I’ve taken to baking focaccia using sourdough starter, and with a high hydration level, for the last while. The sourdough gives it a different flavour from the dry yeast version, and the high hydration level makes it airy. It does take a little planning ahead because sourdough baking always takes longer – but that’s what give it a different favour too.
- 4 cups of high grade (bread) flour
- 1/2 to 1 cup of sourdough starter*
- 2 cups of water
- 1+1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon olive oil + a good slug to pour on top
- your choice of toppings – rosemary/roasted garlics/caramelised onions/thyme are some of my favourites
- Mix flour, water and sourdough starter together in a large bowl until it comes together into a wet and sticky dough. It’s not critical how much sourdough starter you use. The more you use, the shorter the first fermentation will take. Typically I’d use 1/2 cup in summer, and 1 cup in winter.
- Let this dough rest for 30 minutes if you have the time.
- Add salt and 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the dough. Then slap and fold the dough on the kitchen bench (the slap and fold technique) until a thin opaque film can be stretched from the dough between fingers. The hydration of this dough is roughly 80% so it will feel really wet and sloppy to start with. (You can also do this in a mixer or a bread maker or not bother at all. Without this step, the final bread will not be as “holey” but the taste will still be similar. Read this article if you are interested in dough gluten development.)
- Cover up and leave it until it grows to more than double it’s original size. It should look bubbly on the top. This can take anything between 6 hours at 25C to 20 hours at 4C (and will also depend on how much sourdough starter you use). If you do the mixing at night and don’t want to risk over fermenting, just stick it into your fridge and bring it out the next day.
- Once the dough has risen, scrap the sides and fold into the centre gently, then turn it onto a baking tray lined with a baking sheet. (If I’m using roasted garlics, I usually fold some in gently at this stage.) Press and spread the dough out evenly with wet hands to 2-3cm thickness. Be as gentle as you can so the dough doesn’t deflate too much. Finally sink your finger tips into the dough to make deep dents (I find this a very satisfying process).
- Put on your toppings then drizzle a good coating of olive oil over the top. Don’t skimp on the olive oil – it’s part of what makes focaccia awesome! Also grind over some sea salt.
- Preheat your oven as hot as it can get. 230C is good, and 250C is even better. Also preheat a baking stone if you have one.
- After the dough has rested about 30 minutes, put the focaccia into the oven and mist with some water to create steam. Bake at 220C for 20-30 minutes depending on how thick your focaccia is. When the crust is set on both the top and bottom, and you can pick it up without it bending or deforming, and it sounds hollow when you tap on it, it should be cooked through. You may want to cover it with a piece of foil if it starts to brown too much to your liking.
One bad thing about this focaccia is it doesn’t keep – it disappears way too fast! A good thing (amongst many) is it’s actually quite a simple bread and I tend to do a big batch whenever I fired up my Big Bill the clay oven.
* If you have a wood fired oven like my Big Bill, try NOT to cook your ciabatta at temperatures higher than 260C. Wood fired oven has WAY better heat retention, so check on your focaccia earlier than you would if using a domestic electric oven. Mine usually takes just 15 minutes of cooking at ~250C.