Let the celebration begin! Spring Focaccia (BBB May 2016)

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BBB May 2016 summary: recipe for Spring Focaccia, based on a recipe in “Flour Water Salt Yeast” by Ken Forkish; altering recipes; adding malted rye and buckwheat; how many garden herbs are available when spring is late; a Bread Baking Babes project; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

Bread Baking Babes (BBB) May 2016: Spring Focaccia

focaccia crumb I have only 1500km to go before the upside-down number on my odometer spells BLISS!

Spring is quite late this year. We had only one blossom on our forsythia. The chives and garlic have come up but there is no sign yet of thyme, sage, or summer savoury.

We bicycled to High Park a couple of mornings ago to look at the cherry trees not blossoming and then saw news that they probably won’t really blossom this year at all. Some of the apples and ornamental plums were just starting to blossom. The only tree that was in full magnificent bloom was a Magnolia.

So, while Cathy’s suggestion that we show off “our festive Spring Focaccia” was a welcome one, it was also going to prove to be a bit tricky.

Here’s how things went:

BBB Spring Foccaccia diary:

26 April 2016, 10:56 How clever to use sprouted wheat, Cathy! Fennel seeds… good idea!

I’m getting excited about making Spring Focaccia now that it looks like really is spring here. The snow has disappeared (finally) and the garlic that sprouted in January has survived the late winter onslaughts. Our chives are also thriving and almost a foot tall. I haven’t had the nerve to look on the balcony to see if the thyme and sage made it through the winter. (Alas, the rosemary did not, even though I brought it inside.)

5 May 2016, 14:17 At last! It’s around 15C, sunny and stunningly beautiful outside. I just came in from pulling 8 dandelion plants, each one with a bright yellow flower, out of the grass in front yard. The leaves looked beautiful but we don’t dare to eat them. I know that I haven’t thrown pesticide down but who knows how many dogs have been adorning the front garden when we’re not looking?

And tomorrow’s forecast is for more of the same but a little warmer. It’s going up to 20C! We’ve decided to celebrate by butterflying a chicken, taking the cover off the barbecue and cooking dinner outside. It might not be quite warm enough to eat in the garden but won’t it be freeing to sit out there at last?

23:42 We decided tomorrow is the perfect opportunity to make BBB spring foccaccia. (Look at me being early for once!! But, really. How could I not after complaining so bitterly for so long about the lingering winter?) I took at look at the BBB’s recipe and while both Sarah Owens’ recipe for Spring Herb and Lemon Focaccia from her cookbook “Sourdough” and the recipe that Cathy made sound like fun, I decided to take Cathy at her word:

[F]eel free to use your favorite focaccia recipe and then get creative with the shape/toppings. […] Try incorporating a different flour, if you dare. Make it using all-purpose flour, and add some whole wheat flour or ancients grains, or seeds for flair. The idea here is to come up with something that represents the colors and flavors of Spring.
– Cathy, message to BBBabes

At first, I was going to use one of our same day focaccia recipes: either our takes on Carol Field’s focaccia from “The Italian Baker” or Susan McKenna Grant’s from “Piano Piano Pieno”. Then, I remembered what I read so recently in Zachary Golper’s “Bien Cuit” about bread being better if it fermented for longer. So I decided to make focaccia with a starter, using the Ken Forkish’s overnight pizza recipe in “Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast”. Thanks to Jacques Pepin, I gave myself permission to make alterations (as if lack of permission would have stopped me) to Forkish’s recipe:

