Focaccia is a delicious, fluffy, salty, olive oily, typical Italian flat bread. Originally from the Liguria region, this Italian treat can be found all over Italy (and all over the world). I’d really be surprised it you didn’t know what focaccia was. The “simple” version just has some coarse salt on top, but really, the sky’s the limit with toppings that range from cherry tomatoes to onions to rosemary and potatoes to pesto sauce. Focaccia is even used as the girthy bread for sandwiches stuffed with other delicacies like prosciutto and mozzarella. In order to come to Italy and not come across focaccia, you would pretty much need to stay in your hotel room with a stomach bug (not that I’m trying to jinx you or anything!).
My first run-in with this bread was during my college summer job waiting tables at a restaurant called Papa Razzi. Serving freshly baked focaccia to every table in this busy Boston area restaurant was the standard, so we were churning out loads of the stuff! I was surrounded by it, and I couldn’t help but fall in love. Usually, if my customers were asking the manager “Excuse me, have you seen out waiter, Garrett?”, then I was probably hiding in the kitchen scarfing down some of that focaccia. Hey, some of the wait staff took cigarette breaks, so wasn’t I entitled to a focaccia break?
Since moving to Italy, I’ve had my fair share of focaccia in all its wonderful variations! Since I love cooking and love trying out new recipes, I decided to try making focaccia myself at home. My first go at it resulted in a flavorless sheet of overbaked cardboard. My second try didn’t even make it into the oven because it was so oily that the dough wouldn’t even compact together. They say that the third time’s a charm, but not for me: it was eatable, but didn’t rise all nice and fluffy like it should have – the border was too crispy and the middle was undercooked and gummy.
Finally, I figured out how to make the perfect focaccia that’s so good that my friends usually think that I bought it at the panetteria (bread shop). Since I did all the hard work with the trial and error thing, I thought I’d share my recipe with you guys!
Garrett’s Focaccian’ Good Bread
- 1/2 cup warm (not hot) water
- 1 cup room temperature water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 25 grams (1 cube) fresh yeast (the kind you keep in the fridge)
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup room temperature water and 1/4 cup olive oil
- a few pinches of semi-coarse salt
- 250 grams pitted green olives (optional)
Add the yeast and sugar together in a cup with the warm water. Gently stir until dissolved and it becomes a little bit creamy on top.
Mix the flour and table salt in a large bowl. Stir in the warm water/yeast from step 1 and mix well. Add the olive oil and mix until all the dry ingredients are absorbed and a somewhat sticky dough is formed. If need be, you can add a little extra room temperature water 1/2 tablespoon at a time until all the dry ingredients mix together to form the dough.
Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 8-12 minutes until the dough is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticks to your hand or the surface. Feel free to add a little more flour here as you are kneading if it remains too sticky.
Wipe out the bowl that you used to mix the flour and yeast (making sure to get rid of any sticky pieces that remained stuck to the inside of the bowl). Add enough olive oil to grease up the inside of the bowl. Grease up your hands in olive oil and form the dough into a bowl, lightly covering the entire exterior in oil. Place the dough in the greased bowl and cover it with a damp dishtowel. Leave the dough to sit and rise at room temperature for at least 2 hours, though 3 is best. Making focaccia is fairly easy, but the key is really allowing enough time for the dough to rise properly.
After the dough rises, take a 36 cm x 33 cm baking pan and either grease it with olive oil or cover the bottom with baking paper. Being in Europe, I work in centimeters now, but the ideal pan would be about 14 inches x 13 inches. A pan that’s slightly bigger or slightly smaller won’t make that much of a difference. Place the dough in the middle of the pan and slowly work it out into all four corners so that it evenly covers the entire pan. This will take some patience, as the dough tends to pull back in on itself. Then, leave the dough to relax again fo another 30 minutes at room temperature.
After the dough relaxes again it’s time to finish up! Preheat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius (445 Fahrenheit). If the dough shrank up again, then re-stretch it out evenly to all four corners of the pan. If you decide to use the olives, then evenly distribute them all over the top of the dough, pressing them slightly into it. Then (olives or no olives) mix 1/4 cup room temperature water with 1/4 cup olive oil until they blend as well as they can (though, you know what they say about water and oil). Spoon this all over the top of the dough.
Place the dough quickly in the preheated oven (trying not to let too much heat escape). Leave the dough in for 6 1/2 minutes. Then, turn the pan around and let it cook for another 5 minutes. Take the focaccia out of the oven and let it cool on the pan before transferring it to a cutting board. Cut as desired and enjoy!
Let me know what you guys think! If you try my recipe, let me know how it turned out (unless, of course, it was a disaster!). Share your own focaccia recipes or your favorite topping by leaving a comment!