Explainers

Everyone's making sourdough; we're making focaccia

This classic olive oil-drenched Italian flatbread is surprisingly simple to make at home. Chef David Lovett shows us how it’s done.

By David Lovett
In recent years, Australia (and the world) has fallen back in love with focaccia. The pillowy Italian flatbread makes the perfect starter, side or sandwich base, and celebrates classic Italian flavour combinations through its lavish use of olive oil and toppings such as rosemary, olives and tomatoes. Making it is relatively simple, but imbuing the dough with layers of olive oil is imperative.
"With every touch of the dough you want to add a little bit of olive oil, so you're essentially just feeding it," says David Lovett, chef at Ethel Food Store in Brunswick Heads, NSW, and a self-confessed focaccia nerd. Adding the oil slowly ensures that the dough remains moist and light.
Introduction by Jordan Kretchmer, recipe by David Lovett.

How to make focaccia, step by step

1 Combine 350ml tepid water with 10gm dried yeast and 10gm caster sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix to combine. Add 500gm (3⅓ cups) sifted plain flour and 2 tsp fine sea salt, then mix, scraping down sides occasionally to incorporate all the flour, until a sticky dough forms (8-10 minutes).
You can also knead the dough by hand on a very lightly floured surface, working it until the flour is incorporated (about 12-15 minutes). Also, remember this is a wet dough, so be careful not to add more flour than the recipe calls for at the kneading stage.
2 To make one large focaccia, oil a 15cm x 25cm x 3cm-deep tray and dust with semolina. Scrape dough into prepared tray with a pastry scraper or rubber spatula.
3 Rub 1 tbsp olive oil over dough ball and set aside to prove until doubled in size (20-30 minutes; the warmer and more humid the room, the quicker it will prove).
4 Stretch dough to fill the tray (it should be soft and pillowy; be gentle to keep as much air in the dough as possible). Using both hands, lift dough from underneath and gently pull and stretch it lengthways, then sideways. If it doesn't quite reach the edges, that's fine; as it proves the second time, it will expand further.
5 To make individual focaccia, as pictured above, divide dough into 85gm balls and place on prepared tray. Use your fingertips to pat into 1cm-thick rounds. Apply a small amount of olive oil to coat.
6 Preheat oven to 240°C. Drizzle 1½ tbsp olive oil over dough and leave to prove for 10-15 minutes. Using both your hands, make deep indents in the dough with your fingertips (and maybe some big air bubbles, too), then drizzle over 1½ tbsp oil. Set aside to prove for a further 10-12 minutes.
7 Add 250gm halved cherry tomatoes and 2 tsp rosemary leaves, and press into dough slightly. Drizzle over 1½ tbsp olive oil** and set aside to prove until dough is just popping over the edge of tray and oil is about to overflow. (If using a tray with different dimensions, aim for the dough to be about 3cm deep.)
8 Season generously with 2-3 tsp salt flakes (for a savoury focaccia). Bake until deep golden and focaccia sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom of the tray (12-15 minutes). Add one final drizzle of oil as soon as focaccia comes out of the oven, then rest in tray for 5 minutes. Turn out on a wire rack to cool for 20-30 minutes, then serve.

Focaccia toppings to try

  • Finely sliced chat potatoes and rosemary (about 3 chat potatoes and picked leaves from 2 rosemary sprigs).
  • Sage or rosemary (leaves from 2 bunches of sage, roughly torn, or picked leaves from 5 rosemary sprigs).
  • Chopped potato skins – they crisp up beautifully.
  • Halved peaches, plums, grapes or figs and a sprinkling of fennel seeds – perfect served with a cheese platter.
  • Pitted cherries or blueberries, dusted with 3-4 tbsp raw sugar – a great dessert to serve with cream.