2 cups lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees) in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle yeast over it. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

STIR oil, salt and sugar into yeast mixture. Stir in all-purpose and whole-wheat flour until a soft dough forms. (You may need to add more all-purpose flour.)

TURN dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, or knead in a stand mixer with a dough hook attached for about 5 minutes. If using a stand mixer, finish dough by hand, on a floured surface, for 1 minute. Add more all-purpose flour if dough feels very sticky. (You want damp but not unworkable dough.)

OIL a large bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat it lightly with oil. Cover bowl with a dish towel. Leave in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

DIVIDE dough into 3 equal-size balls. Tightly wrap in plastic any you are not planning to use right away and freeze. Transfer remaining balls to a baking sheet and cover loosely with a towel. Let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 3 balls of dough (for 9-inch focaccias)

Ramp Focaccia 1 ball of focaccia dough (see recipe) 3 ounces ramps 4 tablespoons olive oil 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes

HEAT oven to 450 degrees. Trim roots of ramps; separate white bulbs from green leaves. Rinse each under warm water and pat dry. Coarsely chop leaves.

HEAT 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet until very hot. Quickly saute whole ramp bulbs until caramelized, about 2 minutes. Pour bulbs and their oil over chopped leaves and toss with salt and chili flakes. Pour 3 tablespoons oil into bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Pat dough evenly into pan, leaving a small gap between dough and edges of pan. Press ramp mixture into dough. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.

Yield: 1 (9-inch) focaccia

Sweet Rhubarb Focaccia 1 ball focaccia dough (see recipe) 5 ounces thinly sliced rhubarb (about 1 1 / 2 cups) 1/3 cup granulated sugar 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon Demerara (raw) sugar

HEAT oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, toss rhubarb and granulated sugar. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until fruit releases its juices and sugar dissolves, 20 to 30 minutes.

STRAIN rhubarb juices into a small pot and reserve rhubarb.

SIMMER juices over moderate heat until thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Pour olive oil into bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Pat dough evenly into pan, leaving a small gap between dough and edges of pan. Dough should be about a half-inch thick.

SCATTER rhubarb over dough; brush generously with syrup. Sprinkle top with Demerara sugar. Bake until focaccia is golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 1 (9-inch) focaccia

Potato, Sage and Lemon Zest Focaccia 1 ball focaccia dough (see recipe) 1/4 cup olive oil 3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled 1 medium Yukon Gold potato (about 4 ounces), peeled 1 tablespoon sage, finely chopped Finely grated zest of 1 small lemon 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

HEAT oven to 450 degrees. Place a small skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Add garlic and cook until caramelized and golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Using a mandolin or knife, thinly slice potato. Toss with 1 tablespoon garlic oil (reserve remaining oil and garlic), sage, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Pour remaining garlic oil into bottom of a 9-inch cake pan.

PAT dough evenly into pan, leaving a small gap between dough and edges of pan. Chop garlic cloves and press into dough. Layer potato-sage mixture on top. Bake until potatoes and focaccia are golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.

Yield: 1 (9-inch) focaccia

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