Unlike so many breads, focaccia is remarkably simple to prepare. As with pizza (its close culinary cousin), the recipe is nothing more-than flour, yeast, water, off, and salt. However unlike pizza, the shaping of focaccia is quite forgiving. No need to worry about stretching the dough super-thin. The shaping technique for focaccia is so easy that it by children.

The word “focaccia” (the plural is “focacce”) derives from the Latin word focus, meaning “hearth.” This rustic bread dates back thousands of years, when flatbreads were cooked on open hearths. Today, the bread can be cooked on a baking sheet in the oven. A dark jelly roll pan (as opposed to a shiny one) will promote browning of the bottom crust. Avoid insulated jelly roll pans, which inhibit browning.

The dimpling of the dough gives focaccia its characteristic look of hills and valleys. Simply press your forefinger into the dough at regular intervals just before baking in order to make the dimples. The dimples should be large enough to accommodate small prices of tomato or onion as well as tiny pools of olive oil. It is imperative that you use olive oil (a focaccia made with canola oil is just not the same), and preferably one of very high quality. A sprinkling of coarse salt is also imperative.

Whole Wheat Dough Adds Flavor

In Italy, people traditionally make focaccia with refined flour. However, using a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour gives the dough a heartier flavor and increases its nutritional value. After some experimentation, I found that a ratio of two parts whole wheat flour to three parts all-purpose flour delivered the pleasant wheatiness I wanted without making the focaccia dry or tough.

As with all breads, the process begins with kneading the dough. You can do this by hand or more quickly in a standing mixer or food processor Depending on the temperature and humidity in your home, the dough will require from one and one-half to two hours to rise. After you have gently deflated the dough and pressed it into the pan, it must rise again for another one and one-half to two hours. If you would like more flexibility in the timing, you can complete either rise overnight or during the day in the refrigerator.

Simple focacce with just sage or rosemary are best served as a snack or special bread with dinner. One large rectangular focaccia will yield at least six servings. You can also cut these simple focacce into squares and then split them horizontally for use as sandwich bread.

More substantial focacce with vegetable toppings can be served with meals as a hearty bread or by themselves, with perhaps some salad, as a light meal. When served with a meal, these focacce will easily yield six servings, if not more. As a lunch or light dinner, one rectangular focaccia will be enough for four generous servings. Serving sizes in recipes that follow are based on smaller portions as meal accompaniments.

BASIC FOCACCIA Serves 6

Use this basic focaccia recipe as a master recipe for preparing most of the other focaccia recipes that follow. This simple version is topped with both olive oil and coarse sea salt.

DOUGH

  • 1 1/3 cups warm water (115 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce packet)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for surface
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or fine sea salt
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray

TOPPING

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
  1. To make dough by hand: Combine water, yeast, and oil in large mixing bowl. Add flours and salt and continue to stir until dough comes together. Turn onto floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.

To make dough in standing mixer. Combine water, yeast, and off using paddle attachment. Stir in flours and salt. When dough comes together, replace paddle attachment with dough hook. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes.

To make dough in food processor. Pour water into workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade. Add yeast and oil and process several seconds until smooth. Add flours and salt and process until dough comes together in ball, about 3o seconds.

  1. Turn dough into large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with damp cloth. Let rise until dough is puffy and doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  2. Generously spray bottom and sides of 1 1/2-by-15 1/2-inch dark, noninsulated jelly roll pan that measures at least 1 inch deep with vegetable oil. Gently deflate dough in bowl, then press into pan. Cover pan with damp cloth and let rise until dough is puffy and almost doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Just before baking, use finger to make dimples in dough. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons oil over dough, letting some pool in dimples. Sprinkle dough with remaining 1/2 to 1 tablespoon salt.
  4. Bake until bottom of focaccia is richly colored and crisp and the top is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Use large spatula to remove from pan and slide onto wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cooled focaccia may be wrapped in plastic and then foil and frozen 1 month. Unwrap and reheat in 375-degree oven 10 to 15 minutes.)

FOCACCIA WITH SAGE Serves 6

Whole sage leaves are pressed into the dough just before baking for a simple but stunning presentation.

  • Basic Focaccia
  • About 25 whole fresh sage leaves

Follow Basic Focaccia recipe, pressing one sage leaf deep into each dimple Drizzle oil over dough, sprinkle with salt, and bake according to basic recipe.

FOCACCIA WITH ROSEMARY Serves 6

Fresh rosemary is essential for this Florentine specialty that is offered to children as an after-school snack. It also works well as an accompaniment to an Italian dinner.

  • Basic Focaccia
  • Several long sprigs fresh rosemary

Follow Basic Focaccia recipe, dimpling dough as directed. Pull off small 1-inch pieces of rosemary containing several leaves each. (You will need about 25 pieces total) Press small piece into each dimple. Drizzle oil over dough, sprinkle with salt, and bake according to basic recipe.

