Ah Italian cuisine! Doesn’t it make you dream too?
Focaccia, pizza, pappa al pomodoro, panzanella, granita, panna cotta, baci di dama… All of these recipes lead to Rome! The mere suggestion of these words and we are transported to the city of lovers, in the middle of Piazza Navona or at the bottom of the Trevi Fountain to the sound of Umberto Tozzi’s Ti Amo!
This month, 196 flavors is turning into an authentic bakery! Indeed, we are featuring breads in all shapes and forms to celebrate the “World Day of bread” to be held on October 16th.
Where does focaccia come from?
The word focaccia comes from the Latin phrase panis focacius which literally means “a baked flat bread under the ashes of a fire” or also the word fuoco which means fire since the is baked under the coals. The origin of the focaccia dates back to 1500, in the city of Genoa. In Rome, it was given the name pizza bianca.
What are the different versions of focaccia?
The basis of the focaccia dough is comparable to that of a pizza but is thicker. It consists of a mixture of flour with a high gluten content, olive oil, water, salt and yeast.
Today, there are several variants of focaccia. The most famous is focaccia di Genova with salt, olive oil and sometimes herbs, then focaccia di Recco with cheese and finally focaccia barese with fresh tomatoes and olives.
There are also sweet versions. In the northwest of Italy, there is actually a very popular sweet version that is topped with sugar as well as raisins, honey or other sweet ingredients.
In the Luni region, a more modern variant includes candied fruits, pine nuts, walnuts and other traditional dried fruits.
I chose to prepare the original focaccia aka focaccia di Genova, which is a specialty of Ligurian cuisine. A toasty and crispy flat bread whose characteristic is the amazing use of an emulsion of water, olive oil, and salt that is poured right before the final rise.
Genoese focaccia is the pride of every Ligurian and the main regional specialty. Originally, it allowed the baker to make sure the wood oven was at the right temperature before baking bread. It was the first baking of the day, which was used as a morning snack for apprentice bakers.
How to make focaccia
The choice in flour and olive oil is essential for the preparation of this recipe. The flour must be rich in gluten. Gluten? Without going into scientific details, just know that around the core of wheat germ, there is a certain amount of protein (gluten), fat, starch, vitamins and minerals. Once milled, the gluten will enter in the composition of the flour. There will typically be between 60% to 72% of starch and 8% to 12% of gluten.
For a good risen dough, you need a good flour, which must therefore be rich in gluten. It is gluten that will offer an ideal rise as well as a soft and elastic dough. It will also give it a great taste.
Another secret? The more your preparation is rich (in eggs, butter or oil), the more it requires a flour that is rich in gluten because it must be resistant.
As for the choice of olive oil, similarly to fasolada last week, it obviously needs to be very fragrant, fruity and first cold pressed extra virgin.
And I will end up with a curiosity! That of the Apulian focaccia, the region at the heel of Italy’s boot. Altamura, a village in Apulia (or Puglia in Italian) renowned for its excellent focaccia pugliese, is known around the world for the “war” between the fast food giant McDonald’s and a small baker, who in 2001 opened its focacceria right in front of a McDonald’s outlet. McDonald’s eventually had to close as the focacceria on the other side of the street was attracting most of the customers!
This episode was on the cover page of newspapers around the world because the bread from a small provincial baker won against the fast food giant. A film titled Focaccia Blues was even based on this story!
You now have no choice! Head to your kitchen and prepare this delicious bread while listening to Umberto Tozzi’s music!
This authentic focaccia recipe, like all our Italian recipes, is validated by our Italian culinary expert Benny the Chef. Find out more about him by reading his exclusive interview on 196 flavors or on his website.
- 4 cups high gluten flour
- 1¼ cup warm water
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon fleur de sel
- Fresh herbs of your choice (rosemary, thyme, oregano and/or basil)
In a stand-in mixer bowl, combine sugar, yeast and water and mix.
Pour over flour and knead at medium speed for 3 minutes. Stir in salt while kneading.
Then knead at low speed for 10 minutes until reaching a smooth, soft dough.
Remove the dough ball on a greased baking sheet. Cover with parchment paper and place in an oven at 90 F for one hour.
When the dough has doubled in volume, stretch it with your palms (while still on the baking sheet) so as to shape it. This is done with the hands well oiled so that the oil permeates the raw dough.
Sprinkle a few grains of fleur de sel and allow to rise again in the oven at 90 F for 20 minutes.
Work the dough very gently with the palms of your hands so that the oil gets everywhere and give the focaccia its final shape (still on the baking sheet).
Let rise again for 10 minutes.
Preheat convection oven to 400 F.
Emulsify the water, olive oil and the remaining salt.
Poke a hole in the dough with your finger every couple inches and pour the emulsion on the dough, especially in the holes.
Let rise again for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle the fresh herbs of your choice.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until the top of the focaccia is golden brown.