The imperfect perfect focaccia

I did two things of note this past weekend: 1) I turned in my first graduate school paper and 2) I baked a really ugly but absolutely delicious loaf of focaccia bread.

The fact that these two things were related was something I realized sometime around 4am during a night of fitful sleep, and I honestly can’t remember if it was the paper or the focaccia that was keeping me awake…

garlic and rosemary

But in that half-dreaming/half-conscious state it dawned on me: it’s ok if things aren’t perfect. (!!) Ok, so it’s not actually the first time I have realized that, but I am the type of person who needs to be reminded of it from time to time. I have a little voice inside me – I envision her as a little mini-Elizabeth – that assures me that it’s alright not to be perfect, but sometimes it’s hard to hear her and she has to jump up and down and wave her arms around to get noticed. (That last sentence doesn’t make me crazy, does it? No? Ok good, moving on).

I did notice her though, finally, at 4am. And then I fell asleep. But then I woke up the next morning and decided that I was going to write on this blog about that disastrous-but-delicious loaf of focaccia after all.

focaccia dough

You see, I had been planning to write about it. I had never made one before, and the recipe I found for it sounded so good and fail-safe. I was super excited. But then it got a little over-browned in the electric oven that I am still trying to get used to (why, Seattle, WHY the electric ovens?!) And when I took it out of the oven it was stuck to the bottom of the dish (but I oiled the pan soooo well!) So I had to scrape and shove and cut and force it out.

baking focaccia

And then there it was: bruised and battered on the cooling rack. The focaccia that had been so lovely in my mind that was going to make the perfect blog post. Sigh. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see many food blogs out there that post pictures of ugly, misshapen food.

ugly focaccia

In my past life – the one before I started grad school (oh how long ago it seems, a whole month ago) – I would have just started over and baked another. But I used the precious bit of break time I had allowed myself from working on the aforementioned Very First Grad School Paper to bake this one. And well, you can guess the state I was in and how I reacted when the focaccia over-baked…

A few minutes later though, after I had calmed down, we ate the focaccia. We had it with our dinner – a tasty beet and carrot salad made from fresh veggies we had just bought at the farmers market. And it was good – oh man was it good!

pretty focaccia

It was the furthest thing from a disaster that it could possibly have been, because it was just delicious. It was warm and salty, crunchy-crispy on the outside, fluffy and chewy on the inside. Perfect. Because perfection in food is really about what it tastes like! That’s something else that I sometimes forget – especially when I’m taking pictures of that food and posting them online.

And of course what was really behind it all, all this obsessing over a focaccia, was that first paper. I haven’t drafted an academic paper in over seven years (eek!) and it was difficult. I was unsure. I spent way too much time on it, fretting over those pages for days.

But in the end, I turned it in knowing that I did my best – and that is all I can do. Even if it’s not perfect.

yummy focaccia

Rosemary Focaccia

Adapted from Streaming Gourmet
Makes one 13 x 9 inch loaf

As I already expounded upon, this loaf did not go as planned. In order to keep your focaccia from enduring the same slap with the ugly stick that mine got, I have three words for you: oil, oil, and more oil. Ok that’s five words, but you know what I mean. You really need to oil the bejesus out of the pan – because the thing is that you let the dough rise right in the pan for an hour before baking and it soaks up a lot of the oil during that time. There has to be enough so that some remains to provide the greasing-the-pan action that you need in order to ensure your focaccia loaf comes out clean. But if you fail at this, like I did, take heart in knowing that it will taste heavenly anyway!

Also note: this recipe is written assuming you are using a stand mixer. You can certainly make this focaccia by hand, but will need to adjust for more kneading time.

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3-4 tbsp more for oiling the pan
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, cracked
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 2/3 cup lukewarm water (no more than 100°F)
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package rapid rise dry yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
  • 2 tsp table salt
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt (fleur de sel if you have it)

Make the garlic-rosemary infused olive oil first.

Start out by heating 1/2 cup of olive oil, the rosemary sprigs and garlic cloves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.

Heat until just starting to bubble, remove from heat and allow to sit and cool for 30 minutes. Discard garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs.

Once your olive oil is ready, start on the focaccia.

Stir together lukewarm water and yeast in bowl of mixer.

Add flour, 1/4 cup of the rosemary-garlic infused oil, and the table salt to the mixer bowl and beat with the paddle attachment at medium speed until a dough forms.

Replace paddle with dough hook and knead dough at medium-high speed until soft, smooth, and sticky, 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a fairly heavily floured surface (it will be really sticky). Knead in 2 more tablespoons of flour for about a minute.

Once the dough is even and smooth again, transfer to an oiled bowl and turn to coat it with the oil. Let rise, covered with plastic wrap, at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk – 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Press dough evenly into a generously oiled (don’t forget what I said!) 13 x 9 inch baking pan or dish (I used a casserole dish because it’s all I had that was big enough – other than a cookie sheet, but I wouldn’t use a cookie sheet for this). Let rise again, covered with a kitchen towel, until doubled in bulk – another 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 475°F.

Stir together chopped rosemary and remaining 3 tablespoons garlic-rosemary infused oil.

With a fork, make shallow pin pricks all over the dough, then brush with the rosemary oil.

Sprinkle sea salt over the focaccia.

Bake at 475˚F for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven, invert onto a rack and flip over (and pray it comes out smoothly). Eat immediately, if possible!

happy halloween!

Happy Halloween!

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8 Comments

Filed under Food, Sides

8 responses to “The imperfect perfect focaccia

  1. Caroline

    Elizabeth, you have just described every single time I have tried to bake (except, not always with the delicious part). Your ugly stick is smaller than mine too, I promise! Looks delish still though!

  2. Pam

    Good for you, Elizabeth, and thanks for sharing this! The bread does look delicious. Perfection–a tough one. I once heard Madeleine L’Engle refer to perfectionism as “imprisoning.” I agree! I hope your paper was as well received as this blog post and your bread!

  3. Cindy

    Hi Liz. I love your flair for adding humor in your writing. I look forward to trying the bread. I’m sure the paper is awesome. Love you tons! mom

  4. Pam

    Are you going to tell us what you made from AROUND MY FRENCH TABLE??!

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