Forget the pale, crumbly and too-sweet pillow bread that fuelled the focaccia rage of the 90’s. This is how a timeless and traditional Italian Focaccia recipe should be: ridiculously soft and fluffy inside, just-crispy on the outside and with a signature chew from the secret ingredient – potato!
About this Focaccia recipe
Focaccia – that dimpled, flat–shaped Italian bread generously flavoured with olive oil – is found all over Italy and varies from place to place. I was torn with indecision about what type of focaccia to share, but eventually landed on this particularly well-known type called focaccia barese from Southern Italy.
It’s from the city of Bari in Puglia, and this focaccia has an exceptionally fluffy interior and distinctive chew that comes from incorporating mashed potato into the dough.
I love that the potato clearly distinguishes it from just another type of basic bread!
The outside crusts meanwhile takes on a lovely golden crunch from baking in the pan thanks to an Italian “dash” (ie. more than just a teaspoon ) of olive oil.
Together these qualities make a focaccia probably quite unlike any you’ve tried – so get set for a revelation!
And yet, focaccia is also one of the easiest breads to make and is pretty much foolproof. Even a first-time baker could pull this off without breaking much of a sweat.
What makes this Focaccia recipe different?
For those of you who are interested in the nitty gritty of focaccia-making, here is some background information about focaccia barese which is the type of focaccia we are making here today!
- High hydration – The dough for this recipe has particularly high hydration levels from the water and moisture in the potatoes. This is what gives the bread the springy, airy texture and open crumb;
- NO KNEAD – That’s right! This focaccia is a no-knead bread. The dough is simply too wet and sticky to knead, so we instead rely on a 3-proof method (more this below);
- Mashed potato – The unique inclusion of potato in the dough is what adds chew and body that you you don’t otherwise get with a straight flour focaccia. It also helps the crumb retain moisture;
- Lots of olive oil! Any focaccia recipe worth its salt (or oil?) will call for lashings of olive oil for flavour. In this focaccia, it also makes the crust deliciously crispy, almost like it’s been fried like deep pan pizza!
- Three dough proofs (rises) … YES! This step is essential. However because I’m worried this will be a turn-off for some, I’ve provided more details below to convince you it’s worth it – and it really is effortless.
Three dough proofs (rises)!
The recipe does require three proofs for the dough. But really, it is not a big deal! They are quick and the benefit is no messy kneading on the counter or in the stand-mixer. It takes just 1 hour 40 minutes for rising in total for the whole recipe, and just a minute or two to prepare the dough for each rise.
We tried reducing it to 2 proofs but found the result wasn’t as good, and 1 proof was even more inferior.
We need to rise the dough 3 times because because the dough is so wet we can’t knead it. Instead we let the bread “knead” itself through proofing. Proofing and folding several times before baking encourages gluten development and starch transformation to give the bread structure, as well as the time to develop flavour.
What you need for this Focaccia recipe
Here’s what you need for the focaccia bread. Toppings are shown separately below.
- Potato (boiled and mashed) – Just plain, boiled and mashed potato. It’s the traditional “secret ingredient” that distinguishes this focaccia from “just another bread”! It gives the focaccia a moist, fluffy interior and distinctive chew that you can’t achieve without the potato;
- Instant / Rapid rise yeast – This is yeast that can be added directly into the dough, rather than mixing with warm water and sugar to let it foam first before mixing in which is the standard process when using Active Dry Yeast. If you only have Active Dry Yeast, see recipe notes for how to adapt the recipe. The focaccia will rise marginally less, but the difference is small;
- Bread flour – This is a type of baking flour that has higher protein than standard plain/all-purpose flour which gives breads a better chew and elasticity. You get a better result with bread flour, and if you are making this for company, I do think it’s worth a trip to the store. But if you only have plain/all-purpose flour, this focaccia is still totally worth making!
