Boiled potatoes, olives for saltiness, sage for a herby savouriness – all sitting on a soft bread with a light chew. Like any good focaccia, it has the rich taste of extra virgin olive oil and the characteristically uneven internal structure.

Abouts the Vatican City, there is a shop that sells scrumptious pizza. Thin crust with just the right balance of ingredients on it. It is baked in rectangular trays and sold by weight. If I lived there, I would eat their pizza every day. The pizzas are topped with a creative mix of ingredients and are very fresh. If you do a google search, you will know which shop I am referring to as just about everyone raves about how good it is.

My favourite is the one made with cubes of boiled potatoes, taleggio cheese and sage leaves. It is a surprisingly good combination and although the combination is nothing new to the Italians, I had never heard of it and I would never have thought carbo could work on carbo. That was a decade ago.

To this day, I am still so enamoured with the combination, I always bake at least one tray of the same style of pizza on pizza baking days. I like the fusion so much, I carry it through somewhat in my recipe for focaccia. Instead of the usual black olive or rosemary topped focaccia, try this version, you will be surprised at how well the mix of ingredients work. This focaccia goes through 2 rises instead of the traditional one to develop more flavour. Alternatively, prepare the dough overnight, roll into a ball, rub with extra virgin olive oil, cover and refrigerate. With that, you can skip the second rise and move on to prepping it the next day directly in the baking tray. Then, following through as outlined in my recipe below.

Focaccia With Potatoes, Olive & Sage

Prep: ~ 30 minutes 
Cook: Potatoes: ~8 minutes
Baking: 20 -25 minutes
Inactive: ~3 hours
Level: I think this is one of the easiest bread to bake with success for the beginner bakery.
Serves: 5 – 6
Oven Temperature: 400F 200C
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Dough can rest overnight. Taste best on the day it is baked.

Ingredients

1 cup = 250ml =8.45 US fl oz

Dough
3 and 1/4 cups + 2 Tablespoons bread flour OR to make a healthier option replace with up to 3/4 cup of spelt flour*
1 and 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons water
8 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + extra for oiling fingers**
Topping
~ 1 potato OR enough to make ~ 1/2 to 1 cup of diced potatoes***
A few green/black pitted olives
Handful of fresh sage leaves
Salt for sprinkling

* If you use spelt (a primitive whole grain flour), the focaccia will bake into a brown colour.  As spelt flour absorbs more water, add an additional 2- 3 Tablespoons of water.
** Divided into 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 Tablespoons.
*** I prefer using a starchy potato like Russet or an all-purpose potato like Yukon because if you knock them up a bit after boiling (details in recipe below), those craggy bits will have a higher chance of baking into crisp edges.


Method

By machine (KitchenAid)
1. In the mixer bowl, add the flour(s) (withhold the 2 Tablespoons of bread flour for the moment), instant yeast, sugar and salt and stir to mix well.
2. Make a well in the centre, add 1 and 1/4 cups + 2 Tablespoons of water and the 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
3. Start the mixer on low speed and gradually work up to medium-medium high speed.
4. The dough will be sticky. Do not add any flour. Let the machine run for 8 – 10 minutes.
5. If the dough looks impossibly sticky, use 1 of the 2 Tablespoons bread flour. If you think it is still too sticky, add the other 1 Tablespoon flour. Beyond that, don’t add any more flour. It might result in a dry focaccia and you want a sticky dough as it means you will get an irregular internal structure, that is, the characteristic large and small holes you see when you slice through a focaccia. Refer to feature image. So remember, the dough should be on the sticky side with dough sticking to the sides of your mixer bowl.

By hand
1. You need a large bowl. Add the dry ingredients (but withhold the 2 Tablespoons of bread flour for the moment) and mix it well.
2. Create a well, add only 1 cup of the water and 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
3. With a spoon or your fingers, use a circular motion to mix the water and oil and gradually work in the dry ingredients using the same circular motion.This will be a very sticky dough but you must use up all the water indicated in my recipe.
4. Once, you have incorporated all the dry ingredients into a mangled  mess, gradually work in the remaining 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons of water.
5. If you have been using a spoon to do the mixing, you might want to switch to your fingers. Knead for at least 10 minutes. The dough should get more elastic and stretchy.
6. After 10 minutes of kneading, the dough will still be sticky but it should be more elastic. If the dough feels impossibly sticky, use 1 of the 2 Tablespoons flour. If you think it is still too sticky, add the other 1 Tablespoon flour. Beyond that, don’t add any more flour. It might result in a dry focaccia and you want a sticky dough as it means you will get an irregular internal structure, that is, the characteristic large and small holes you see when you slice through a focaccia. Refer to feature image. So remember, the dough should be on the sticky side with dough sticking to the sides of your bowl..

