Lifestyle & Culture

Kitchen Detail: Focaccia, Focacce

There are as many variations on focaccia, and even on its name, as there are regions of Italy. The olive-studded version on the front of our section comes from La Cucina Italiana, which offers many recipes for the bread. Photo above by Nancy Pollard.


pompei fresco panisf ocucius

Pompeii fresco showing a vendor of panis focacius.

By Nancy Pollard

After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine, the Cook’s Resource,  in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food-related issues.

BITE INTO a wedge of focaccia and you are channeling the Ancient Greeks, Etruscans, and pilgrims traveling to or through Italy during the Middle Ages—not to mention a few random Renaissance artists. From panis focacius (bread + hearth), the Latin term for dough flattened over a stone slab, covered in ashes, and baked in the hearth, comes today’s soft, leavened focaccia.

Originally, it was unleavened, used as “disposable plates” for soldiers, sailors, and travelers who needed quick, nutritious, easily transportable and long-lasting provisions.  The flat disk would serve as a dish, holding a variety of toppings, from salty fish to olives, herbs, and cheeses. Then, in early ecological fashion, it was eaten so there would be no waste. Ultimate recycling.

My colleague Liz DiGregorio and I think  that summer is the perfect time for you to perfect your ancient bread skills.  Then you’ll be ready to take focaccia with you on a picnic or pull it out of the freezer for a barbecue. Or make a quick sandwich, grab a book, and go out to your favorite park just to relax. It is, indeed, the best disposable plate.

There Is More Than One Focaccia

focaccia with carmelized onions & marash pepper in a basket

A basket of focaccia with caramelized onions and Marash pepper.

While many Mediterranean countries have their own focaccia-style breads, we are focusing on Italy. The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking lists 15 different versions of focacce (plural of focaccia). While they all share the basic common ingredients, the Italian imagination takes over, and each region puts its individual spin on the final product. The toppings vary from place to place.  Sometimes the name changes. Some are savory. Some are sweet. Some are filled with cheese or vegetables. But all are delicious and reflect Italy’s regional pride.

Most focacce are made with a high-gluten (hard) flour, but some regions use flours common to their area, such as ceci-bean, corn, chestnut, cake flour, and flour into which mashed or riced potatoes are added. Some type of fat along with water helps bind the flour and produce the crisp crust.  Lard was the original fat of choice, but now butter and good olive oil lead the way. The best-quality olive oil is required to spread over the dough to fill those yummy indentations that give focaccia its classic look.   Salt, to Italians, evokes centuries of salt wars, and bread with and without salt distinguishes one region from another. Focaccia contains salt in the dough and as the final touch after it is baked. Good table salt works for the dough, and coarse salt, such as Maldon, sprinkled on top of the fresh-out-of-the-oven product is delizioso.

Travelers’ Aid

If traveling to Italy is in your future, you will find that focaccia is part of a large repertoire of flatbreads. The thinnest is pizza, then schiacciata, and finally, the loftiest of the flats, focaccia. Here is a geographical glossary of focaccia-diversity to watch for when you are on your Italian vacation and staring at local menus—all of it sourced from Elena Kostiouskovitch’s  diverting book, Why Italians Love to Talk About Food.

Liguria: Focaccia di Recco (cheese-filled focaccia); focaccia di Voltri (thin dough coated with corn flour and baked on a hot plate); and focaccia Genovese (also called fugassa), which most closely resembles the focaccia we experience in the US.


Crescentone di Bologna.

Emilia Romagna: In Emilia, focacce called chizze are made, stuffed with slivers of parmesan and then fried in lard. In Bologna, it is called crescentone. Bits of lard are added to the dough.

al testo focaccia from madonna del piatto

Al testo focaccia from the cooking school Alla Madonna del Piatto, near Assisi in Umbria.

Tuscany:  In Pistoia they make necci, focaccias of chestnut flour.  Chestnut flour is also used in the focaccias of Garfagnana.

Umbria. The local focaccia is called al testo. It is cooked on a testo, or disk, which in the past was made from river gravel. Today, the testo is made of cast iron.

Lazio: In Gaeta, the focaccias are called tielle and are often dressed in the famous Gaeta olives, the color of red wine, small and aromatic.

Sicily: Messina has focaccerie, focaccia shops; Catania schiacciate filled with cheese, anchovies, onions, and tomatoes and black olives; Siracusa and Ragusa call stuffed focaccia scarce (SKAR-chay).

