There’s something very gratifying about baking your own bread. Firstly, there’s the unmistakable aroma which fills the house, but also that slightly smug feeling of having baked your own bread and showing off about it. Focaccia is relatively easy as there’s only one knead required when the flour is all added to the mix, then leave to rise, punch down, shape and rise again before baking.
Most people think making your own bread (without a bread maker) is in the too hard basket, but it’s really not. It just takes a bit of time and patience, not to mention a bit of elbow grease in that kneading process.
However, I’ll share a couple sneaky shortcuts with you. In the kneading part, it can be made really effortless if you have a mixer with a dough hook (it’s that weird squiggly looking thing that you thought you’d never find a use for). If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way. I’m sure you an find dozens of YouTube tutorials on kneading bread, but the basic technique is to use one hand to fold the dough, the other to turn, and repeat for a few minutes till the dough feels smooth and elastic.
The other shortcut tip I use is to warm the oven to about 40 degrees Celsius and use this as the place to rest the bread while it rises. A hot water cupboard is also a good place to pop it. Basically it just means that your bread has a sure-fired warm place to rise, draught free and stable. I find that using the oven also reduces the rising time a little. Mine only needed about 45-50 minutes, whereas sometimes (especially as the nights get cooler) it can take double that.
Ingredients (Makes an 18 x 24cm tin sized loaf)
- 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
- 2 tbsp of dried or fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil or Italian mixed herbs)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 1/2 tsp active yeast (I use Edmond’s Sure to Rise)
- 1/2 tsp honey or sugar
- 2 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
Firstly heat the oil in a small pan with the herbs and garlic and cook on low for a few minutes till aromatic. Do not let the garlic brown or burn. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl (or the mixer bowl for the dough hook) mix 1 cup of warm water with the active yeast and honey. Set aside somewhere warm for 5 minutes to let the yeast activate.
Add half of the oil mixture and one cup of the flour to the yeast mixture and mix briefly so that the flour is moistened. Set aside for another 5 -10 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 40 degrees Celsius and oil your baking dish, a rectangular slice tin is best, a few cm high on the edges.
Now add the rest of the flour and salt, use your hands (or the dough hook attachment of your mixer) to mix the flour in and knead on a floured bench for a few minutes till smooth and elastic.
Pop the dough into the oiled tin, loosely cover with a tea towel, and pop into the warm oven for 40 – 60 minutes. Check frequently from 40 minutes, you want it to be at least doubled in size.
Once well risen, remove it from the oven and increase the temperature to 220 degrees Celsius. Knock the dough around a bit and press it down to fill the tin, using your fingers to make dimples on the top, then pour the remaining herbed oil over the top. Set aside for another 20 -30 minutes to allow it to puff up again.
Pop the risen, piled dough into the hot oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven when golden and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove to a wooden board or cooling rack and leave for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.
This bread is delicious with soup, olive oil and dukkah, lathered in butter, or sliced lengthways and filled like a sandwich.