Yesterday was a fresh-baked bread kind of day. Unfortunately, I’m pretty dumb at baking. There’s something about the exactness and lack of improvisation that comes with breads that doesn’t really fly with my cooking skills, which include forgetting things and adding other things on whims.

However, my mom’s focaccia recipe seems to be an exception to the rule. It’s easy to make (that is, you can mess up a little without the world ending) and you can improvise both what you put on the top and what you dip it in. The other easy focaccia recipes I’ve tried don’t have the authentic consistency that you find in Italian restaurants.

Focaccia (my mom makes 1 1/2 recipes and place in a 9 X 13 pan — those numbers are in parentheses)

  • 3/4 cup warm water  (1 1/8 c. water)
  • 1 teaspoon pure cane granulated sugar (1 1/2 t. sugar)
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (1 packet dry yeast)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil)
  • 2 cups flour (3 c. flour)
  • 1teaspoon coarse sea salt (1 1/2 t. coarse sea salt)

Place warm water (105 to 115F) into a medium bowl. Mix in sugar; sprinkle yeast over surface.  Stir to combine and allow to sit for about 5 minutes or until yeast foams; add olive oil; combine.  Add flour and salt, mix well, scraping bowl edges.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and soft, about 5 minutes.  Grease a large bowl; form a dough ball, place into bowl and turn to coat with oil.   Cover with a tea towel or light cloth; place in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400F, Brush a 5 x 7 inch (brownie pan) baking dish (or 9 x 13 if making 1 1/2 recipes) with olive oil.  Gently press risen dough into pan, smoothing the top and creating small dimples with your fingers. 

Lightly brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a little rosemary or Italian seasonings and coarse salt. This is also where you can get creative with whatever you have in the fridge — add finely chopped onions, olives, thinly sliced tomatoes, cheese, fresh sage, or garlic, in any combination you are feeling.

Cook for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. About 5 minutes before it’s done remove from the oven, brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with fresh rosemary and sage leaves. Put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until done

Artichokes and Olives Spread for Focaccia, if you’d like

  •  1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cups water 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 artichoke bottoms, trimmed
  • 1 cup pitted green olives (Sicilian)
  • extra-virgin olive oil

Place the bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, lemon juice, and salt into a saucepan with 2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, 15 minutes. Add the trimmed artichoke bottoms and cook until they are tender when pierced with a knife (about 5 minutes). Drain and cool. Chop the artichokes and olives together very finely with a chef’s knife; stir in enough olive oil to make a soft paste. Adjust the salt if necessary. Slice the focaccia into sixteen 2″ squares and top with the artichoke paste. Serve within 15 minutes.

If you don’t have time or the ingredients to make the paste, you can also serve your bread with a shallow dish of extra virgin olive oil — just mix in some red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, and garlic.