There are gazillion focaccia recipes out there; some are great, and some are less so. But for me, there is only one recipe - my no-knead focaccia recipe that I've developed and improved over many years. I absolutely love this bread, but the best indicator for me is how others like it, and my friends and guests devour it. It's a perfect holiday bread. It also makes a fantastic gift to give to friends, neighbors, and relatives. I may be mistaken, but I think people like this focaccia even more than my famous and highly popular French baguettes. So, you are welcome to try and be the judge and let me know what you think in the comment section below.
My secret to making the best-tasting focaccia bread
I don't know if this can be called a secret, but the trick is... well, there are several tricks at play here. Not even tricks, more like tips. Nuances. Hit them all, thats' the trick, and you will have outstanding focaccia. I learned some of these nuances while working at a small Italian restaurant long ago. Shortly after I started the job, my boss, an eccentric and talented chef from Italy, taught me how to make focaccia. It was an eye-opener. I had never tasted anything like it before. The rest came from experimenting and baking other things.
To make a long story short, what I think is critical for making a really good focaccia is high hydration dough, overnight cold retarding, long proofing, high heat baking with convection, and ... butter.
High Hydration Dough
When I say high hydration, I don't mean the dough becomes almost liquid. I've seen some recipes like that. No, the dough doesn't need to be hydrated to that extent, and there is little benefit to that. But I like the dough to be very soft, and I consider 80-82% hydration ideal for focaccia. I use 80% when using white flour and 82% when adding whole wheat or whole grain flour, as those tend to absorb more water.
The dough should be soft, and easily stretchable but strong enough to develop soft, open, and chewy crumb with large holes. I've encountered recipes instructing stretching the dough to fill the baking pan in 2-3 stages, as it's so stiff that you can't do that on the first attempt. This is a good indication that the dough is not hydrated enough. Similarly, if the dough can be almost poured into the baking pan and fill it on its own, it's way too hydrated. Neither is good.
It goes without saying as kneading destroys bread's texture, but still, it's worth mentioning. No kneading doesn't mean mixing the ingredients together and forgetting about them, either. If you want a spectacular crumb, the dough needs to develop strength. Gluten. That's the function of stretching and folding the dough and time. There is no way around it. If you simply mix the ingredients and let the dough rise, you will perhaps get good store-bought-quality bread. But that's not what we are after.
Overnight Cold Retarding
Overnight retarding does magic to bread dough, and focaccia is no exception. Not only is the flavor vastly improved, but the airiness and openness of the crumb too. I find it makes the process much more repeatable and predictable. I think it's easier to get the dough perfectly fermented and proofed when cold retarding is incorporated into the schedule.
High Heat Baking on a Stone with Convection
In my opinion, just like wood-fired oven pizza cooked at insanely high temps, the best focaccia is baked briskly at a high temperature. The gas oven I use these days only goes up to 500F, so that's the temperature I bake my focaccia at. I'd probably go even higher if I could, but I haven't tested this recipe at those higher temps. Anyway, when cooked at high temps, something magical happens to the dough - you get an astounding oven spring, thin, crispy crust, and a chewy, moist crumb. This is how I bake my pizza, too, with fantastic results.
I also use convection to increase the effect of high heat and achieve a crispier crust. Many of my readers don't have a convection function in their ovens, so I anticipate they'll ask me what to do with this recipe if they don't. Don't worry about it if you don't. Just bake it at the highest temp you can achieve. Your baking time may need to be extended a little, but you should get similar results. If the browning is not even, you may need to turn the pan 180 degrees halfway.
Yes, butter makes everything taste better, especially the crust. Oh my, you should try biting into this butter crust; it's unbelievably good. Back at the restaurant where I used to work, we greased the pans with olive oil. It's cheaper that way. Perhaps even more traditional. At home, I always butter my pans. Trust me; there is a huge difference between butter and oil crust.
The process is dead simple; my family and I followed it dozens of times with success. I am confident that anyone, even without any baking experience, can make amazingly tasty focaccia using this process.
Mix the ingredients together and let them rest
Add the water, flour, then instant yeast and salt so they don't touch each other. The water should be at room temp, around 68F - 70F. Mix well, then cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 20-30 minutes.
Perform 3 sets of stretches and folds
After the rest, perform three sets of stretches and folds spaced about 20 minutes apart. After the last stretch and fold, the dough will become much stronger and tighter. The fermentation process should have begun by then, and you will smell lactic acid. Shape the dough into a ball, liberally cover it with olive oil, and let rest for 20 minutes.
Spread the dough in the baking pan
After the dough has rested, stretch it on the bottom of a 13" by 9" baking pan. I use an aluminum cake pan and have had excellent results with it. A disposable aluminum foil pan will work great, too, I always use those when I make focaccia to give away. Make sure the dough is stretched evenly, but that's not critical to stress about. The dough will spread out a little on its own.
Cold retard for 12 - 24 hours
After stretching, the dough in the pan is covered and goes straight into the fridge. The trick is to make sure that the fridge is not too cold. It should be at around 36F-38F. It can spend anywhere from 12 to 24 hours in the fridge for the best results. If need be, you can keep it in the fridge for up to 48 hours.
Proof at room temp for 2 hours
Two hours prior to baking, take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit, still covered, at room temperature. The dough should noticeably rise during this time.
Add oil and make dimples in the dough
Uncover the dough and liberally drizzle olive oil over the surface. With your fingers, make dimples all over the surface, letting the oil collect in those dimples.
Add the toppings
Add the desired toppings and finish with another light drizzle of olive oil. Make more dimples; this will press some of the toppings down. No right or wrong here. The topping can be anything you like. The common ones are chopped or halved/quartered fresh tomatoes, grilled/roasted vegetables, herbs, etc. I like adding thinly sliced garlic. Roasted slices of mushrooms and yellow onion are always delicious on focaccia or pizza.
Bake focaccia in a preheated oven on a pizza/baking stone at 500F with convection for 12 minutes. Different ovens bake differently, so your time may differ from mine a little, so start checking for doneness at about 8-10 minutes. Focaccia is done when it's crispy and golden brown. I serve it fresh and hot out of the oven. Be careful; it will be hot but so good!
For the dough
- 500 g all-purpose flour King Arthur flour is my favorite for this recipe
- 400 g water at room temperature
- 3 g instant yeast
- 9 g sea salt
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter softened
- 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus more if needed
- 2 garlic cloves thinly sliced or minced
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup chopped herbs basil, dill, sage and parsley
- Add water to a large bowl. Next, add flour, then the yeast on one side of the flour, and salt on the other, making sure the two don't touch each other before you start mixing. Mix by hand, squeezing the dough between your fingers until a sticky homogeneous mass is formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, perform a set of stretches and folds, then another one after 20 minutes, and another one 20 minutes later. Shape the dough into a ball and rub it with two tablespoons of olive oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for another 20 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a 13" by 9" aluminum cake pan greased with two tablespoons of butter. Stretch it to fill the entire bottom of the pan. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight and for up to 24 hours.
- Remove the dough from the fridge two hours before baking and let proof at room temperature, covered.
- Preheat the oven with a baking stone positioned on the top shelf to 500F.
- Liberally drizzle olive oil over the top of the dough. Using your fingers, make deep dimples all over the surface of the dough. Spread the toppings and finish with a light drizzle of olive oil.
- Bake at 500F with convection for 12 minutes. Every oven bakes differently so start checking early, your bread may be done sooner, or you may need to add a few minutes to the baking time.
- Carefully transfer the focaccia to a large cutting board, slice, and serve while hot. This is when it tastes best.