Twenty-six recipes. That’s how many you’ll find on my blog which feature spelt flour. With the inclusion of this recipe for spelt focaccia it’s a total of twenty-seven on the list. Having created so many spelt recipes, I’ve become a bit of an expert on this ancient grain and today’s recipe has drawn on that knowledge. This fresh, tender, aromatic homemade Italian spelt focaccia, studded with rosemary sprigs and drizzled with olive oil is simply beautiful and a treasure to adorn your table.
Yes, Italian Food, Again.
I love good Italian food, it holds a highly seductive allure for me, because when it’s good, it’s magical. The beauty is often in the simplicity of using great ingredients, then treating them with incredible respect. Unfortunately, it has historically seen some shocking handling at the mercy of the UK restaurant trade and via the over-spiced, over-flavoured ‘Italian’ recipes on the internet. I’ve ranted about this, on more than one occasion and I’m not going to stop saying it until the world changes.
Bad treatment of a national cuisine is dangerous, even irresponsible. An old friend of mine hated Italian food with a passion, I vividly remember suggesting an Italian restaurant for a group meal, to a response of “pizza, pasta, that kind of thing?”, accompanied with a sour face that left me wondering if there was a foul smell in the room. I tried explaining that Italian food isn’t Pizza Hut or sludgy bowls of over-boiled pasta with cheap, tangy, dried-herb-laden tomato sauce, but her mind was made up. Stereotypically bad Italian food had ruined her perception of something innately glorious and loveable.
Whilst studying at an intensive, residential food systems programme, I made friends with an Italian who agreed with my thoughts on Italian food, providing some comfort that my opinions on Italian food have credence.
Earlier this week, I posted a spelt focaccia teaser on Facebook and my new Italian friend said she would make it.
For her family.
Pepsi Challenge tests with recipes and getting out of comfort zones is great, but as a suburban guy from South West London, who loves food and claims he knows what Italians like, this is high level testing of my beliefs. Having my recipe presented to an Italian family at their dinner table, in Italy, feels acutely petrifying. It’s like going from busking in an ammonia-stenched underpass to walking on stage at Wembley Stadium or selling ice to an eskimo.
Nonetheless, I love a challenge and it’s the best tasting panel I could ever enlist to road test the recipe. The control freak in me wants to jump on a plane to Italy, quickly make the spelt focaccia and fly home, just to ensure it’s precisely like the photos (i.e. spectacular, tender, soft, flavoursome, incredible etc etc.). However, I can’t control everything in life, much as I’ve tried in the past, but it just doesn’t work.
Rise to the Challenge.
This recipe has been triple tested to ensure the best spelt focaccia you can make at home. Consequently, I’ve been eating a lot of deliciously herb infused bread over the last week, a task which is as burdensome as winning the lottery. Life as a food blogger is hard sometimes, having to eat lots of great food, but we must suffer for our art.
The key to successfully producing spelt bread is not to overwork it. It’s more delicate than normal wheat, so doesn’t require as much kneading, it doesn’t need to ferment for as long, it simply doesn’t need to be messed with.
Aromatic rosemary permeates every part of this bread; it’s studded with sprigs, scattered with leaves and dotted with chopped herb, giving the most incredibly precious flavour. The dough is infused with olive oil and also drizzled across the top before baking, to plug the little holes in the dough and make this slice of Mediterranean life even more irresistible.
Making homemade bread may seem like a chore, but when you’re sitting around a lunch table filled with beautiful dishes, sharing amazing food with good friends, being able to make bread begins to feel less onerous and more like a lucky privilege.
By Gavin Wren
For the dough:
400g white spelt flour
1 teaspoon salt
270ml warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
7g fast acting yeast
2-3 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped
12 tips or little sprigs or rosemary
20 individual rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of flaky sea salt
Put the flour in another mixing bowl, then stir in the salt and yeast. Measure the warm water and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to it. Pour the water and oil into the flour and mix it together with a wooden spoon.
Keep spare flour nearby and dust your worktop with it, then scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the surface.
WARNING!This dough will be ridiculously tacky and sticky, it will be horrid to work with, however we want to keep it as wet as possible.
Deal with this stickiness by occasionally dusting it with flour and rubbing your hands with flour or olive oil. This prevents the dough from sticking to you and reduces your chances of screaming at it.
Knead the dough, but as little as possible. Work it to enough to ensure it’s mixed, maybe 1-2 minutes at most. I find a bench scraper is very useful to move the dough around. I hold the scraper with my left hand to move the dough around, then knead with my right hand. Use extra flour and olive oil to help relieve the stickiness.
Place the dough into the greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place (circa 24ºC) to ferment for about 1 hour. It will multiply in size. Meanwhile, grease your baking tin with some olive oil.
Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and sprinkle with the chopped rosemeary. knead just a couple of times to incorporate the chopped herb. Place the dough in your baking tin and stretch into the corners, it will be very springy, you may need to really work it out from the centre, into the corners. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for about an hour to prove. It should rise slightly in size, maybe 50% or so.
Pre-heat your oven to Gas Mark 9, 475ºF, 246ºC, 226ºC fan. For more info about oven temperatures, read my free guide, here.
Toss the rosemary tips and leaves in a little olive oil. Make at least 12 deep indents in the top of the dough by prodding it with your fingers. Place a rosemary tip in 12 of these dips and scatter the leaves around the surface. Drizzle the remaining olive oil across the surface and into the indents, then sprinkle with flaky salt.
Place near the top of the oven for 10 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to Gas Mark 6, 400ºF, 204ºC, 184ºC fan and cook for a further 15 minutes. If the top browns too much, cover with kitchen foil. After this, the bread should be cooked. To check, tap the bottom of the tin and it should make a hollow noise. Cook for a further 5 minutes if needed.
Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then remove and place on a cooling rack until fully cooled. Then eat, eat, eat!