Last Updated on 2023/05/30
Focaccia Genovese: An Emblem of Ligurian Gastronomy
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Genovese focaccia is a Ligurian culinary specialty, characterized by its golden-amber color, well-defined air pockets, and thickness of around one centimeter. Before the final rise, the dough is brushed with an emulsion of extra virgin olive oil, water, and coarse salt.
Consumed from breakfast to aperitifs, it’s traditionally accompanied by a small glass of white wine. In Liguria, it’s also common to dip focaccia in cappuccino or milk for breakfast. The ancient Phoenicians and Greeks already practiced baking, using barley and rye flours mixed with water and cooked over a fire.
The word “focaccia” means low bread and comes from the Late Latin “focus,” referring to cooking in a hearth. Focaccia has been enjoyed since the Middle Ages, even at weddings and funerals. Its durability made it a staple for travelers and fishermen. Yeast was only introduced later, while ancient recipes didn’t use it.
In Genoa’s port area, “sciamadde” (street fry shops with wood-fired ovens) were born, where focaccia was also baked, making it an inexpensive and popular food. Over time, the traditional recipe changed to accommodate modern life. Today, baker’s yeast is often used instead of natural leaven, and cheaper oils have replaced extra virgin olive oil. Some modern recipes add butter, altering the dough’s harmony. These changes have made focaccia less flavorful, less digestible, and with a shorter shelf life, although some Genoese bakeries still use the classic traditional recipe with high-quality ingredients.
The original focaccia recipe called for white flour, a pinch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and water. The dough was rolled out onto a greased, shallow baking sheet, poked with fingers, and sprinkled with salt and oil. It was then baked until golden. Today, the recipe differs, using type 00 flour, baker’s yeast, one-third oil, and sometimes mashed potatoes. The rising time is shorter and usually takes place in a dark, warm area for about an hour. Baking times vary due to numerous factors, including oven type, temperature, climate, dough, and individual preferences.
The complex rising process and meticulous dough preparation for focaccia require about 20 hours, making the final product sensitive to weather conditions, with less optimal results on humid or rainy days. An excellent bake is guaranteed by a bakery oven (preferably wood-fired), but a decent focaccia can also be made at home.
Its most classic variation is topped with very thinly sliced onions (fugàssa co-a çiòula).
Ingredients for a 40 x 35 cm baking pan
For the dough:
- 350 grams of Manitoba flour (I recommend Lo Conte’s Magic Flours)
- 150 grams of type 0 flour
- 300 grams of room-temperature water
- 1 heaped teaspoon of dry yeast (or 8 grams of fresh yeast)
- 30 grams of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- 10 grams of fine salt
For the brine:
- 100 – 120 ml of water
- 2 tablespoons of oil + a little extra for finishing
- 2 generous pinches of fine salt
- 1 tablespoon of coarse salt (for finishing)
Instructions for Genovese Focaccia Bread
- First, prepare the ‘biga’ or pre-ferment. Combine 100 grams of flour (taken from the total amount of Manitoba and type 0 mixed together), 60 grams of water (also taken from the total), and the yeast. Knead by hand, form a ball and make a cross cut on top.
- Cover with cling wrap and let it rise at 26 °C (a briefly heated, then turned off oven) for about 1 and a half to 2 hours. After this period, the biga should have doubled its volume.
- Add the remaining flour, the rest of the water, and the honey to the biga bowl. Knead using a dough hook on a mixer or by hand until all the ingredients are well combined. This process should only take a few minutes. The dough should cling to the dough hook.
- Gradually add the oil and knead until well incorporated. After about 5 minutes, you’ll see the Genovese focaccia dough becoming elastic and pulling away from the sides of the bowl. You can also knead by hand.
- Add the salt and mix well, then form a ball.
- Cover with cling wrap and let it rise for at least 3 hours at 26 °C (in a briefly heated, then turned off oven). The dough should triple in volume. In winter, this might take up to 4 hours, but in summer 2 and a half hours should suffice.
- At this point, you can ‘punch down’ the dough and proceed in various ways:
If you want to freeze the entire or part of the dough: This can be handy if you’re having a small dinner party, or if you want to save some dough for future events or buffets. Turn out the dough onto a work surface and seal the entire dough or divide it into 350-gram portions. Seal these in airtight containers or special freezer bags. To defrost, simply leave it in the refrigerator. Allow it to come to room temperature, still sealed with cling wrap, before proceeding as described below.
To prolong the rising time in the fridge: This can be particularly useful if you want a more digestible Genovese focaccia. In this case, you can use just 5 grams of fresh yeast and leave the dough in the fridge for anywhere from overnight up to 72 hours. When you’re ready to use the dough, allow it to come to room temperature while still sealed with cling wrap, and then proceed as below.
Featured image: source
Topics: History of Genovese Focaccia, How to Make Genovese Focaccia, Traditional Genovese Focaccia Recipe, Baking Process of Genovese Focaccia, Influence of Ancient Baking on Genovese Focaccia, Role of Sciamadde in Genovese Focaccia Tradition, Genovese Focaccia in Ligurian Cuisine, Fugàssa Co-a Çiòula Variation of Genovese Focaccia, Evolution of Genovese Focaccia Through the Ages
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