Centuries ago, focaccia began as a by-product: When bakers needed to gauge the heat of the wood-fired oven — focaccia stems from focolare and means “fireplace” — they would tear off a swatch of dough, flatten it, drizzle it with olive oil, and pop it into the hearth to bake as an edible oven thermometer.
From there evolved countless variations on the theme — the stuffed pizza-like focaccia in Puglia and Calabria, the ring-shaped focaccia in Naples, focaccia made from rich or lean doughs, and even sweet versions. That said, it’s the dimpled, chewy, herb-topped deep-dish focaccia alla genovese that’s most fundamental.
As is traditional, our recipe starts with a sponge — a mixture of flour, yeast, and water that ferments for at least 6 hours before it’s added to the bulk dough. The sponge helped develop gluten (which gives breads structure and chew), depth of flavor, and a hint of tang.
Rather than knead the dough, we simply used a series of gentle folds, which developed the gluten structure further while also incorporating air for a tender interior crumb. (This method was also helpful because our dough was quite wet and therefore difficult to knead; the more hydrated a bread dough, the more open and bubbly its crumb — a characteristic we were looking for in focaccia — because steam bubbles form and expand more readily.)
Fruity olive oil is a requisite ingredient, but when we added it straight to the dough, it turned the bread dense and cakelike. Instead, we baked the bread in cake pans coated with a couple tablespoons of oil. Be sure to reduce the temperature immediately after putting the loaves in the oven.
Servings: 12-16 (Makes two 9-inch round loaves)
Start to finish: 4 1/2 hours plus 6 hours fermenting time
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup water, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups water, room temperature
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
Nutrition information per serving: 158 calories; 45 calories from fat; 5 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 81 mg sodium; 24 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 3 g protein.
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