Ever since we first published our braided pesto bread recipe, we've made a concerted effort to swot up on our baking skills. So, whilst we're never going to make professional bakers, we can now include a pesto focaccia in our culinary repertoire.
As with all bread making, the most fun is to be had doing everything by hand, but we must admit to occasionally using a stand mixer for speed, convenience, and quite honestly, laziness.
If you have time, we'd highly recommend "cold proofing" the dough in the fridge, ideally for 24-hours, or at least overnight. The extra effort will make for the fluffiest focaccia you've ever eaten.
Ingredients for one large loaf
|Sea salt flakes
Dissolve the yeast, honey and salt in 100g of lukewarm (i.e. 30-35°C) water and leave until it starts to froth, around 10 minutes.
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture, the remaining water and 50g of the olive oil.
Mix with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together. Tip the dough onto a clean, flour-dusted surface and knead for 8-10 minutes. You may need to add a little extra water or flour depending on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen.
Once well kneaded, place the ball of dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and leave in the warmest part of your kitchen for around an hour, during which time it should double in size.
Grease a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil and sprinkle over a thin layer of semolina. This will prevent your bread sticking to the skillet as it cooks.
“Knock back” the dough by kneading for an additional minute, then roll or stretch the dough so that it fits comfortably in the skillet. It will be very elastic, so take your time. You're not looking for perfection here - a rustic vibe is positively encouraged.
Leave to rise again in a warm place for another 30 minutes.
Pre-heat a 180°C oven and place a roasting pan filled with water on the bottom shelf. This will generate steam which helps keeps moisture in the dough during the cooking.
Using the tips of your fingers, make a series of dents in the dough. Brush 15g of olive oil all over the surface.
Bake for 15 minutes until the top of the dough starts to brown. Mix the remaining 10g olive oil with the pesto and paint all over the bread. Return the skillet to the oven and cook for another 3-4 minutes (or until the internal temperature measures 90°-95°C on a digital thermometer).
Garnish with fresh herbs (we like using rosemary or chives) and serve warm with even more extra virgin olive oil and the best balsamic vinegar you can afford.
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