Our neighbor girls (ages 8 and 11) are prone to wander by every so often, especially in the summer. The older of the two has a knack for showing up whenever focaccia is about to go in the oven. She peers at the sheet pan, wrinkles her nose and says: “So you’re making that snot bread again?” This is the sad state of modern youth, ladies and gentlemen. But heck I’ll eat her share. Hang on, who ever said she was entitled to a share to begin with?
In fairness I have to concede that focaccia in its raw state does look and feel a bit…snotty. But you can hardly help it. Focaccia is made from the wettest dough in the bread baking world, up to 45% water. That’s 80% in so-called “baker’s percentages” where every ingredient is measured relative to the total flour weight (so if you have a recipe that contains 10 ounces of flour and eight ounces of water, the “hydration” is 80%).
Dealing with wet doughs usually requires copious amounts of flour. Focaccia demands oil, which yields a big slippery, sloppy mass that doesn’t like to take orders. The good news is you don’t have to do much to the dough once it’s oiled. You just spread it out on the pan, tugging at the edges until you have full coverage.
Just a few words of advice for your focaccia. First, be gentle with it. It’s easy to de-gas focaccia dough. But by the same token you want to be sure to dimple it with your fingertips before it goes in the oven. Flat, poofy breads like focaccia and ciabatta fall prey to overly large bubbles just under their skins. If gas is allowed to collect like this, the loaf puffs up like a pillow in the oven, lifting the top crust right off the bread. And ziss, she iz no good. So dimple, dimple, dimple every two inches or so to stick the top crust down.
Since focaccia is a very easy bread to overproof, you want to stick tightly to the rising schedule as written. Also, you should expect the bread to stick fairly tightly to the sheet pan, not matter how much oil you use. Just don’t start scraping until the bread has had a chance to cool or it tends to fall and compact a bit.
Lastly, I’ve been asked more than a few times what type of olive oil to use. The answer is: the cheap stuff. The subtleties of great oil are obliterated by heat. No need to waste great drizzling oil on focaccia, especially if you’re using a powerful herb like rosemary. That’s it! Thank you and good night.