Focaccia

Focaccia. Few words evoke the image of fluffy bread and olive oil as the words “Italian Focaccia Bread”. For the uninitiated Focaccia is a type of yeasted Italian flat bread with a texture similar to that of pizza dough. It’s often used as either an antipasto, a snack to dip into olive oil, or as a sandwich bread.

Q: Where does focaccia come from?

It’s widely believe that the basic Focaccia recipe originates from the Etruscan civilization which was absorbed by the Roman Kingdom back in 100BC. This would make the Focaccia at least 2100 years old. Today, this bread is associated with the Italian coastal region of Liguria. Liguria is a big place with many small hamlets. Unavoidably, this has caused the recipe to fracture into different variations to the point where no two Focaccias are the same.

Q: What types of focaccia are there?

The types of Focaccia present in the world are innumerable. Besides the basic variations which create a plain springy flat bread, of which there are dozens, you will also find some more ambitious variants which stretch the definition of what Focaccia really is. For instance some chefs cook Focaccia imbued with cheese (focaccia col formaggio). Others make it sweet and serve it with honey and raisins (focaccia dolce). Usually these ambitious variations will stem from outside of Liguria, and Ligurians are likely to treat a Focaccia Dolcie with some indignation. The recipe I provide below details the popular and traditional Focaccia al Rosmarino, or as we know it in English – Focaccia with Rosemary.

Q: What are the key components of a Focaccia?

Olive Oil is the key ingredient for this bread. The high oil content also forces us to change our approach drastically in order to get a good result.
When you mix a lot of oil with flour it will coat the flour particles preventing it from forming any gluten. This means if we want the springy texture which flour often brings with it we’ll need to knead a lot more.

Furthermore the high saturation of Olive Oil allows us to get a very crispy, almost fried, exterior if the Focaccia is cooked at a very high heat.

Q: What do you have it with?

Its main usage is as of that of an appetizer. Add some olive oil on top (yes, even more olive oil) and you’re done. I personally like to make my Focaccia a bit taller so that I can half it and make sandwiches with it. You could also top it with a slice of tomato, mozzarella, prosciutto, olive oil, and call it a day.

Italian Focaccia Sandwich
Italian Focaccia makes for one heck of a sandwich

Italian Focaccia

Equipment

  • 13 X 9.5 Inch / 33 X 24 cm baking pan
  • Large Bowl

Ingredients
  

  • 300ml / 10oz Warm Water
    Around 40-43C/105-110F
  • 450gr / 1lb All Purpose Flour
  • 5tbsp Olive Oil
  • Pinch of Sea Salt
  • A Few Sprigs of rosemary

Instructions
 

  • Mix the yeast with 60ml/2oz of the warm water, and leave it around 8 minutes. The water will begin to froth.
  • In a large bowl mix the yeast solution and 70gr/2.5oz of the flour. Add the salt, 1tbsp olive oil, half of the remaining water, and flour. Begin to knead in the bowl until the dough comes together. It should be very sticky at this stage.
  • Once you combine it enough so that the dough becomes soft, add most of the remaining water and flour. Keep some aside and adjust based on feel. In the end it should feel soft, without being too sticky. It should let go of your fingers when you push into it. This is a good way to get to trust your senses in the kitchen. There are a hundred variables which will change the ratio of ingredients your dough needs, such as humidity being the major one.
  • Now you need to put in some elbow grease and begin kneading. I prefer to knead it within the bowl itself to spare my kitchen from being encased in dough. Keep going at it for 10-12 minutes. Don’t slack off!
  • Take the dough out of the bowl for a moment, while you smear 1tbsp of olive oil into the bowl using a paper towel. This will prevent your dough sticking as it rises. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a damp kitchen towel, and let rise until it doubles in size (1.5 to 2 hours)
  • After the dough has risen, grab your baking pan and line it with another 1tbsp of olive oil. Spread the dough into the pan, trying to reach the edges. If the dough resists, let it rest for 15 minutes and try again.
  • Cover and let rise for another 45 minutes. During this time, preheat your oven to 230C/450F.
  • Uncover the dough, and push your fingers into the dough at regular intervals to form the iconic Focaccia dimples. Sprinkle with sea salt, rosemary, and brush liberally with olive oil.
  • Bake for 25 minutes, until golden.
  • Take the Focaccia out of the oven and, using a spatula, pull it free from the pan. Let it cool on a wire rack, as your house fills with the aroma of rosemary and freshly baked Focaccia.