Traditional Focaccia (Italian Flatbread)

Focaccia and Rosemary

Focaccia and Rosemary

By Cat, Jan 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons

Includes: 1. Traditional Focaccia (Recipe and Testing); 2. Wheat-free Focaccia (Testing)

See also: 1. Potato Focaccia; 2. Sourdough Focaccia; 3. Breads & Rolls Menu4Flatbreads: Note on Ingredients & Equipment

Focaccia (or the Provence version, fougasse) has become part of the American lexicon in the last 10 to 15 years, because of the increasing popularity of Italian foods.  Like other flatbreads, it is an ancient, enduring bread made from a short list of ingredients:  flour,water, yeast, olive oil and salt.

Modern focaccia is made from white flour, or white with semolina (a high protein white flour made from durham wheat), but traditionally all flatbreads were made from the whole grain.  I prefer to use whole wheat for at least part of the total flour, to increase the nutritional content of the bread, and to lower its glycemic index.

My excellent and easy Traditional Focaccia uses whole wheat flour for an overnight rise to maximize the traditional bubbly texture of this Italian bread (and also maximize absorbability of its nutrients), with semolina flour in the final mix. 

Notes on Ingredients

Refer to Flatbreads: Note on Ingredients & Equipment. Below are some notes specific to pita.

  • Flour: Most focaccia recipes I found use all-purpose white flour. I prefer to use whole wheat (or mix of whole wheat and semolina, a type of white flour). Be sure to pick a flour that has not been bromated. (For more on flour options, refer to my articles on Wheat Flour (about) and Other True Grain Flour (about)).  When using whole grain flours, extra moisture is required, as whole grain flours are drier than white.
  • Oil:  It goes without saying that olive oil is the oil of choice for any Mediterranean bread. However, some prefer not to use oil in focaccia dough, but rather brush it on the focaccia right before baking, with herbs, etc..
  • Water:  Use enough filtered water warmed to about 105°F, so that the dough is light and slightly sticky.  This ensures enough steam while baking to puff up and form a pocket.
  • Whey or Yogurt: These are slightly acidic, which help to break down the phytates in the dough that would otherwise keep the grain’s minerals from being absorbed.  However, they tend to soften the dough which may not be what you are looking for in a focaccia.

Traditional Focaccia

This recipe is adapted from one on the Delicious Days (1). Of all the recipes I’ve found, this is the most traditional in texture and method, but does not include semolina flour, which I believe is a must for a true Focaccia.  So I incorporated the regular flour/semolina flour proportions from a recipe in Stop and Smell the Rosemary, by the Junior League of Houston.

In this method, a very soft and sticky dough is allowed to rest in the refrigerator (or a cool spot) overnight.  This is a perfect method for using whole wheat, because – if whey or other acidic ingredient like lemon juice or yogurt is added – the long acidic rest soaks the whole grain, making its minerals more readily available, and partially digesting the complex proteins (especially gluten) and carbohydrates in the grain.   The final dough is quite soft and sticky (not smooth and elastic like regular breads), the mark of a true focaccia.

Testing consensus (see below the recipe for actual testing log – 3 separate batches):

My friends preferred the first batch (no olive oil or whey), which was slightly drier, but had more air bubbles, than the later batches. Therefore, I’m listing the olive oil and whey as optional in the batter.  I do recommend using a bit of sugar or honey to proof the yeast. And I recommend using a glass or ceramic cake or jelly roll pan.

Ingredients & Equipment:

Topping:

Dough:

  • 1 cup warmed filtered water (divided)
  • ¼ tsp sugar or honey (recommended, optional)
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 ¾ cup hard white whole wheat flour (divided) *
  • 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt (or Kosher Salt)
  • ¼ cup semolina flour *
  • 1 Tbsp fresh whey (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (optional)
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp extra flour may be required for proper texture

* NOTE:  If you experiment with relative amounts of whole wheat flour and semolina,  remember that whole wheat is drier, so if you decrease the amount of whole wheat, you must either decrease the amount of water or increase the total amount of flour for the right moistness and texture.

