Focaccia topped with caramelised onions, cherry tomatoes, thyme and parmesan

Baking bread is magical; a lump of dough rising majestically into golden specked beauty is a sight worthy of seeing for any baker.

Focaccia brings back memories of the times mum and I would go to the nearby bakery to buy fresh bread. Focaccia would always be on the list of “must buys” and we would always end up arguing on which sort to buy: the olive studded ones (my favourite) or cherry tomatoes (my mums favourite).

Now that I finally have my own oven, I have been on a roll with trying out different types of bread. Last weekend was spent by experimenting with focaccia. My goal was to get the perfect crispiness on the exterior and soft sponginess in the interior, whilst making sure that the bread was fully cooked (nothing worse than having a wonderful smelling bread with an awful dense and undercooked interior).

The results were quite incredible; I wasn’t expecting to remove a tray full of well-baked bread.

A perfect starter for a weekend party, try it out. It will not disappoint your guests!

Trying to make focaccia for the first time ever, I couldn’t think of any topping better than cherry tomatoes. It tasted delicious, but maybe I’ll use olives next time.

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[Recipe credit: Nikita Gandhi]

Ingredients:

Bread:

  • Bread flour (or plain flour): 5 1/4 cups
  • Warm water: 1 3/4 cups
  • Active dry yeast: 2 1/4 tsp
  • Sugar: 1 tbsp
  • Salt: 1 tbsp
  • Extra virgin olive oil: 3/4 cup

Topping:

  • Cherry tomatoes: 2 cups
  • Garlic: 4 cloves, minced
  • Extra virgin olive oil: 2 tsp
  • Onion: 1 small, thinly sliced
  • Sugar: 1 tsp
  • Thyme: 1 bunch (you can alternatively use chopped rosemary or basil)
  • Parmesan cheese: 1/4 cup, finely grated (the amount of cheese can be moderated based on preference)
  • Salt: To taste
  • Black pepper powder: To taste

Method:

Preparing the bread:

  • In a mixer bowl, mix together warm water, yeast, sugar and half the flour
  • Add in remaining flour, salt and 1/2 cup olive oil and knead the dough for a good 10 minutes on medium speed using the dough hook attachment
  • Alternatively, you can knead the dough with your hands as well – it will only require some more kneading time and elbow grease
  • Once the dough is smooth and not too sticky (it will be slightly tacky and that’s okay), shape it into a ball, transfer it to an oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and rest in a warm spot for about an hour (or till the dough doubles in volume)
  • Once the dough has rested and doubled, pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil into a large baking pan and gently transfer the dough into the pan
  • Using your fingers, push the dough out to cover the bottom of the pan, making sure it’s even all over. Press into the dough using your finger tips making sure to dent it all the way till the bottom (it’s okay to get violent here)
  • Try to keep the dough slightly thin in width, since it will need to be kept to rise again. A very thick focaccia (though tasty) means a more prominent bread taste and less of the toppings
  • Cover the pan and leave it aside for 45 minutes to double in volume again

Preparing the topping:

  • Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and toss them in 1 tsp of olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper
  • In the remaining 1 tsp olive oil, sauté the onions with sugar on medium heat till it turns light brown. Season with salt and pepper and keep aside
  • Dip thyme strands in olive oil and keep aside (this helps further bring out the flavour as the bread bakes)

Baking the bread:

  • Evenly spread the onions on the risen dough
  • Randomly distribute cherry tomatoes across the dough – make sure that the cherry tomatoes face upward (else the seeds will make the interiors of the bread soggy)
  • Dip the thyme in olive oil, and pluck/sprinkle the leaves all over
  • Bake in a preheated oven (220°C/425°F) for 20-25 minutes till the sides are crusty and golden and the toppings are well charred
  • Give a light drizzle of olive oil once you remove it from the oven (this is totally optional)
  • Let the bread cool completely before slicing
  • Warm it in the oven before serving
  • Serve fresh with chili oil, balsamic vinegar or herby olive oil!
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