COVID-19 has awakened a new obsession in me: bread baking! My favourite bread to make is a decorated focaccia bread which allow me to have a creative outlet yet are super simple to make. Get kids involved in making their own too! No bread maker machine required. This is a pushy recipe Dear Reader!
Focaccia is an olive oil topped bread that is spongy in texture and was an early form of a pizza dough. What is remarkable about it is that it is:
One. Great for people that aren't confident with bread.
Two. It has a faster ferment so it bubbles up nicely so you see results straight away.
Three. It lets you play with a high hydration dough. High hydration doughs are ones with 73% and above water. This is a 100% hydration dough so the proportions of water to flour are equal.
Four. A high hydration dough means a more open crumb and a crispier and thinner crust. This is perfect as far as focaccia is concerned.
High hydration focaccia dough is poured into the prepared tray
Five. There's no bread shaping with this focaccia dough because the dough is simply wet and has to be poured into the tin.
Six: There is also the option to let this prove overnight instead of kneading the dough. This also improves the flavour of the bread but also makes it more digestible. This isn't strictly necessary though if you don't have time.
Seven: You can use some wholemeal flour in your focaccia. I always make around 1/4 of the total flour wholemeal flour (as the recipe is below).
Eight: Focaccia is the perfect bread to make for a bread challenge because it is easy to make and when made in a rectangular or square tin, resembles a painting. You simply pour it into the tin and spread it to the edge and brush with oil and let it rise before decorating it.
Nine: Focaccia is inexpensive. It's made using flour, water, salt and extra virgin olive oil (which will be the most expensive ingredient). If you're trying to cut down on using oil you can halve the oil quantity and just brush the dough on top with oil.
Ten: Decorating your bread is also very easy and with only a few ingredients you can make your bread pretty but also enhance the flavour of the bread. Ingredients like tomatoes, onion, cheese, olives and a range of colourful vegetables are ideal. This is also a good chance to use up bits that you have in your vege crisper.
Can I use a sourdough starter instead of yeast? Yes! Sourdough starter is ideal for this slow rise focaccia as it can take longer than instant dried yeast to rise. Please use 50g/1.7ozs during summer and 100g/3.5ozs during winter (the dough needs a bit more of a boost during cooler weather).
In fact a Dear Reader sent me her work challenge where she and a few colleague made their own focaccias. The designs were fantastic, people made their own bread or acquired a new bread making skill in some cases and they had enough bread for last for a few days (and avoid a trip out to the shops!)
The last time I made a landscape focaccia I had so much fun so I decided to make a slightly different one. It's using zucchini flowers and is a very, very rudimentary attempt at Van Gogh's Sunflowers. I can't say that I did it exactly but I had fun doing it and that's what I gravitate towards nowadays. I also love eating focaccia.
We are trying to shop only once a week so we are going old skool and bartering. Laura was dropping by a jigsaw puzzle for me to borrow to try and distract my mind. I offered her some home baked cookies and when she was on her way she facetimed me from the markets that she was shopping at and asked me if I wanted anything.
I had been hunting for zucchini flowers for this focaccia for weeks. I wanted big, proud beauties and all I could find were tiny, semi withered ones at the shop. I could see that they had zucchini flowers in stock so I asked her if she could buy them. Then, trying to keep things fair I asked her if there was anything that she needed and she said she needed flour to bake an Easter slice that is part of her annual Easter traditional lunch (this year at different houses of course).
We ended up swapping zucchini flowers for flour ("Flowers for flour!" she said excitedly) and a puzzle for chunky salted caramel cookies. I would have loved to have given her a slice of this bread too but no doubt there will be more breads made and more breads eaten over the next few weeks and months!
Sometimes, just sometimes I forget about COVID-19 and how it is completely changed the world. Usually when I allow myself to daydream or if I've been watching a tv show and I get immersed in the characters. And then for a couple of hours I forget how strange life is now.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you barter and swap with friends? Do you sometimes forget what is happening in the world?
And if you make a decorated focaccia please tag me on social media with #notquitenigella or @notquitenigella and I'll share it!
DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? Share your creations by tagging @notquitenigella on Instagram with the hashtag #notquitenigella
Focaccia Art - Sunflowers
Rated 5.0 out of 5 by 5 readers
An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
- 150ml/5flozs. olive oil, divided in two
- 500ml/16.9flozs. lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 400g/14ozs. plain flour or bread flour
- 100g/3.5ozs wholemeal flour (if you don't have wholemeal flour replace it with plain white flour)
- 2 teaspoons instant dried yeast OR 50-100g (1.7-3.5ozs) sourdough starter (see note below)
- 1/2 cup purple cabbage, chopped
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
- 6 zucchini flowers
- Spring onion, 6 sticks
- Black pitted olives
- Egg yolk for egg wash
If you are using a sourdough starter, please use 50g/1.7ozs during summer and 100g/3.5ozs during winter
Step 1 - Line a 40x30cm/15.7x11.8inch baking tray with at least 1 inch height with parchment and brush with half of the olive oil.
Step 2 - Dissolve the salt and in the water. Add both flours, water and yeast to the bowl of an electric mixer and stir with a spatula to incorporate. Then knead on low speed for 5 minutes.
Step 3 - Pour the mixture into the tray (it will be very wet) and then brush the remaining oil on top. Cover with another tray and allow to rise for 1 hour.
Step 4 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Start decorating the focaccia. I started with the vase-add purple cabbage to form the base on the vase then cherry tomatoes to make the top. Use spring onions around the outer of the tray and to draw the tabletop.
Step 5 - Open up the zucchini flowers and mist with a water spray to prevent these from drying out too much in the oven. Trim them and spread the petals out. Add coriander around them and add a pitted olive slice in the centre of some. You can get creative with your flowers as they all differ slightly.
Step 6 - Brush the "table" part or the bottom half of the focaccia with egg yolk. Bake for 20 minutes and then bake at 200C/400F for 10 minutes.
Brushing with egg wash