Fantastic Focaccia (Primo Rustic Bread)

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Bread Made with the Sponge Method--Note Even Holes

This fantastic bread is my holiday gift to dedicated bread bakers who either have a sourdough starter, are willing to make one, or to purchase one: (

The source of this bread goes back several years to a visit we made to the Old Sheepherding Co. in Chatham, New York. My cousins Bill and Joy Howe have a second home nearby and were overjoyed to report that at the time Melissa Kelly, a CIA graduate, was the chef and that they had a standing reservation every Sat. night. I fell in love with the place and the food. Subsequently, the pastry chef, Price Kushner, fell in love with chef Kelly and they left to open their own restaurant, Primo in Rockland Maine

Last summer my husband and I spent a week in Maine attending his radiology conference and i persuaded him to drive to Primo saying it was no more than an hour away. (I fudged a little.)

The restaurant, located in a renovated Victorian house, was exquisitely New-England charming and romantic and Melissa’s food was as always unlike any other and well worth the voyage. But this time there was something extra: THE BREAD. i immediately pronounced it to be the best bread I had ever tasted (which means it was ONE of the best breads because when it ranks up there, it’s the one that’s in my mouth that gets top billing.)

After dinner I sought out Price who agreed, saying it was his favorite as well but he hesitated to give me the recipe saying it required something I didn’t have: A sourdough starter. My reply: “Guess what was the last thing I did before leaving for vacation! I fed my sourdough starter!”

Several months went by and finally I put my pride aside and called Price. Good thing too—he had misplaced my e-mail address. The recipe came that very day and I made it very soon thereafter. (I wasn’t taking any chances—I once held a recipe for 30 years only to find it wasn’t what I thought it would be.) The only changes I’ve made to Price’s recipe is to add the caramelized onion after baking as I found that in my oven it burned on the top of the bread, and I used a 475°F oven instead of 550°F as mine won’t go that high. My husband and I were thrilled with the results.

Now here’s what I love so much about this focaccia: It’s soft, and moist, with big uneven holes inside, a faintly tangy flavor which blends impeccably with the deeply caramelized onion topping, and it stays fresh for up to 3 days. It’s really easy to make—it’s just that you HAVE to have the sour dough starter. I tried to make it with the sponge technique and got smaller totally even holes in the crumb, far less flavor, and it staled the same day it was baked. Price was right! (NOTE: the photo on top with the even holes in the crumb is the bread made with a sponge. The photo below, with the beautiful irregular holes, is the one made with the starter!)

So make, buy, borrow, or beg a little starter and mix up a batch of this wonderful bread. Once a starter is established it only takes minutes once a week to keep it alive. I now add a little to almost every bread I make. Even when not fully active, it adds depth of flavor, better texture and keeping qualities to the bread.

The Perfect Texture--Note the Uneven Crumb

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Preheat the oven to 475°F.

Baking Time 10 minutes.

Caramelized Onion Focaccia from Price Kushner—Primo in Maine

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For the Filling

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Baked Size: 10-1/2 inch round by 1-1/2 to 2 inches high

Mix starter, water, flour and instant yeast together.

Mix with dough hook on low for 5 minutes.

Cover and rest dough 20 minutes.

Add salt and mix in on medium 1 minute.

Add water and olive oil slowly until incorporated.

Mix on high (#8 Kitchen Aid*) 3 minutes (dough was 81°F) was 568 grams/ 20 ounces—very smooth—very tacky—almost cleans bottom of bowl.

Let dough ferment in oiled 2 quart container covered for 2 hours til doubled. (was 83 °F in kitchen)

Turn dough onto well floured bench.

With oiled hands, push dough out to 1/2 inch thick (9 inch squarish shape)

Transfer dough onto well-olive oiled parchment paper (I used doubled over and sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray, and set on an open sided baking sheet)

Push dough out again to 1/2 inch thick.

With oiled hands, lightly oil top of dough and cover.

Proof for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. It will be 10” x 10” x 1” (meantime preheat oven, with baking stone set toward the bottom--to 475°F at least 1 hour before baking) I also preheat a cast iron griddle or pan on the floor of the oven.

Dimple dough with oiled fingertips.

Sprinkle with rosemary salt and oil.

Slide dough still on the parchment onto the baking stone and quickly toss a handful of ice cubes into the preheated cast iron pan.

Bake until pale golden brown—about 10 minutes.

Strew with the caramelized onions.

Cool on a rack.


You will need 33 grams/a generous 1 ounce/3 tablespoons for each.

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In a large, heavy skillet, over low heat, heat the oil until hot. Add the onions and sprinkle with the salt, sugar, and pepper. Cover tightly and cook without stirring for about 45 minutes, over the lowest possible heat. The onions will be soft and will have released a little liquid. Raise the heat to medium, and cook uncovered, stirring often, until all liquid has evaporated and the onions become deep gold in color (preferably leave on low and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally). (You will have 3/4 cup / 5 ounces / 134 grams of onion mixture.)

*To turn a stiff starter into a liquid starter:

Morning before, feed 30 grams (about 1 oz.) with 30 grams (about 1 oz.) water and 20 grams (about 0.7 oz.) flour

that night (12 hours later) feed it with 40 grams (1.5 oz) flour and 40 grams (1.5 oz) water

Next morning it will be filled with bubbles and about 1-1/2 times in height (use 135 grams/4.7 oz. of this starter)

For those interested in the “Baker’s Percentage”

Baker’s %

water: 68.5%

oil: 6.4%

salt: 1.35%

added yeast: 0.25%