Writing my second cookbook, Banh Mi, which comes out this summer, reminded me how much I love baking bread (in the cookbook I show how to make an authentic Vietnamese baguette). Nothing beats the smell of freshly baked bread right out of your own oven.
Today, I made focaccia, which is an Italian flatbread that I topped with Mediterranean ingredients. I kept this version very simple by limiting the toppings to only olives and cheddar cheese. It tasted amazing!
Servings: 2 pieces
4 cups all-purpose flour, + extra for dusting
1 ¼-ounce package dry active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons coarse sea salt
¼ cup tapenade
3 tablespoons cheddar cheese, shredded
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the leavening agent: Warm ¼ cup of water to between 105°F and 120°F. In a bowl, combine the warm water, active dry yeast and sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add 1 cup all-purpose flour and ¾ cup of water. Mix to form a dough. Cover with a towel, place the bowl in a warm spot and let rest 3 hours, preferably overnight.
The next day...
For the focaccia dough: In a mixing bowl, combine the dough starter from the previous day, 2½ cups all-purpose flour, salt and ¾ cup of water. Knead the dough using the dough hook of a stand-mixer for 10 minutes until it becomes smooth. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover with a towel, place the bowl in a warm spot, and then let the yeast do its magic. You’ll have a nice, airy dough in about 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Line 2 small pans with a silicone mat or parchment paper. Divide the dough in half. Roll the dough into 2 oblong shapes. Transfer to the pan and flatten the dough to about ½-inch thick. Cover with a damp towel so they don't dry out and let rest for 15 minutes. Cover with small mounds of tapenade and cheese. Let rest one more time for 15 minutes. Uncover and create little dimples with your index finger. Brush the surface with olive oil.
Baking time: Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400°F and bake for 10-12 more minutes. Remove the focaccia from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.