Bread is one of my favorite things to bake. I actually started baking by hopping on the sourdough train back in 2020, and managed to stick with it. However, making bread and working with yeast can be very intimidating at first. This easy olive and lemon focaccia is the perfect way to start getting confident in baking bread. It only takes about 20 minutes of hands on time (with NO kneading!) to make, is very forgiving, and most of all, it’s incredibly delicious. The topping is castelvetrano olives, very thinly sliced meyer lemon, and chopped tarragon sprinkled on after baking. The result is salty, bright, and a little bit floral. Perfect for springtime! Whether you’re brand new to bread baking, or a seasoned baker, this focaccia is the recipe for you.
What is focaccia?
Focaccia is a flat-type bread originating from Italy, originally baked in an oven. There are several different variants of focaccia, but it can generally be recognized by its dimpled surface and thick, flat shape. It is made with olive oil, which helps to give it a very soft and springy crumb. It can be made plain, sprinkled with coarse salt, or with toppings such as olives and tomatoes.
You can enjoy focaccia by itself, dipped in some balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. My favorite way to eat focaccia is to use it for sandwiches, and to fill it with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and homemade pesto.
Let’s talk yeast
Most new bread bakers find yeast to be intimidating, but have no fear! Yeast is super easy to use once you understand it. In the United States, there are two main kinds of yeast you can find in grocery stories. These are called commercial yeast, because they are readily available and used commercially. Sourdough is also referred to as wild yeast, or natural yeast, and requires some specialized techniques to use properly. Today, we are going to focus on commercial yeast, specifically instant dry yeast. Let’s talk about the differences in commercial yeast:
Instant Dry Yeast
Instant dry yeast is a type of shelf-stable commercial yeast that you can find at the grocery store. Like the name suggests, you can bake with it immediately without activation. This is because it is ground finely, it dissolves quickly and gets right to work in your recipes. Here’s some other info about using instant dry yeast:
- Very stable, and can be stored in the freezer for years
- Works instantly and doesn’t require activation
- Appropriate in cold proofed doughs
- Appropriate in doughs that need more than one rise
- Consistent performance and doesn’t weaken with age
Dry Active Yeast
Another kind of yeast you will commonly see in grocery stores is dry active yeast. As you might have guessed, this yeast needs to be activated (sometimes called proofed) before using. We do this by adding the yeast to a small amount of warm water, sometimes with a little bit of sugar or honey as fuel for the yeast. When the yeast is frothy and bubbly, after about 10 minutes, you can add it to your recipe. Here’s some more info about dry active yeast:
- Perishable, and expires relatively quickly. Best stored in the freezer
- Requires activation
- Appropriate cold proofed doughs
- Appropriate in doughs that need more than one rise
- Performance diminishes with age
Quick Rise Yeast
Quick rise yeast is, as the name suggests, an extra-fast acting yeast. They are formulated to cut out a lot of rise time, and therefore are not appropriate for any type of long-rise doughs:
- Very stable
- Not appropriate in cold proofed doughs
- Not appropriate in doughs that need more than one rise
- Consistent performance over time
My personal favorite type of commercial yeast to use is instant dry yeast, and I like to use the SAF Red Instant Yeast brand. Because it is so shelf stable, it’s safe to buy in large quantities and to store in your freezer.
Tools you need to make this focaccia
One of the awesome things about focaccia is that it doesn’t require any special equipment like a stand mixer. All you need is a bowl to mix the dough in, and a high-sided 9×13″ rectangular baking pan. You can also use a large 12″ cast iron skillet. I prefer to use a baking pan, since I like to use this focaccia for sandwiches.
I also recommend using a kitchen scale. While using weight measurements are not as common in the USA, it’s a far more accurate way of baking, and the best practice for making bread. I have provided both weight and volumetric measurements, but you will get the best and most consistent results if you weigh your ingredients. Plus, fewer dishes to wash!
To slice the lemons, I recommend using a mandoline slicer or a very sharp knife. Be careful of your fingers!
How to make this olive and lemon focaccia
Making this focaccia couldn’t be easier. First, we mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and let it sit for 5 minutes. Then we perform our strength building folds. This is actually an alternative to kneading commonly used in sourdough baking. By stretching the dough, we build gluten strength in the dough, which helps give us that flight and airy crumb structure that we want. We will do two types of folds: stretch and folds, and coil folds. Because this focaccia calls for a cold proof, I like to start it at night, around 7 or 8 PM, so I can cold proof it in the fridge overnight and bake it in the morning.
To do the first stretch and fold, grab one edge of your shaggy dough and pull it upwards towards you. Give it a little wiggle so it does not rip while you do this. Pull the dough over the middle. Grab another section and repeat this stretch and fold until you have gone all the way around the dough and it resembles a large dumpling. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Next up are our coil folds. We will do two sets of them. Coil folds are my favorite because they develop a lot of dough strength, and help to even out the air bubbles in the dough to create a lovely crumb structure. To perform a coil fold, gently lift the dough with both hands from the middle until one end releases from the bowl. Gently lower the dough to allow the loosened end to tuck under the middle, and repeat with the other side. The dough should now look coiled over itself, kind of like a chocolate croissant. Repeat this process until your dough has built enough strength that it easily holds its shape during the coil fold process, and feels aerated and smooth. Rest for 5 minutes, before performing one more set of coil folds.
After your coil folds, your dough should look very smooth on top, and be able to hold its shape.
Then we let the dough proof at room temperature for about an hour, before cold proofing it in the fridge overnight. A cold proof slows down the yeast so that it doesn’t rise too much, but helps to develop flavor. The next morning, we’ll let the dough come to room temperature, dimple it, top it, and bake it!
Troubleshooting this olive and lemon focaccia
Bread baking can be a little more finicky than other types of things, but that’s no reason to fret! Here are some common issues with using yeast, and how to fix them:
My bread isn’t rising
This usually comes down to two factors: temperature, or your yeast. If your home is particularly cool, you may need to proof your dough in a TURNED OFF oven with the light on, or another warm spot. You may need to let it rise for a bit longer if your kitchen is on the cooler side. If you are using dry active yeast, this could also mean that your yeast is dead, or losing potency.
My bread is rising too fast
This is also usually due to temperature. If you live in a very warm place, this can make your yeast hyper active and rise very quickly. To combat this, mix your dough with cool water, and keep a close eye on the dough. If it doubles in less than an hour, that’s perfectly ok: just put it in the fridge early. Remember, the fridge is your friend, and you are in charge of the yeast, not the other way around! A big part of bread baking is being flexible and adjusting to your environment as needed.
My dough is really sticky
The dough for this recipe is a little sticky at first, but will stop being sticky as you perform your strength building folds. Whenever you work with dough, I recommend always handling the dough with damp hands, as this prevents the dough from sticking to them. Do not use floured hands, as this can introduce too much extra flour to the dough and make it dry.
How to store this olive and lemon focaccia
After the first day, this focaccia keeps well in the fridge, wrapped tightly, for about a week. Simply reheat in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes before enjoying, or toast under the broiler.
I hope you give this Easy Olive and Lemon Focaccia a try! Be sure to tag me on instagram so I can see your bakes, and leave me a comment below! Your feedback helps other bakers who are giving this recipe a try, and I love hearing about your bakes!