- Extra virgin olive oil – It isn’t focaccia if you don’t use liberal amounts of olive oil! It provides flavour as well as making the base so crisp it’s almost like it’s fried. Don’t skimp on the oil! (And it works out to be not that much per serve.)
- Sugar – This is for flavour but also to “feed” the yeast so it activates and makes the dough rise; and
- Warm water – Also for yeast, because it loves a nice, warm and cosy environment. Just tap water is fine, around 40°C/104°F. Think pleasant bubble bath temperature. If the water is stone cold the yeast won’t activate. If it’s so hot you’re scalding yourself, it’s too hot and the yeast may be killed! We want the goldilocks temperature.
Toppings for Focaccia
I’m sharing three different toppings in this Focaccia recipe:
- Rosemary and garlic – A lovely classic version;
- Tomato and oregano – Looks cheerful, and we love how the tangy and sweet tomato juices seep into the focaccia; and
- Olive – Another classic variation that looks beautifully striking with the stark contrast of the black olives studded in the golden crust!
1. Rosemary and garlic Focaccia
This is a “plain”, classic version made using fresh rosemary and garlic – though there’s nothing “plain” about homemade focaccia!
We’re using confit garlic which might sound fancy, but it’s just garlic that’s cooked in oil over a low heat until soft. Why do we have to bother, you ask? Because otherwise the garlic burns too much at the high oven temperature required to crisp the surface of the focaccia. Soft-cooking larger pieces helps protect the garlic. Nobody wants bitter black bits of garlic on their focaccia!
2. Tomato Focaccia
Made with cherry tomatoes, the trick with this is to squish them before pressing them firmly into the dough. This makes the tomatoes soften and stay semi-sunk in the dough, and allows the juices to seep into the crumb (the best part!).
If you don’t squish, the cherry tomatoes kind of pop out and end up rolling around on the surface of the focaccia… and inevitably across the floor!
I’ve used oregano as the herb but any dried mixed herbs or fresh rosemary will also work well.
3. Olive Focaccia
Kalamata olives (pitted) make an ideal choice here. I love how juicy and salty they are, and how the deep purple, almost black colour, really stands out against the golden brown surface.
I’ve used oregano as the herb for this one too, but rosemary also works well (fresh, not dried).
Olive Oil and Sea Salt Flakes
In addition to the above toppings, all focaccia are finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a good pinch of sea salt flakes. It’s really worth using sea salt flakes for the surface, rather than cooking / kosher salt so they stay mostly whole as little salty pops rather than dissolving into the bread surface.
Love the way the olive oil pools in the holes!
Focaccia recipe process steps
As mentioned above, this focaccia recipe calls for 3 dough rises which takes 1 hr 40 minutes in total. Read more about why it’s worth it and yields a better result – don’t skip it!
Also, it’s worth noting that this is a no-knead bread. The dough is quite sticky, so it’s simply mixed with a spatula!
Part 1: Make the Dough (it’s no-knead!)
- Dry ingredients: Mix Dry ingredients in a bowl;
- Add Wet ingredients: Make a well in the middle, then pour the Wet ingredients in;
- Mix with spatula: Use a stiff rubber spatula to mix together. It will form a sticky dough;
- Add mashed potato → smear! Then add the mashed potato. Mix it in to start incorporating it into the dough. Then start smearing the dough along the walls of the bowl – this motion makes it easier to fully mix the potato into the dough. See demo in recipe video at the 23 sec mark;
Part 2: First rise, 30 minutes
- Rise #1 – 30 minutes, 50% swell: Once the potato is fully mix in, shape it into a ball. Then cover with cling wrap and put the bowl in a warm place for 30 minutes so it swells at least 50% in size. Up to around double in size is fine. You don’t want to let dough rise too much – say triple or so – because then the yeast is using up all its rising power, so it might not rise as much as it should when baking;
Part 3: Second rise, 30 minutes
- Fold sides in: Grease another bowl with extra virgin olive oil, then scrape the dough in. Using your hands, fold the sides in 6 times. In this step, we are punching down the dough as well as stretching it.
