By Rissa Miller, Senior Editor Vegetarian Journal
(Serves 4 for sandwiches or 10 for using with a dip or spread)
In the bread baking craze, don’t forget this wonderful eat-with-your-hands loaf, focaccia! These small, flat loaves come together easily and are ideal for novice bakers. They aren’t as fussy as sandwich or artisan loaves, and it’s easy to mix it up with flavors. Rosemary, basil, or even a spice blend can step in for thyme in this recipe. Serve warm or cool, also great for roasted veggie sandwiches.
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vegan sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons active baker’s yeast
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for topping
1 teaspoon salt
Heat 3/4 cup water to 100-110 degrees, but not warmer. If you don’t have a kitchen thermometer, this is about wrist-warm, like you’d use to check a baby bottle. Dissolve sugar in warmed water and sprinkle in yeast. Allow to sit and get bubble/foamy for about 7-10 minutes. The yeast will activate and eat the sugar, and there may even be a subtle beer-like or bread-like smell. If nothing happens, the yeast might be dead and you will need to repeat with different yeast.
In a bowl, combine both flours, dried thyme and 1/4 cup olive oil. When yeast is ready, add to flour mixture and combine well. Doughball should stick together and be a true ball, not sticking to the sides. If there is lose dry flour, add water one-tablespoon at a time; if the dough is too wet, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time. Doughball should be smooth and hold its form, even when picked up. Once formed, knead the dough for about 5 minutes, then allow to rest and rise in the bowl for about 30 minutes.
While dough rises, prepare a cast iron pan, about 9 to 12 inches in diameter. It doesn’t have to be precise, the dough will work in anything that’s about the right size. Use olive oil to make sure the inside of the cast iron is well-greased. Set aside.
After 30 minutes, punch down the dough and knead an additional 5 to 7 minutes. form into a disc shape and place in cast iron. Work the dough until it fill the bottom of the pan. Lightly brush the top with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cover with a kitchen towel and set side to rise for 45-60 minutes. In the last few minutes of the second rise time, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
If desired, use your thumb or the end of spoon to press dimples into the focaccia before baking. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes, until baked through, lightly browned, and a hard crust has formed. Allow to cool at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.
Note: Any salt will work for the top of the focaccia, however smoked salt or flake salt both add something special – if you have access to those varieties! Want to make this focaccia summery? Add zest of one lemon to the dough with the thyme. Bright and delicious!