- The characteristics of traditional Focaccia Genovese
- A note on adapting Focaccia Genovese for U.S. ingredients
- Two Focaccia recipes compared
Certain Italian piatti tipici, traditional recipes, are codificate, meaning the original methods and ingredients have been standardized to protect the traditional regional origins of a dish. As much as I love getting creative in the kitchen, I also love that history and tradition has been preserved in certain Italian dishes.
Traditional Focaccia Genovese
Focaccia Genovese is one such example of a piatti tipici that has standard requirements. There are five main characteristics that distinguish Focaccia Genovese from others:
- Holes: The dough is dimpled by fingerprints.
- Height: The bread must be no higher than 2 cm.
- Texture: Crunchy exterior and a soft interior.
- Taste: Fermented yeast, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil.
- Oil: Olive oil is truly the star of focaccia. It is found in the dough, to grease the pan, and then drizzled on top before baking and also when it comes out of the oven.
There are other types of focaccia, such as Focaccia Pugliese, which differs from Focaccia Genovese by including boiled potatoes in the dough. It is often topped with cherry tomatoes, olives, and oregano, and is much thicker and softer.
Making Traditional Focaccia Genovese at Home – A Note on U.S. Adaptations
There is nothing like recreating a dining experience abroad at home. At least your taste buds can go on the journey, even if you are physically planted at home.
However, there are several challenges to recreating Italian dishes in the United States exactly as they are found in the motherland. Even ingredients as simple as flour, salt, yeast, and olive oil, etc. are slightly different or may be difficult to find.
Flour in in Italy is classified by how finely it is ground:
- 00 (finest)
- 2 (coarsest)
In the United States, flour is classified by gluten content:
So which of these is best for focaccia?
Some recipes in Italian call for farina di Manitoba, which has a high gluten content, whereas others call for farina 0, or a combination of the two. In the United States, it is perfectly fine to substitute all-purpose flour.
Some Italian recipes suggest using regular olive oil in the dough and topping since it will be baked, and using extra-virgin olive oil exclusively to drizzle on top hot out of the oven.
If you would like to use an extra authentic olive oil from Liguria, you could try Riviera Ligure D.O.P. olive oil made from Taggiasche olives that appear in the Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.
Many Italian recipes call for sea salt or sale fino in the dough and sale grosso, coarse salt, for the topping.
In the U.S., however, it’s very important to note the differences between two major brands of salt: Diamond and Morton. All salt is sodium chloride (NaCl), but the difference is in the structure of the crystals.
Many a good recipes have been ruined by not understanding the differences between these two salts. Diamond salt crystals are much thinner and flatter, while Morton crystals are much more coarse. As a result, Morton seems saltier than Diamond when the same proportions are used.
Samin Nosrat’s Ligurian focaccia recipe from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat specifies Diamond salt. One should note that if you are using fine sea salt, then the proportions should be equivalent. However, if you are using Morton salt, make sure to cut the proportions in half or it will be unpalatably salty.
Two Focaccia Recipes Compared
After visiting Liguria (one of my favorite places in the world) several times, I was inspired to try to make some homemade focaccia. I came across two recipes:
1. Samin Nosrat’s interpretation of Ligurian Focaccia from her book and Netflix series, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.
2. Focaccia Genovese from Fred Plotkin’s book Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera (adapted from this focaccia recipe by Carol Field).
I noticed the ingredients and methods were *slightly* different in each recipe, so I decided to try them both and compare the results. I hope that the following observations will aid you in your pursuit of homemade Focaccia.
Both recipes call for the typical flour, active dried yeast (more common in the U.S. than lievito di birra or fresh yeast), water, and salt (though Samin’s recipe specifies Diamond Crystal salt).
Samin Nosrat’s Focaccia calls for honey (often an American substitute for malto), whereas Fred Plotkin’s Focaccia calls for dry white wine, which he cites as a typical addition in Genoa.
Both recipes achieve the taste, texture and leavening from fermenting yeast, although by different means.
Samin Nosrat’s recipe calls for mixing all ingredients together for a long fermentation of 12 to 14 hours.
Fred Plotkin’s recipe uses a sponge – a mixture of water, active dry yeast, and flour that must ferment for 30 minutes before being added to the dough.
It might be surprising that Samin’s recipe calls for a brine, salamoia, to be poured over the dough before baking. It seems like this might make the dough soggy, but it will yield a beautifully crispy and salty brown crust, so don’t be afraid! The focaccia is then drizzled with additional olive oil out of the oven.
Fred’s recipe merely calls for a drizzle of olive oil and salt for the topping. For the moisture, it is recommended to add a jar of water or spritz water into the oven during baking.
Both focaccia recipes are absolutely delicious. It is difficult to choose a favorite, and in the future I might combine the two methods and use the shorter sponge method (since it can be made the same day) with the salamoia (brine) topping.
The white wine did not produce a pronounced or obvious flavor – I probably would not have noticed it was even there (but perhaps this also depends on which wine is used).
The icing on the cake – or the salt on the focaccia shall we say – for me was the brine. It produced a more evenly salty crust, similar to the way a sugar glaze creates a delicate thin coat of sugar.
Samin’s long fermentation produced a more airy crumb, but I didn’t find flavor to be compromised by the sponge method.
Focaccia is one of my favorite Italian breads, and I can’t wait to make it again and eat more in Liguria.
Now I’d love to hear from you: Do you have a favorite focaccia recipe or method?
To read more about focaccia in Liguria, check out Diane’s post on Focaccia in Liguria on her blog Simply Signorina.