Shape it into a ball and cover with cling wrap;
- Rise #2 – 30 minutes, 50% swell: Put the bowl in a warm place for another 30 minutes so it rises at least 50% (again, up to around double in size is fine);
Part 4: Prepare toppings and pan
- Prepare toppings: Meanwhile, prepare the toppings. I’m sharing 3 different topping options today.
– Rosemary Garlic: A very classic flavour combination!
– Cherry Tomato: I love the vibrant pops of red and how the juices seep into the bread; and
– Olive Oregano: Another classic topping option;
- Prepare pan: Also prepare the pan. Use a W26.6 x L20 x D5cm non-stick rectangle pan (metal, not glass or ceramic) or a 9″ cake pan. This is the ideal size as it makes a focaccia about 3cm / 1.3″ tall which is a nice height-to-crispy-crust ratio! Grease it generously with olive oil. Now is not the time to worry about calories – the oil is essential not only for flavour but also for the signature crispy base and sides!
Part 5: Dough into pan and third (final) rise
- Spread dough in pan: After Rise 2, scrape the dough into the oiled pan, then stretch it out to fill the pan as best you can. It is quite an elastic dough so it will not want to co operate. Persist! Stretch it out and it will eventually stay put.
Once the dough is stretched to pretty much covers the base of the pan (Rise #3 below will make it fill the pan, don’t worry), smooth the surface, Lift the dough from each edge to release air bubbles trapped under the dough, while scooping up remaining oil in pan and smearing the underside to coat well;
- Third rise – 40 minutes, about 30% swell: The final rise! Cover the pan with cling wrap and put in a warm place for 40 minutes until the dough fills the pan. It will not rise very much, only about 25 – 30%;
- Preheat oven: Meanwhile preheat oven to 220°C/430°F (200°C fan), and set a rack on middle shelf. Allow enough time to ensure oven has been preheated for at least 15 mins for best results;
Part 6: Bake!
- Oil surface: Remove cling wrap from pan. Drizzle dough with 2 teaspoons olive oil and gently rub over surface so the whole surface is covered with oil;
- Poke away to make those holes! My favourite step! Well, other than eating it. Poke all your fingers into the dough, repeatedly across the surface. Push your fingers deep enough that they hit the pan base. This creates the signature dimpling (it will deflate the dough somewhat and this is fine). Don’t be shy with how many holes you create, or how evenly they are spaced out. You literally cannot ruin the focaccia with too much poking – and believe me, I have tried. Most of the holes will fill themselves in when baking;
- More oil! Drizzle over the last 1.5 tbsp or so of olive oil, so the oil pools in the dimples and will bubble away inside as it bakes! ;
Part 5: Bake!
- Topping: Scatter with oregano or your choice of toppings, and finally the sea salt flakes. More on toppings and how to apply them below;
- Bake for 25 – 30 mins. Watch as your focaccia magically puffs up and sizzles with all that lovely olive oil! Cook until deep golden brown all over, the top is lightly crisp and the edges are crusty;
- Cool slightly: Turn out onto a cooling rack. Leave to cool for 10 mins before slicing – if you can resist … because the smell, friends, the smell! Focaccia is at its best and most insanely delicious served warm, fresh out of the oven!
This is what the underside of the focaccia should look like – a deep golden brown, and beautifully crispy like it’s been fried. Which it practically has been – in all that delicious olive oil!!
As for how to serve it? This bread is so rich, flavoursome and full of textures that it’s perfect as-is, straight out of the oven. But of course a little final drizzle of olive oil across the surface before slicing up into thick batons certainly won’t go astray …
And though some might think we’re olive oiled-out, providing a saucerful for dunking isn’t such a bad idea either – think like an Italian!
The focaccia will keep for a few days in an airtight container, but I do recommend reheating before serving. It will reinvigorate it to a near-freshly made state – warm, soft and fluffy on the inside, golden and crispy on the outside.
