Focaccia takes its name from the Latin “panis focacius,” or “hearth bread”: A lightly yeasted flat bread baked on coals or a hearth to create a filling accompaniment to dip into soups, stews, olive oil or vinegars.
It is thought to have originated with either the Etruscans or ancient Greeks at the beginning of the first millennium BC, but is now widely associated with the Ligurian (Genoa) cuisine of Italy. As the Romans expanded their empire they took the idea of focaccia with them to France and Spain and from there it spread around the world, with each culture putting its own spin on techniques and flavors.
The blog “Love & Olive Oil” states that a good, “authentic focaccia is light, airy and yeasty, crispy around the edges but soft and pillowy in the middle. The characteristic dimples serve as vessels to collect the salt and oil, infusing the bread with intense flavor (and yet, no oiliness, despite the sheer amount of oil that is used).”
Making focaccia involves combining flour, preferably with a high gluten content, with water, yeast, extra virgin olive oil and salt to form a dough. The dough is then allowed to rise, is dimpled and can be baked plain. Or flaky salt, herbs. spices, garlic, cheese, honey, fruits and other additives can be mixed in or used to top the bread for an infinite variety of savory or sweet versions.
The process may seem complicated and time consuming, but it’s not. Minimal special equipment is required, although a stand mixer can be useful for kneading and different cooking vessels — baking sheets, cast iron pans, pizza stones — can affect the texture and rise. Much of the time required is rest time, waiting for the dough to rise or proof. And because the oven is set at a relatively high temperature, cooking times are generally short, making it an ideal choice for summer baking.
A few tips to keep in mind …
A longer rise adds flavor and texture; putting the dough in the fridge overnight and slowing down the fermentation process melds the raw flour/yeast taste into more complex flavors and adds chew to the texture of the bread.
Dimpling the dough keeps large air bubbles from forming as well as adding nooks and crannies to hold the oils and toppings. Use your fingertips, oil your hands to keep them from sticking to the dough, and be gentle so you don’t destroy the airiness of the crumb.
The flavor of the oil is key to a tasty focaccia; choose a good quality, flavorful one. And when it comes to mix-ins and toppings, the sky’s the limit … let your mind wander and your creativity shine here, from cheese to fruit, herbs to spices, vegetables to meats. If it might taste good on a pizza, it probably will work for your focaccia.
A previous focaccia recipe: Food Fare – Visiting the savory side of strawberries
And finally, focaccia peaks straight out of the oven (OK, you might want to let it cool for a minute or two so you don’t burn your fingers or mouth) and most are best on the first day. Of course, you’ll probably have some leftovers, so wrap the entire slab in plastic and foil and cut slices as needed to help prevent the bread from drying out. Pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes to revive it before serving.
Focaccia will keep in an airtight container or in the fridge for a few days, and in the freezer for about a month (unbaked dough can also be frozen, thawed overnight and allowed a final rise and dimpling before baking). Bread that is past its prime can also be transformed into croutons, strata or bread puddings.
A column in Bon Appetit starts with “I hear that if you say ‘classic focaccia’ three times aloud on the night of a full moon, it might appear hot and puffy from the oven right before your eyes. And if that doesn’t work, we’ve got a recipe.” The next full moon comes round on Sept. 20, but if you don’t want to wait that long I also have a recipe — three of them, in fact.
If you’re in a bit of rush and want to eat focaccia for dinner tonight, try the Easy Rosemary Garlic Focaccia. This one is quite simple to make and only takes about two hours from counter top to table. An infused olive oil is mixed into the dough as well as spread on top before baking, resulting in a herby bread with a crisp outer crust and a soft, bready interior. It’s the thinnest of the three focaccia we made this week and was a fine accompaniment to a dinner of spaghetti Alfredo with shrimp and stir-fried veggies and also made a nice afternoon snack with an a garlic-herb dipping sauce.
