Ready to Make Your First Loaf of Homemade Bread? Here’s Where You Should Start
I have one word for you: focaccia.
If nothing else, maybe an upside to this period of social distancing is that a lot of folks will come out of it with some incredible new skills. Many are investing time towards making their own pasta or finally picking up another language. Some are venturing into raising their own chickens to combat rising egg costs. And one walk down your grocery store’s baking aisle will affirm that everyone and their mother is interested in baking their own bread from scratch.
Which hey, why not? Baking soothes the soul, and baking bread happens to be mighty empowering on top of that. Being able to produce wholesome, delicious bread right in your own kitchen is a worthwhile pursuit for anyone.
For those who have never baked a yeasted bread from scratch, or even those who do have a few homemade loaves under their belt, focaccia is a great bread to start with. Why? Because, in short, it’s disappointment-proof. Bread baking can be a fairly temperamental endeavor, but focaccia is exceptionally forgiving. Even if you do make a little whoopsie along the way, chances are, you’re still going to find yourself with a product you’re stoked to eat and/or share.
Jen Causey; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Kay Clarke
Get the Recipe: Classic Focaccia Bread
So let’s dig in a bit deeper as to what specifically makes focaccia bread so ideal:
The flour you use is negotiable.
Most focaccia recipes you come across, including our Classic Focaccia Bread above, call for bread flour. However, if you are having trouble finding bread flour or are simply ready to get your bake on now and you don’t have bread flour in your pantry, you can use all-purpose instead. In fact, all-purpose flour can be substituted for bread flour in most cases. The primary difference between the two wheat flours is their protein content (which affects their propensity for gluten-formation). Bread flour has between 12%-14%, while all-purpose weighs in around 8%-11%. The short of it is, using bread flour lends more structure to your loaf, yielding a bread with more chew. A loaf made with all-purpose will simply be a touch lighter and more delicate. Thankfully, in focaccia, this isn’t a huge deal. Which is why you will find some recipes that even call for all-purpose off the bat.
No starter is necessary.
For fledgling bread bakers, the idea of working with a starter—the living leavening agent that gives sourdough bread its signature tang—can be intimidating. And while starting your own starter can be a fun project, it does require daily attention. Focaccia requires a package of active dry yeast. The end.
It’s fantastically flat.
There can be heartbreak in store for bread bakers working to achieve the perfectly domed boule, with a not-too-dense, not-too-airy interior that doesn't split away from the crust. With focaccia, there’s simply less structural variability compared to taller, rounded loaves. Even if it doesn’t rise as fluffy as you hoped, it’s far from ruined.
It’s not just bread.
It’s bread that’s saturated in olive oil; thus, it’s delicious. Not only does the oil lend focaccia a signature richness, but cooking the well-oiled loaf on a sheet pan at a high oven temperature leads to a gloriously crisp crust. It’s a beautiful balance to the tender bread encased within. In our Classic Focaccia recipe, we also take the small extra step of infusing the oil with garlic and rosemary, so that it imparts these aromatic notes into the bread as it bakes.
It’s so versatile.
Beyond oil-filled dimples, you can embellish your focaccia dough with anything from olives and grated Parmesan to tomatoes and peppers before popping it into the oven. And once the bread is baked, it’s ready for any number of uses. You can obviously enjoy it as is, warm from the oven (P.S. it’s such a great bread for dunking into soups or marinara sauce), but that’s just the beginning. Pile on tomato sauce, ricotta, and whatever additional toppings you’re feeling, and use your focccia as the base for a wow-worthy pizza. Slice a slab crosswise and make a sandwich of sandwiches. Include it in virtually any snack board context. The options are limitless.
Generally speaking, it’s the perfect confidence builder.
Biting into your first slab of homemade focaccia is such a gratifying pat on the back. To think that you made this thing that’s so satiating and delicious… and it wasn’t even that hard?? Yeah, of course you’re going to be ready to bake your next loaf. Maybe you’ll try a no-knead loaf, and before you know it, you could be making your own sourdough starter.
Who knows? Maybe bread baking will become one of your most cherished pastimes and culinary refuges, no matter what’s going on in the world around you. Of course, one thing is for certain—even if you do become some prolific bread baking savant, you’ll remember your roots; you’ll always come back to focaccia.