Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Focaccia: Pizza's Delicious Cousin

Done properly, focaccia can be one of the tastiest things you will ever eat.  It's so good that I fear once the government learns about it, it may be outlawed, so make it as often as you can.  The beauty of it is that you can personalize it according to your preferences, and because it isn't pizza, you don't have to feel as though you must put tomato sauce and cheese all over it.  There's no pressure.  But there is some work involved. 

Mise en place
The recipe I use is from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day.  A similar recipe can be found here: the pain a l'ancienne recipe.  It's a very wet dough, and difficult to work with.  Luckily, there's not a lot of handling, at least when it comes to shaping: we're not making free-form loaves here, but placing the dough in a pan.  Another interesting element is that it's mixed with very cold water: the fermentation is going to be slow, and take place in the refrigerator overnight.  First, mix everything together except for the olive oil.  Let it rest for a few minutes, then mix in the oil.  It should look like this:

A coarse, shaggy, wet dough

This bread uses the fold technique, so I did it in the bowl: pull the front end over the mass with wet hands and fold it over.  Then do it on the opposite side, then the sides of the dough, then tuck it into a ball and let it rest for ten minutes.  Then do it again, wait ten minutes, repeat until you've done four folds.  It's amazing how firm the dough gets after just one fold.

After the fourth fold

It then goes into the fridge overnight to ferment.  It probably won't get significantly bigger, but it'll swell a bit and show signs of gas in there. 

You can make one huge focaccia in a sheet pan, or do what I do and put the dough into cake pans.  I like to do it this way because it gives you the opportunity to have a variety of focaccia toppings (this amount of dough will fit into three nine-inch cake pans), and you can store the end product easier in gallon plastic bags.
  To do this requires some work, though: you have to line the bottom of the cake pans with parchment paper.

Use parchment paper, NOT construction paper

The easiest way to do this is trace the outside of the bottom of the pan onto the parchment paper and cut it out from there.  One tip is to draw on the side of the paper that curls up: that way, you can put the side with the ink or graphite on the surface of the cake pan instead of having the ink side up, touching the dough.  It also stays on there easier while you pray it with Pam.  Make sure the sides are heavily oiled, too: this dough is sticky.

From there, you have to divide the dough and put it into the pans.  This is where it gets a little complicated: drizzle some olive oil on top, then dimple the dough with your fingertips so that it covers at least 70% of the pan.  Then put it into a warm oven for about ten minutes, take it out and let it rest for another ten minutes, dimple it again to cover more of the pan, cover and back into the warm oven, and dimple some more.  By the second dimpling it should cover the entirety of the pan, but the third dimpling can help even it out some.

Dough in the pan, before dimpling

After first dimpling

After second dimpling: note the air bubbles

At third dimpling, all evened out

Then you let it rise for an hour to 90 minutes, or until it's about an inch high.  I always use the pizza stone, so it's a long preheat: 45 minutes at 500 degrees.  After that, it's time to top 'em and pop 'em in the oven.

Like I said, you don't have to put sauce and cheese on there, but you can if you want.  The first thing I did to them was drizzle an herb oil on top.  You can make an herb oil any way you want: your favorite herbs and spices mixed into a cup of olive oil and left to steep for a few hours.  I like the traditional American-Italian flavors, so I put in plenty of garlic powder, oregano, and basil (both dried).  Again, the point is for you to personalize it according to your tastes.  These are the three I came up with:

Herb oil and shaved Parmesan

Herb oil and "pizza" cheese

Herb oil and sliced Roma tomatoes
They should take about ten to eleven minutes in a 500 degree oven to bake through and through.  The edges should pull away a tiny bit from the sides of the pan, but if they didn't, hopefully you oiled the pan properly, otherwise they're a pain to pry out.  Any oil left on the parchment paper and the bottom of the pan should get drizzled back onto the done focaccia.  This is what they looked like after baking:

Oil and Parmesan: note the nice golden brown color on the bread and cheese 

Oil and pizza cheese: the cheese got all nice and crispy

Oil and Roma tomatoes: the tomatoes cooked just a little bit

Note the coarse, airy interior: soft on the inside, crispy on the outside

They turned out extremely well: so delicious, in fact, that they should be against the law.  Make some at home while you still can. 


  1. Just from the photos of the finished product I can tell these focaccias are in a class by themselves. If you ever make them again which you no doubt will try topping one with tomato and cheese like the one you show and when its baked top with a mesculine salad tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I think you'll like it.

  2. Hey, that's a great idea! Thanks for that; I'll try it next time. And yes, there definitely WILL be a next time. :)