The joy of this bubbly bread is that you can be as basic or creative as you like (see #focacciaart on Instagram, where asparagus spears masquerade as flower stems and tomatoes as petals). You could, says Bath-based baker Richard Bertinet, simply switch up the oil. “Use the same recipe, but swap olive for avocado oil. It’s richer and the colour is beautiful.”
Alternatively, play around with the flour. Dough maestro Martha De Lacey, who runs the online cooking school The Muff Kitchen, recommends sticking with 70% strong white bread flour as the base (“you want to keep the gluten quite strong”), then mixing in brown, spelt, rye and heritage flours such as einkorn. You could call on a sourdough starter, too, either by adding a dollop to your yeasted dough (in which case reduce the amount of water you use, De Lacey says), or by going all-in and using starter (100g to 500g flour) to leaven your bread.
In Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix, Samin Nosrat pours brine (salt mixed with water) over her dough, a strategy De Lacey also adopts (with a splash of vinegar or kombucha for good measure). “It soaks into the focaccia, making it salty and moist, and the water creates steam in the oven, which makes the focaccia rise even more.” Be generous – “about a cup’s worth for a big tray” – or use olive brine instead. “I love to top focaccia with Perelló olives , then pour over the brine from the tin.”
That said, Tony could also stir olives through his dough, and/or chopped herbs or cheese and Marmite, De Lacey says. Rebecca Oliver, co-founder of The Dusty Knuckle bakery in London, which has gained a cult following for its epic focaccia sandwiches, is partial to a bit of butternut squash. “Chop into 1cm cubes, roast with thyme, rosemary, garlic and olive oil, then fold through the dough with chunks of gorgonzola.”
When it comes to toppings, Bertinet, who runs The Bertinet Kitchen cookery school, is “a classic guy”. That means cooked and cut new potatoes and comté. “Then, get a whole head of garlic [skin on] and blanch in olive oil until caramelised inside [when a knife goes through].” Cool, then squeeze the cloves from their skins, and use to top the dough. “You’ll die happy.”
The same could be said for caramelised red onions. Oliver adds a “healthy amount” of olive oil (about five tablespoons) to a hot pan, then chucks in red onions cut into crescents and, after a minute, three thyme sprigs and a tablespoon of good red-wine vinegar. Once cool, she spreads it over the dough and bakes. Onions also play nicely with goat’s cheese and herbs, adds De Lacey, whose topping escapades also include grapes with feta and even a sweet incarnation: “Add cocoa to your dough and squish some chocolate on top. That would be nice with grapes, too.”
Focaccia sandwiches are always a good idea, and De Lacey’s golden rule is to keep the fillings wet. That could mean goat’s curd and roast vegetables, a caesar salad with roast chicken or, for Oliver, meatballs with copious tomato sauce, Ogleshield cheese and pickled cucumbers. “That’s absolutely banging.”