It was a veritable hive of baking activity in my kitchen yesterday. No we weren’t practising to audition for The Great British Bakeoff, we were in party mode. As I lay in my bed yesterday morning thinking there was no rush to get up, I suddenly remembered I’d promised to make two (yes two) focaccia (focaccie?) for Jonathan and Lyndsey’s house warming/Jonathan’s birthday party that evening. As Nicola and Rachael had offered to bake cakes and scones (the party was starting at teatime, English style, with pots of tea, cakes, scones, jam and clotted cream when young families were around, leading into an adult barbecue in the evening) my one and only oven was going to be in full use. I got up. It may have been Saturday. And it was only 7.30 a.m. But such is a mother’s love for her son and daughter-in-law. Though actually, I love making focaccia and it’s not exactly the kind of thing you make just for yourself, so I was very happy to have a reason to get baking seriously.
I always use Antonio Carluccio’s recipe in an old book (2002) that has become a kind of family cooking bible. We all have a copy. It’s in my own top ten cookery books list here on the blog and has the best tiramisu recipe I know and other favourites. I like to make the focaccia by hand rather than in a machine. Partly because I once blew up one up – literally! An old Kenwood mixer – while making this focaccia the week in which, ironically, I would have celebrated a 30th anniversary had I still been married. The machine had been a wedding present. I’m quite certain the recipe had nothing to do with machine exploding in a puff of smoke and me having to rush out of the kitchen into the garden, but since then I’ve stuck to making it by hand. It feels safer. And really, it’s a very pleasing thing to do. Even before 8.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning …
I decided to make the two doughs separately and have two toppings: Fresh Rosemary and Sea Salt, and then a Red Onion, Cherry Tomato & Fresh Thyme version. To make one focaccia sift 500g strong white bread flour into a bowl. Dissolve 1 pack (7 1/2 g) dried yeast in 300ml lukewarm water.
Pour the yeasty water into a well in the flour and add 10g sea salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix to form a dough then knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. You’ll know it’s ready if you try gently pushing into the dough with a finger a little way and seeing if the hole pops out again. By the time I got round to the second batch, Nicola had got up and come down to the kitchen where she took an action shot.
Put the dough in a greased bowl, put some cling film over the top of the bowl and leave to rise in a warmish but not hot place for about an hour until doubled in size.
Now knock down and knead slightly again to get out the air bubbles and then flatten out into whatever shape you fancy – oval, round or oblong. You want the dough to be about an inch (2.5cm) thick. As I was going to carry my focaccia in a car to the party I made a round one on a pizza tray and an oblong one in another baking tray. With your knuckles, press indentations into the dough then gently spread over 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle over some sea salt flakes and any other flavourings you like. On my first one I put lots of chopped fresh rosemary and a grating of black pepper.
On the second, I added some finely chopped red onion, halved cherry tomatoes and fresh thyme. Put it aside and leave for another 30 minutes to rise a bit again.
Bake them in a hot oven (240C/220 Fan) for 15 minutes or until nicely browned.
Check it’s done by gently tapping the underside and it should sound hollow – although I gave this step a miss with my tomato version or the topping would have fallen off! Drizzle a little more (about 1 tablespoon) olive oil over the finished focaccia.
They looked pretty good, I thought. And they’re very easy to make and great fun for parties. You could add all kind of toppings although I don’t think you want to overdo the topping. Basically, this is bread – not a pizza (which should always be simple as well, I feel) – and you want just a little flavouring. I had to hold people off at the party all afternoon telling them they were for the evening. Everyone wanted a taste! While Jonathan was finishing barbecuing the meat and we were putting salads and other food on the table for everyone to help themselves, I cut the focaccia into slices so it was easy for people to take some.
By the time I emerged from the kitchen in the morning, the focaccia made, Nicola and Rachael were ready with cake and scone recipes (which had been the subject of deep research over breakfast; my dining table laden with cookery books as evidence to this). Rachael found a lemon drizzle cake recipe online – it was delicious but unfortunately I failed to get a photo. Nicola went with Delia Smith’s recipe for scones. The fact that they both managed to cook – and different recipes! – at the same time in my little kitchen bears witness to the strength of their partnership, I think. I wouldn’t have remained so good humoured if I’d been sharing the kitchen while making the focaccia. Nicola’s scones were wonderful. Just look. How could you resist?
Yes, I had to sneak one before they went off in the car to the party and ate it with a large slab of butter and blackcurrant jam and a cup of tea, grabbing a quiet moment in the garden . They were so light and delicious; wonderful scones. When I praised Nicola and said they were notoriously hard to make well, she seemed surprised. She’s obviously a natural! And may she bake more next time she visits me in London!