Pretty little focaccia rolls.

Rob and I enjoyed dinner at Nicola’s in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and one of many highlights of our meal was a glorious bread basket it was impossible to keep our hands out of. Most glorious were the golden, olive oil-brushed focaccia rolls with pretty vegetable toppings.

I have a good focaccia recipe (courtesy of my brother, Bill, owner and chef at Chicago’s award-winning Baker & Nosh), and decided to see if I could come close to re-creating Nicola’s lovely focaccia rolls. And I did … come close, that is. Mine aren’t quite as perfect-looking. But they’re mighty delicious.

Focaccia is a forgiving bread that’s easy to make if you’re a beginner. You want the dough to be soft and slightly tacky when it’s kneaded; it will stick to your fingers, but it shouldn’t be a gluey mess. The trick to shaping rolls is to lightly grip the dough ball with your hand like a claw, rolling it under your palm and curling your fingers underneath the dough to form a tight skin on the surface. If you’re new to bread baking, try making focaccia the more traditional way: in a rimmed baking sheet (see my recipe for sheet pan focaccia bread here).

Either way, this simple homemade bread will be a star at any holiday gathering this season!

Pretty little focaccia rolls recipe

1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup very warm water
Pinch of flour
Pinch of sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for finishing
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more for finishing
Toppings: thinly sliced onion, potato, red pepper or zucchini; sesame seeds, flaky sea salt, cracked pepper, fresh herbs

In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast and water; add a pinch of flour and sugar to feed the yeast. Let the mixture rest until it's very foamy (like the head of a beer); this may take up to 30 minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the dough hook, combine the flour and olive oil; add the water/yeast and stir just to combine. Sprinkle kosher salt over the dough and mix; then knead the dough for 3–4 minutes, until it is very smooth. The dough will be slightly tacky to the touch; if it's very sticky, add a bit of flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Scoop the dough out into an oiled bowl or lidded container and turn the dough over so it's well-coated with oil. Let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk — either overnight in the refrigerator or for 2–3 hours in a warm place.

Working on a lightly floured surface, divide dough into 16 pieces (about 2 ounces each). To shape rolls, lightly grip a dough ball with your hand like a claw, rolling it under your palm and curling your fingers underneath the dough to form a tight skin on the surface. Repeat with remaining dough; transfer to two rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment.

Preheat oven to 450°. Brush each roll liberally with olive oil. Top as desired, brushing vegetable toppings with more olive oil. Bake rolls for 7 minutes, then reduce heat and bake 20–22 minutes more, turning and rotating pans halfway through baking (drizzle rolls with additional olive oil halfway through, if desired). Let cool about 20 minutes before serving warm.

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