Focaccia this delicious and varied can wear many clothes. It’s easily worthy of a party antipasto or appetiser spread. It also makes a great snack or picnic food. Sandwich bread? Toasted for breakfast? For sure. Or, serve it alongside just about everything and anything – especially stews, braises and soups. There is nothing Focaccia doesn’t work with (except, ok, maybe Asian food, you get a hall pass … !) and your imagination really is the limit with this Italian beauty! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
- 1 2/3 cups bread flour (Note 1)
- 4 tsp white sugar
- 1 1/4 tsp salt , kosher/cooking salt
- 1 tsp instant / rapid rise yeast (Note 2)
- 3/4 cup very warm water (~40℃ /104℉)
- 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 125g/ 1/2 cup (packed) boiled and mashed potato , around 1/2 large potato; floury variety (Note 3)
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp sea salt flakes (Note 4)
Garlic Rosemary Topping (Note 5):
- 5 garlic cloves , cut into fine batons (Note 5)
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves (fresh)
Cherry Tomato Topping:
- 12 – 14 cherry tomatoes , red
- 3/4 tsp dried oregano leaves (or 2 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves)
Black Olive Topping:
- 16 – 18 kalamata olives , pitted
- 3/4 tsp dried oregano leaves (or 2 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves)
Make mashed potato: Peel potato, cut into 2.5cm / 1″ chunks. Boil until fully tender (around 10 – 15 mins; check centre with skewer). Drain and mash very well with a fork or masher until smooth and lump-free. Set aside to cool, and measure out required quantity.
Mix Dry: Place flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and mix well with a firm rubber spatula.
Add Wet: Make a well in the centre, then add olive oil and warm water. Mix with spatula until you can no longer see flour. Dough should be sticky – too sticky to knead by hand.
Add Potato: Add mashed potato. Using a folding motion, start mixing it through using the spatula. Then start smearing it along the walls of the bowl. Once potato is evenly incorporated, shape roughly into a ball in the bowl.
Rise 1: Cover bowl with cling wrap, then put in a warm place (25°C/77°C) for 30 minutes until it increases in volume by 50% or up to double in size. (Note 6)
Fold dough: Get another large bowl, drizzle with 2 teaspoons of olive oil then use your hands to smear it around the bowl. Scrape dough in, then fold the edges of the dough into the centre six times. Shape into ball, cover with cling wrap.
Rise 2: Put the bowl in a warm place (25°C/77°C) for 30 minutes until it increases in volume by 50% or up to double in size.
Prepare pan: Meanwhile, prepare the pan. Use a 26.5 x 20 x 5 cm / 10.5 x 8 x 2” metal non-stick pan, or a 9”/23cm round cake pan, preferably not springform (Note 7). Pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then smear it all across the base and along the walls.
Preheat oven: Preheat oven to 220°C / 430°F (200°C fan), and set a rack on middle shelf. Allow enough time to ensure oven has been preheated for at least 15 mins for best results.
Put dough in pan: Scrape dough into prepared pan. Stretch and pull to fill the base as best you can (itʼs an elastic dough so a bit stubborn!), and get the surface roughly level. Itʼs ok if itʼs bumpy, it will smooth out later.
Rise 3: Cover pan with cling wrap, then put in a warm place for 40 minutes until the dough expands and fills the pan, and the heigh rises by around 25 – 30%.
Prepare for Baking:
Smear surface with oil: Drizzle the surface with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, and smear/rub it over lightly with your hands.
Poke! Using both your hands like claws, push your fingers deep into the dough, right to the base of the pan to create the signature dimples. Do this around half a dozen times across dough surface. This will somewhat deflate the dough and is OK. (Note 8)
Toppings: Top with toppings of choice – see below.
