Tell us if you relate: you live for a good bread basket. In the past, you may have even chosen a restaurant solely for its bread (we’re looking at you Che Fico and Republique).
And, if you encounter a spot-on bread basket and if said place happens to be Italian, you consider it your duty as a food lover to taste the focaccia.
Understandable seeing as focaccia (pronounced "foe-kah-cha") is among the most popular of all Italian breads. When you travel to Italy you’ll see focaccia eaten all day long -- be it dunked in cappuccino as they do in Genoa, taken to the beach as an afternoon snack, or used to make sandwiches.
While most food lovers are familiar with the thinner Tuscan style focaccia made with rosemary (known as schiacciata or “smashed” bread) or the airier Genoa-style Focaccia, there are numerous styles of focaccia from the various regions of Italy.
To help you keep it all straight, we're giving you pretty much everything you need to know about focaccia bread including its origin, the most common styles, and tips to help you bake the most perfect batch.
Where Does Focaccia Come From?
If you were to take a time machine to the United States circa the mid 1990s, you’d see focaccia on seemingly every restaurant table. We’re not sure why or how but focaccia came into the collective American culinary consciousness around that time.
The truth is focaccia has a history dating back almost 2,000 years. Some accounts credit the Etruscans while others give a nod to the Greeks for focaccia's creation. These days Liguria (the region that’s home to Genoa) is considered the epicenter for traditional Italian focaccia.
The Difference Between Focaccia And Pizza
When it comes to distinguishing focaccia from pizza, we like how Eileen Weinberg described it to the New York Times, “focaccia connotes bread with a little topping and pizza connotes topping with a little bread.”
As a general rule of thumb, a classic Italian-style pizza crust will be less than half an inch thick while most focaccia will be at least three quarters of an inch thick. Also, focaccia is most commonly served at room temperature -- though you can also eat focaccia bread cold or toasted.
Another difference between the two is the ingredients. If you're curious as to what is focaccia bread made of, well, the answer is it's usually a combination of a strong flour (meaning a high gluten flour like bread flour), extra virgin olive oil, yeast, herbs, spices, salt, and pepper. Though those ingredients are similar to pizza, focaccia usually contains more leavening (yeast) than your typical pizza recipe.
Tips For Making Great Focaccia Bread
True, making focaccia is a great way to try your hand at baking, but that doesn't mean your first attempt will be a guaranteed success. Some struggle getting the bread to rise, some end up with a super dense bread, and others bake a focaccia that tastes overly yeasted.
The reality is a few key details make all the difference between medicre and great focaccia. First make sure you use quality ingredients: organic flour, extra virgin olive oil, a great sea salt, and yeast (note: if you don’t have yeast, you can make the unleavened focaccia di Recco).
Next, you'll want to create a moist dough with ideally a minimum of 70% hydration (standard in all the Salt & Wind Travel focaccia recipes).
You'll also want to be uber patient and let it rest a long time so the flavor can develop -- as in let the dough rest anywhere from 8 hours and up to 48 hours after the initial kneading. This crucial step will allow for adequate fermentation, which in turn will guarantee superior (non-yeasty) flavor.
Another crucial step is to be verrrry generous with the olive oil. Pretty much every step involves some olive oil: it should be in the dough, used to grease the baking sheet, and brushed on the bread before it goes in the oven, and when it comes out!
For our classic Genoa-style focaccia, we swear by the traditional step of adding a salamoia or a brine to the dough before it is placed in the oven.
This brine -- made by whisking together 1 part water to 2 parts olive oil and a large pinch of sea salt -- gives the final focaccia an airy, golden crust and helps the salt really incorporate into the dough well. Oh, and as soon as the focaccia comes out of the oven do one final brush of olive oil to seal in the taste!
Different Styles Of Focaccia In Italy
As you travel through Italy you’ll find focaccia breads that vary greatly with different thickness, toppings, and texture.
Liguria is the birthplace of traditional focaccia bread, where it is known as focaccia Ligure or focaccia Genovese, this one is a simple yet classic one, sprinkled with salt and brushed with olive oil, soft and about 1 inch thick.
But Liguria is also the home of focaccia di Recco, which has cheese in between two thin layers of bread. If you head to the town of Sanremo near the French border, you’ll come across a focaccia topped with anchovies or sardines known as sardenaira or pizzalandrea -- reminiscent of the French flatbread known as pissaladière.
During Easter celebrations, the Venetians made a sweet take on focaccia that is topped with sugar and butter instead of salt and olive oil. While in the Southern Italian town of Bari, you’ll find focaccia Barese, made with durum wheat flour and topped with rosemary, tomatoes , and/or olives and salt.
Lastly, there is the rather well-known Tuscan focaccia known as schiacciata. This focaccia bread is fully covered in olive oil, usually thinner than the Genoa-style focaccia, often topped with rosemary, and tends to have a soft interior yet be crispy on the outside. During the harvest months it’s common to make schiacciata all’uva where the bread is sweetened and stuffed with wine grapes.
And there you have it: all the essential info so you can enjoy focaccia with abandon (and a bit of food knowledge) next time you encounter it. Now we want to know: where is the best place you’ve eaten focaccia?
If you make your own focaccia, share your creation with us by tagging @saltandwind and #swsociety on social! Oh, and, of course, if you’re planning to travel to Italy, reach out so we can help you arrange it all!
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