I argue that great focaccia, like great pizza, is all about the crust. And I can show you how to make focaccia so delicious that you might even forget about topping it. I’ve been teaching baking students how to make it for ten years and, I swear, extraordinary focaccia takes very little effort. What it does take, though, is patience. Time is the secret to great dough.
Time + wet dough = the best focaccia
My focaccia recipe uses a cold fermentation technique. In other words, the dough sits in the refrigerator overnight. The cold dramatically slows yeast activity, allowing enzymes in the flour to coax more flavor from the flour’s complex starch molecules. This simple tactic alone will take you far. But another trick will take you even farther: making a wet, sticky dough. (Don’t worry; the olive oil in the recipe makes it possible to handle the dough.) A wet dough creates a crust with large, irregular holes that soak up the wonderful flavors of the olive oil.
In Liguria, the coastal region in northwest Italy where focaccia originated, the bread has evolved from simple peasant food—just dough topped with whatever ingredients are handy—into an art form with many variations. It can be a savory snack or an entire meal. It can be round or rectangular; thin or thick. It can even be sweet. What unites the variations is great dough. Master that and you’re free to be as creative as you like with toppings, bearing in mind the principle that sometimes less is more.
Dress up your focaccia
The possibilities for topping focaccia are almost endless. Choose what sounds good to you, knowing that toppings fall intothree general categories.
Pre-rise toppings are best pressed into the dough during or after the final dimpling stage (see the recipe) to embed them in the dough so they don’t burn during baking. One of my favorites is an anise-raising topping. Other pre-rise toppings include:
• oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and sliced or chopped
• fresh herbs
• roasted garlic
• pitted olives
• dried fruits, such as raisins or apricots (plumped overnight in water or liqueur)
Toppings that need to be brushed or dolloped on should also be added after the final dimpling but before the final rise:
• tomato sauce
Pre-bake toppings aren’t as vulnerable to burning. They can be added after the dough has risen and is ready to go in the oven (step 7). Here are a few of my favorites:
• dabs of moist cheese: blue, fresh mozzarella, or feta
• oven-roasted tomatoes orsliced fresh Italian plumtomatoes
• roasted or sautéed bell peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach, orcaramelized onions, thinly sliced or chopped
• walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts, coarsely chopped
• Italian sausage (partially cooked and drained of excess fat), salami, or pepperoni, thinly sliced
• a sprinkling of coarse salt or sugar
Last-minute toppings are sprinkled on just minutes before the focaccia is ready to come out of the oven (step 8). Try grated hard cheeses such as:
• Parmigiano Reggiano