Italian focaccia bread: The speciality dough from northern Italy
September 21, 2021
Anyone who has ever eaten freshly baked Italian focaccia bread straight out of the oven will know how wonderful this Italian flatbread is. Focaccia is a flat, oven-baked bread made in Italy for centuries. It is similar to pizza dough, but is more versatile. This bread is often served as part of a sandwich or eaten as an antipasto or as a side dish. With us, gourmet friends can also buy the best focaccia from a master bakery in Piedmont. Find out focaccia is, where it comes from and what it tastes best with in this post.
The history of focaccia bread:The forerunner of pizza
Focaccia bread is one of the most popular pasta specialities in Italy and it has a long history that goes back to the time of the early Greek civilisation and the Etruscans, who lived in northern central Italy before the founding of the Roman Empire. This flatbread, topped with spices, olive oil and other products, was used for thousands of years before gradually turning into one of the most famous Italian dishes – the pizza. However, throughout its journey through history, focaccia has not changed, as the focaccia recipe has remained unchanged since the time of the Etruscans or the ancient Greeks.
This great Italian bread originally came from the northern shores of the Mediterranean and slowly spread to the cultures of Greece and Rome, where it was widespread. Initially, focaccia bread was baked on heated tiles, clay plates or on the stove of a hot fire, with the bakers often piercing the bread with a knife to prevent large bubbles from forming on the surface. Or they used needles and stabbed the bread in regular patterns, sometimes with the handle of the appliance. One of the most important ingredients of focaccia has always been the olive oil, which was added to the top of the dough to retain the moisture after cooking.
Focaccia bread and later pizza became a staple of Italian cuisine very early on. During the Roman Empire they were widespread throughout Italy and were often sold by traders or special bakeries on the street. In the destroyed city of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius (which erupted in 79 CE), remains of ancient Roman life have been preserved, and there is ample evidence of the widespread production and sale of focaccia and pizza.
Over the centuries, many regions of Italy have managed to slightly modify the original recipe for focaccia bread and adapt it to the local flavour. Long ago, people began to associate this dish with Christmas Eve and the Epiphany, and different flavours made it very popular in other parts of the world. For example, most countries like focaccia ‘Classico’ with olive oil and rosemary. Focaccia with olives, chilli and onions is also very popular. They can also be sweetened with honey, eggs, sugar, lemon, orange peel or raisins. Ricotta focaccia and focaccia con ricotta are also popular. All these toppings were used frequently throughout Italy, as any bread with the special topping was no longer taxed than normal bread.
Today, focaccia can be found all over the world under different names and recipes (in France it is called ‘fougasse’, in Argentina ‘fugazza’ and in Spain ‘hogaza’).
Various yeast dough focaccia for connoisseurs
Some regions of Italy have incorporated their own flavours into the dough itself. Focaccia can be found in many forms and flavours. From the traditional recipe to sweet and savoury varieties, all combinations and flavours complement the original recipe perfectly.
Olive oil and sea salt are the traditional ingredients for focaccia. When you try one of these flatbreads straight out of the oven, you will notice how perfectly these flavours harmonise with each other. Rosemary is often added as it is part of the traditional recipe for many people.
In some regions, the dough is often refined with spicy flavours. Chilli, olives, tomatoes and green onions are very popular and give the dough another dimension of flavour.
Focaccia is traditionally served as flatbread sliced into long rectangles. Sometimes it is also served in the form of squares or triangles. Because it is a thicker bread, some chefs decide to cut it in half and use it as sandwiches. The options for enjoying focaccia bread are endless.
Sweet focaccia recipes are incredibly popular in north-western Italy. People love to add raisins, honey and other sweet ingredients and to sprinkle the Italian Foccacia with sugar.
Schiacciata – the variant of Tuscany
Schiacciata is a type of bread traditionally produced in the regions of Tuscany and Umbria in central Italy – a close relative of focaccia bread. It tastes similar to focaccia, but unlike the focaccia traditionally produced in Genoa, Schiacciata does not require a lengthy process and can easily be made at home as the dough is very forgiving.
The term Schiacciata literally means ‘pressed’ and refers to the fact that you have to press the dough down with your fingers when you put it into the mould.
Make your own focaccia bread at home
The recipe for making focaccia is very similar to that of many other doughs. It consists of flour, water, fresh yeast, olive oil and salt
Put water into a mixing bowl and dissolve the yeast
Add 70% of the flour at a slow speed and gradually work in the salt and then the rest of the flour
Mix for five minutes and then gradually add the oil (total mixing time should be about 15 minutes).
Divide the dough into the desired size and lightly brush with olive oil.
Let these dough balls ferment in the fridge for 24–72 hours.
Take out the dough when you’re ready and let it rise at room temperature until it’s twice as large.
Place the dough on a small tray or baking dish, place the bread on top and sprinkle with olive oil, the desired herbs and sea salt.
Bake until golden brown and enjoy!
By pressing the bread with all your fingers, you get the typical look and taste for which Focaccia is famous. This creates small depressions in which the olive oil can settle. Some bakers use utensils for this, but traditionally these holes are made by hand.
We recommend focaccia…
One of our favourite varieties is focaccia with grilled vegetables. Top your bread with fresh seasonal vegetables and season to taste. Bon appetito!
Focaccia is aromatic, as it can be topped with rosemary, oregano, thyme, leek, caramelised onions, olives, mushrooms and tomatoes, depending on the recipe. The sea salt or kosher salt that is sprinkled on top accentuates the aromas even more with each bite. When combined with wine, the focaccia breadcrumbs absorb the wine and distributes its aroma evenly, while the salt also makes the aromas of the wine more available.
Focaccia is best combined with white wines such as Gavi, Grillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Franciacorta. Light red wines such as Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Lambrusco or Dolcetto also go well with focaccia and offer an interesting contrast with their berry notes. When things need to be done quickly, rosé also goes well with focaccia, as it offers a refreshing contrast to the kosher salt or sea salt sprinkled on the focaccia bread.
Further tips for food pairings with our crispy focaccia bread: