Forget the pale, crumbly and too-sweet pillow bread that fuelled the focaccia rage of the 90’s. This is how a timeless and traditional Italian Focaccia recipe should be: ridiculously soft and fluffy inside, just-crispy on the outside and with a signature chew from the secret ingredient – potato!
About this Focaccia recipe
Focaccia – that flattish, traditional tin–baked Italian bread generously flavoured with olive oil – is found all over Italy and varies from place to place. I was torn with indecision about what type of focaccia to share, but eventually landed on this particularly well-known type called focaccia barese from Southern Italy.
It’s from the city of Bari in Puglia, and this focaccia has an exceptionally fluffy interior and distinctive chew that comes from incorporating mashed potato into the dough.
I love that the potato clearly distinguishes it from just another type of basic bread!
The outside crusts meanwhile takes on a lovely golden crunch from baking in the pan thanks to An Italian Dash of Olive Oil (ie. more than a teaspoon ).
Together these features come together in a focaccia probably quite unlike any you’ve tried – so get set for a revelation!
Tomato Focaccia, one of the 3 topping options provided in today’s recipe.What makes this Focaccia recipe different?
For those of you who are interested in the nitty gritty of focaccia-making, here is some background information about focaccia barese which is the type of focaccia we are making here today!
- High hydration – The dough for this recipe has particularly high hydration levels from the water and moisture in the potatoes. This is what gives the bread the springy, airy texture and open crumb;
- NO KNEAD – That’s right! This focaccia is a no-knead bread. The dough is simply too wet and sticky to knead, so we instead rely on a 3-proof method (more this below);
- Mashed potato – The unique inclusion of potato in the dough is what adds chew and body that you you don’t otherwise get with a straight flour focaccia. It also helps the crumb retain moisture;
- Lots of olive oil! Any focaccia recipe worth its salt (or oil?) will call for lashings of olive oil for flavour. In this focaccia, it also makes the crust deliciously crispy, almost like it’s been fried like deep pan pizza!
- Three dough proofs (rises) … YES! This step is essential. However because I’m worried this will be a turn-off for some, I’ve provided more details below to convince you it’s worth it – and it really is effortless.
Three dough proofs (rises)!
The recipe does require three proofs for the dough. But really, it is not a big deal! They are quick and the benefit is no messy kneading on the counter or in the stand-mixer. It takes just 1 hour 40 minutes for rising in total for the whole recipe, and just a minute or two to prepare the dough for each rise.
We tried reducing it to 2 proofs but found the result wasn’t as good, and 1 proof was even more inferior.
We need to rise the dough 3 times because because the dough is so wet we can’t knead it. Instead we let the bread “knead” itself through proofing. Proofing and folding several times before baking encourages gluten development and starch transformation to give the bread structure, as well as the time to develop flavour.
What you need for this Focaccia recipe
Here’s what you need for the focaccia bread. Toppings are shown separately below.
- Potato – The traditional “secret ingredient” that distinguishes this focaccia from “just another bread”! It gives the focaccia a moist, fluffy interior and distinctive chew that you can’t achieve without the potato;
- Instant / Rapid rise yeast – This is yeast that can be added directly into the dough, rather than mixing with warm water and sugar to let it foam first before mixing in which is the standard process when using Active Dry Yeast. If you only have Active Dry Yeast, see recipe notes for how to adapt the recipe. The focaccia will rise marginally less, but the difference is small;
- Bread flour – This is a type of baking flour that has higher protein than standard plain/all-purpose flour which gives breads a better chew and elasticity. You get a better result with bread flour, and if you are making this for company, I do think it’s worth a trip to the store. But if you only have plain/all-purpose flour, this focaccia is still totally worth making!
- Extra virgin olive oil – It isn’t focaccia if you don’t use liberal amounts of olive oil! It provides flavour as well as making the base so crisp it’s almost like it’s fried. Don’t skimp on the oil! (And it works out to be not that much per serve.)
- Sugar – This is for flavour but also to “feed” the yeast so it activates and makes the dough rise; and
- Warm water – Also for yeast, because it loves a nice, warm and cosy environment. Just tap water is fine, around 40°C/104°F. Think pleasant bubble bath temperature. If the water is stone cold the yeast won’t activate. If it’s so hot you’re scalding yourself, it’s too hot and the yeast may be killed! We want the goldilocks temperature.
Focaccia recipe Toppings
I’m sharing three different toppings in this Focaccia recipe:
- Rosemary and Garlic – A lovely classic version;
- Tomato and oregano – Looks cheerful, and we love how the tangy and sweet tomato juices seep into the focaccia; and
- Olive – Another classic version that looks beautifully striking with the stark contrast of the black olives studded in the golden crust!
1. Rosemary Garlic Focaccia
This is a “plain” classic version made using fresh rosemary and garlic – though there’s nothing “plain” about homemade focaccia!
We’re using confit garlic which might sound fancy, but it’s just garlic that’s cooked in oil over a low heat until soft. Why do we have to bother, you ask? Because otherwise the garlic burns too much at the high oven temperature required to crisp the surface of the focaccia. Soft-cooking larger pieces helps protect the garlic. Nobody wants bitter black bits of garlic on their focaccia!
- Confit garlic – little bits of garlic cooked in olive oil on a low heat for 10 minutes.
- Strain then press into focaccia
2. Tomato Focaccia
Made with cherry tomatoes, the trick with this is to squish them before pressing them firmly into the dough. This makes the tomatoes soften and stay semi-sunk in the dough, and allows the juices to seep into the crumb (the best part!).
If you don’t squish, the cherry tomatoes kind of pop out and end up rolling around on the surface of the focaccia… and inevitably across the floor!
I’ve used oregano as the herb but any dried mixed herbs or fresh rosemary will also work well.
3. Olive Focaccia
Kalamata olives (pitted) make an ideal choice here. I love how juicy and salty they are, and how the deep purple, almost black colour, really stands out against the golden brown surface.
I’ve used oregano as the herb for this one too, but rosemary also works well (fresh, not dried).
Olive Oil and Sea Salt Flakes
In addition to the above toppings, all focaccia are finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a good pinch of sea salt flakes. It’s really worth using sea salt flakes for the surface, rather than cooking / kosher salt so they stay mostly whole as little salty pops rather than dissolving into the bread surface.
Love the way the olive oil pools in the holes!
Focaccia recipe process steps
As mentioned above, this focaccia recipe calls for 3 dough rises which takes 1 hr 40 minutes in total. Read more about why it’s worth it and yields a better result – don’t skip it!
Also, it’s worth noting that this is a no-knead bread. The dough is quite sticky, so it’s simply mixed with a spatula!
Part 1: Make the Dough (it’s no-knead!)
- Dry ingredients: Mix Dry ingredients in a bowl;
- Add Wet ingredients: Make a well in the middle, then pour the Wet ingredients in;
- Mix with spatula: Use a stiff rubber spatula to mix together. It will form a sticky dough;
- Add mashed potato → smear! Then add the mashed potato. Mix it in to start incorporating it into the dough. Then start smearing the dough along the walls of the bowl – this motion makes it easier to fully mix the potato into the dough. See demo in recipe video at X seconds;
Part 2: First rise, 30 minutes
- Rise #1 – 30 minutes, 50% swell: Once the potato is fully mix in, shape it into a ball. Then cover with cling wrap and put the bowl in a warm place for 30 minutes so it swells at least 50% in size. Up to around double in size is fine. You don’t want to let dough rise too much – say triple or so – because then the yeast is using up all its rising power, so it might not rise as much as it should when baking;
Part 3: Second rise, 30 minutes