Sourdough focaccia

Sourdough focaccia

When you make sourdough you are always looking for ways of using up starter. This recipe (also known as fougasse in France) was a good accompaniment for post-film drinks. It’s great for picnics too. I started it in the morning and baked it late afternoon. It’s best warm or cold rather than piping hot from the oven.

This recipe is fine with ordinary plain flour, but you can use white bread flour if you want, or a half-and-half mixture. Whatever you choose, the dough is very wet and sticky to work with, so if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, I really recommend using it. If not, use the “kneading” technique of using one floured hand to stretch and fold the dough in the bowl — no need to turn it out, and you can keep your other hand clean.

Toppings: this isn’t pizza, so topping should be scanty and not too complicated — two or at most three elements. You can keep it plain by just sprinkling fleur de sel and olive oil over it. For this occasion I did some with chopped rosemary and onion, and others with sliced artichoke hearts and a few squirts of pesto. Sun-dried tomatoes and serrano ham or prosciutto are a good choice too — or use your imagination and go for something more original like crumbled blue cheese and thin slices of pear. In all cases, finish with oil and salt.

For the sourdough sponge:
200 g liquid starter (100% hydration)
125 g warm water
25 g olive oil
10 g honey
50 g plain flour

For the dough, add:
50 g olive oil
200 g flour
1 tsp sea salt

Optional topping of your choice (see above)
Olive oil
Sea salt/fleur de sel

Make the sponge by whisking together all the ingredients. Cover with a cloth and leave to stand at room temperature for a couple of hours; the surface should be covered with small bubbles. Then use a wooden spoon or dough hook to stir in the remaining oil, flour, and salt. Leave to stand for 15-30 minutes. Then, if using a stand mixer, give it a few turns of the dough hook before covering again. Otherwise, use one floured hand to pull and stretch the dough in the bowl, folding it back on itself. It will be messy, but just accept it.

In either case, cover the bowl again and leave for 15 minutes. Repeat the stretching/turning/resting a further three times. By this time the dough will still be sticky, but it will look smoother and more homogeneous, with developed strands of gluten. Rub the inside of a large bowl with olive oil and turn the dough into it. Cover with clingfilm or a plastic bag. At this point you can refrigerate the dough overnight if it fits better with your timing. Otherwise, let it prove for 2-3 hours at room temperature until it has almost doubled in volume.

To bake, preheat the oven to 220C. Line a baking sheet of at least 20 x 30 cm with parchment paper and smear the paper with olive oil. Tip the dough onto it and use floured hands to spread and stretch it into a rough oblong. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise for 20-30 minutes while the oven heats and you prepare whatever toppings you have chosen.

When ready to bake, use a finger to “dib” little dimples in the top of the dough. Drizzle with olive oil, then scatter over your chosen topping(s). Drizzle on some more oil and sprinkle with sea salt or fleur de sel. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the focaccia is golden and the edges are starting to crisp. Cool on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

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