When writing a recipe, one records a moment in time which can never be duplicated exactly again. The paradox is that the recipe tells the reader, this must be done this way, when, in fact, to get the result you’re looking for, the recipe has to be modified each time. […] Several years ago, I wrote a recipe for pears in caramel sauce. […] When I first created this recipe, the pears were done in 30 minutes. […] The next time, I used pears that were more ripe, and they were done in 10 minutes. […] The third time, I used Bosc pears that were very hard. No juice came out of the pears. The sugar started burning. So I had to add water to the pan to create a caramel. The pears needed almost an hour of cooking, even though my recipe said 30 minutes. Yet, at the end, the three dishes looked and taste the same.
If the recipe had been followed to the letter, the finished dish would have been a disaster, but understanding the idea in the platonic sense behind the dish enables the cook to adjust and compensate for ingredients, temperature, humidity, et cetera. […]
[W]hat is the point of a recipe? A recipe is a teaching tool, a guide, a point of departure. You have to follow it exactly the first time you make the dish. But as you make it again and again, you will change it, you will massage it to fit your own taste, your own sense of aesthetic.
– Jacques Pepin, Jacques Pépin says following a recipe can lead to disaster, PBS NewsHour, 13 April 2016

I reverted to my earlier mode of making something for the first time (even though I’ve made focaccia often) and looked in all of our cookbooks so I could almagamate what seemed to be the best ideas.

Because I’ve heard that focaccia recipes often call for incorporating malt (and to be an obedient BBBabe by adding other grains), I threw in a tiny amount of coarsely milled malted rye berries into the starter.

Italians add malt as a grain extract to their dough to encourage their rising and the golden bloom of their crusts […]
Focacce are simplicity itself; herbs of the countryside and the golden oils of Liguria flavor the interior, while a little local garlic or tiny savory olives stud tits surface. In Puglia [it] is enriched with the ingredients of a pastoral people—tomatoes, garlic, oregano, capers, and oil, and variation on that theme. Anchovies and cheeses from herds tended by local shepherds flavor other southern specialties. The bakers of Italy, never willing to rest on their laurels, are always using their fertile imaginations to create other possibilities; you, tooo, should combine appealing ingredients […] according to your own desires. […] Bakers sometimes tuck flavoring right into the dough and sometimes they only dapple the top. The dough is always stretched in a well-oiled pan, then dimpled with the fingertips, leaving little indentation to collect the oil and salt on top.
– Carol Field, Baking Basics, The Italian Baker, p.36, 288-289
I think the sky’s the limit when it comes to focaccia. Any type of bread dough can be used, and you can really let your imagination run wild.
– Ken Forkish, Focaccia Genovese, Flour Water Salt Yeast, p.253
[W]e all walk up to see the theatrics of the focaccia man at noon pulling out big pans of bread from the oven, finishing them with a streeam of oil on top. People line up in big clusters, peering through the glass eagerly. Focaccia is the popular lunch here, and we grow accustomed to the ritual, standing in line and carrying forth lengthy debates as to whether this time it will be focaccia with onions, or focaccia with cheese. […]
– Laura Shenone, Bela Cosa, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family, p.193
Focaccia comes in many forms […] In the north of Itally focaccie are made with wheat-flour doughs and usually flavored with herbs. The potato-based dough used in this focaccia from Puglia, in the south, produces a dense-looking tender dough […] [It] has the colors of the Italian flag: the red of sun-dried tomatoes and the green of sage and parsley, all floating in a pale dough.
– Naomi Duguid and Jeffery Alford, Three-Color Focaccia, Flatbreads and Flavors, p.331
Delicious focaccia […] is found everywhere in Liguria […]. Fermentation times are often shortened, and the result is a less flavorful, less digestible bread that does not keep well for more than a few hours. In and around the city of Genoa, however, there are still a few bakeries that make focaccia acording to the classic formula […] [O]nly extra virgin olive oil is allowed as the fat component and a minimum production time of seven hours is required […] [T]he time is often longer, depending on the local weather conditions. This focaccia has a light, pillow-like ivory-colored crumb and a chewy crust. The fragrant oil and the sea salt topping add wonderful flavor. […] The bakers of Genoa, like many professional bakers, add malt to their focaccia dough [to] assist the fermentation of the dough and the caramelization of the crust. […] The cooler and slower the rise, the better.
– Susan McKenna Grant, Classic Focaccia from Genoa, Piano Piano Pieno, p.64-66

6 May 2016, 08:24 I see from my pencilled notes on page 226 that Forkish’s overnight pizza takes forever to rise (he calls for only 0.2gm yeast for 500gm flour and all of the yeast goes into the starter alone! He calls for 0gms (that’s “zero”) yeast in the final dough itself). It’s not THAT warm in the kitchen yet. We want to have focaccia tonight for dinner rather than a late dessert. I’ll put 1gm yeast into the dough just to make sure.