Equipment:

  • 1-cup glass measuring cup
  • large bowl
  • wooden spoon
  • waxed paper
  • jelly roll or cake pan (preferably glass or ceramic), or steel baking sheet

Method (Evening before)

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Start this recipe the eve before you plan to bake it, as the dough must rest in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours before baking.

  1. Topping:  grind rosemary and salt with a pestle to bruise the rosemary.  Add to olive oil in a cup or small dish, cover, and let sit on the counter overnight to infuse the oil with rosemary flavor.
  2. Dough: Warm filtered water to 105°F.
  3. Proof dry yeast in ½ cup warmed, sweetened water in a warm spot for 5 – 10 minutes (takes longer if you don’t use sugar/honey).
  4. Measure 1 cup whole wheat flour into a bread bowl.  Add proofed yeast and stir for 2 minutes, using wooden spoon.  Dough should have some elasticity.
  5. Dissolve salt in another ½ cup of warm water.  (If using whey, add it to the warm water and salt).  Add to dough with semolina, remaining ¾ cup whole wheat flour, and olive oil (if using).  Beat 3 – 4 minutes (100 strokes or more).  It should be quite soft and sticky, and pull away from the sides of the bowl.  If necessary, add additional flour for water, 1 Tbsp at a time, to get the right consistency, but don’t overdo.
  6. Press waxed paper or oiled parchment against the surface of the dough, and place in refrigerator overnight (about 12 hours).

Method: Baking Day

  1. Remove bowl from refrigerator (keep dough covered) and let warm in a warm spot for 2 hours.
  2. Place oven rack in lower-middle position (or lowest position if using a baking stone); preheat oven to 425°F.  Oil the baking pan or sheet.
  3. Scoop dough onto pan or onto baking sheet (scrape off any that stuck to the waxed paper and add to the rest of the dough); pull into shape with damp fingers. Let it rest a bit if it doesn’t want to cooperate, then try again.  Poke a finger into the dough every 2″ or so to create indentations. Brush topping over dough so that the rosemary is spread as evenly as possible.
  4. Bake 15 – 20 minutes, until light golden brown on top.  Remove from oven & cool on rack.

NOTE:  If using this for pizza dough, spread the dough very thinly (less than 1/4 inch), leaving a ridge all around the outside edge.  This recipe will fill a 12″ x 17″ jelly roll baking pan, or make two 13″ – 15″ diameter pizzas if using a baking stone.

Testing:  

1/10/08:  Used a bit of sugar to proof yeast; 1 ¾ cup whole wheat and ¼ cup semolina flour; no olive oil nor whey.  Dough is wonderfully soft & elastic; started pulling away from the sides of the bowl after 85 strokes, but I beat all 100.  Into refrigerator from 8 PM to 7 AM; rise til 9 AM.  Nicely spongy; would not hold ‘dimples.’  Transfered to oiled 11″ square cake pan, brushed with oil/salt/herb topping and baked on rack in lowest position for 20 minutes. Result:  Stuck to the pan around the bottom near the edges.  Bread had proper texture full of air holes, and nicely soft.  The whole wheat makes a slightly more dense and dry crumb than white flour, but wonderful nevertheless.

1/15/08:  Used a bit of sugar to proof yeast; 1 ½ cups whole wheat, ½ cup of semolina, 1 cup water, 1 tsp active dry yeast, 1 Tbsp whey (from yogurt), 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt, and 2 Tbsp olive oil in the batter. This dough was a bit softer and lighter than the earlier test, but took 135 strokes of beating to get right elasticity.  Used a 10″ x 15″ jelly roll pan, but the dough would not stay stretched into the corners, and of course was thinner than when I used 11×11 cake pan.   It baked 17 minutes.  Result:  Overall, has soft texture with a few air bubbles.  Nicely golden and wonderful taste.  Very thin in some spots and thick in others, for great rustic look. Softer, more moist than previous batch.

