Homemade Focaccia with olives and herbs
|Place of origin||Italy|
|Main ingredient(s)||High-gluten flour, oil, water, salt, yeast|
Focaccia (Italian pronunciation: [foˈkattʃa]) is a flat oven-baked Italian bread product similar in style and texture to pizza doughs, consisting of high-gluten flour, oil, water, salt and yeast. It is typically rolled out or pressed by hand into a thick layer of dough and then baked in a stone-bottom or hearth oven. Bakers often puncture the bread with a knife to relieve bubbling on the surface of the bread. It may be topped with herbs or other ingredients.
Focaccia can be used as a side to many meals, as a base for pizza, or as sandwich bread.
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The common-known focaccia is salt focaccia. Focaccia doughs are similar in style and texture to pizza doughs, consisting of high-gluten flour, oil, water, salt and yeast. It is typically rolled out or pressed by hand into a thick layer of dough and then baked in a stone-bottom or hearth oven. Bakers often puncture the bread with a knife to relieve bubbling on the surface of the bread.
Also common is the practice of dotting the bread. This creates multiple wells in the bread by using a finger or the handle of a utensil to poke the unbaked dough. As a way to preserve moisture in the bread, olive oil is then spread over the dough, by hand or with a pastry brush prior to rising and baking. In the northern part of Italy, lard will sometimes be added to the dough, giving the focaccia a softer, slightly flakier texture. Focaccia recipes are widely available, and with the popularity of bread machines, many cookbooks now provide versions of dough recipes that do not require hand kneading.
Comparison with pizza
The primary difference between conventional pizza (round, Neapolitan pizza) and focaccia is that pizza dough uses very little leavening (baker’s yeast), resulting in a very thin, flat and flexible crust, while focaccia dough uses more leavening, causing the dough to rise significantly higher. The added leavening firms the crust and gives focaccia the capacity to absorb large amounts of olive oil. Unleavened pizza dough is already too dense to absorb much olive oil. A conventional loaf of bread is too tall to absorb olive oil all the way through to its center. Being shorter in height than a conventional loaf and less dense than a pizza dough, focaccia can indeed absorb olive oil all the way to its center or at least nearly so. As such, focaccia might well be thought of as "olive oil bread".
Focaccia is most often square whereas conventional pizza is more commonly round. Focaccia most often employs more salt than pizza.
There exist traditional Italian pizza recipes, incorporating more leavening, in amounts similar to focaccia, especially in southern Italy, and specifically Sicilian pizza. If these leavened pizzas were to incorporate equivalent amounts of olive oil in the dough, they would be very similar to a focaccia, except perhaps for the herbs or toppings used. Similarly any "thick-crust" pizza that incorporates large amounts of olive oil would be very similar to focaccia, again except for the variance in the herbs and toppings employed.
Contrary to pizza where more than one topping is often found mixed on the same pizza, toppings are not commonly mixed on one focaccia although one topping and one herb might be mixed. Whereas pizza often has toppings peppered only intermittently on its surface, on focaccia, a single topping is often layered more uniformly and thick.
Etymology and regional variants
In Ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread baked on the hearth. The word is derived from the Latin focus meaning "hearth, place for baking." The basic recipe is thought by some to have originated with the Etruscans or ancient Greeks, but today it is widely associated with Ligurian cuisine.
As the tradition spread, the different dialects and diverse local ingredients resulted in a large variety of bread (some may even be considered cake). Due to the number of small towns and hamlets dotting the coast of Liguria, the focaccia recipe has fragmented into countless variations (from the biscuit-hard focaccia of Camogli to the oily softness of the one made in Voltri), with some bearing little resemblance to its original form. The most extreme example is the specialty "focaccia col formaggio" (focaccia with cheese) which is made in Recco, near Genoa. Other than the name, this Recco version bears no resemblance to other focaccia varieties, having a caillé and cheese filling sandwiched between two layers of paper-thin dough. It is even being considered for European Union PGI status. Regional variations also exist, such as focaccia dolce (sweet focaccia), popular in some parts of north-western Italy, consisting of a basic focaccia base and sprinkled lightly with sugar, or including raisins, honey, or other sweet ingredients.
Focaccia is present in many variants in Italy itself, for example the focaccia alla genovese, originated in Genoa, the focaccia alla barese, from Bari, or the focaccia alla messinese, from Messina. Another widespread variation is the Focaccia Barese, common in the provinces of Bari, Brindisi, Lecce and Taranto. It usually comes in three variations: classic focaccia with fresh tomatoes and olives, potato focaccia with potato slices 5 mm thick and white Focaccia with salt grains and rosemary. Some other variations include peppers, onions, eggplant or other vegetables.
In Burgundy, focaccia is called "foisse" or "fouaisse", and in Catalonia, Provence and Languedoc it's "fogassa" or, more commonly, the French "fougasse". In Argentina, it is widely consumed under the name fugazza, derived from fugàssa in the native language of Argentina's many Ligurian immigrants. The Spaniards call it "hogaza".
In American English, it is sometimes referred to as focaccia bread. The Sicilian-style pizza, and the Roman pizza bianca (white pizza) can be considered a variant of focaccia. Focaccia is used extensively as a sandwich bread outside of Italy.
Sweet focaccia or Focaccia veneta is a cake, typical of Venetian Easter tradition. Unlike the other kinds of focaccia, it is based on eggs, sugar and butter, instead of olive oil and salt. This makes its recipe and use unique across Italy, and quite different from the common-known focaccia. It appears like a leavened bread, which inside may result very similar to other Venetian cakes like pandoro.
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