One of the best things about working at a bakery is the freebies. At the European bakery where I started out, we were given one free meal a day. Some people ate a hunk of Black Forest Cake for breakfast. Others sat down to brotchen or croissants or soup served in a bread bowl. On Saturdays, when I knew I was going to see Jeff, I would skip breakfast and use my “free meal” pass on some of the bakery’s focaccia. Sometimes we’d just tear it and eat it. Other times, we’d split the bread, fill it with turkey or ham, and have the greatest and best picnic and road trip sandwiches ever made.

When I make focaccia at home, I use Art Smith’s recipe for Focaccia with Caramelized Onions, Goat Cheese and Rosemary with sliced Roma tomatoes and Kalamata olives. The hefty toppings make it extremely versatile as an appetizer, an accompaniment for a big bowl of soup or as a sandwich bread. But don’t feel like you have to go with my add-ons. Try the original formula: olive oil, sea salt and herbs. Go with pizza-like combinations of cheese, meat, vegetables, herbs and onion. Or create something completely different, like a focaccia with sliced pears, gorgonzola and walnuts.

The focaccia-making process is a little time-consuming but very simple, so if you’re feeling particularly impatient, plan it on a day you’ll be home doing the laundry or grouting or looking for the tape. For minimal effort, you can impress your friends and family without resorting to the dreaded holiday newsletter. That could be better than work freebies.

Focaccia with Caramelized Onions, Goat Cheese and Rosemary

Adapted from Art Smith, “O, The Oprah Magazine”

Makes 12 servings (6 sandwiches)

    Dough:

  • 1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
  • 1 package (1/4-ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
    Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 medium yellow onions, halved and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and sliced
  • 15 Kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  1. For the Dough: In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine water, yeast, and honey; stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add oil and salt to yeast mixture. Set the mixer on low, and gradually add 2 1/2 cups flour until a soft dough forms. Slowly add remaining flour until dough just begins to pull away from sides of bowl.
  3. Change from the paddle attachment to a dough hook, and increase mixer speed to medium; knead until smooth and supple, about 5 minutes.
  4. Form dough into a ball and place in a large, lightly greased bowl; turn to coat. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  5. ForĀ  Topping: In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool.
  6. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease an 11″ x 17″ jellyroll pan; punch down dough and pat it into pan. (If dough pulls back from edges, cover loosely with greased plastic wrap, let stand for 5 minutes, then pat out again.) Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.
  7. Using fingertips, dimple surface of dough. Arrange onions, tomatoes and olives over top; then sprinkle with goat cheese, rosemary and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake in lower third of oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Cool before serving.