Pascale’s Kitchen: Focaccia & frena

This week, I chose to focus on flatbreads: focaccia from Italian cuisine and frena from North African cuisine.

 Focaccia (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Focaccia
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

I adore baking bread, especially when I’m using a simple recipe. I tend to stick with recipes that call for only the most basic ingredients: flour, yeast, sugar, salt and water.

Bread is not just enjoyed by the people who eat it. The bakers themselves also receive lots of pleasure when they create something special and come up with creative ideas for toppings and shapes, find flavors from faraway countries or delve into sweet memories from childhood.

The first thing you need to do when setting out to bake bread is to choose a high-quality flour. Next, pick interesting toppings, brush on quality olive oil and add herbs that intensify the flavors in the bread. Finally, it’s time to enjoy the dreamy aroma that drifts through the house while the bread is baking.

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This week, I chose to focus on flatbreads: focaccia from Italian cuisine and frena from North African cuisine.

 Frena bread (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Frena bread (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

It’s very easy to make focaccia, even if you’re baking it at home in a simple oven. If you happen to have a baking stone for your oven, that’s even better, since it will help the focaccia come out nice and crispy.

The first recipe is for the standard, quick focaccia topped with seeds and herbs. The second recipe is for sourdough focaccia, for which you will need a sourdough starter, and a bit more patience. But the moment you taste it, you will realize it was worth every second of your time.

It is fun to fashion whatever shape you desire from focaccia dough. You can make one long rectangle, or you can prepare a bunch of small individual loaves.

Whatever shape you choose, all you have to do is brush some olive oil on top, sprinkle kosher salt and a bit of rosemary on it and put it in the oven. If you want to prepare something really decadent, you can top it with vegetables, cheese, fish or smoked meat pieces just before you slide the focaccia into the oven.

When you take the crispy focaccia out of the oven, drizzle on a little more olive oil and add some more kosher salt if you like. Focaccia should be eaten while it is still sizzling.

The third recipe is for frena, which is baked directly on smooth flat stones, which you should place on the lowest rack in your oven. The heat from the stones help the frena become crispy and airy.

 Focaccia (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Focaccia (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Focaccia with seeds and herbs

Makes 3-4 medium focaccias or 2 large loaves.

  • 3 ½ cups + 1 Tbsp. flour, sifted
  • 25 gr. yeast
  • 1 ¼ - 1 ½ cups water at room temperature (amount depends on absorbency rate)
  • 1 level tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

Toppings:

  • Chopped herbs, such as thyme or rosemary
  • Seeds, such as flax, oats, sesame, sunflower or pumpkin
  • Kosher salt
    Add the flour, yeast and water to a large mixer bowl. Knead by hand or with an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and knead until dough separates from side of the bowl.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for 1 and a half to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Put some oil on your hands and then separate the dough into 2, 3 or 4 pieces, depending on what size focaccias you want to make. Line your pans with baking paper, then place the dough on the paper and fashion into whatever shape you desire. Press your thumb into the dough to make indentations.

Spread olive oil on the dough, then sprinkle kosher salt, herbs and seeds on top. Let the focaccias rise for another 10-15 minutes, then bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180°C for 12-15 minutes. The focaccias are ready when the bottom has turned golden brown and is crispy.

Level of difficulty: Easy-Medium.Time: 20 minutes, plus time for the dough to rise.Status: Pareve.

Sourdough focaccia with herbs

Makes 2 medium focaccias.

400 ml. cold water500 gr. flour, sifted100 gr. sourdough starter2 Tbsp. olive oil1 Tbsp. salt

Toppings:

  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme

Place the water and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Knead for 2 minutes, then let the dough rest for an hour. Add the sourdough starter and knead for a few more minutes. Let the dough rest another 30 minutes.

Add the oil and knead well. Add the salt and mix another 5 minutes. Lift the dough out of the bowl with wet hands and place it in a container with a lid and room for the dough to rise. Fold the dough over inside the container, and then pull it and stretch it again. Keep pulling up the sides and pushing them down into the center. Let the dough rest another 30 minutes and then pull and fold it again. Let it rest another 30 minutes. Do this a total of 4 times.

Put the dough in the fridge in the sealed container and let it rise for 48 hours. Take the container out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for 1 hour. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 250°C.

Flour your work surface and place the dough on it. Using a metal dough cutter, separate the dough into 2 sections. Place them on a tray covered with baking paper and flour and form into whatever shape you desire.

Brush on olive oil and sprinkle kosher salt and thyme on top. Using your thumb, make indentations in the dough. Bake for 20 minutes at 250°C. Remove and let it cool on a wire rack.

Level of difficulty: Medium.Time: 20 minutes, plus time for the dough to rise.Status: Pareve.

Frena bread

Makes 5-6 loaves. 

  • 700-750 ml. water
  • 1 kg. flour, sifted
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. dry yeast
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 4 Tbsp. quality olive oil

Pour the water into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the flour while mixing. Add the yeast while gently mixing. Mix well.

Add the salt and knead another 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and knead until mixed well.

Oil a large bowl with olive oil and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover and let the dough rise for 1 hour. Knead the dough, punching out all the air. Let the dough rise another 45 minutes. Punch out the air again and let rise 1 more hour.

Separate the dough into 5 or 6 pieces. Form balls and let them rise on a floured work surface until they double in volume.

Preheat your oven to the highest heat. Place smooth flat baking stones inside the oven on the lowest rack.

Take the dough balls and stretch them out gently. Place the dough on the hot stones. Bake for 30 minutes or until the frena bread is ready. Cool them on a wire rack.

Level of difficulty: Easy-Medium.Time: 20 minutes, plus time for the dough to rise.Status: Pareve.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.