Tips, Techniques, and Recipes

Looking through numerous cookbooks, online recipes and videos, one can easily become overwhelmed by focaccia abundance. We have included three different recipes for focaccia in this post. One is from Flour Bakery and Cafe group in Boston,  and it is a really good American take on focaccia. It will give you a poofier, lighter focaccia, perfect for splitting for sandwiches. Another is a recipe from La Cucina Italiana, which we had to rework a bit, but it is chewy and coarser and a bit flatter. The third is from an Australian book on Italian cooking, which uses only all-purpose flour (the other two specify bread and all-purpose flour).  This would be my go-t0 recipe if I had no access to really good-quality bread flour.

If you are mixing by hand, Italian cooks feel strongly that the flour should be mixed  into the liquid a cup at a time until the dough is too stiff to stir.

You must knead either with a dough hook or by hand until you can do the “windowpane check” with your dough.

If you use a blued/black steel baking sheet, the bottom crust will be darker than if you use an aluminum sheet. Both are very good as long as they are commercial quality.  We don’t like stainless-steel baking sheets, as the heat conduction is so poor.

All of them should be dusted heavily with semolina (semola) or cornmeal on the baking sheet.

You can use your baking stones or quarry tile, which will give a crisp bottom crust.

Nonstick baking sheets or really lightweight ones will give you very disappointing results. The high heat required for focaccia (400F and higher)) will make lighter sheets buckle and also affect the traditional non-stick coatings.

A dough or bench scraper is your friend when manipulating a moist and sticky dough.

You can freeze baked focaccia for up to one month. Wrap in a heavy-duty freezer bag.  To thaw, let it sit in its wrapper at room temperature overnight. Or wrap it in foil straight from the freezer and pop it into a low oven (under 300F) until heated through. You can refrigerate a baked focaccia for only a day or two.

You can freeze unbaked focaccia dough, too, after the first rise.

Chilling the dough encourages it to settle down and behave. After the first full rise, punch down the dough, cover and refrigerate it overnight, let dough return to room temperature,  then proceed with the shaping and final rise. You most likely will get a “holier” texture if you do this.

And always, always, make divots with your fingers after the shaped rise, as they hold the olive oil and the salt, plus create focaccia’s signature look. Below the recipe cards is a Cucina Italiana video on a little “secret” to improve the top crust.


Focaccia Dough With All-Purpose Flour

This will make two focacce about 10×15 inches. You can freeze the dough after the first rise.
Recipe by multiple authors.
Adapted from The Food of Italy.
  1. ½ teaspoon (4gr) caster or superfine sugar
  2. 2 teaspoons (5.7gr) dried yeast (instant yeast is faster)
  3. 3 cups (705ml) water (lukewarm if using dried yeast)
  4. 2 pounds (907gr) all-purpose flour
  5. 2 teaspoons (7.5gr) fine sea salt
  6. 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil
  7. Cornmeal or semolina for dusting
  1. Combine the sugar and yeast in ¼ cup (59ml) water to activate the yeast, which may take as long as 5 minutes.
  2. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, adding 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the yeast mixture and ¾ of the remaining water.
  3. Mix and then add the rest of the water, a little at a time until you have a loose dough.
  4. Knead this either with a dough hook or by hand for at least 8 minutes.
  5. The dough should be smooth and leave an impression when an indentation made by a finger springs back immediately (or do the bread windowpane test).
  6. Oil a large bowl with the remaining olive oil and roll the dough in the bowl to coat it.
  7. Cut a shallow cross in the dough with a sharp knife.
  8. Allow to rise (covered loosely in plastic or cloth) in a warm draft-free place for 1½ hours until dough has doubled in size.
  9. Alternatively, cover and leave in fridge for 8 hours: A slower rise will yield a looser texture in the baked bread.
  10. Punch down the dough and divide into two portions. (You can freeze one or store it in the fridge for 4 hours, but be sure to bring it back to room temperature before forming it.)
  11. Start by rolling the portion out into an 8×11-inch rectangle and then stretch or push out into a 10×15-inch rectangle.
  12. Lightly grease your baking sheet and dust it with the semolina or cornmeal.
  13. Allow it to rise inside a loose plastic bag or under a towel for an hour or two.
  14. Your dough is now ready for the final recipe choice (your toppings or additions; see Notes below)  and to be baked at 425F for 20 to 30 minutes.

Suggestions for toppings from The Food of Italy are:

  1. 1 cup of green olives pressed into the dough, then dosed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and leaves from two rosemary sprigs.
  2. OR 3 ounces of diced pancetta, pressed into the dough, followed by 10 basil leaves, torn in half, pressed in, dosed with olive oil and topped with grated Parmigiano cheese.
  3. OR 1 cup of Gorgonzola cheese, mashed with 1 to 3 tablespoons of mascarpone, gently spread across with 10 sage leaves, torn in half, and 2 tablespoons of Italian pine nuts scattered on top..