Now. Toppings…. What can we use to best celebrate OUR spring?

I do like the idea of using lemons…. But that doesn’t seem quite right. Lemons come from so far away and don’t really say “spring” to me.

chives, garlic greens and onion The back garden garlic and chives are doing fabulously well, however. For the garden herbs, that’s pretty much it so far. There’s also one lone dandelion hiding beside the spirea in the back but I haven’t decided whether we’ll use it or not. It already looks quite mature so the leaves might be too bitter. I’m afraid all the thyme died, in this last crazy freeze thaw freeze freeze-more winter. There are no sage leaves yet (the stalks are green so, happily, it looks like it didn’t die over the winter). Surprisingly, there’s no sign no summer savoury sprouting yet.

Well, maybe it’s not so surprising. It did only just recently get warm, after all.

Which means that our spring toppings are going to be a little spare. Which is okay. We love slightly plain bread. I think I’ll use an oniony medley of thinly sliced onions, chives, garlic greens and nigella.

13:03 Hmmm. Perhaps I’m a little late mixing the final dough. The starter was bubbling merrily. I was tempted to follow Forkish’s lead to put zero yeast in the final dough, but then sense prevailed. I added a little bit more yeast so we really would have bread for tonight’s dinner.

he: Do you want me to put the table outside now?
me: I don’t think it’s going to be warm enough to eat outside tonight!
he: But it might be. Let’s keep our minds open.
me: I really don’t think so. But we’ll definitely sit out there before dinner. We’ll take the table out later.

17:10 Good decision to add yeast! The dough has almost doubled. I considered shaping the bread but instead gently folded it and put it back into the oven with only the light turned on. I made a big announcement that if we were baking the bread at 19:00, I would shape it around 18:00.

18:01 My alarm just went off to tell me to shape the bread. At exactly the same moment, here’s how the conversation went with the resident busybody:

he: It’s 6 o’clock. Do you want me to shape the bread?
me: No! I want t….
he: [interrupting] I’d be happy to do it.
me: No! [suspecting that it would be turned into fougasse] I want to do it.
he: Okay… but I’ll do it if you want.
me: No, I’ll do it. I’m going now!!

dressing focaccia for spring The dough was perfect. There were lovely big bubbles around the side of the bowl. I lightly floured the board and turned the slightly wet dough out and folded it in half with the dough scraper. We had talked about cooking the bread in our big cast iron frying pan but I decided it wasn’t quite big enough.
So I smeared a little olive oil onto a parchment papered pizza pan. Then I plopped the dough down onto the pan, stretched it out, and put thin thin thin slices of half-moon onion, chopped chives and garlic greens, and nigella seed. Then I covered it with a clean tea towel and put it back into the oven with only the light on.

(As I’m typing this and looking at the recipe for Focaccia Genovese in Flour Water Salt Yeast, I see that Forkish actually suggests how much dough to make—”250-350 grams”—to use a cast iron pan for baking.)