Finishing olive oil & salt flakes: Drizzle the surface with 2 tablespoons of olive oil so it runs into the dimples. Then sprinkle with sea salt flakes.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the top is deep golden and lightly crisp, while the sides are fried and crusty.
Cool: Turn out onto a cooling rack. Let is rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting to serve. It is ridiculously good served freshly made!
Optional: Finishing with a final flourish of extra virgin olive oil across the surface certainly doesnʼt go astray! Also some olive oil for dipping is always welcome.
Confit Garlic & Rosemary: Place garlic and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil becomes hot, turn down to low and leave for 10 minutes. The garlic should not sizzle, it just poaches gently in hot oil. Strain, cool, then press onto surface of focaccia. Sprinkle with rosemary. Proceed with recipe.
Cherry tomato: Squish each tomato while holding near focaccia surface. Press onto surface, pushing into the dough. Sprinkle with oregano. Proceed with recipe.
Olives: Press onto surface of focaccia, pushing into the dough. Sprinkle with oregano. Proceed with recipe.
2. Instant / rapid rise yeast – this is the yeast that doesn’t need to be mixed with warm water and left to foam before using. It is just added straight into the dough. We found this makes the fluffiest focaccia.
Dry active yeast – to make this using dry/active yeast, change recipe steps as follows:
- Mix warm water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Cover and leave in warm place for 10 minutes until surface is completely foamy.
- Mix Dry ingredients per step 1. Make a well, add foamy yeast water, and the olive oil. Proceed with recipe.
Fresh yeast – haven’t tried yet!
3. Potato – All-rounders or floury potatoes are better here than waxy ones. Australia – Sebago (dirt brushed) are great. US: Russet or Yukon Gold. UK: Maris Piper. See my Creamy Mashed Potato post if you need more detail on making mashed potatoes (only follow potato mashing steps, and don’t salt the water – so, no butter or cream! ).
4. Sea salt flakes work best for sprinkling across the surface, rather than cooking/kosher salt. Definitely do NOT use table salt– too fine, makes it too salty,
5. Garlic Rosemary – this is a classic topping option. For this, we need to make Confit Garlic instead of using just raw garlic on the surface because raw garlic burns at the high temp required to bake the focaccia. Confit garlic becomes soft so it wonʼt burn, it will go golden and a bit crisp. The next day, some of it goes jammy which is sooo good!
GARLIC cutting: Cut the garlic into 2mm thick slices then each slice into 6mm / 1/4” thick pieces.
6. Dough rising: The rate at which dough rises and how much it rises in the times provided depends how warm it is. At 25°C/77°C, the dough will rise by almost double in Rise 1 and Rise 2. Don’t let the dough by much more than double (eg. triple in size) because the yeast may run out of rising power so the focaccia doesnʼt rise as much as it should when baking.
My winter fallback for dough rising: the dryer! Run it (empty!) for a couple of minutes, then put the bowl in and quickly close the door. A warm cosy place for the dough to rise!
7. Pan – Metal pans will make the crispiest crust, and non-stick is best. If you don’t have a non-stick pan, ensure you oil the pan base evenly and well. It may slightly stick but will still come out. Glass works fairly well too. 9”/23cm round cake pan also works great – see the olive focaccia pictured in post. Better if itʼs not springform as it leaks oil.
8. Dimples: Donʼt be shy with this step – make lots of holes, you cannot ruin it, I promise! They donʼt need to be even, irregular is fine. Most of the holes disappear when baked.
9. Storage – Focaccia keeps well for a few days sealed in a zip lock bag. I highly recommend reheating in the oven to make the inside soft and fluffy again, and crisp the outside!
10. Making dough ahead – We found this is one bread where letting the dough sit in the fridge for several days (whether to improve flavour or to prep ahead) actually leads to a WORSE focaccia. The dough loses much of its rising power, and results in a much denser bread when cooked. Overnight might be OK, but I did not test this. To be safe it’s best to make this one on the day you plan to serve!
11. Nutrition per serving, assuming 8 servings.
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