Ligurian Focaccia

Wotchers!

A few months ago I discovered an italian bread expert who is justifiably regarded as the king of focaccia. Chef Ezio Rocchi’s method is slightly unorthodox, but the results, as you can see from the picture, speak for themselves.

Although there are variations throughout Italy, the Ligurian focaccia is recognised as the original, with roots that go back to flatbreads baked in front of the hearth during the era of the Roman Empire.

This recipe is for (relatively) plain focaccia, flavoured with salt and olive oil. When it emerges from the oven it is golden, salty, crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and ideally should be no more than 2cm in height. The unusual element in this recipe comes from the use of a biga – or pre-made/aged dough – which improves both the flavour and consistency of the finished bread. It lengthens the process slightly, in that you make the biga the night before, then your focaccia the next day, but the good news is that it makes enough biga for 5 batches – so you can throw the other four into the freezer and defrost at your leisure, and therefore subsequent batches of focaccia are much more quickly achieved.

Chef Rocchi recently posted a video of a shortened method for making focaccia which you can view here – it’s in Italian, but the images are more important than precisely what he’s saying. He doesn’t use the biga in this version, but if my instructions below are a bit pants, then watching the expert at work is always informative and very soothing….

… right up to the moment he dunks his focaccia in his cappucino.

But he seems to enjoy it, so I’m not going to hold it against him.

Chef Rocchi recommends Molino Grassi farina di grani tenero however I found a mix of strong white and  fine white (type 0) or just regular plain worked well as substitutes. The recipe makes 1kg dough, enough for 2 x half-pan slabs (45cm x 30cm), and requires 4 hours on the 2nd day.

The focaccia is best enjoyed warm from the oven. I’m going to draw a discrete veil over the whole dipping in cappucino question. Store any remaining in a paper bag and gently warm the following day.

Ligurian Focaccia

Day 1 : 6pm-ish (suggested time)
Biga        
500g strong white flour
225-250ml water
1/2 sachet fast-action yeast

  • Mix until dough comes together in a firm-ish ball.
  • Cut a deep cross in the ball of dough (as if baking soda bread) and place in the bottom of the bowl you mixed it in.
  • Cover with clingfilm and leave for 12-15 hours (as suits your schedule) at room temperature.

Day 2 – 9am-ish. Total time about 4 hours
Dough
150g biga 
350g strong white flour
150g fine flour
300ml water
30ml olive oil
1 rounded tsp malt/malt extract/honey/muscovado sugar
10g salt
remainder of the yeast sachet

Brine – for each 500g dough
100ml tepid water
5g salt
30ml olive oil

1 tbs salt flakes
extra virgin olive oil to finish

  • Divide the biga into 150g portions (this amount will make 5) and wrap 4 in plastic. They will keep in the fridge for 3 days or the freezer for 3 months. Mix the remaining portion of biga with the rest of the dough ingredients. If using a mixer, mix on slow for 8 minutes, then on fast for 2 minutes which will bring it together into a smooth ball.
  • Divide the dough into 2 x 500g pieces and form them into balls.
  • Lay onto a floured surface and press down with the hands to form a rough rectangle.
  • Cover with a clean cloth and rest for 30 minutes. Grease 2 x half-sheet pans (45cm x 30cm) generously with olive oil.
  • Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 5mm and transfer it to the oiled pan. It will not cover all of the pan at this stage, maybe just 3/4. This is fine.
  • Cover with cling film and allow to rest in a warmed oven (heat to 30°C then turn off) for 30 minutes.
  • After resting, the dough will be much more pliable. Gently stretch the edges of the dough so that it covers the whole pan. Try and keep the dough an even depth all over. Make the edges slightly higher so the brine stays on the surface of the dough later.
  • Cover with plastic and set to rise in a warmed oven for 1 hour.
  • Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour & flour your hands. Make the holes in the dough. Using just three fingers, spread about 3cm apart, press them firmly into the dough in a downward and forward motion (see video here). These are not delicate dimples, poked by a fingertip, but deep-to-the-bottom-of-the-tin impressions (be careful not to poke right through the dough) using the entire first joint of the fingers.
  • Stir together the water, salt and oil for the brine until the salt is dissolved.
  • Pour the brine over the dough, ensuring it goes into each hole.
  • Set to rise in a warmed oven for 1 hour.
  • Gently remove trays & heat the oven to 250°C, 230°C Fan.
  • Add a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle salt flakes over the dough and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden on top and the base is crisp and speckled brown.
  • Brush with more extra virgin olive oil.
  • Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.