[A] defining distinction between pizza and focaccia is the texture of the dough […] structure that can withstand stretching into a round that I can toss and enough strength that it doesn’t break when being shaped. But with focaccia I can preshape it into a round as for pizza dough, then finish spreading it in or on the pan. This opens the door to using any dough to make focaccia—even whole wheat or rye […]
    • For thin-crust focaccia baked in a 9-inch skillet, use about 200 grams of dough.
    • For thick-crust focaccia baked in a 9-inch slikllet, use about 350 grmas of dough (the standard size for balls of pizza dough).
    • If baking on a sheet pan, use up to 857 grams of dough
– Ken Forkish, Pizza and Focaccia Method, Flour Water Salt Yeast, p214,215

19:02 Because it was just 15C in the house, I turned the furnace thermostat up and put the placemats onto the table.

page from Savoring Italy by Robert Freson Then, knowing that we would be baking the bread soon, I really wet my hands with cold water and dimpled the dough and remembering the photo of baked and unbaked focaccia in “Savoring Italy” by photographer Robert Freson, I generously drizzled olive oil overtop. It looked fabulous! (Too bad I was so intent on making sure that a.) I didn’t get olive oil all over my clothes and b.) the Swiss chard was washed well, that I didn’t remember to get the camera out!)

As T went to turn the barbecue on (with his instructions that as he baked the bread, he was NOT to turn the focaccia over half way through cooking), I scattered two kinds of coarsely ground salt – a red one (is it Australian???) and a grey one from Brittany on top of the oil.

My sister had arrived straight from work and we all headed out into the garden to sit in slightly cool air and bask in the sun that was still quite high in the sky.

he: Should we bring the table out now?
she: Great idea!
me: [simultaneously] Do you think it’s warm enough?
she: I’m fine! But, let’s eat inside if you are cold.
he: No, let’s eat outside. It doesn’t matter if E’s cold. She’s always cold from October to the end of May.
me: [simultaneously] I’m just as cold inside as out. I’ll go get the table.

focaccia Indeed, it was beautiful outside! It was exactly what spring should be like. We chatted as the pork shoulder (rubbed with djaj bil bihar al asfar) and bread cooked, revelling in the fragrant smoke billowing out of the barbecue and marvelling at how much oven spring the bread was getting. And then marvelling again when T opened the barbecue to take a peek and saw that the corners of the parchment paper were flaming merrily. Happily, the fire went out on its own almost immediately and cooking proceeded without incident.

T told me that things would be ready in about 10 minutes so my sister and I went inside to stir-fry red Swiss chard with mustard seeds, onions, garlic and apricots.

As I was finishing the greens, T brought the meat and bread inside and started to cut the bread.

Oh oh. Trouble in paradise.

he: It’s really hard to cut. It’s so pudding-y.
me: Is it done? [worrying that the flames making the outside golden might have tricked us into thinking the bread was done] It looks really good. [picking up a piece to look at the crumb] No, it’s done. It will be fine!
he: Yah, it’s definitely done. But it’s just a bit pudding-y… [attempting to hide disappointment] …it smells good. And the bottom is nicely golden and crispy.

With alarm bells ringing in my head, into the basket the bread went. T sliced the perfectly cooked meat and served the perfectly cooked greens. I completely forgot about the alarm bells as I grabbed candles, glasses, knives and forks and a bottle of merlot/sangiovese; my sister took the basket of bread and a jug of water. Hungry, we brought everything out to the table in the garden.

And we sat outside under the canopy of branches with tiny leaf buds, listening to a robin’s joyous song directly above.

And you know what? The bread was exactly as I’d hoped it would be. Even the worrywort, who wished we’d made fougasse rather than focaccia, decreed it as being “really good and not pudding-y now at all”. In fact, the focaccia was perfectly cooked.

As it rested in the basket, it had absorbed the oil beautifully. The crumb was soft, elastic and pillowy at the same time and the crust on the bottom was wonderfully golden and crispy.

We all agreed that everything about our spring celebratory feast was exactly what we had hoped for.

Spring Focaccia

Thank you, Cathy!

