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One of the chief attributes of party food, to my mind, is that it creates NO MESS. As the party-giver, the person in charge, do you want to feel responsible for your best pal spilling gloppy sauce from a Swedish meatball down the front of her white silk blouse? Of course not (unless you’re heir to the local dry cleaning empire). Better you should serve something dry-ish and self-contained, something easily consumed in normal-sized, cohesive bites.
The following stuffed focaccia meets my requirements for optimal party food. First, it tastes good; a tender golden-brown yeast dough wrapped around the imaginative filling of your choice-what’s not to like? Second, it doesn’t drip; the baked filling stays in place, even after the focaccia’s been cut. And third, it’s substantial enough to be the main course at lunch but, cut in smaller pieces, can easily double as an hors d’oeuvre.
The filling for this focaccia can be as simple as pepperoni and mozzarella, or as "out there" as caramelized apples, Gorgonzola and toasted walnuts. Consider the crowd you’re feeding; are they traditionalists? Gourmets? Counting calories? Vary the filling to suit the audience. Figure on about 2 cups of filling, on average. You can use more if the filling is fairly simple and light (roasted vegetables, ricotta cheese, fresh greens); use a bit less if it’s very rich and/or spicy (sharp or high-fat cheeses, meats, olives). When risen and baked, each of the bread layers will be 1/2- to 3/4-inches tall, so don’t make the filling so thick the focaccia becomes awkward to get your mouth around. Also, fillings should be pre-cooked if necessary-meats thoroughly cooked, and vegetables roasted or sauteed so that they give up their moisture. What you don’t want is a juicy fresh tomato or plump mushroom sizzling and leaking liquid into the crust as it bakes, because you’ll surely end up with a soggy mess.
Let your imagination be your guide as you dream up favorite fillings. Or try the fillings in the preceding pizza recipes; you’ll need about half of the amounts given to yield the filling for one focaccia.
2 teaspoons instant yeast
4 cups (17 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour OR
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour + 2 cups (8 3/4 ounces) Mellow Pastry Blend
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons (5/8 ounce) Pizza Dough Flavor (optional, but tasty)
1/4 cup (1 1/8 ounces) King Arthur Easy-Roll Dough Improver (optional, but very helpful)
1 1/3 cups (10 5/8 ounces) water
6 tablespoons (2 5/8 ounces) olive oil
Combine all of the ingredients, and mix and then knead them into a smooth, elastic dough.
Allow the dough to rise in a warm (75°F to 85°F) spot for about an hour; it’ll become puffy, but won’t double in bulk. Transfer it to a lightly greased work surface, and divide it in half. Try to treat the dough gently; you’re going to be rolling it out, and don’t want to "excite" the gluten too much.
Roll half the dough into a rectangle about 14 x 10 inches in size. Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan with olive oil; if you’ve got a dark-colored 9 x 13-inch pan, now’s the time to use it-the darker the pan, the crisper and browner the bottom crust. Transfer the dough to the pan. If it shrinks, allow it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then gently press and stretch it so that it covers the bottom and comes just a bit up the sides of the pan.
Layer the filling atop the dough, leaving about 1/2 inch bare around all the edges. Roll out the other piece of dough, and settle it atop the filling. Press the top and bottom crusts together, then roll the edge of the bottom crust up over the edge of the top; the goal is to form a leak-proof seal. Cover the pan with a proof cover or plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature (68°F to 75°F is optimal) for about 2 hours. The focaccia won’t double in size, but will become puffy. Brush the top with oil, and sprinkle with coarsely ground black pepper, if desired. If the filling is bland, you might also want to sprinkle just a bit of coarse salt and dried rosemary atop the crust. Use a cake tester or other sharp, thin implement to prick the top of the crust in several places, to allow steam to escape and to prevent bubbles.
Bake the focaccia in a preheated 425°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until it’s golden brown. You’ll find that because of the oil, the crust will brown quickly; tent it with aluminum foil if it appears to be getting browner than you like before the 20 to 25 minutes is up. Remove the focaccia from the oven, and slip it out of the pan onto a rack to cool a bit. Unless it’s really leaked substantially, you should be able to do this easily; a spatula or giant spatula is a help. You don’t want to leave the focaccia in the pan, as the bottom will steam and become soggy.
Serve the focaccia warm or at room temperature. If necessary, refrigerate any leftovers. Yield: 6 large servings; 8 "luncheon-size" servings; or multiple hors d’oeuvres.
Nutrition information per serving (1/8 of the focaccia, without filling, 102g): 300 cal, 10g fat, 7g protein, 44g complex carbohydrates, 2g dietary fiber, 468mg sodium, 94mg potassium, 3mg iron, 2mg calcium, 66mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XIII, No. 3, Early 2002 issue.