The second recipe was a more classic focaccia that proofed overnight in the refrigerator. The result was a bit taller than the quick version and with a chewier texture to the crumb. Don’t forget the flaky salt on top or it will be a bit bland; you could also add some herbs or citrus zest to the dough to add flavor if you were so inclined. This was also the only focaccia of the three that tried to stick to the pan a bit, probably because the longer proofing time gave the dough time to absorb more of the oil. Ensuring that there is a thin layer of oil fully covering the pan or putting down a sheet of parchment paper prior to oiling can help solve that problem.
The fun part about this particular recipe was the decorating. You can use all sorts of vegetables and meats to create patterns — garden scenes, seascapes and holiday themes can all come alive on top of your focaccia — Google “decorated focaccia” for ideas. The only limit is your creative mind and knife skills, I’m looking forward to seeing what I can come up with. One hint: the vegetables will shrink as they roast and lose water, so cut them a little thicker than your plan for the final design.
And last but not least, because I had some peaches on hand, I made a fruit-topped focaccia. This is a lightly sweet and slightly savory (thanks to the thyme) version that has nice lift, a slightly chewy crust and a pillowy crumb. The combination of roasted fruit, fresh herbs and yeasty bread was a revelation. It’s also quite versatile. Sprinkle a little sanding or turbinado sugar on top and serve it as a dessert focaccia, perhaps accompanied by a citrus sorbet or ice cream or topped with a honey cinnamon whipped cream. Or skip the extra sugar and serve it for brunch, with a salad, or as an appetizer with honey, cheese and cured meats.
My wife and I both really enjoyed this version, which was new to us, and it held up well for a couple of days stored in an airtight container while we explored its possibilities.
And now I hope you’ll try your own variations. If you’re looking for a side that’s simple, relatively quick, goes with almost everything and even makes a great sandwich, this Italian favorite can answer the call.
Easy Rosemary Garlic Focaccia Bread
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/4 teaspoon honey
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1. In a cold medium skillet, combine olive oil, minced garlic, thyme, rosemary, and the black pepper. Place the pan over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 10 minutes or until aromatic, but before the garlic browns. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the warm water, yeast, and honey. Stir a few times then let sit for 5 minutes.
3. Add 1 cup of the flour and a 1/4 cup of the infused garlic-olive oil mixture to the bowl with yeast and honey. Stir 3 to 4 times until the flour has moistened. Let sit for another 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour and the salt. When the dough comes together, transfer to a floured board and knead 10 to 15 times until smooth.
5. Transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl, cover with a warm, damp towel and let rise for 1 hour. (It’s best to let the dough rise in a warmer area of your kitchen.)
1. After 1 hour, heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Use two tablespoons of the remaining garlic-olive oil mixture to oil a 9-inch by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet. (See above if you do not have this pan size).
3. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet then press it down into the pan. Use your fingers to dimple the dough then drizzle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the garlic-olive oil mixture. Let the dough rise for 20 minutes until it puffs slightly.
4. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool baked focaccia bread on a wire rack.
Adam and Joanne’s tip: Refrigerate or freeze leftover focaccia. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then in foil. Keep in the refrigerator up to 2 days and in the freezer for about a month.
Decorated Focaccia Bread
16 ounces warm water (110ºF) divided into two bowls 2 cups
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flakey salt
5 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/2 cup olive oil for the pan and for drizzling on top of the focaccia after rising
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary chopped
Vegetables, herbs and meats for topping
1. Combine your first cup of warm water with your yeast and sugar and mix to combine. Set it aside for about 5 minutes or until it looks foamy.
2. Place the water/yeast mixture in the bowl of your stand mixer with the bread hook attached. You can also make this dough by hand with a bowl and spoon but you’ll have to use some elbow grease.
3. Add in about 1 cup of flour and mix on low until combined.
4. Add in the rest of your water, the olive oil and the salt and half of your remaining flour. Mix on low until combined.
5. Continue adding in your flour while mixing on low until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If it’s still too sticky, add in a couple more tablespoons of flour until it comes together. The dough will be very soft though.
