(I'm so excited, because my friend Justin is making a guest appearance today to tell you about his time in Syracuse for Med school and his resulting focaccia habit! I remember him telling me and all our friends about this bread before his wedding this past summer, and while none of us actually made it to Syracuse for the focaccia, Justin has now made sure we all have the recipe. I am definitely baking myself up a loaf when I get back from the Southern Hemisphere. And if you think we are bad friends for not checking out his favorite food before his wedding, I'm pretty sure we all spent a morning playing laser tag instead, at the groom's request, which just proves you should trust this recipe, as he has brilliant ideas.)
Long ago and in a galaxy far, far away, also known as Syracuse, NY, I was in medical school. It was a really tough, but wonderful time in my life. While there I discovered many awful things, like what seven feet of snow looks like, and what it feels like to be so tired that you begin to lose touch with reality. However, I was also able to find many of my true loves, like my wife, psychiatry and baking. At the same time I learned to appreciate many of the little things in life, like really good food and beer, which Syracuse actually had plenty of.
One of my favorite discoveries was Pastabilities, an italian restaurant known for its amazing bread and tomato based dipping sauce. However, I soon found out that I didn’t even need to go to the restaurant to enjoy the bread because they had a separate bakery. My bread of choice was their focaccia; it simply made my day whenever I could wrap my hands around it, feeling the crust between my hands as I would break off a piece and let the delicious cheese hidden inside melt in my mouth.
However much I loved the bread though, I quickly realized that my wallet did not. At $5 per loaf, I learned I couldn’t afford to live like royalty while burying myself in a mountain of medical school debt. But, I am nothing if not resourceful. I asked myself how hard could it be to make, and set out to replicate it. After 6 years, and many iterations, this loaf is what I came up with, and while it may never be as good as the original, I’d say it is a pretty great bootleg. I hope you try and enjoy it, and if you ever find yourself in the bustling city of Syracuse please try the original and let me know which is actually better.
Justin's Cheese Stuffed Focaccia
Adapted from here.
- 3 cups white all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 + ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper (+/- crushed red pepper flakes)
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2-4 oz cheese (cheddar, pepper jack, etc) thinly sliced from a block
- Combine dry ingredients (Flour, yeast, salt, pepper), just mix them briefly by hand.
- Add water slowly and then oil, then mix by hand so that they all combine (No need to knead, unless you want to).
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rise (2+ hours at room temperature or in fridge overnight).
- Take out and place on lightly floured surface, lightly pat down into a square shape.
- Place sliced cheese in middle.
- Fold over (may be seen in photo tutorial below) such that cheese remains in center and place seam side down.
- Let rise again (“Second rise”) for about 20-30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 500+ degrees, placing a baking tray of water in oven for humidity.
- Grate extra cheese or place some slices on top, score top lightly with knife, and add some additional flour on top.
- Place dough in oven, seam side down, on Pizza Stone and bake for 20-25 minutes, until it should just be browning on top.
- Remove from oven and let cool 20-30 minutes prior to eating.