Now that the UK’s temperatures are slowly rising towards the teens and the sun is beginning to peek out a bit more regularly from behind it’s cloudy blanket, it got me thinking (and yearning) for the first picnic of the year. I am regularly asked by my customers what picnic bread is suitably easy to make, visually appealing, versatile and robust enough to withstand the slog from the car to the picnic spot. There is only really one that, for me at least, ticks all those boxes: Focaccia.
This iconic Italian bread can be embellished with an unlimited variety of toppings. It makes a fantastic vessel for a sandwich and it is ridiculously easy to make. Even this sourdough version. In fact, I would go as far as saying that this is the easiest sourdough bread to make!
The recipe below is an adapted version of the yeasted focaccia that I teach in my Beginner’s Bread Baking Workshops to show people how easy it is to make stunning bread at home. So the only difference from the workshop recipe is that I have replaced fresh baker’s yeast with an active sourdough starter, in this case our San Francisco starter.
The texture of this sourdough version is ever so slightly chewy. But as you can see from the pictures it has a beautifully aerated crumb which lends it the softness that you expect from a yeasted focaccia. I have topped mine with herby olives and roasted red pepper strips which give it a good blend of savoury and sweetness.
330g strong white bread flour
90g active, fresh sourdough starter
65ml olive oil (50ml for the dough, 15ml for the topping)
185ml tepid water
1 tsp fine sea salt
Semolina, for dusting
Flaked sea salt for topping
Optional toppings: Red onion rings, olives, rosemary sprigs, etc…
Dissolve the starter in the water. Mix the salt with the flour.
Add the liquid and the oil to the flour and use your scraper to combine for 3-5 minutes until all the dry bits are incorporated and everything is bonding.
Use the scraper to turn the dough out onto an unfloured surface and knead for 10 minutes.
Shape into a ball and lightly coat your bowl with oil. Place your dough inside and cover. Leave to rest for 12 hours at room temperature or until doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently flatten it into a disk or rectangle about 1-1.5cm thick. Place it onto the baking tray sprinkled with semolina and lightly brush with olive oil. Cover and allow to prove for 2-3 hours or until doubled in thickness.
Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7.
Arrange your topping of choice on the dough.
Now push your fingers into the dough to make deep dents, without piercing through the bottom.
Whisk the remaining oil with 15ml water until emulsified. Pour it evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with flaked sea salt.
Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Best eaten warm!