This post comes courtesy of Deborah Mele, blogger behind Italian Food Forever.
Focaccia, or focaccia bread, is one of the most popular and ancient types of breads available today. These crispy or chewy flatbreads originated from the ingenuity of peasants and rural farming families, who made up for their lack of resources with boundless imagination.
Focaccia are made from a ball of basic dough, which can be flavored with an endless variety of oils, olives, cheeses, herbs and vegetables. Italians have mastered the ability to take a little dough, top it off with whatever fresh ingredients they have around, and turn it into a delicious and fulfilling snack. It is ironic that a dish such as this that was born out of economic necessity has now become a staple at chic, trendy eateries. It is believed that focaccia was the first national dish of Italy and, in fact, pizza as we know it today evolved from the earlier focaccia.
Basic focaccia dough requires five simple ingredients: flour, water, olive oil, salt and yeast. Focaccia is typically eaten accompanied by seasonal toppings or additives, and recipes range from sugary sweet to rich and savory breads.
You can flavor the dough itself, add a single or any combination of seasonal toppings, create a crisp-crusted focaccia great for dipping or spreading with creamy toppings, or make a thicker crusted focaccia perfect for sandwiches or panini – the options are truly limited only by your own creativity. This easy flatbread is also a great option for novice bread bakers, as it does not require any fancy shaping or advanced baking techniques. Check out my step-by-step guide to making focaccia for specific instructions.
I make focaccia in many different forms, with a myriad of toppings depending on my mood. You might like to try a simple recipe for rosemary, olive or tomato focaccia, which I often serve as a snack between meals, slice into strips as a bread accompaniment or cut into wedges for sandwiches.
Focaccia may also be stuffed with soft cheese or a combination of cheese and greens, as in this Stuffed Focaccia recipe. Alternatively, it may be sliced into small squares and filled, as in these Mortadella Bites; or topped with a savory mixture such as these Party Focaccia. The variations transform this versatile flatbread into the perfect finger food for parties.
I have been making focaccia for over 30 years and to this day, I return to this simple yet delicious bread at least twice a week in one form or another. I have learned over the years what ingredients work best for me, but you may prefer to make some changes.
For my flour, I use plain old all-purpose flour, or “tipo 0” flour here in Italy. Many recipes call for “tipo 00” flour, which is much softer flour, but I find the focaccia made with it gets a little tough after it sits. I feel the focaccia made with all-purpose flour lasts longer and holds up to sandwiches better as well.
I use only instant active dry yeast and prefer the Saf-instant brand. This yeast never lets me down, and I can add it dry to my other ingredients as it does not require proofing. I add sea salt for flavor, and I always add a little extra-virgin olive oil for both flavor and texture. I use basic tap water that feels warm to the touch, which helps promote early rising, but I do not use hot water as it tends to degrade the sensitive yeast.
Basic Rosemary Focaccia Dough
5 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tsp. instant yeast
4 to 5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tsp. salt
2 cups warm water
For the toppings:
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
Measure and assemble the flour, yeast, 2 to 3 Tbs. olive oil, salt and water. Combine everything but the water in a large bowl and stir. Add half the water and stir to mix. Continue to add water until the dough begins to come together into a shaggy ball. Dump the dough mixture onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead with the heels of your hand. Knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and pliant.
Add the rest of the olive oil (about 2 Tbs.) to the bottom of a large bowl and place the ball of dough inside. Roll the ball around in the oil, ensuring the sides of the bowl and ball of dough are both lightly oiled. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise. I cover mine with a kitchen towel on top of the plastic wrap and place it on a large sunny windowsill.
Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size, 1 to 1/2 hours, depending on the ambient temperature. To make a large rectangular focaccia, lightly oil a 13-by-9-inch rimmed baking sheet. Dump the risen dough onto the pan, punching it down to deflate it. Use your fingers to push and press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until the dough dimples when pushed with your fingertip, 20 to 30 minutes. Use the tips of your fingers to dimple the entire top of the focaccia. Drizzle with olive oil, turning the pan carefully to allow the oil to roll into the indentations. Sprinkle chopped rosemary and sea salt over the top of the focaccia. Let it sit and rise for 15 minutes more while you preheat the oven to 425°F.
Bake the focaccia until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before slicing. Makes 1 (13-by-9-inch) rectangular focaccia, or 3 (10- to 12-inch) round loaves.
Variation: To make round loaves, after the first rise, divide the ball of dough into 3 equal parts. I weigh mine and these balls typically weigh about 14 ounces each. Sprinkle cornmeal over three baking sheets. Working with 1 ball at a time, use your hands to press the ball into a flat disk. Use the heel of your hand, pushing from the center out, turning the dough as you go until you create a circle approximately 12 inches in diameter. Place each round on a prepared baking sheet, cover with kitchen towels and let rise until soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Dimple the dough with your fingers, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and chopped rosemary. Let it sit and rise for 15 minutes more while you preheat the oven to 425°F. Bake the focaccia until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.
About the author: The essence of Italian cooking today is simplicity. One uses the freshest seasonal ingredients possible, and then uses basic cooking techniques to simply enhance the natural flavor of the food. While living in Italy, I spent many hours each week browsing through the market stands overflowing with the vibrant colors of each season’s bounty. I learned to keep “an Italian kitchen” during this period, and to plan my daily menu only after visiting the local market or grocery to see what was fresh that day. Although I am now living in North America half the year, I often continue this tradition of visiting my local green grocer looking for inspiration for that day’s dinner.