Here is the BBB May 2016 Spring Focaccia recipe. And here is what I did to it:

BBB Spring Focaccia
based on a recipe in “Flour Water Salt Yeast” by Ken Forkish


  • 250g flour ¹
       » 200g unbleached all purpose flour
       » 50g 100% whole wheat flour
  • 20g hot water
  • 5g malted rye berries, crushed
  • 230g water, at 96F
  • ~10grains active dry yeast granuals (0.2 gram/generous pinch)


  • all of the above starter
  • 245g flour ¹
       » 150g unbleached all-purpose
       » 85g 100% whole wheat
       » 10g buckwheat
  • 10g Kosher salt
  • 1g active dry yeast ²
  • 125g water at 96F


  • onion, thinly sliced
  • chives
  • garlic greens
  • nigella seed
  • olive oil
  • finishing salt (fleur de sel, flake salt, sel gris…)
  1. starter: In the evening of the day before you plan to make focaccia, put starter flours into a medium sized bowl.
  2. Put the crushed rye berries into a small bowl and pour 20 grams of hot water overtop. (Please do not use water from the hot water tap not use water from the hot water tap! Instead, heat the water in a kettle or microwave.) Set aside.
  3. Whisk starter yeast into body temperature water. Again, refrain from using water from the hot water tap. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please read more about water in hot water tanks.) If you are allergic to using a thermometer, you can check the temperature by putting a few drops of water onto the back of your wrist: if it feels warm, it’s too warm; if it feels cold, it’s too cold; if it feels like a cross between cool, warm and nothing, then it’s fine. Please note that before the yeast is added, the liquid temperature must be BELOW 120F (49C) because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.
  4. Add the malted rye to the flours and then pour the yeasted water into the flour. Stir 50-100 times with a wooden spoon, cover the bowl with a plate and put it into the oven, with only the light turned on, to leave it overnight.
  5. actual dough: In the morning of the day you will be baking focaccia, be thrilled about the massive bubbling in the starter. Contemplate leaving out the yeast from the actual dough ingredients but then chicken out. In a smallish bowl, whisk yeast into body temperature water and set aside on the counter.
  6. Into the bowl with the starter, add the flours and salt. Pour the yeasted water overtop and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture has absorbed the flours.
  7. kneading in the bowl: Use your hands to turn and fold the dough in the bowl as many times as you feel like. Put a plate over the bowl and leave it to sit in the oven with only the light on for about half an hour. Notice that after half an hour, the dough is quite smooth. Turn it a couple of times in the bowl anyway. Cover the bowl with a plate and put it back into the oven with only the light on.
  8. pre-shaping and topping: Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a large pizza pan. Oil the parchment and place the dough in the center. Use your fingers to stretch it towards the edges of the pan. It will try to bounce back. This is to be expected. When it’s almost to the edges, cover with thinly sliced onion, chopped garlic greens and chives, and nigella seed. Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rest on the counter for 30 minutes.
  9. shaping and final topping: With wet hands, stretch the dough to the edges of the pan with your fingers. It will be very easy to pull the dough. Wet your hands again and leave lots of indentations in the dough. Drizzle the top of the dough with olive oil, letting it pool in the wells you have created. Leave (covered or uncovered – it doesn’t seem to matter) and allow to rise on the counter for about an hour. (If it seems like it is drying out, spray a little room temperature water over it.)
  10. baking: Preheat the barbecue to medium high heat. Forget to put the pizza stone into the barbecue. Place the pan directly on the grill and close the lid. After about 5 minutes, check to make sure the bottom is not getting too brown. Cook the bread over direct heat for 10 minutes, then turn off the burner below the bread and continue cooking with indirect heat. Turn the tray around a couple of times to allow for uneven heat and to put out the flaming corners of the oiled parchment paper. To make the top golden and prevent it from scorching on the bottom, finish the focaccia on top shelf to capture all the heat that is rising.

    Of course, focaccia can be baked indoors as well. Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the focaccia tray on the top shelf of the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 400F. Bake for about 20 minutes til golden. It’s a good idea to turn the tray around half way through the baking time – to allow for uneven oven heat.


1.) flour Forkish simply calls for white flour in his pizza with poolish dough that he also suggests using for focaccia.

