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Anyone who understands evolution knows that it doesn't necessarily lead from simpler to more complex life-forms. Rather, it leads to life-forms better suited to their environments. The evolution of recipes is similar: It's not that every new recipe is better than its immediate predecessor; it's just that it's more suitable to the recipe developer's particular tastes at that particular moment.
Take, for example, this simple no-knead focaccia, flavored with roasted garlic. It's based on my No-Knead Olive-Rosemary Focaccia, which in turn was based on my Foolproof Pan Pizza. Both of those recipes are darned delicious, but neither of them quite fits the theme of the Italian-American pop-up dinner that Daniel and I were planning a couple years back.
This garlic focaccia is one I developed specifically for that Italian-American feast as a sort of riff on garlic bread, complete with garlic butter brushed across the top. As it turned out, those pop-up plans never came to fruition, and this recipe languished in my hard drive, like a brand-new species of exotic sea worm, waiting to be found at the bottom of the ocean. Well, I went excavating recently and decided it was time to show it the light of day.
It all starts with roasted garlic. To make it, I use the simplest method I know: Drizzle a whole head of garlic with olive oil, wrap it in foil, and throw it in the oven at 350°F (177°C) until it's tender and sweet, which takes about an hour. Once it's cooked, I toss it in the fridge and turn my attention to the dough, a basic no-knead formula made with bread flour, yeast, salt, and water.
Like all no-knead doughs, this one is really simple. Just measure your ingredients out into a bowl (use a scale, not cups and spoons, for the greatest accuracy!); stir them together with your hand; cover the bowl with plastic; and let it rest overnight. No kneading, no futzing, no problem.
The next day, after the dough has had a chance to plump up and a good amount of gluten has developed, I turn it out into a cast iron skillet that I've greased with a few tablespoons of olive oil, then give the dough a few turns and pats. To build in garlic flavor, I take those tender pieces of roasted garlic and embed them right into the dough, pressing down on each piece until it's nearly completely surrounded. Once the garlic is in, I again let the dough rest for a couple hours. During that second rest, it should relax and spread out until it's almost in the corners of the pan, requiring just a bit of pushing and pulling to get it to fill the pan completely. Not only is the dough no-knead, it's essentially no-stretch as well.
Once the dough has risen and relaxed, into the oven it goes, at a blazing-hot 550°F (288°C). The high heat helps promote good oven spring, causing the bubbles in the dough to rapidly expand, for a crumb that's airy but chewy at the same time.
While the dough bakes, I make a quick classic garlic butter on the stovetop by heating butter, olive oil, minced garlic, oregano, and chili flakes in a skillet, just until the raw garlic flavor is cooked out.
The bread is done as soon as it's brown and crackly on the top, with a few darker spots. This can take anywhere from 16 to 24 minutes, depending on your exact oven. Most of the time, the bottom has no problem getting crisp in this time frame, but with some ovens that don't heat from the bottom as powerfully, you might find that the base of the bread needs a little more crunch. You can easily adjust for that by cooking it briefly on the stovetop after it comes out of the oven, using a small offset spatula to peek underneath as it crisps up.
Once it's ready, I spoon that garlic butter all over the top...
...then slide it out onto a cutting board and cut it into squares.
This recipe was simply too good to not share with everyone. As for the bread itself? Well, you can share it at your own discretion. Or don't. You might not want to.