Rosemary focaccia is a popular Italian bread that is commonly served as an antipasto, appetiser, table bread or snack. If you had been to an Italian restaurant then you would recognise it as the bread that the waiter would bring to the table before the meal was served.
He would pour out a small dish of olive oil and drizzle in a midge of balsamic vinegar. He would give us at the most, two small slices per person and we usually finished it within seconds, wishing there were more. When we asked, he would tell us that we can buy the bread at about RM20 for half a loaf.
It was only when I started making this bread myself that I realise why it is so expensive. Good quality bread flour is quite costly at almost RM9 per kilogramme, but the texture of the bread that comes out of the oven is unparalleled. It is soft and spongy, while springy and elastic at the same time.
Then, there is the sheer amount of extra virgin olive oil that is used at every stage of the bread-making process. Not only does it keep the dough from sticking to the equipment, it also gives a nice crispy finish to the bread and contributes to the overall flavour by helping extract the essential oils from the rosemary and basil and infusing them throughout the dough.
I want to give a shout out to Rohani Jelani for her original recipe that I had modified with the addition of fresh basil into the mix. I had discovered that adding basil into the dough enhanced the flavour of rosemary, and the specks of green in the focaccia gave it an added visual interest.
There has been a recent surge of attention to focaccia on the internet, specifically focaccia gardens, where bakers dress their focaccias with all kinds of colourful herbs and vegetables to resemble a garden of flowers. I personally prefer a lawn of rosemary turf sprinkled with salt.
I was blessed that a friend had given me a small pack Maldon sea salt, the curiously pyramidal salt crystals from the English coastal town of Maldon, which I sprinkled over the focaccia. However, you may use regular sea salt or coarse salt if you are unable to get this specialty item. I was also fortunate to be able to serve the bread with a very good quality aged balsamic vinegar, making this focaccia truly a gourmet’s treat for all of us at the test kitchen.
This recipe first appeared in thestar.com.my/food.
- To prepare yeast sponge
- yeast sponge
- 100ml warm water
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp dried yeast, or 15g fresh yeast
- To prepare dough:
- 500g bread flour
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 200ml cold water
- 50g fresh basil, finely minced
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for greasing the mixing bowl
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil for greasing the baking pan
- To make Topping:
- Maldon sea salt, or coarse salt
- 10g fresh rosemary, keep whole fronds for topping, mince remaining
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Dissolve sugar in warm water, then test with a finger that temperature is not too hot. Sprinkle dried yeast or crumble fresh yeast into the sugar solution and allow it to ferment until frothy, about 5-10 minutes.
- Work in more flour into the liquid until mixture is thick and can be scraped off the table and folded into a dough. Then using the base of your palm, knead the dough by pushing it away from you and gathering it back towards you in a smooth rocking motion. Knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Then change to the dough hook attachment before adding the remaining flour, salt and minced herbs. Knead on low speed for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Generously grease a large mixing bowl with extra virgin olive oil and place the kneaded dough in it. Turn over the dough so that the top is covered with a film of oil. Place a wet tea towel over the bowl and leave to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1-1½ hours.
- Punch down the dough and knead lightly to expel large pockets of air bubbles, then roll it out into a 25-centimetre square loaf. Generously grease a 25-centimetre baking pan with extra virgin olive oil, then place the dough in it, pressing it out to fill up the entire bottom of the pan. Cover again with a wet tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes to 1 hour until the dough is light and spongy.
- Dimple the surface of the dough with your fingers to make indentations and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Using a skewer, plant sprigs of rosemary fronds all over the dough. Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
- Place in a preheated 200°C oven and spray the inside of the oven with water to create steam, closing the oven door quickly after spraying. Bake for 20-30 minutes until well risen and light golden.
- Slice and serve warm with a small dish of extra virgin olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.