2.) Yeast Forkish calls for 0.2 gram instant yeast” for the starter and 0 grams (this is actually listed!) in the final dough. I was worried though and decided to add some yeast (active dry, because that’s what we have) to the final dough. The starter was so bubbly and active that I still wonder if I had to….


Bread Baking Babes Let the celebration begin! Spring Focaccia (BBB May 2016)

Cathy is our host for May 2016’s Bread Baking Babes’ project. She wrote:

This Spring Herb and Lemon Focaccia jumped out at me because it is so creative and reminds me of the colors and flavors of Spring. Perhaps this bread spoke to me so much because it was still Winter and I was so ready for spring when I saw it the first time. I kept trying to come up with something different, but this one just stuck.

When you look at Cathy’s focaccia, you can certainly see why she had to make it. And we know you’ll want to make spring focaccia too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the conchas in the next couple of weeks and post about them (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 May 2016. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to email the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.

Please note that it’s not enough to post about your bread in the Facebook group. Because of the ephemeral nature of Facebook’s posts, your FB post may be lost in the shuffle. Please make sure to directly contact the kitchen of the month if you want to be included in the BBBuddy roundup.


Ooops!! I just noticed now that the BBBabes’ logo says “thin crispy spring focaccia”. Ha! Well, I guess that considering we saw snow flakes (again!!) yesterday morning (on 15 May!!?), it’s probably not surprising that the focaccia I made was just 75% correct….

I’m beginning to wonder if spring will ever really arrive this year. :lalala:

For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:

Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ May bread:

As Katie has so fittingly said in the past:

As always, we have some very busy Babes at the moment….. But just so you know: We’re all still BABES! (You can tell by the panties….)


Spring Focaccia



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16 responses to “Let the celebration begin! Spring Focaccia (BBB May 2016)

  1. tanna jones

    Holy Moly that is gorgeous! I love the toppings! And I love Jacques Pepin quote on you have to adapt each time you bake a recipe. Must read that to Gorn the next time he complains about me doing something different.

    1. Elizabeth

      Thank you, Tanna! We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was either. And how wonderful the flavours were with all those different (but the same) kind of onions.

  2. Lien

    Spring will be even better when it finally arrives!! It took some time here as well. LOve the topping can’t go wrong with onions and I’m seeing some nice holes in the crumb, well done!

    1. Elizabeth

      You’re right, Lien. We are ecstatic that spring has finally sprung and the trees are in flower now.

      And yes, nothing really can go wrong when onions are added….

  3. Bread Experience

    I just love your play by play Elizabeth and all of the words of wisdom from bakers. Your focaccia looks really good! I bet it smelled wonderful too with those onions! Sometimes simple is better. Thanks for playing along!

  4. Kelly

    Haha, I somehow missed the thin and crispy part as well! Did your onions get creamy? I used those spring onions for my savory and they were amazing and some of them turned creamy like caramelized onions. I adore onions.

    1. Elizabeth

      The onions got slightly caramelized with some crispy bits, Kelly. They were fantastic. In fact, they were so good that we made the focaccia with exactly the same toppings last night.

  5. Elle Lachman

    Golden crispy bottom crust, soft, pillowy yet elastic interior, lots of lovely onion…what a great flatbread! Things work out, don’t they?

  6. Barbara M

    Ohh, I remember that focaccia! It was fabulous indeed. I started the dinner demurely thinking the giant piece on my plate would surely be enough, but I couldn’t stop myself from taking another and then another piece. Mmm.

    1. Elizabeth

      It was really good, wasn’t it, Barbara? In fact, it was so good that we made it again a couple of days ago. I managed to take photos of how much olive oil I poured on just before baking. As soon as the images are out of the camera, I’ll post them.

  7. shirley @ flourishen

    Some good-looking and spectacular focaccia with all the lovely herbs, onion and nigella seeds. Coupled with the Swiss chard was indeed a spring celebratory feast. There is so much wisdom from all the bread masters: Forkish, Duguid and Alford. That never gets old. Great post!


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