Use fall’s harvest to make a #focacciagarden (and dazzle your instagram feed)

This year, home bakers began dedicating their attention to sourdough bread—the proof can be seen in the rise (see what I did there?) of sourdough and starter recipes circulating the internet. What’s next? Focaccia art! A quick scroll on your social feeds and you’ll find thousands of thoughtfully topped breads (#focacciaart and #focacciagarden). If you’re not familiar with this style of bread, picture carefully placed tomato halves, pepper and onion slices, leaf-to-stem herbs, and edible flowers arranged to look like an English garden or replica of a Van Gogh (also known as Van dough). I asked Toronto baker David Marcelli to share tips for making bread masterpieces.

“People gravitate towards focaccia because it’s delicious and because before it’s baked it looks like a blank canvas and it’s easy to arrange toppings to look like a bouquet of flowers,” Marcelli said.

“Keep it simple. My favourite toppings are classic onions, potato, and tomatoes. The cooking time of the toppings should match the baking time of the focaccia. This means large slices and chunks of raw veggies don’t work well,” Marcelli said.

He suggests slicing onions and potatoes as thinly as possible using a mandolin, if possible, or marinate them using olive oil and wine vinegar in equal parts.

“Let them sit for 10 minutes allowing the potatoes to soak up the flavours. Just before popping it into the oven, arrange the potatoes like fish scales over the focaccia then drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Cherry or grape tomatoes work best,” he explained.

“When it comes to dimpling the dough, make sure you’ve drizzled an ample amount of oil over top and rub a little bit on your fingers too. Each press should be firm yet gentle. Do your best not to retrace your fingerprints—too much pressing will deflate your focaccia.”

Alexandra Lai, kitchen coordinator at The Food District also has some tips.

“I know that a lot of people approach baking as an exact science but when it comes to focaccia, there’s a lot of room to play around.”

She suggests approaching your garden focaccia with a mind to reducing food waste.

“Hasselback potatoes don’t look as appealing the next day? Divide them up and garnish your bread for a Focaccia con Patate. Bought some herbs to make a dip, and now you have a handful of mixed herbs? Add that to your dough for a green focaccia,” she said.

Alexandra Lai’s Quick and Easy Focaccia

1 cup (250 mL) very warm water (not boiling)

1 tbsp (15 mL) active dry yeast

1½ tsp (7.5 mL) granulated sugar

1 tsp (5 mL) dried onion powder, dried garlic powder and sea salt

2 tbsp (30 mL) mixed dried herbs such as a combination of dried oregano leaves, dried parsley leaves and dried basil leaves

1 tbsp (15 mL) coarse salt for sprinkling

Pinches of chili flakes (optional)

2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading



4 tbsp (60 mL) good-quality extra-virgin olive oil

For decorating:

A handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

Fresh herbs such as fresh basil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

1. Generously coat a 9-inch (23 cm) baking dish and a large parchment-lined baking sheet with oil.

2. Pour water into a large bowl. Sprinkle yeast overtop. Using a fork, stir in sugar, dried herbs and sea salt then flour. Continue mixing until you have a ragged dough. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using floured hands, knead dough until it feels springy and elastic-like.

3. Gently place dough in prepared baking dish. Turn in oil to coat. Set in a warm spot to rise until doubled, about an hour.

4. When dough has doubled, gently turn dough onto prepared baking sheet. Using your fingertips spread dough evenly over the pan by pressing deep holes evenly throughout the dough and add a little more oil if the dough seems dry. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Let stand, allowing it to rise again for another 30 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, prepare decorating ingredients. Arrange over a separate tray so you are ready with a plan for decorating your focaccia.

6. When dough has risen for the additional 30 minutes, arrange decorative ingredients overtop. Lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with coarse salt.

7. Preheat oven to 450F. Bake prepared focaccia until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped, about 25 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through baking. Serve warm or let cool completely. Focaccia should be enjoyed the same day its made. But leftovers can be kept, wrapped in plastic until the next morning.

Makes 1 large focaccia loaf

Check out classes hosted by kitchen coordinator Alexandra Lai for The Food District on Instagram by following @shopFOODDISTRICT.To try out David Marcelli’s focaccia recipe, check out his website



What are some other recipes you’d like to see? What have been some of your favourite creations?

Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

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