(Update Aug. 22: I've added a photo and some text to the end of this post.)
I used to travel frequently to Liguria, where a good friend from Milan has made her home not far from the lovely group of villages called the Cinque Terre. Everything is beautiful in the small beach town where she lives: the rich blue sea, the green mountains falling into the sea, the green, ochre and pink houses, and the lovely sunlight that bathes it all.
One of my favorite things to do when I go there is to buy focaccia. It's overall fairly thin, though thicker parts provide a variety of textures. Little indentations filled with olive oil are juicy and tender and salty, while the thinner parts are crisp and crunchy. It is quite oily. ("E unta" would say my friend as she showed me how to wipe my fingers on the brown paper wrapping it was sold in).
There are various sorts but my favorite is plain, with no other flavorings than salt and olive oil, or perhaps just a little rosemary. According to my friends, Liguria has the best olive oil. I'm sure Tuscans wouldn't agree, but everyone is entitled to a little regional pride, and I'm not one to judge. The Ligurian oil tastes delicious to me.
I've longed for that focaccia but have given up finding it in other places. In Italian restaurants in the US or France or Switzerland, some fairly tasty flat, oily bread is often served, but it is uniformly thick and fairly cakey. In Rome I had something else -- was it called pizza bianca? Schiacciata? I don't remember. It was good, but not the same.
So imagine my joy in finding a recipe that produces something similar to my favorite Ligurian focaccia. All right, it's not identical. Perhaps I made it a bit too thin, or handled the dough too much or too little, so it's a little bit tougher than the original. But a) I haven't finished experimenting to try to get a perfect result and b) it's not so tough that little teeth don't enjoy biting into it and c) I have to have something to look forward to when I go back to Liguria!
And the best part is, it is child's play to make. Really and truly. I've never made bread before, was scared of yeast (except in waffles), yet this turned out well the first time I tried. Even though I prepared the dough at the same time as I made and served the kids' dinner. Those of you with children will appreciate how brainless an effort that has to be.
Thank you to Nicky, author of the beautifully photographed Delicious Days for sharing this great recipe.
Source: Delicious Days
Recipe source: adapted from Chefkoch-Forum (German)
Prep time: 5min., rising time: overnight (if possible); baking: 15-20 min.
Ingredients (serves 2):
- 1 cup (250 ml) tepid water
- 20g fresh or 1 tsp dry yeast
- 1 tsp ground sea salt
- 2 cups (320g) flour, type 550 (all purpose flour)
- extra virgine olive oil
- toppings: coarse sea salt, rosemary, olives...really anything you fancy
1. Dissolve the yeast (either dry or fresh) in the tepid water.
2. Add the yeast/water mix to a larger bowl together with a cup of flour and the salt, stir for about 2 minutes. Then add another cup of flour, stir again for just about 3-4 minutes. The dough should not be overworked, it’s consistency will remain quite soft and sticky - it’s not the type of dough you can shape much with your hands, but if you feel it’s too soft add an extra 2-3 tbsp of flour.
3. If your timing allows, keep the dough refrigerated until the next day (it really does make a difference!) if not, then a few hours in a warm and draft free spot will do as well. However, if chilled, remove dough from fridge about 2 hours before baking. (12 hours in the fridge plus two hours in a warm spot presented the best results to us)
4. Preheat oven to 230°C (450°F). Carefully pour dough on an oiled baking tray or tin to not ruin its fluffiness and use your finger tips to pull the dough into the shape you’d like to give the Focaccia. Don’t worry about punching holes into it, they’ll be gone before the Focaccia leaves the oven - in fact, they even add to a wanted non-perfect rustic style.
Note: Dipping your finger tips briefly in olive oil will keep the dough from sticking too much to them.
5. Sprinkle with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil, coarse sea salt, chopped herbs and optionally olives or other toppings your heart desires. If you like your Focaccia more oily (like I do!), pour a little olive oil in the dents.
6. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned on top, you may want to turn on the grill for the last minutes to speed things up a bit. Then remove from the oven (and the tray or tin) and place on a rack to cool.
My only additional comments or suggestions are the following:
- Consider doubling the recipe, it gets eaten very very quickly...
- I have no idea if I used type 550 flour. I just used the regular white flour I buy at the supermarket here
- Different sources give different gram measurements for a cup of flour, and I found 320g to be a bit on the high side (according to my sources 2 cups = 250g). So I would use only 300g, or perhaps a bit less.
- I used dry yeast, but would like to try with fresh at some point.
- I used fleur de sel for sprinkling on top. Yum.
- Keep a close watch as of 15 min., as the first focaccia I made got a bit too dark on one side.
- I think it is best eaten within an hour or two of baking. The first batch I baked in the morning and served in the evening. It was a bit too hard for my taste, though everyone liked it.
Ideas for making it more tender
(I still have to test these)
- Don't spread it quite as thin as I did
- Bake it for a little less time
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the dough itself?
- Knead the dough less, or more?
- Try a different kind of flour?
Update August 22:
I've made these many times since this post. I've tried them thicker (see above), kneading with my hand-held mixer with the kneading attachment, with different flour (halb-weiss, French 55 flour, French 65 flour) and adding a teaspoon or two of oil to the dough. Frankly, none were exactly like my Ligurian focaccia but all were very good, as long as they were eaten as close to baking time as possible. I still prefer the thinner versions.
I'm beginning to think that the secret to Ligurian focaccia is dousing it with an absolutely indecent amount of olive oil. I don't dare go there...
Update to the update: I've looked at some Italian websites and am beginning to find more ideas. First, what I'm looking to recreate is called Focaccia genovese, or fugassa in dialect. Apparently a mixture of oil and water are spread on the bread, which I guess would contribute to make it more tender. Also, many recipes seem to require a small quantity of malt flour and/or "strutto," whatever that is. And the flour is supposed to be type 0 (Tanya?)...