Provence in its bounty and splendor is teaching me the beauty of simplicity. Like today’s recipe for No Knead Focaccia, Provence is at its finest when the fuss is at a minimum and the pure flavors of its ingredients are at a max.
I wanted to share a few recipes of my own during Ben and my trip to France, and easy, no-knead focaccia bread seemed like the perfect dish to share while we are in southern France.
Yes, the glitz of Monaco seduced me for an afternoon, but the southern France that has stolen my heart is the one of abundance and of celebration of ingredients in their most natural form.
French cooking is often reputed as being unnecessarily complex and heart-stoppingly heavy, but Provencal cuisine flies in the face of this notion.
The cooking here focuses on presenting ingredients in the freshest possible way, with as little manipulation as possible.
After all, when every tomato you bite is the most gorgeous, sweet, and exploding-with-splendor tomato you’ve ever put into your mouth, why on earth would you do anything to disguise its vibrant flavor?
Although focaccia is Italian, the Provencal bake and adore the same bread. (Here, it’s called fougasse and is often cut into the shape of a leaf.)
To me, it is the bread most in keeping with the Provencal dedication to ingredient honesty, because it allows the essential flavor of the olive oil to be the star.
Happily, focaccia is one of the easiest breads to make. My recipe requires only a mixer and absolutely no-kneading.
The dough is lightly soft, golden, and airy and the earthy flavor of the olive oil beams in every bite.
Be sure you use a good olive oil—you can really taste it, so it’s worth spending a few extra dollars on the bottle. (I’m a big fan of this one.) The French would agree with this principle.
A note on olive oil: I buy two kinds. A higher quality oil for when the taste is very important (salad dressings and this focaccia bread for example), and a lower-priced every day olive oil for sautéing and high-temperature roasting.
This easy no-knead focaccia bread recipe is an excellent base for any number of focaccia toppings (rosemary + sea salt and red pepper flakes + Parmesan are two of my favorites), but for today I chose the classic Provencal combo of caramelized onions and olives.
The onions are subtly sweet, the olives are salty, and together they form a beautiful pairing with the tender, olive-oil infused focaccia bread.
To make focaccia bread from scratch, all we need is a sturdy mixer and a few ingredients.
Here’s our dough after its first rise (again, no-kneading!), plenty of fruity olive oil, and our caramelized onions and olives for topping.
I used 50% white whole wheat flour/50% all purpose flour and thought the texture was brilliant. Feel free to use 100% all-purpose flour if you prefer; more than 50% whole wheat flour will cause the loaf to become increasingly dense.
Keep it low-fuss and dirty fewer dishes. Drizzle olive oil directly onto the baking sheet, plop the dough in the center, then stretch and dimple the dough.
Perfection is not the focus here, and fingers are the best tools. Drizzle with olive oil once more. Be generous! This is the good stuff of the earth.
Scatter the caramelized onions and olives over the top. We are painting a focaccia masterpiece.
Bake until golden and fluffy, then homemade, robustly-flavored focaccia is ours for the munching! Ben inhaled two slices in about 45 seconds, returned for thirds, then came up for air to exclaim, “this is REALLY good bread.”
Hopefully by the time we are back from France, he’ll say, “C’est vraiment bon pain” instead.
In any language, this wonderfully flavored, yet beautifully simple Caramelized Onion and Olive Focaccia is easy to make and will be a star at your table. Celebrate the glories of the earth’s bounty and give it a try this weekend!
No Knead Focaccia
For the Focaccia Dough:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour (or substitute additional all purpose flour)
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast (1 packet + ¾ teaspoon)
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ¼ cup olive oil (plus about ¼ cup additional for drizzling)
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- ¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt
- Chopped fresh rosemary optional
- Caramelized Onions optional, see notes
- Kalamata olives pitted and halved, optional
- In the bowl of a standing mixer or a large mixing bowl, stir together the all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, and salt.
- Drizzle with ¼ cup olive oil. Heat the water to the temperature specified by the yeast manufacturer (check your packet; some brands call for 110 degrees F; others up to 130 degrees F). With a hand mixer or the stand mixer’s paddle attachment, beat dough on low speed while gradually pouring in the water. Slowly increase the speed to high, then beat for 1 minute. The dough will be very sticky. Transfer to a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turn once to coat, then cover with plastic. Let rise in a warm, draft free plate for 1 to 2 hours, until the dough becomes puffy, or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Prepare any desired focaccia toppings.
- Place a rack in the upper third of your oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle a large baking sheet generously with olive oil. Gently turn the risen dough out onto the greased baking sheet. Coax and stretch the dough into to a ½-inch thick oblong shape (it may not be uniform), then cover with lightly oiled plastic and let rest 15 minutes.
- With your fingertips, “dimple” the dough by poking it gently all over. Generously drizzle additional olive oil over the top of the dough, then sprinkle evenly with flaky salt. Add any other desired toppings (see blog post above for suggestions). Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, checking at the 18 minute mark. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- A traditional French Provencal topping for focaccia is caramelized onions, pitted black olives, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. To caramelize onions: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, then sauté until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and let cook for 20 to 30 minutes more. until deep brown, sweet, and tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in a pinch of red pepper flakes.
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