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Spring Focaccia: Easy Homemade Bread

I am pretty hopeless when it comes to making homemade bread. There have been a number of sincere attempts–schemes involving wild caught yeast (an effort to create “Brooklyn sourdough”), recipes for sandwich bread, and whole-wheat–but the end result is almost always something much more akin to a brick than an actual comestible. Like I said, it’s pretty hopeless. Except when it comes to focaccia. This forgiving (also spongy, light, and delicious) bread uses just a bit of active dry yeast and is super simple to make.

Focaccia lends itself to variety and can be adapted to suit whatever happens to be in season. Homemade focaccia is particularly great in the spring when so many unique onion and garlic varieties sprout from the earth. I went with sauteed shallots, Pecorino, and rosemary, but ramps, chives, garlic scapes, scallions, and plain old onions would add fantastic flavor as well. As far as herbs and cheese go, select a couple favorites and play with flavors. A hint of lemon adds brightness; we have even been known to use preserved lemon for extra kick. You can throw in a few veggies too–asparagus, tomato, and zucchini would all be great options.

Simple Spring Focaccia

for the dough
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cups cold water
1/4 cup olive oil

for the topping
olive oil
2 shallots, chopped and sauteed in olive oil for 10 minutes
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup grated Percorino Romano
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl combine the yeast and water. Stir in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour. Set the mixture in a warm place for 30 minutes–it will rise and become quite bubbly.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining flour and salt, and fold into the yeast mixture. Fold in the water and olive oil. Either using the dough hook in a stand mixture, or by hand, knead for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and pliant. Focaccia dough should be damp and sticky, but add a bit of flour if the dough is too sticky.

Oil a large mixing bowl, place the dough inside, cover, and allow dough to rise in a warm place for 2 hours, or in the refrigerator overnight. The dough should double in size.

Pour a drizzle of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Handling the dough carefully, stretch the dough into a rectangle roughly the size of the baking sheet. Stretch carefully so that you preserve the air in the dough. Cover the dough rectangle and set in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise again for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Dimple the focaccia all over with your fingers, pressing the rosemary into the dough, and then brush a light coating of olive oil on the surface. Sprinkle liberally with kosher or sea salt, and sprinkle with the zest and black pepper. Scatter the sauteed shallots, and put the focaccia into the oven. After 7 minutes, remove and add the cheese. Cook for another 3 – 7 minutes, for a total of 10 – 14, until the focaccia is just barely golden–you want it to be cooked through, but just so. Serve with a few sprigs of fresh rosemary.

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