FOCACCIA WITH BASIL AND TOMATOES Serves 6

Serve this focaccia as a light meal for four or an appetizer for six or eight.

  • Basic Focaccia
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Follow Basic Focaccia recipe through step 3. About 15 minutes before dimpling dough, place chopped tomatoes in strainer set over bowl and let some of the liquid drain off Dimple dough, then cover evenly with tomatoes. Drizzle dough with oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake according to directions in basic recipe. As soon as focaccia comes out of oven, sprinkle with basil.

FOCACCIA WITH BLACK OLIVES AND HERBES DE PROVENCE Serves 6

Herbes de Provence is an aromatic blend of several dried herbs, usually thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, savory, and/or basil, that is commonly used in southern France. You can substitute an equal amount of dried thyme or oregano if desired.

  • Basic Focaccia
  • 24 large black olives packed in brine
  • 1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence (see note, above)

Follow Basic Focaccia recipe, dimpling dough as directed. Use side of heavy knife to crush olives gently and loosen pits. Remove pits with fingers and place one pitted olive in each dimple. Drizzle dough with oil sprinkle with salt and dried herbs, and bake according to directions in basic recipe.

FOCACCIA WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS Serves 6

Although I like the simple flavors of onions, olive oil, and salt, feel free to sprinkle one-half teaspoon of dried oregano or thyme over the focaccia just before baking.

  • Basic Focaccia
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, halved, and sliced paper thin
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Follow Basic Focaccia recipe, dimpling dough as directed. Toss sliced onions with 1 tablespoon oil and then spread them evenly over dimpled dough. Drizzle dough with 2 tablespoons oil called for in basic recipe, sprinkle with salt, and bake as directed.

FOCACCIA WITH ROASTED RED PEPPERS Serves 6

Yellow or orange oil peppers may be used in place of the red peppers if desired.

  • Basic Focaccia
  • 2 large red bell peppers

Follow Basic Focaccia recipe as directed through step 3 While dough is rising for second time, preheat broiler. Place peppers on pan and roast, turning often, until skins are blistered and charred. Place blackened peppers in deep bowl and cover 15 minutes. Carefully peel, core, and seed cooked peppers. Cut into long, 1/3-inch-wide strips. Dimple dough as directed and then cover evenly with peppers. Drizzle dough with oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake according to directions in basic recipe.

FOCACCIA WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATOES AND GARLIC Serves 6

This recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes and garlic to flavor the dough. A light topping of slivered sun-dried tomatoes is added when the bread comes out of the oven.

DOUGH

  • 6 sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • 3 medium garlic doves, minced
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce packet)
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or fine sea salt
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray

TOPPING

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1/2-1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt 6 sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained and cut into long thin slivers

  1. Lift tomatoes from oil and reserve. Drain off 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato oil. (Add more extra-virgin olive oil if needed.) Heat oil in small skillet. Add garlic and saute over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let garlic and oil cool to room temperature.
  2. To make 1/2 dough in standing mixer. Combine water, yeast, and cooled garlic and oil using paddle attachment. Stir in whole sun-dried tomatoes, flours, and salt. When dough comes together, replace paddle attachment with dough hook. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes.

To make dough in food processor. Pour water into work bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade. Add yeast and cooled garlic and oil and process several seconds until smooth. Add whole sun-dried tomatoes, flours, and salt and process until dough comes together in ball, about 30 seconds.

  1. Turn dough into large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with damp cloth. Let rise until dough is puffy and doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  2. Generously spray vegetable oil on bottom and sides of 10 1/2-by-15/2-inch dark, noninsulated jelly roll pan that measures at least 1 inch deep. Gently deflate dough in bowl, then press into pan. Cover pan with damp cloth and let rise until dough is puffy and almost doubled, 1/2 to 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Just before baking, use finger to make dimples in dough. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons oil over dough, letting some pool in dimples. Sprinkle dough with remaining 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt.
  4. Bake until bottom of focaccia is richly colored and crisp and top is golden brown, about 25 minutes. As soon as focaccia comes out of oven, carefully place one sliver of sun-dried tomato in each dimple. Use large spatula to remove focaccia from pan and slide onto wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cooled focaccia may be wrapped in plastic and then foil and frozen for 1 month. Unwrap frozen focaccia and reheat in 375-degree oven 10 to 15 minutes.

Step-by-Step: Making Focaccia

  1. Gently deflate the risen dough with your hands then transfer it to a jelly roll pan that has been generously sprayed with vegetable oil.
  2. Press the dough into the pan, stretching it so that the dough reaches all sides of the pan. Make sure to push the dough into all four corners.
  3. After the dough has risen a second time, use your forefinger to make indentations at 2-inch intervals. The dimples should be deep enough to hold small pieces of topping and/or pools of olive oil.
  4. As soon as the focaccia is finished baking, use a large spatula to transfer it to a wire rack. Cooling the bread on a rack prevents the bottom crust from becoming soggy.