Inspired by my favourite week on The Great British Bake Off, bread week, I decided to make a family favourite of mine the other day – focaccia bread.
Focaccia reminds me of summers spent in Italy, where both my parents would regularly make it (along with various other types of bread).
One of the reasons I love making it is its versatility – it is very easy to adapt it to your own tastes, as it is the kind of bread you can easily and lovingly top with your favourite flavours, whatever they may be.
This week’s technical challenge of ciabatta (post to follow tomorrow), along with my parents’ recent return from there, brought Italy to mind, and – my fridge laden with Italian goods – I decided to make a focaccia brimming with the flavours of such a familiar country.
Focaccia in English baking books often contains rosemary, and I love the depth and smokiness it gives to the bread, so I decided to keep that in. Olives are a staple in our house, so I chopped up some black ones to press into the olive-oil-soaked grooves on the focaccia, and tore up some fresh Parma ham to complement them.
I think next time I use this particular combination I will also chop some olives to knead into the dough, as it felt like the flavours were lacking a little inside the bread. But on the whole, this is a delicious combination.
Parma Ham, Rosemary & Olive Focaccia
Adapted from a recipe in Making Fresh Bread (only a penny when you buy it ‘used’ on Amazon!).
Makes 1 loaf
500g strong white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp easy-blend dried yeast
2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra sprigs to garnish
6 tbsp extra olive oil
300ml lukewarm water
1 tsp coarse sea salt and a pinch of coarse black pepper
handful of halved olives to decorate (plus another handful, chopped, to add to the dough)
2-3 strips Parma ham
2. Shape dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel or cling film, and leave to rise in a warm place for 2 hours, until dough has doubled in volume.
3. Knock back the dough, and knead on a lightly floured surface for 1 min (knead chopped olives in at this point if using). Place the dough on a greased baking sheet and press into a long rectangular layer. Cover again and leave to rise for 1 hour in a warm place.
4. Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/gas 9. Whisk remaining oil with a little water, dip your finger in the mixture and make little dimples all over the loaf with your finger. Brush the rest of the dough with oil, sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt, and place olives and sprigs of rosemary on top of the loaf.
5. Lower oven temp to 220C/425F/gas 7 and bake for 20 mins. Allow to cool slightly before serving with torn pieces of Parma ham on top.