Focaccia is one of the most famous Italian food. Here in the UK it can be found in many more or less artisanal bakeries and even in supermarkets. It is seldom good generally far too high and dense. Focaccia is one of the most satisfying baked goodies to make at home: it is relatively easy and highly rewarding in terms of taste and texture.
This is one of the best focaccia recipes I have tasted in a long time. Its secret lies in the generous amount of oil and white wine in the dough. It is these ingredients that give this focaccia a full flavour, even if there is also a biga at work here. The inspiration came from Carol Field’s Focaccia book (via another splendid book: Recipes from Paradise, by Fred Plotkin), but I have consequently developed my own version, which I prefer. I have dramatically reduced the yeast and increased the time for the biga, from 1 hour to 12-14 hrs. I have also introduced 10% wholemeal flour, which I think gives the focaccia a more interesting crumb. Carol Field’s recipe uses white flour only and it is done and dusted over few hours (and it is very good, see notes), my version is over two days and I think it is even better.
The crumb is medium-open; it is at its best on the day, but it can be reheated very well: toasted and then split, it makes for spectacular sandwiches.
These quantities make a focaccia in the Italian style, not too thick: about 2/2.5 cm high and are perfect for a 30 x 40 pan. If you prefer a higher focaccia (for for a smaller pan, but bear in mind that super high focaccia, what I call un materass (a matress) is not authentic at all.
The night before the day you want to make your focaccia, you must make a biga. This batch was made in my London kitchen,, where it is now July, with a day temperature of 22-24 C. As usual with yeast baking, do take temperature and time into account.
in a roomy bowl, mix
0.5 g instant dry yeast
170 ml tap cold water
140 g white bread flour
mix , cover and proof room temperature for 12-14 hrs (I also pushed it 16 hours and it was fine)
120 g room temperature water
50 g wholemeal bread flour
300 g white bread flour
50 g white wine or white vermouth (I generally use vermouth whenever a recipe calls for white wine)
50 g extra vergine olive oil
10 g fine salt
Add the water to the biga and mix.
Add the flours and mix to combine. Work the dough few minutes to start developing the gluten, even if it will fairly dry at this stage.
Add the white wine and the oil, and mix well: the dough will be now on the wet side and you will have to squeeze it in between your hands to eliminate all lumps (it helps if you wet your hands).
Cover and authorise for 45 minutes.
Add the salt and a couple of tablespoons of water. Mix to incorporate; the dough should feel fairly smooth.
Transfer the dough into an oiled mixing bowl, cover and proof in the oven, where you have already inserted a mug full of boiling water.
After 60 minutes, transfer the dough onto an oiled surface, stretch and fold few times. Reform into a cushion-shaped mass and put it back into the oiled bowl.
Repeat one more time after another hour.
Using a plastic scraper, gently transfer the dough into a 30 cm x 40 cm oiled tray and start stretching it, with oiled or wetted hands. You do not want to press the dough down (this will degas the dough and it will make a dense, closed crumb), you are simply patting it outwards, using your palms; you are encouraging the dough to fill the pan, so to speak.
The dough will soon start resisting this: don’t force it. Leave it covered in the oven for another 30-40 minutes. Repeat this (patting out and resting the dough) until you have managed to fill the pan.
Preheat the oven to 250 C.
Make a brine by mixing 6 tablespoons of oil with 2 tablespoons water (I use a jam jar and shake).
When the oven has reached temperature, it is time to dimple the focaccia. Wet your hands, spray out and down your finger as if playing an imaginary piano. Go decisively but lightly and quickly into the dough, pressing and lifting the fingers. To do this efficiently, I keep my hands wet. When you have dimpled the whole focaccia, pour over the brine and dust it with salt: I prefer fine salt, others prefers flaky salt.
Put the tray in the oven, spraying the walls and bottom with some water (avoid the lamp). Immediately reduce the temperature to 220 C and cook for about 20-25 minutes, until the focaccia is deep golden.
Remove it from the oven and let the pan rest on a rack. If you want, you can remove the focaccia from the tray after it has somehow cooled down. In Italy, this is seldom done: focaccia is generally sold from the tray and this makes for a softer bottom of course.If you want a crunchier bottom you do have to remove it from the tray.
if you want to try Carol Field’s original version, here it is. She uses a hefty dose of yeast because she proofs the focaccia over only few hours. It is still very good..
All in all, the best focaccia recipe I have ever tasted comes from Julia Child’s Baking With Julia, but it is a very long affair (24-36 hrs just for refrigerated proofing): it uses a huge ammount of yeast… and yet…. it is delicious. Here
Another very good recipe is from Nancy Silverton: here.
If you then want an Italian source, do check focaccia guru Gabriele Bonci, here