6. Keep mixing on low until your dough develops enough gluten that when you touch it, it bounces back took. I took my dough out of the bowl and finished kneading it on the countertop for about 2 minutes until the dough bounced back.
7. Place your dough into a bowl with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours or until it has doubled in siz
e. If you’re using active dry yeast, it will take longer to proof to double. Keep an eye on it.
8. Pour enough olive oil into a 12″x17″ sheet pan (or any pan of similar size) so there is a thin layer of oil covering the entire bottom of the pan
9. Put some olive oil on your hands to prevent sticking and then pull the focaccia dough out of the bowl. It will be very loose. Divide into two if you desire. Lay it in the pan and begin stretching it. If it shrinks back, walk away for about 15 minutes to let the gluten relax before you stretch again. Don’t worry about getting it to the edges if you divided it in half.
10. Once you’re done stretching, cover it with plastic wrap and place it into the fridge overnight to develop flavor.
11. When you’re ready to bake your bread, take it out of the fridge and let it warm up for about 30 minutes. Dimple the surface with your oiled fingers to create some areas where the olive oil can collect.
12. Drizzle a good amount olive oil onto the top of the bread until all the dimples have a little oil in them. Sprinkle flaky salt on top.
13. After your focaccia has risen for 30 minutes, decorate the top any way you like with veggies, herbs and meats.
14. Brush all your veggies and herbs with more olive oil to prevent burning.
15. Bake in the oven at 450ºF for 20-25 minutes or until the focaccia bread is nice and golden.
16. Because of the toppings, this bread is best enjoyed the day of. Refrigerate leftovers.
Re-heating the bread in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 350ºF will bring back that chewy texture.
Recipe notes: I place my dough near my oven set to 170ºF to help the dough rise. Mine usually only takes about one hour if my room is warm. Let your cold focaccia rise for 30 minutes before decorating to prevent the dough from enveloping the toppings. Brush the toppings with vegetable oil to prevent burning in the oven.
Columnist’s note: This was the only focaccia version that stuck to the pan a little, probably because the longer proofing time allowed more of the oil to be absorbed. Using a sheet of parchment paper and oiling more heavily can help to solve that problem.
Peach Focaccia With Thyme
1 ½ cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
3 ¾ cupss bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Nonstick cooking spray, as needed
2 large peaches or other stone fruits (about 12 ounces total), halved, pitted and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus 6 sprigs
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the warm water, yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter and set aside.
2. With the mixer on low, add the flour, salt, egg, 3 tablespoons sugar and melted butter. Continue until the dough is almost completely smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. The dough will be very sticky, but no need to add extra flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm, draft-free spot until it has doubled in size. (This could take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.) Gently punch the dough down, scrape the sides down and cover again. Let the dough rise one more time, about 30 minutes.
3. Toss the peaches with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the thyme leaves. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Tip the dough onto the prepared sheet and use your fingers to stretch it out to a large oval, roughly 10-by-15 inches. Allow the dough to rise, uncovered, in a warm spot to about 1/4 inch above the edge of the pan.
4. Without deflating the dough, use your fingers to make dimples all over the surface. Gently top the dough with the peaches and the sprigs of thyme, leaving any extra liquid from the fruit in the bowl. Bake until golden brown, puffed and set, 20 to 25 minutes.
5. While the focaccia bakes, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and gently brush melted butter over the focaccia. Let cool slightly in the pan on a rack, then slip the focaccia out of the pan onto a cutting board, cut into squares and serve warm.
6. To serve, sprinkle the top with sugar after brushing it with melted butter and serve it alongside eggs for a special brunch. Or skip the extra sugar and add it to your next cheeseboard (it’s terrific with a sliver of salty cured meat and a wedge of hard pecorino). For cocktail hour, top it with honey and goat cheese for a lovely appetizer. But it’s really best at its simplest — devoured with your hands, straight out of the oven.
Tip: This bread is best the day it’s made. Save any leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days. Heat leftovers in the oven before serving.