Focaccia Baking with WI Ladies

A few weeks back I was approached by a member of local WI group asking to come to one of their meeting and give a lesson in bread making. Obviously I jumped at the chance and said Yes, but deep inside I was very nervous – come on, it’s the WI ladies, they are the queens of baking and jams and thing (I promise I won’t mention the Jerusalem :) 

To add to the challenge, the class was set up in a pub, with no access to a lot of work bench space or ovens, expecting 20 to 30 members ! What the hell, I love a challenge. I decided to start with two reasonably easy recipes, that are very forgiving in terms on mixing and proving time – a soft focaccia and a milky white loaf. 

Ingredients bought, 10kg of dough pre-made, I was ready to roll ! The evening turned out to be a lot of fun – great to see such a range of personalities and ages, wine glasses in hand, chattering, flour flying everywhere :) I was an amazing experience for me, and I think they have enjoyed it too. 


500 gstrong white bread flour
10 g (1 heaped tsp) salt 
10 g (1 heaped tsp) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp or 1 pack (7g) dry easy blend yeast
350 ml warm water (~38C) 
50 ml olive oil 
Toppings :
Savoury - Olives or tomatoes cut in half or rosemary or sun-dried tomatoes or thinly sliced potatoes, salt, etc. 
Sweet - grapes cut in half, figs, apricots cut in half, blueberries, a sprinkle of sugar

Oil drizzling 
50-75 ml olive oil 

Make dough
In a cup/jug dissolve sugar and yeast in water and let it stand for a few minutes, until you see little yeast bubbles on the surface. 
In a large bowl, mix together flour and salt. Make a well in flour and pour in the yeast mixture, mix with a spoon until most of the flour is absorbed. At this stage the dough will look like a loose shaggy mass. 

This dough it too wet for “traditional” mixing, and will be mixed entirely in the bowl. Grab one side of the bowl with your left hand (assuming you are right handed), and begin mixing the dough with your right hand, rotating the bowl around every few seconds. The “mixing” involves pulling a side of the dough closest to you, up and away from you, with your arm and hand doing digger-like movements – elbow out, palm pointed towards you. Keep going at a reasonably fast pace for 5 – 10 minutes or until the dough feels smooth and silky. 

Oil the bowl slightly, swirl the dough around to cover it with oil, cover the bowl with plastic and let it rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 45-60 minutes (or longer, depending on your room temperature). 

Prepare a tray – line it with baking parchment. Tip the dough out of the bowl onto a counter taking care not to deflate it too much. Divide the dough into 3 portions if making mini-focaccias, or leave it as a single piece if making one large focaccia. 
Flatten the dough into a baking tray or into desired shape (round or square). Oil your fingers slightly and make plenty of deep (!) dimples in the dough. Push your desired toppings in the dimples, cover it loosely with plastic and let it rise in a warm place until it's increased in volume by about half, about 45-60 minutes (or longer, depending on your room temperature). 
DO NOT sprinkle focaccias with salt of sugar at this stage, this will come in a later step. Adding salt during the final prove will kill the yeast and focaccias will collapse. Adding sugar during the final prove will make yeast over-active and the dough will come out very pale and tasteless. 
TIP: If you don’t have time to bake it right away, place the focaccia in the fridge overnight and bake it next morning. 

In making a sweet focaccia, sprinkle some sugar (2 tsp) on top, just before putting it in the oven.
Bake in a preheated oven for 15-20 minutes at 180 C (gas mark 4) until light golden in colour and the bottom has baked through. 

Take the focaccia out, place on a cooling rack.
Savoury focaccia - drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle with salt if desired 
Sweet focaccia - brush with melted butter 

Leave to cool for at least an hour before eating.   

And here are some examples of what the ladies have baked last night - looks great ! 


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