A couple of years ago, my husband Richard built an outdoor wood burning oven. You can see it here and here. It was an ambitious undertaking, a project he underestimated. By the time he came to that realization, there was no turning back. It took most of the summer to build, but when it was finished it looked great. More importantly it worked, reaching and maintaining a temperature of over 1,000F and baking a pizza in about 90 seconds!
Now you don't need a wood burning oven to make good pizza or focaccia at home. You can achieve excellent results in a conventional oven and I've included directions on how to do that in this post.
I've experimented with several focaccia recipes over the years and have gotten the best results from a recipe written by Jim Lahey in his book, My Bread. It works beautifully and the focaccia has the best flavor. It calls for the addition of pureed potatoes in the dough which produces a lightness you would not otherwise achieve. I give it a slow and cold rise overnight in the refrigerator. Not only is it a more convenient for me, I think it produces a better quality bread.
To begin, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and half the salt in a large mixing bowl.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into small chunks. Cook covered until the potatoes are soft and fall apart when pierced with a fork. Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the potatoes in their cooking water until completely blended.
Using a yeast thermometer, cool the potato mixture to 120F. It will still feel hot. Add it to the dry ingredients and mix together lightly with a wooden spoon until you have a wet, sticky dough. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight to rise slowly.
Next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator. You can see it has risen nicely and is ready for the baking pan.
Lightly oil a 13 x 18 inch rimmed baking sheet. Scrape the dough onto the pan. It will be sticky. Gently pull the dough and stretch it across the the surface of the pan, then oil your hands and press the dough evenly out to the edges. Drizzle with 3 T. of the oil and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Using your fingertips, create dimples all over the surface of the dough. Add toppings of your choice.
Toppings can be as simple as salt and rosemary, or as complex as sliced zucchini, cheese, tomatoes and herbs. Pictured below are tomatoes sprinkled with fresh thyme ready to be oven roasted.
After you've added the topping of your choice, let the dough rise in a warm, draft free spot for about 45 minutes to an hour.
If you are baking in a conventional oven, now is the time to preheat it to 400F. Place a rack in the center.
In a wood burning oven, we start with a temperature of 1,000F to get the dome good and hot, then bring the temperature down to 500F to bake the focaccia.
This one is topped with roasted zucchini, buffala mozarella, and a light sprinkling of San Marzano stewed tomatoes.
You can see what a beautiful crumb this has. I wish you could have a taste!
slightly adapted from Jim Lahey, My Bread
Yield: One 13 x 18 inch Focaccia
Equipment: 13 x 18 inch rimmed baking pan, yeast thermometer
- 1 cup peeled Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 2-1/2 cups water
- 4-1/2 cups (600 grams) all purpose or bread flour ( I use all purpose)
- 2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place the potatoes and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and cook until the potatoes are very soft. Using a blender or immersion blender, puree the potatoes in their cooking water until completely smooth. Using your yeast thermometer as a guide, cool the mixture to 120F. It will feel very warm. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, sugar, and half the salt. Add the potato puree and using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover tightly with saran wrap and place overnight in the refrigerator. Next day remove dough. Lightly oil your baking pan. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the dough onto the baking pan. It will be very sticky. Gently pull the dough and stretch it across the surface of the pan, then oil your hands and press the dough evenly out to the edges. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Use your fingertips to create dimples all over the surface. Add the toppings of your choice. Let rise in a warm, draft free place until it has risen to the edges of the pan, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Bake for 30-45 minutes in a pre-heated conventional oven on the middle rack until the top is evenly golden brown. Cool on a rack in the pan.
Bake in a 500F wood burning oven for about 15- 20 minutes, turning halfway for even baking. Place on a hot griddle or grill for a minute or so with the lid open to brown the bottom. Cool in the pan on a rack.
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