Locatelli Focaccia

Yields a 10×15-inch sheet of focaccia, or slightly larger.
An adaptation of a classic—and easy to do—focaccia. Use it with traditional toppings in the signature indentations or stuff it with salume and cheese.
Recipe by Giorgia di Sabatino.
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana.
  1. 2 cups (250 gr) all-purpose flour (00 flour if possible)
  2. 1.97 cups (250 gr) high-gluten bread flour (Caputo Rinforzato is a great one)
  3. 7gr instant yeast or 15gr fresh yeast
  4. 1¼ cups (300 ml) water (you may need a bit more)
  5. 6 tablespoons (90ml) olive oil (or melted lard)
  6. Semolina for dusting the baking sheet
  7. 2 teaspoons (10gr) sea salt, plus additional for the top
  1. Mix the two flours and the yeast by hand, or use a dough hook in a mixer.
  2. Add the water, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil (or melted lard) and the salt.
  3. Mix with a wood spoon, not with your hands, and allow to rest 10 minutes
  4. If using a dough hook in a mixer, just mix it until you get a shaggy dough.
  5. Then knead the mixture until you get a smooth, supple dough.
  6. You can use the windowpane check before allowing it rise.
  7. Allow to rise in a greased bowl, covered until double in bulk.
  8. Once the dough has risen, spread it with your hands across a baking sheet that has been dusted with semolina. You should have a rectangle at least 10×15 inches or a bit larger.
  9. Let the dough rise for another 20 minutes before pressing down with your fingers to make indentations in the top.
  10. Make a mixture of 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil and 1 tablespoon (15ml) water and dose the focaccia with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt along with the oil and water.
  11. Put into a preheated oven at 400F for about 30 minutes.
  1. There is nothing better than serving any focaccia right out of the oven, or warmed up in foil on the grill. You can use a higher ratio of water to oil for the final brine mixture that is used to top the dough after you make the indentations.


Rosemary and Olive Oil Focaccia

Yields a 10×15-inch sheet of focaccia.
A fluffier, more American focaccia that makes a good sandwich base too.
Recipe by Joanne Chang with Christie Matheson.
  1. 1¾ cup (420gr) water at body temperature
  2. 1 teaspoon (3.5gr) dry yeast
  3. 3½ cups (420gr) unbleached all-purpose flour
  4. 1¼ cups (190gr) unbleached bread flour
  5. 1 tablespoon (18gr) sea salt
  6. 2 tablespoons (50.4gr) sugar
  7. ¾ cup (150gr) olive oil
  8. Handful of cornmeal for dusting the baking sheet
  9. Additional flour for dusting the focaccia dough
  10. 2 tablespoons (3.5gr) roughly chopped fresh rosemary
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine water and yeast and allow the yeast to dissolve and activate, less than a minute.
  2. Dump both quantities of flour, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and all of the sugar onto the water and turn the mixer on low. Mix dough on low for 30 seconds to keep flour from flying out of the bowl (the bane of KitchenAid design).
  3. When dough is shaggy-looking, add ½ cup (100gr) of the olive oil, aiming at side of bowl.
  4. Knead for 5 minutes in the mixer until the dough is smooth and supple. (If kneading by hand, it will take about 8 minutes.)
  5. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough, turning it so that the entire surface gets slicked by the oil. Cover with plastic or cloth and allow the dough to rise in a draft-free place. In about 2 to 3 hours, the dough should have doubled in bulk.
  6. Flour your hands and work the dough out of the bowl and onto a counter. Stretch the dough into a 10×15-inch rectangle (25x38cm).
  7. Place the rectangle onto a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet and sprinkle flour on top of the dough. Cover loosely with plastic or cloth and allow to rise until it is puffy and pillowy.
  8. Preheat the oven to 425F and place a rack in the center.
  9. Remove plastic, then dimple the dough with your fingers.
  10. Sprinkle the rosemary across the surface and spoon on the remaining ¼ cup (50gr) of olive oil and the remaining salt. (I used coarse sea salt and did more than the original recipe called for.)
  11. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown.
  12. Allow to cool before slicing.
  13. Focaccia will keep in a closed paper bag for no more than 3 days, or tightly wrapped in two layers of plastic wrap in the freezer for 2 weeks.
  14. Allow to thaw to room temperature and refresh for 5 minutes in a 300F oven. If frozen, it will take about 15 minutes.
  1. Variations are plenty but one would be 1 cup (140gr) chopped assorted pitted olives strewn along with the rosemary.

Video link from La Cucina Italiana:

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One thought on “Kitchen Detail: Focaccia, Focacce

  1. Gin says:

    Gosh I miss focaccia since struggling with gluten intolerance. My heart sank reading it’s typically made with high-gluten flour but encouraged to hear other cultures have used alternatives like corn, etc. So hard to make tasty bread without wheat, would love to see a recipe that manages to defy the odds!

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