Ligurian focaccia

Here is my highly-requested recipe for Ligurian focaccia! Be sure to use the best-quality, mild tasting extra virgin olive oil you can find. The first time I made this I used a cheap, bitter-tasting oil and it really altered the taste of the final product. You can adjust the pan sizes slightly, but don’t vary more than an inch because it will effect greatly the thickness of the focaccia.

Ligurian Focaccia

For the sponge

  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) cool to lukewarm water (not hot)
  • 1/4 teaspoon (0.6 g) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup (130 g) all-purpose flour

For the dough

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (6.3 g) active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
  • 3 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon (500 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold water (285 ml), divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (9 g) salt
  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

For the pans

  • 2, 10.5 x 15.5 inch or 11 x 17 inch baking sheets or jelly-roll pans (alternatively, you may also use 1 large, 20 x 15 inch baking sheet)
  • 1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

For the brine

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon (11 g) salt 

To finish

  • 1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  1. Prepare the sponge: the night before preparing the focaccia, stir together the water and yeast until the yeast dissolves. Add the flour and knead briefly by hand until a shaggy dough forms. Transfer to a small bowl or jar where the sponge touches the sides yet has some room to grow vertically (this is important in order for the sponge to develop correctly). Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at cool room temperature overnight (12-14 hours).
  2. Make the dough: The next day, dissolve the yeast in 2 tablespoons lukewarm (not hot) water in small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a hook attachment combine sponge, flour, sugar and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons very cold water (you will add the remaining 1 tablespoon cold water later). Mix on low speed until a shaggy mass forms, then raise to medium speed and knead for about 5 minutes. Add the olive oil and the yeast-water mixture, continue to knead for another 3 minutes on medium speed. Add 1 tablespoon of water and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5-10 more minutes. 
  3. If you are using 2 smaller pans, cut the dough in half (if you are using only 1 larger pan, leave dough whole). Gently stretch one portion of dough in order to fold it into thirds. Rotate the dough 90°, stretch and fold into thirds again. Gently stretch the dough into a rectangular shape and set aside on a lightly-floured work surface. Repeat with the other portion of dough. Dust the tops lightly with flour, cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. 
  4. Prepare the pans: Gently roll out the dough with a flour-dusted rolling pin, to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil in each cookie sheet and spread with your fingers to grease the entire bottom and sides of the sheets. (If using only 1 larger sheet, grease with 1/4 cup oil). Place the rolled out dough into the pans and gently spread it out with your hands. Don’t worry if it doesn’t reach the sides of the pan, it will continue to rise. Cover with a clean dish towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a draft-free place for 1 hour. 
  5. For the brine: Stir together hot water and salt until the salt is completely dissolved, about 3-5 minutes; set aside to cool. Uncover the dough and test with your finger, if the dough sticks to your finger, dust lightly with flour, otherwise leave as is. Make the indentions in the focaccia with your fingertips. There is a special technique for this, as illustrated in this video. Place one cookie sheet on the table in front of you with the short side closest to you. Use only your index, middle and ring finger at a 45° angle (I only use one hand, some bakers use both but I’m not that coordinated), but you don’t want to use only the tips, but the entire pad of your fingers (as if you were trying to leave your entire fingerprint). Starting at the top, left hand side of the tray, begin making decisive indentions in the dough, working your way down the entire left side of the pan. Begin another row and work your way down again. Repeat until the entire tray is dimpled, and repeat with the other pan. Pour half the brine over the dough in each pan and drizzle each with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. (If using only 1 large pan, pour all the brine and 1/4 cup oil over the dough). It will seem like way too much brine, but have faith! It should fill all the dimples. The oil will bead up on the surface. Let rise again for 1 hour (no need to cover it this time). 
  6. Preheat the oven to 450°F with one rack placed in the upper third and one placed in the lower third of the oven. You might want to place another large cookie sheet on the bottom of the oven to catch any brine that bubbles over. When the oven is hot, bake the focaccia for 15-16 minutes, rotating trays top to bottom and back to front halfway through cooking time. The focaccia is ready when it is golden brown, but the dimples are still light beige. Remove from oven and brush immediately with olive oil. Remove immediately from the baking sheet and let cool upside down so the bottoms don’t get mushy. Eat warm. 

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