P is for potato, caramelised onion & rosemary focaccia

I could count on one hand the amount of times I've tried making bread, but after watching many an episode of the Great British Bake Off in which the bakers make bread under the watchful eye of bread master Paul Hollywood, I've been inspired to give it a go. On the last episode of GBBO, Beca - one of the contestants, made potato, spelt & rosemary focaccia which looked might tasty indeed so I decided to look at some recipes & make something similar.

I looked no further than Paul Hollywood's recipe for focaccia, as set out in The Great British Bake Off's recipe book from series two, 'How to bake the perfect victoria sponge and other baking secrets'. I also found a recipe by Jamie Oliver for potato & rosemary focaccia (click here to view the recipe) which I took inspiration from.  I also decided to throw some caramelised onions into the mix, which I thought would be a nice addition (& it was!).

Now, there's a couple of things I need to tell you before you attempt this yourself.  Firstly, as with any bread making, it will take a bit of time to make this given that you have to allow for the bread to prove twice which takes a total of about 2.5 hours.  So just make sure that you factor that time in & don't be thinking that you can just throw this together an hour before you want to eat it.  The other thing worth mentioning is that the dough for the focaccia is extremely wet.  You almost won't believe the recipe because it takes a lot of water & ends up quite sloppy!  As I was adding more water I remembered an episode of GBBO where a few of the bakers thought something was wrong with the recipe & they decided to stray from Paul's wise instruction & add more flour to the dough.  Big mistake.  As soon as Paul cut into those loaves he could tell which ones had more flour added to them & I remember him saying to the bakers that obviously some people thought better of his recipe & decided that it must have been wrong.  Oh dear...

One other thing, Paul's recipe is designed to make two loaves, with the dough being divided into two trays of 30 x 20 cm.  But, given that my baking trays were slightly larger I decided to make one large focaccia loaf. The size of the baking tray that I used was around 38 x 26 cm.

I'm really chuffed with how my focaccia turned out, especially given that I've never made it before!  I certainly don't mean to 'blow my own trumpet' but I recon that my focaccia might even have been enough to get me through to the next round of GBBO...

On to the recipe!

Ingredients for the focaccia loaf
  • 500g strong white bread flour (Normal white flour will not do!  You must use bread flour)
  • 10g crushed sea salt flakes, plus extra for sprinkling (I used rock salt which worked fine)
  • 2 x 7g sachets of fast acting dried yeast OR 18g fresh yeast (I used instant dried yeast which worked a treat.  According to Paul's recipe, if you use fresh yeast you'll need to crumble it into the water & then mix before you add it to the flour)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • A total of 400ml cool water (this is added in as 300ml for a start, followed by 100ml later on)

Ingredients for the topping
  • 3 medium sized potatoes - cooked, drained & cooled
  • 3 medium sized red skinned potatoes
  • 2 brown onions 
  • 40g butter
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary


You'll either need two baking trays measuring 30 x 20cm with slightly raised sides, which have been lined with baking paper OR one baking tray measuring around 38 x 26cm (again with slightly raised sides) which has been lined with baking paper.

