Focaccia alla Tomasi

Some of the best food I have ever eaten -- and I say this as someone who has lived in gastronomically excellent Italy for 8 years, has traveled lots and sampled all sorts of cuisines, and who comes from a family of cooks -- has, hands down, come from the kitchen of Carla Tomasi. I've mentioned Carla a few times on the blog before, and with good reason; she has been behind some of the best recipes I've come across this past year and a half, not to mention a goldmine of knowledge, advice, and guidance both culinary and otherwise -- she's an overall wise lady -- and if my cooking/baking has stepped up its game in 2019, she's played a big part in it. Carla has been described as many things by those who know her -- "All-Knowing," "national treasure," "vegetable whisperer" -- but for me, she is simply One of the Best Cooks I Know, responsible for such marvels including, but not limited to: impossibly light and fluffy maritozzi, filled with clouds of whipped cream, a dream of a breakfast; spicy twisted cinnamon rolls, fragrant with cardamom; surprisingly luxurious vignarola, made with nothing more than olive oil and artichokes from her own garden; ravioli made from pasta dough rolled impossibly thin and then stuffed with spinach and nutmeg-tinged ricotta; thin slices of zucchine preserved in olive oil with onions and oregano that elevate the humble veg into something positively crave-able; an eggplant wrapped rigatoni timballo, a true stunner of a dish; tiny carciofini sott'olio, to keep us artichoke lovers content long after the season is over; a coffee-brushed, buttery sponge dome filled with ricotta and chocolate and orange zest, otherwise known as zuccotto; the most purely strawberry of all strawberry jams that I will forever dream about.

Need I go on?!

Today's focaccia is a recipe I learned from Carla, a stand-by in her (excellent) cooking classes she teaches at Latteria Studio in Trastevere. While the menus in Carla's classes vary greatly from season to season and group to group, the focacce are a fixture, something to savour once out of the oven while you busily prepare the other dishes that will comprise your menu. As you can imagine, the focacce made by Carla also fall gracefully in to my "BEST THINGS I'VE EVER EATEN" category -- I mean, just look at how beautiful they are even before they hit the oven:
Once out of the oven, they're fluffy and soft and light as air, with an excellent crumb, olive oil-y and a little salty, sprinkled with a generous dose of earthy rosemary if you're going the classic route or topped with whatever ingredients your carbohydrate-loving heart desires, preferably seasonal ones. I was delighted to bring focaccia alla Tomasi in to my own kitchen, and from blogger to reader, can confirm the following: this recipe makes focacce that are addictive, and delicious, and if you're smart, you'll make more than you think you need, because you'll soon discover that you can never have enough of this focaccia (you've been warned). If you're iffy about bread making, rest assured! Like most Tomasi classics, the recipe is low maintenance (just a few stretches and turns of the dough and a little waiting, probably the most difficult part, if you, like me, are always eager to get fresh bread in your sights) and the result is spectacular. Running to your kitchens yet?! Thought so.

A couple of notes from Carla: There are endless recipes for focaccia out there in the wild so mine is not the definitive article, but this makes me happy and ticks all the right boxes. Light/airy/bouncy/soft crumb/keeps and freezes well. On a hot day use up to 280 grams water for your dough, and as low as 240-250 grams water on a cold and damp day (when the air is full of moisture). Maybe on a very cold day the water temperature ought to be on the warm side of tepid and never mix your dough in a metal bowl, the dough will chill and stop working. I would strongly advise against baking the focaccia with any herb strewn on the surface, especially rosemary because the essential oil within the herb will turn bitter due to the strong heat. For a real taste sensation chop some rosemary needles finely and shower the focaccia as soon as it is out of the oven. Boom! Focaccia freezes really well (so make two) and wedges can be reheated in the toaster quickly because of the porous crumb structure.

Looking for other homemade bread recipes? I've also got this pizza bianca, this piadina, these tigelle, this challah bread, these bagels, and this schiacciata con l'uva. Hoping to take a class with Carla? Thought so! Click here for more information.

Recipe from Carla Tomasi.
Makes one large focaccia or four little ones (which bake in 10-12 minutes, about).

1 1/2 cups (200 grams) soft wheat flour
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) strong bread flour
1 teaspoon of fast action dry yeast
1 teaspoon of fine salt
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 cup plus a few tablespoons (240-280 grams) of tepid water -- see notes.

Potential toppings:
Rosemary, pear, gorgonzola
Zucchini flowers, gorgonzola, anchovies
Thinly sliced potatoes and Parmesan
Oil cured, pitted olives, oregano, cherry tomatoes
...whatever else your heart desires, really!

Place the flours, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl and swirl around. Drizzle in the olive oil and then pour in the water. Plunge one hand in and use it as if it is the (kenwood) K beater. As you go around the bowl, gather flour from the side towards the center. Once all the flour has been incorporated, pat into a shaggy mass, cover with a cloth and leave to rest for at least 10-15 minutes. Do not worry if the dough feels sticky, it will be fine.
When resting time is over the dough will feel soft and pliable. Pour a little olive oil on the work surface and plop the dough on it. Flatten it out gently and then pull the dough from the edge towards the center and every time give it a quarter turn. Pull the dough 6 to 8  times and then roll it on itself to get a tight firm ball. Upturn the mixing bowl over the dough and again leave to rest for about 15 minutes. Repeat this process twice more.
Next, gather the dough into a ball and leave to prove (around 45 minutes or less on a hot day) in an oiled plastic bowl. When the dough is ready ease it gently out of the bowl and onto an oiled baking tray or a tin (for a focaccia not too thick, bake it in tin 34 cm across). Leave to rest until the dough has relaxed (approx.15 mins) For a good springy focaccia and a good crusty bottom, place the baking tin in the oven to get really hot and then transfer the risen focaccia on it, still on the parchment paper. Note that I used an aluminum tin here, which worked fine, but the bottom didn't get quite as crisp as I'd hoped; to avoid this, use a round pizza pan, which will conduct heat better!
Once the dough has been spread out leave to rise (preferably uncovered) well away from droughts or direct heat. If the day is really hot you may need to cover it. This last proof could take from 40 minutes to an hour. When the focaccia dough is well puffed up, gently dimple the surface with your fingers and brush lightly with oil. Top with the ingredients of your choice (unless you are using fresh herbs; see notes above).

Place the focaccia into a 190 degree Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit) oven and rotate the tin at least once. Depending on your oven, the focaccia will take anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes to bake; it is ready when it is golden brown.

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