Caramelised leek + thyme focaccia
For the dough
- 650ml lukewarm water
- ¾ tsp fast- action dried yeast
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 775g strong white bread flour
- 1½ tbsp finer flaked sea salt
- 60ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 2 tbsp butter, for greasing
- 3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
- ½ tsp flaked sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the brine
- 75ml lukewarm water
- 1½ tsp finer flaked sea salt
For the leeks
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 leeks (about 350g), sliced into 1cm rounds
- ½ tsp finer flaked sea salt
- ¹⁄8 whole nutmeg, grated
Our focaccia takes on more of a Welsh flavour than an Italian one, with the addition of perfectly caramelised leeks and the scent of thyme. The method here, using a brine, is a technique we have borrowed from the ever-brilliant American chef and author, Samin Nosrat, as it gives the bread a wonderful crispy top and a generous rise. This recipe uses the whole leek, so don’t discard the tops. They tend to hold their shape better than the creamier white base of the leek, making for a lovely contrast of textures.
- Start by preparing the dough. Mix the water, yeast and sugar together in a large jug until the yeast has dissolved, then leave for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbly. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl to combine. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mixture and oil. Use a spatula to mix everything together until the dough is uniform and no dry patches are visible. Cover the bowl with a clean, dry tea towel and leave at room temperature overnight or for 14–16 hours until the dough has doubled in size and small holes are visible on the surface.
- The next day, grease the base and sides of a 26 x 36cm/10½ x 14in baking dish with the butter. Prepare the brine by mixing the water and salt together in a bowl until the salt dissolves. Pour the dough into the centre of the greased dish and use clean hands to stretch the dough into all four corners. It’s a slightly sticky job as the dough is much wetter than a standard loaf. When the dough is stretched, use your fingers to poke dimples all over the surface and pour over a generous glug (about 2 tablespoons) of the oil. Pour the brine over the surface too. Cover and leave to prove at room temperature for another hour.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/Gas 7 and place a pizza stone or baking sheet on the middle shelf to heat up.
- Meanwhile, make a start on the leeks. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat for a minute. Add the leeks and the salt and fry, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes until the leeks are completely soft, vibrant and there is almost no liquid left in the pan, taking care not to let the leeks take on too much colour as they cook. Reduce the heat to low and cook for another 8 minutes, or until the leeks are beginning to turn golden in places and are completely soft. Remove from the heat and grate over the nutmeg.
- Dimple the focaccia dough again with clean fingers and use a spoon to dot the cooked leeks over the top. Scatter the thyme leaves over the surface of the dough, then finish with a generous grind of black pepper and the flaked salt over the top.
- Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes, or until risen. Check the focaccia after this time; if the leeks look as though they are beginning to catch and burn, cover with foil and pierce all over with a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape and the bread to crisp up. Cook for another 15–18 minutes until deep golden and crisp on the surface. Tap the base of the pan to check that it sounds hollow – this is a sign that the bread is airy and cooked through. Remove from the heat and drizzle or brush with a generous glug of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons). The surface will look oily, but the bread will absorb the oil as it cools. Leave the focaccia to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before using two sturdy cake slices or spatulas to release all four edges and lift onto a wire rack.
- Eat warm or at room temperature. The focaccia is best eaten the day it is cooked, but can be frozen in a sealed bag, wrapped in baking paper, or stored like this at room temperature and gently reheated in a hot oven for 8 minutes to refresh.