What to do

  1. Grab quite a large mixing bowl (large enough to leave the dough in later on to rise to at least four times its original size).  Place flour & salt into the bowl & then stir in the yeast.
  2. Make a well in the centre of the ingredients & add the two tablespoons of olive oil & 300ml of the cool water (it needs to be cool to slow down the reaction of the yeast).
  3. Mix together with your hands (if you don't mind getting messy!) or a wooden spoon until you have a rough dough.  Then, gently massage the dough with your hands for five minutes whilst slowly adding the remaining 100ml of cool water.  Here's where it gets messy!  You need to trickle a little water in at a time & then work the dough with your hands until each addition of water is combined before you add more.  In the end, you'll have quite a wet, sloppy dough but this is how it's meant to be.
  4. Once all the water is combined, work the dough in the bowl with your hands for a further five minutes. This involves stretching one side of the dough out & then folding it over itself, stretching it out, folding it over & so on.  Turn the bowl as you go so you stretch the dough from all directions.
  5. The next thing you need to do is tip the dough out onto your kitchen bench & knead it some more.  So go ahead & clear a space on your bench top & then pour a little olive oil over it & rub it around so the bench is well greased.  Tip the dough out onto the bench & knead it for a further five minutes.  To knead the dough, push it out with the palm of your hands, fold it back over itself & repeat.  Don't be afraid to add a little more oil to your bench to stop the dough from sticking.
  6. Next you need to return the dough to the bowl you mixed it in.  So go ahead & wash the mixing bowl & dry it thoroughly.  Next, pour around a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom & with your hands, wipe it all around the inside of the bowl, making sure the sides are well greased.  Return the dough to the greased bowl & cover the top of the bowl with cling film.  I used a couple of layers of clingfilm to ensure a tight seal.
  7. Leave the bowl at room temperature for around 1.5 hours or until the dough has increased to 4 times its original size (this step is referred to as allowing the dough to 'prove'
  8. While the dough is proving, you can set about preparing your toppings.  First, cut the three medium potatoes into cubes & then cook in a saucepan of water until soft (I didn't even bother peeling mine although they were pre-washed potatoes so just make sure the skins are clean.  Otherwise, go ahead & peel the potatoes - up to you!).  Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them & leave them aside to cool.
  9. Next, move on to the onions.  Peel & then finely chop them & add them to a saucepan with the 40g of butter.  Now, in order for the onions to caramlise, you need to cook them over a medium heat stirring occasionally & making sure they don't go crispy & brown (or burn!).  What you want is to slowly cook the onions so that they release their own natural sugars which is what you need for them to caramelise.  This will take around 15 - 20 minutes. The onions will end up being a dark golden colour & they'll be quite sticky.  Set them aside to cool. 
  10. Once the dough has proved & is around 4 times its original size, you'll need to turn it out onto your lined baking tray or trays.  If you are using two trays, you'll need to divide the dough into two.  So make some space again on your bench top, lightly sprinkle over some flour & then turn out the dough.  Be gentle with the dough though, you want to keep as much air in it as possible.  Use a large knife to cut the dough in half.  
  11. Whether you are using one tray or two, in both cases you need to turn the dough out onto your lined baking tray & then press it out gently & push the dough into the corners of the tray.
  12. Leave the dough uncovered & at room temperature on the trays for a further one hour or until the dough has at least doubled in size.
  13. During this next hour, grab your red potatoes & slice them very thinly (don't bother peeling them because you want the red skins to show on the top of the focaccia, so just make sure the skins are clean first).  If you are one of these lucky people who have a mandolin or one of those slicer dicer things (which is on my Christmas list!) then use that to slice them nice & thin.    
  14. Towards the end of the hour, set your oven to 220C static or 200C fan bake.  
  15. When the hour is up & the dough has doubled in size, drizzle some olive oil over the focaccia & then sprinkle with salt.  Grab your caramelised onions & then place these evenly over the top.  Next, get the cooked potatoes which you've had cooling & crumble them either with your hands or a fork & then sprinkle over the top of the focaccia. Grab the rosemary, slide the little leaves off the stalks & sprinkle evenly over the top of the potato.  Finally, place your sliced red potato over the top & finish with another drizzle of olive oil & a sprinkle of salt & pepper.
  16. If you've made two loaves, bake them in the oven for 20-25 mins.  If you've made one large loaf like I did, it will take around 40-50 minutes to cook (set the time for 35 minutes for a start & keep checking on it, adding more time on the clock if need be). Ultimately, you can tell if the focaccia has cooked through when it's nice & golden on the top & the trick is to take it out of the oven, lift it up off the tray & check whether it's also brown on it's bottom (thanks Paul Hollywood for that tip!).  
Focaccia is best served warm from the oven but you can allow it to cool, wrap it in clingfilm & then eat it the next day either cold or warmed through again in the oven.  I think it would be lovely to take this to a picnic or a BBQ & as it's quite a large loaf there will be plenty to go around.  You can also experiment with loads of different flavour combinations.  

Good luck & enjoy! :)   



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