After kneading
1. Do the ‘window pane’ test to test if you have kneaded the dough long enough.
2. First, oil your finger tips with some extra virgin olive oil. If you can stretch the dough easily and thin enough till it’s ‘translucent window’ without the dough quickly tearing, the gluten has developed enough and you are ready to go. If not, have the machine knead for another 5 minutes. If kneading by hand, you might have to knead even longer.
3. As sticky as it looks, this is the stage when my gluten reached ‘window pane’ stage. I stopped kneading.

4. Pour 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into the bowl you would be using for rising the dough. Oil the sides of the bowl with your finger tips.
5. With the help of a scraper (oil if first), gather up the dough into a ball. Coat the ball on all sides with oil. This will keep the dough moist. The dough might be sitting in a little pool of extra virgin olive oil. That’s fine.
6. Cover the bowl and leave it to rise until almost double in size. ~ 60 minutes.  The dough can also be refrigerated overnight at this point.

Preparing the potatoes
1. Whilst the dough is rising, boil potato in its skin. When the water comes to a boil, salt the water generously.
2. Once potatoes are cooked through, drain and whilst the potatoes are still warm, peel off the skin and cut into cubes. Place in a bowl. Salt them.
3. Knock them up a bit by shaking the bowl. You want the edges bashed up a little so that those edges will bake up crisp. It’s the same principle as when you roast potatoes that goes with the Sunday roast. Set aside. Do not cover. Instead, let the potato cubes air dry.

After the first rise
1. If you had refrigerated the dough, proceed straight to “After the second rise” instead.
2. Punch down the dough, quickly reshape into a ball, cover and let it go through a second rise. ~ 45 minutes.

Prep baking tray
1. Have your baking tray ready. What size of a tray to use? It depends on how thin or thick you want your focaccia to be.
2. For a baked focaccia between 1″ – 2″ thick, a tray ~14″x10″x1.5″ (~35.5cmX24.4cmX3.8cm) should be fine.
3. Spread 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil onto the bottom and sides of the tray. Salt the bottom of the tray.

After the second rise (transferring it to baking tray)
1. Transfer the dough gently (with any remaining oil in the bowl) onto the baking tray.
2. Stretch the dough out gently and then continue to stretch the dough out to try and fit the tray by digging your fingers straight into the dough and stretching the dough. You want to create little funnel pockets. However, don’t over work the dough.
3. In all likelihood, you would not be able to stretch the dough right into the corners of the tray, that’s fine. As the dough rises and bakes it will fill the entire tray so leave it for now.
4. Alternatively, let the dough rest for 15 minutes and go back to it and stretch it out a bit more but either way, keep the dough moist by spreading 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the dough.

Prep the potatoes, sage and olives
1. Pour 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a bowl and toss the boiled potatoes, sage leaves and olives in them. Sage leaves are lightly to get singed in the oven without the coating of oil and you need the oil to help the sage leaves release its flavour. Either leave leaves whole or tear them up.
2. If you need to stretch the dough out a bit more to fill the tray, do so now.
3. Poke all the way in, right to the bottom of the tray, the cubes of potatoes, sage leaves and olives.
4. Cover, and let it rise until almost double in size. ~ 30 – 40 minutes.
5. Just before baking, you can choose to push the ingredients back down to the bottom of the tray so that you get a dimpled looking focaccia.

Just before baking
1. The risen focaccia at this point might have risen unevenly. To even out the rise, play around with the ingredients -pushing the potato/sage/olive a bit further down into the dough or shifting them a little (left/right/forward/backward) to even out the rise of the dough. Don’t over do the adjustments or you will deflate the risen dough. And, if you so happened to have overworked and deflated the dough, cover, leave it alone for 15 minutes and then proceed.
2. Brush the last 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil onto the dough and then sprinkle salt.

Bake
1. Bake at 400F (200C) on the middle rack for ~ 20 – 25 minutes.
2. The top should be golden. When you use a palette knife to lift and peak at the base, it should be golden brown too and when you tap on the base, it would sound hollow.
3. Cool in the tray on a cooling rack before serving.

Tips

Suggestions for various other ingredients to top a focaccia

Grapes, browned onions and browned julienned ginger, dried cranberries (plumped up beforehand in some wine), cubes of roasted beetroot in various colours: gold, candy stripes, magenta, pitted cherries, all kinds of green herbs, cherry tomatoes, garlic slices ,smoked salt, garlic salt, the possibilities are quite endless.

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