1/23/08:  Made as for first batch, but used a baking sheet and stretched dough into a rough 8″ x 12″ rectangle, which was all the farther it would go.  Result:  This batch is very good, but the texture is not as bubbly as the first batch, which may be because of the baking sheet.  I think using a glass or ceramic cake pan gives a better result (even tho it makes it harder to remove the focaccia).  (It could also have been beginners luck).

Testing Focaccia: Wheat Free Version

NOTE: this recipe is not gluten-free

I’m trying to avoid wheat to see what effect it might have on my general health, so I’m experimenting with my favorite recipes to find a good wheat-free version. Primarily I use spelt and barley, but also oat and rye flours. Spelt poses an interesting problem, in that it is soluble in water, so requires less moisture for the same texture. Another problem is that Focaccia traditionally contains semolina flour, a key to its unusual texture. But semolina is wheat. So I’ll start with “almost wheat-free”.

Spelt might be the best substitute for semolina, as both are less dry (require less water) than regular flour. I also tried quinoa flour and it worked well.

Ingredients:

Follow ingredients for Traditional Focaccia above, but with different flour combos; may need to adjust flour/water as needed for right consistency. Flour combos I’ve tried:

Testing combo #1: Mix with yeast: ¾ cup whole spelt and ¼ cup barley; Add with whey or yogurt mix: ½ cup oat, ¼ cup barley, ¼ cup semolina (wheat) or spelt.

Testing combo #2: Mix with yeast: ½ cup whole spelt, ¼ cup barley; Add with whey or yogurt mix: ½ cup white spelt, ¼ cup oat, ¼ cup quinoa. This was made without the herb/oil topping, for use in making panini sandwiches.

Method:

Follow method for Traditional Focaccia above, but with the different flour combos. However, I find that the bread sticks to the pan around the edges when I use oil on the pan; better luck with butter.

Testing Wheat-free versions

Testing combo #1, an almost wheat-free version (I included semolina): for first batch of flour (1 cup), I used  ¾  cup spelt and ¼ cup barley. I proofed yeast in ¼ cup warm water with sugar, but needed to add more water to mix in the flour, about 2 Tbsp. For second batch of flour (1 cup) I used ½ cup oat, ¼ cup barley & ¼ cup semolina. For the whey mix, I used ½ cup warm water plus 1 Tbsp yogurt since I was out of whey; I also added olive oil. 

This made a nice soft & sticky sponge. Rest in fridge overnight. By morning it had risen a bit, but it was quite wet and soft. I decided not to add more flour, but just let it warm and then spread it in the pan and brushed with the topping. Baked as per recipe in my Corning Ware chicken fry-pan. However, next time, I think I’ll use a bit less water in the whey mix (or add more barley flour). Baked about 18 minutes. NOTE: I oiled pan before spreading out the dough. The dough simply pushed the oil out of the way, so that it did not remain under the dough while baking, and then sticks to the pan. In future, use butter or coconut oil (if not liquid) to oil the pan, as it will stay put. Result: very good & bubbly, but a bit salty, and I baked it a tad too long. The pan I used is bigger then the one in previous tests, so it is thinner and cooks faster.

Testing 7/22/10 combo #2, wheat-free version with different grain mix (using quinoa instead of semolina, and some white spelt): Used ½ cup whole spelt & ¼ cup barley flours for yeast mixture, an added ½ c white spelt, ¼ cup each oat and quinoa flours with the yogurt mixture. Raised well in fridge (15 hours); nice and bubbly, but was not very elastic when put it into buttered pan (darn). House is cold (60 degrees) so let it rise a bit on top of stove (over the preheating oven). I made this version without the herb/oil topping, because I want to use if for panini sandwiches. Used buttered pan instead of oil. Then baked 5 minutes. Result: bread is nicely bubbly and has good flavor and will make excellent sandwiches.

References:

  1. Delicious Days recipe (deliciousdays.com/archives/2006/07/11/arrested-and-kept-forever) (which was in turn translated and adapted from a German website, Chefkoch Forum (chefkoch.de/forum/2,37,146958/forum.html)
  2. Stop and Smell the Rosemary, by the Junior League of Houston.

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