Tomato, Black Olive & Rosemary Focaccia

For a recent dinner party, I was set to make bruschetta for an appetizer/antipasto. After all, I had just posted about it so it was on my mind. That… and the fact that shops and markets are practically overflowing with fresh, local produce. What a great time of year for eating!! Seasonal products, fresh and at their peak… never need more than a little attention to bring out their best flavours.

When I decided to serve white wine steamed mussels – it was a given that some bread was needed. The wine and herb mussel liquor begs for it… so I opted for a focaccia. I had a picture in my mind of one that I’d seen; gloriously topped with tomatoes and black olives. That’s it, I thought… perfect!

With very little extra effort from the usual rosemary and olive oil topped focaccia, the result was delicious and a big hit!

Tomato, Black Olive & Rosemary Focaccia

Makes one 10 x 15 inch ‘loaf’… You could always make it thicker if you like, but adjust the baking time. This is very forgiving dough, perfect for any novice baker. You could also vary the toppings and even the pan you bake it in – especially if you enjoy a very thick focaccia. However you decide to finish it, for the best taste, be sure to let the bread rise twice before baking.

For the Dough:
1/4 cup warm water (approx. body temperature)
pinch white sugar
1/2 tsp yeast
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup approx. additional warm water

For the topping:
approx 1 cup small grape or cherry tomatoes
approx 1/2 cup black olives, pitted
approx 2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped finely
additional olive oil, for drizzling
kosher or other coarse salt, for sprinkling

Combine the warm water and sugar, then sprinkle the yeast over; leave for approx. 10 minutes to activate/proof.
Add the flour and salt in a medium to large bowl – make a well in the center and add the proofed yeast, olive oil and additional water.

**Best bread mixing tip by hand: Using the ‘non-business’ end of a wooden spoon, stir the liquid in the middle, while slowly combining the flour from the edges of the bowl. (That end of the spoon will not only be much easier to clean, it also combines the ingredients very smoothly!) Be sure to get every bit of dough attached to the bowl.
When combined enough to hold together, turn out onto a floured work surface. This is where the fun really begins!! Have some of your fave music on, relax – you want good energy to go into the bread (and everything else you make; have you not seen “Like Water for Chocolate..??”) Get ready to knead for about 10 minutes.

To start kneading, pull the bread over itself towards you…

Then push it away with the heel of your palm…

Turn the bread a quarter turn, after each pull/push action…

What you’re doing is developing the gluten and giving the bread it’s structure…

You’ll feel the dough coming to life in your hands…. sprinkle on more flour as needed.

Keep going… this is where the music helps!! 

Once it’s smooth and springy, turn it over to shape it:  you want a really smooth surface  to capture the gases from the yeast and get a good rise.

Using your palms, slightly tuck in at the bottom, while turning the dough. You’ll know when it’s ready; after a few turns, think of the phrase “smooth as a baby’s bottom!”

In the same bowl (that’s why you got all the bits of dough out…) put a teaspoon of olive oil, coat the bread in it and turn it over. Cover and leave to rise, approx 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size. 

Once the dough has risen…. punch it down/knock the air out….

Using your fingers, start spreading it out on your olive oil coated pan…

If it keeps springing back… let it rest a few minutes and spread it some more. 

Cover and leave for the second rise… for about 30 minutes.

Make lots of ‘dimples’ with your fingers, being careful to not pierce the dough. Top with the tomatoes, olives, olive oil, rosemary and salt. Bake at 400 for approx 20 minutes.

Well worth the effort but eat it up fast – it will only stay fresh for a day~

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