This is the real deal focaccia. The kind infused with herb oil and left for a long cold rise overnight in the fridge to get the best flavor. It's soft, chewy, and savory all at the same time. You can pile on toppings like cheese and sundried tomatoes but I like it best plain and ready to dip into some oil and balsamic vinegar.
There are a lot of recipes for quick and easy focaccia but if you have the extra time to let it rise overnight in herb oil it's worth it. You get to reap the delicious delicious rewards for your patience.
What gives the bread its flavor is a herb infused oil. One cup of olive oil is gently warmed with a combination of herbs and garlic. I added 3 cloves of finely minced garlic and 1/3 cup of rosemary to my oil but you can try different herb flavors together. Another tasty combination is garlic, fresh basil, and sage.
EDIT: You won't use the entire cup of oil in the bread. 1/4 cup goes on the tray, then 1/4 cup spooned on top, then after the rise in the fridge you add UP to a 1/4 cup. You can easily make just a 3/4 cup of the herb oil but its nice to make more and then have it on hand for cooking or making salad dressings out of
To incorporate air bubbles into the dough and to further knead it the focaccia gets stretched and folded three times. This step is fun because you get to play with the dough a bit. Bread is so much more fun than more delicate doughs that you have to be careful not to overmix (ahem shortbread..)
First you stretch the dough out on a floured surface to twice its size.
After 30 minutes you stretch and fold again. Then 30 minutes of rest
Then stretch and fold one final time, cover and let rise on the counter for one hour.
Each time you stretch, fold, and rest the dough the gluten relaxes further and more air is incorporated into the focaccia. Air that makes bubbles which hold olive oil and vinegar perfectly so don't skip the stretching and folding!
After the dough has risen for an hour you get to dimple and stretch it with oil to fill the pan. This step presses out some of the gas from the bread but preserves more than rolling it out would. It gives the bread it's bumpy uneven surface.
First you pour 1/4 cup of your herb oil onto a baking sheet and spread it with your hands (or a brush) to cover the surface. Then you transfer the dough to the sheet (trying to keep it in a rectangle shape) and spoon another 1/4 cup of herb oil over the top.
Then you use your fingers to dimple and spread the dough. If the dough keeps springing back and refusing to spread just let it rest for a few minutes and then dimple it out further. It might not completely fill the pan but that's ok because it still has a rise in the fridge which will take up the extra space.
Also don't worry if this looks like too much oil. The dough soaks it up during the overnight rise making the bread super delicious. Not exactly healthy but definitely delicious.
The next day the focaccia gets another drizzle of herb oil, more dimpling (to remove a bit of the built up gas and to spread it to completely fill the pan). Then its baked for about 25 minutes until golden brown.
I have had store bought focaccia in the past and it is just nothing like the homemade kind. The store bought kind is fairly tall, dense, and a tiny bit dry. This version is thinner, filled with holes which give it a moist and chewy texture, and packs so much more flavor.
An example of the perfect way to enjoy it. You can also add toppings to you focaccia before baking it. Toppings like sundried tomatoes, olives, or sauteed mushrooms get added after you take it out of the fridge (to let the dough rise up around them a bit) while cheese gets added during the last five minutes of baking.
(Recipe from Bread Baker's Apprentice which is an amazing book which you need to own)
5 cups (22.5 ounces) Bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon instant yeast
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups room temperature water
1/4 cup + 1/2 cup of herb oil (oil gently warmed with garlic and herbs)
Stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the oil and water and knead with a dough hook for 5-7 minutes. The dough with be smooth but fairly sticky. It will be sticking to the bottom of the bowl but should be clearing the sides of the mixing bowl.
Liberally sprinkle a surface with flour. Then flour your hands and transfer the dough to the floured surface. Dust liberally with flour and then pat into a large rectangle and let relax for five minutes.
STRETCH AND FOLD
Pulling on each end of the dough stretch it to twice its size and the then fold it like a letter to return it to the original rectangle size. Lightly brush with oil, sprinkle with flour, then cover with plastic wrap and let relax for 30 minutes
Stretch and fold again. Let relax 30 minutes
Stretch and fold again. Cover and let rise on the counter for 1 hour.
DIMPLE AND STRETCH.
Line a 17x12 baking sheet with parchment or tinfoil. (I used a smaller pan to get a slightly taller focaccia. If you want to use the focaccia as the base for toppings it's better to use the 17x12 to get a thinner loaf).
Spread the pan with 1/4 cup of herb oil then transfer the dough (maintaining it's rectangle shape) and spoon another 1/4 cup of oil on top. Use your finger tips to dimple and stretch the dough to fill the pan. If the dough keeps springing back and won't stretch let it relax for a few minutes before continuing.
Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise overnight in the fridge
Remove the focaccia three hours before baking to allow it to come to room temperature and rise a bit more. Drizzle more oil on top (you can use all the remaining 1/4 cup if you like) and dimple and stretch the dough a bit further to completely fill the baking sheet.
Preheat the oven to 500
Three hours after removing the focaccia from the fridge place in the oven and TURN IT DOWN to 450.
Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake for another 10 minutes. If you are adding cheese sprinkle it on now and then bake for a further five minutes. The bread should be golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack to prevent the bread from over baking. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before eating.