There's something about making bread. Not only do you end up with exceptionally clean hands, but the long process of allowing it to rise, knocking it back, and watching it double in size once again is meditative and slow. A return to inconvenience. And a time when making food was a laborious but loving process. Bread brings out the kitchen lover in me; it requires planning and patience, but there's little that can satisfy more than the moment when you pull it from the oven and tap on the bottom to listen for the hollow response that tells you it's ready.
Foccacia is a traditional Italian bread, typically associated with Ligurian cuisine. It is usually rectangular in shape, with lashings of olive oil to keep it moist, and I like to top it with olives and rosemary to give it extra flavour. Because of all the oil, it won't go stale too quickly, but you're best advised to serve it warm and then there won't be a crumb left in sight! I took my inspiration from Paul Hollywood's recipe and added my toppings. A word of warning: when you make this, you might think it's far too wet however just keep going, and it will come together. Don't add more flour, however tempting it might be!!
500g/1lb 2oz white flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried easy blend yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
400ml/14fl oz cold water
olive oil, for drizzling
a few sprigs of rosemary
around 12 black pitted olives
fine sea salt (preferably Maldon, if you can get your hands on it)
Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and 300ml/10½fl oz of the water into a large bowl. Gently stir with your hand or a wooden spoon to form a dough then knead the dough in the bowl for five minutes, gradually adding the remaining water.
Stretch the dough by hand in the bowl, tuck the sides into the centre, turn the bowl 80 degrees and repeat the process for about five minutes.
Tip the dough onto an oiled work surface and continue kneading for five more minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size.
Line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Tip the dough out of the bowl and onto your baking sheet. Spread it over the baking sheet - you might need to pull a little, but just push it out with your fingers, encouraging it slowly to the edges. Once you've done this, put it in a warm place for at least once hour to prove. Five minutes before the end of this hour, preheat the oven to 220C.
Once proven, drizzle some olive oil over the surface of the dough and rub it across either with your fingers or with a pastry brush. Poke your fingers into the dough - roughly an inch apart as you make a pattern not dissimilar to a bao board. Into these holes, pop your olives, and a sprig of rosemary. Sprinkle sea salt over it all.
Gently place the bread in the oven for 20 minutes. To check it's ready, turn the bread upside down and give it a gentle tap on the bottom - does it sound hollow? If it does, it's ready. Drizzle some more olive oil over it whilst still warm, and serve as soon as you can!