Chef and cookbook author traveled to southern Italy to figure out how to make focaccia. She shares her tricks of the trade
Unlike a good loaf of bread, which you can now get in many grocery stores, says chef Nancy Silverton, "there is only one way to get good focaccia, and that is to make it yourself." (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)
But in Italy, I noticed that the ingredients are not laid on top of the dough, which would weigh it down, making the focaccia heavy and one-dimensional. Instead, the toppings are pushed deep into the dough, so the bread bakes up around them. Not only does this make the focaccia really interesting to look at, it also results in a bread that is light-textured.
At Mozza when we press the toppings into the dough, we push ever so slightly outward, toward the edge of the pan. In so doing, we are killing three birds with one stone: embedding the topping into the dough, dimpling the dough and encouraging the dough toward the edges of the pan.
Baking the focaccia turned out to be almost foolproof. Having it in the cake pan, and having the oil in the cake pan, already eliminates so many of the potential pitfalls of focaccia. And unlike when you are working with pizza or bread, it is not essential to have a super-hot oven. Though as with pizza, I found that baking it for a short time directly on the floor of the oven helps to create the crispy crunchy underside.
If you've never baked yeast breads before, this focaccia is a good, safe place to start -- first because you have a very high probability of beautiful, delicious results.
And second, because unlike a good loaf of bread, which you can now get in many grocery stores, unless you go to southern Italy, Genoa or Mozza2Go, there is only one way to get good focaccia, and that is to make it yourself.
For better or worse, there just aren't many things you can say that about anymore.
Nancy's basic focaccia dough
Total time: 3½ hours, plus 12 to 24 hours resting time for the sponge
Servings: Makes 2 (10-inch) focaccia dough rounds
Note: This recipe requires the use of a stand mixer, 2 (10- by 2-inch) round cake pans and a digital kitchen scale. Cake yeast is available at cooking and baking supply stores, as well as at select gourmet markets. The sponge must be started a day in advance.
Scant 1/8 packed teaspoon cake yeast or 1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast
Scant ½ cup (3.71 ounces) water
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons (3.04 ounces) bread flour
1. In a small mixing bowl (preferably plastic or ceramic), sprinkle the yeast over the water. Set the bowl aside for a few minutes to give the water time to absorb the yeast. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the bread flour until all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
2. Cover the bowl tightly with a sheet of plastic wrap, then tightly wrap another piece of plastic wrap or twine around the perimeter of the bowl to further seal the bowl.
3. Set the bowl aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 70 degrees) until the sponge becomes bubbly and thick, like the consistency of wallpaper paste (thicker than a pancake batter but thinner than dough), 12 to 24 hours.
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (11.04 ounces) water