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Caramelized Onion, Rosemary & Olive Focaccia

I grew up enjoying home-baked bread, and neighbourly potlucks featuring homemade pizzas with whole wheat dough. Many comforting childhood memories come from pieces of warm fresh bread, and nothing satisfies the soul quite like it to this day, (maybe it's the Virgo in me, that's what my mom always told me).I am so excited to present this wonderful recipe shared with me by my chef brother that can double as both pizza dough, and a ridiculously good focaccia. Along with good bread, pizza is also a super staple in our house for successful vegetarian entertaining. It's always great, no matter what you put on it. So after years of outsourcing dough (to those wonderful delis who do it so expertly), I am so proud to say that yeast and I are now officially good buddies (it hasn't always been that way). So with that, let's get started on this most amazing recipe that is sure to become an instant party or potluck favourite!

Caramelized Onion, Rosemary & Olive Focaccia (makes two focaccias or four pizza doughs)

The Dough

(2 tsp) active dry yeast
(2 cups) warm water - about the temperature of a child's bath
(3 tsp) sugar
(3) tsp salt
(4) cups flour all-purpose
(4 tbsp) olive oil

    The Toppings

    (1) medium yellow onion or(1/2) a large sweet onion, sliced lengthwise thinly
    (1 tsp) salt
    (1 tsp) sugar
    (1 cup) of large black olives (Giant or Kalamata) - about 10 - 12
    (2-3) sprigs fresh rosemary
    plenty of olive oil (1/4-1/2 cup)

      To get started, gather up all of your ingredients for the dough and commandeer a large mixing bowl. In the bowl, add 2 cups of warm water (not too hot, not too cold) to the bowl. Add the sugar and stir. Next, add the yeast, but do not stir. Let sit for 5 minutes or so.

      After a few minutes, add half the flour and the salt to the mixture in the bowl (about 2 cups) and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is nice and smooth. Next, add the olive oil and mix until the mixture is a bit pasty. From here, you can go ahead and dump the rest of the flour into the bowl and mix - start with a wooden spoon and then switch to the hands - it's so much fun! My brother says to mix this until it 'pulls from the bowl'. This seems to work well, and I mix this way until it seems ready to come out and be kneaded on the counter.

      Once the dough is 'pulling from the bowl', remove it and set on the counter to prepare for kneading. To knead, dust the counter with a sprinkling of flour and knead...this to inject the dough with air - and truthfully I have never enjoyed this process, or really applied myself to it either - but I am actually learning to love this part!

      Just set the CD player to your favourite new dance CD and watch the time fly by. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until you have a lovely round ball of dough. Set your dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl (feel free to wash and oil the same bowl you mixed in). Cover with a clean tea towel and set in a warm place to rise. Hint: I turn the oven on and set on to heat up on top of, or right beside the stove. It seems no matter how nicely you talk to the yeast, it will not rise unless it is in a warm place (go figure!)

      Let the dough rise for about 1 - 1.5 hours until you have a nice little rise happening (you will know!). Now for the best part. Remove the tea towel and punch the dough down with your fist to release the air. Your dough will pop and fall in a beautiful fashion, and it is now ready to settle in for a bit while you prep the rest of your ingredients.

      Remove the dough from the bowl and re-shape on the counter or cutting board. Cut the dough in half. Ideally, let sit for 30 minutes before using. Any leftover dough not being used immediately can be frozen or refrigerated for future use, and I find it super handy to have some dough to bake off during the week for unexpected guests, or just for kids :)

      The Onions, Olives, and Rosemary

      While you wait for the dough to rise, you can prepare the magical part of this recipe - the tasty toppings. Slice your onion into long thin strips and heat a large skillet to medium-high. Add a nice splash of olive oil to the skillet and add the onion, salt, and sugar. On medium to medium-high heat, cook the onion for 25 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking. By slow cooking the onions in the sugar and salt, they will get brown, sticky, and heavenly. Just be sure to stir often. Once ready, remove from heat and let cool. Pit and half the olives and set aside. Remove the leaves from the rosemary sprigs and chop with a knife finely.

      When ready to assemble the focaccia for baking, start by heating the oven to 400 degrees. Oil generously a large flat rectangular baking tray (or two if you are cooking them both off). Oil your hands a little and stretch the room temperature dough to fit the length of your tray - this should be easy and the dough should keep it's shape when pulled. If you need some help, you can keep a little bowl of flour to the side and use a little help this process.

      Once you have your shape, add the olives, then the onions, and finally the rosemary. Finish this off with a generous pour of olive oil across the entire surface of the bread (don't be shy!). Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until the sides are golden and the smell is heaven in the kitchen. Let cool and slice as desired! Keep this stored at room temperature wrapped in foil, it's great warmed up a bit in the oven the day after :)

      This bread is stunning on its own, or served with a light dip, or alongside a salad, or really, anything! It's so tasty. Honestly, it's got all my favourite things. And the best part is I can now make it myself (and so can you!).

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