I set out to create this same-day focaccia bread because, while I love the tangy, slightly sour flavor of a long fermented bread just as much as the next bread enthusiast, sometimes I just want an easy and reliable dough I can mix, rise, and bake all in one day to serve with dinner when the mood strikes and doesn’t leave me with an absurd amount of leftovers. The baking principle bien cuit, or "well cooked," means to bake until the crust is dark and caramelized, as you would a nice loaf of sourdough, and is a critical factor in a same-day bread develop flavor. Because the truth is, focaccia is at its absolute prime the day it’s baked. But don’t think I didn’t borrow a few sourdough baking techniques to set us up for success. The end result is a sturdy bread with a fluffy interior with a burnished, crackly crust that’s perfect for sopping up sauces, slicing up for a rustic sandwich, or slathering with creamy hummus. Any leftovers can be frozen or cubed and toasted to make extra delicious croutons.
A few things about this recipe: we will create a yeast-risen starter (also known as a pre-ferment) to help us kickstart flavor development and fermentation. We will hydrate the flour for the main dough (also known as autolyse) to create a more extensible, gluten-full dough that traps all those lovely little air pockets. We will utilize an electric stand mixer and dough hook if we have them, but can definitely mix the dough by hand if not (just be sure to mix bread until a small piece can be stretched thinly without tearing.) And we will probably use more olive oil than you expect, but this is a critical ingredient that provides tenderness and flavor and an irresistible crust once baked. And last but not least, you can pop the whole pan of dough in the refrigerator to let it ferment for up to 48 hours if you have the time. Just cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate after step 7. Pull the dough out of the fridge and bring to room temperature for one hour, then proceed with steps 8-11! This dough rises best in an ambient temperature of about 70 degrees. If it’s chillier than that in your house, pop the bowl of dough in the oven and turn the oven light on to provide a gently heated, insulated space.
For the Pre-Ferment
- 1 1/ 4 teaspoons (5g) instant yeast
- 3/ 4 cup (100g) bread flour
- 1/ 2 cup (120g) lukewarm water
- 2 tablespoons (40g) honey or granulated sugar
- 4 cups (536g) bread flour or all-purpose flour
- 1 3/ 4 cups (397g) lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
Optional Dough Mix-Ins
- 1/ 4 cup sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
- 3 tablespoons whole fennel seeds
- 2 heads roasted garlic
- 1/ 2 cup olive oil
- Flaky sea salt
- 2 cups pitted olives
- 1 small sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cups small red seedless grapes
Prepare the Pre-Ferment and Hydrate Flour
Stir flour and instant yeast for pre-ferment in a medium bowl to combine. Add water and honey and stir until no patches of flour remain and mixture forms a sticky paste.
Stir water and flour for main dough using an electric mixer fitted with the bread hook attachment on low speed until no patches of flour remain. Cover bowl with a wet paper towel or clean, damp dish towel. Set aside pre-ferment and hydrated flour for two hours at room temperature. After two hours the pre-ferment should have risen significantly and have a strong yeasty smell.
Add pre-ferment and remaining yeast to hydrated flour and stir on low speed until well combined, 5 minutes. Sprinkle salt over surface of dough and add olive oil. Stir on low speed just until olive oil starts to incorporate, then increase speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes. Add any dough mix-ins, if using and stir until just combined.
Scrape down sides of bowl, then cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
Perform one set of “folds” to maximize gluten production and strengthen dough. To do this, grab one side of the dough with a lightly wet hand, gently stretch it upwards, and fold it over to the opposite side. It can help to visualize a compass, so for each set of folds, stretch the dough North to South, then East to West, etc. Let dough rest for 30 minutes in between folds for a total of 1 hour 30 minutes (which is 2 sets of folds). You should notice the dough becoming increasingly aerated and strong after each 30 minute rest.
Line a 9 x 13” baking dish with aluminum foil and coat with a layer of nonstick cooking spray. This is to make extra sure focaccia doesn't stick to pan. Drizzle foil with ¼ cup olive oil and spread to edges of pan.
Transfer dough to prepared pan and let rise for 1 hour 30 minutes, until it has doubled in size and is fluffy and aerated.
Arrange oven rack to bottom third of oven and preheat to 425F degrees. Drizzle remaining ¼ cup olive oil over dough and gently dimple with your fingers (as if you are playing the piano), taking care not to pierce through to the bottom.
Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and top with any suggested toppings, if desired. Bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating pan as necessary for even browning. (You can tent with foil if it becomes darker than your preference, if desired.) The focaccia should make a hollow sound when you tap on it and be a deep golden brown.
Carefully transfer focaccia immediately to a cooling rack and wait at least 20 minutes before slicing to set the crumb. Focaccia is best the day it is baked, but can be stored wrapped tightly in aluminum foil for 2-3 days at room temperature. Reheat leftovers in oven for about 10 minutes. Focaccia can also be frozen in a zip-top bag or airtight container for two months.