A Simple Sourdough Focaccia

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Wrinkled fingers and toes, sand in every nook and cranny, lunch sacks with empty oil-stained white baker’s paper, and serpentine hair that could pass as a sun-bleached mop head—all signs of a successful outing to the beach. Our daily trips to the Adriatic’s cool, blue waters were welcome escapes from the city heat during family visits to Southern Italy. Our little beach— perhaps with a bit of fantasy I like to think it was just ours—was a short drive away in a small stick-shift car packed to the brim with people. Family car after family car, we’d speedily caravan through the small towns toward our respite. The few, yet crucial, stops along the way had a single purpose: to fill our sacks with baked goods meant to sustain our time away. My favorite among these, by a long measure, was a simple sourdough focaccia.

With hardly a second thought, we’d buy several full sheet trays of the golden bread. The baker would cut the thick slabs into manageable pieces and wrap the entire thing in the white paper, sealed shut with a shiny sticker— conceivably an attempt to elevate the humble, yet utterly otherworldly, snack.

Topping focaccia with herbs and salt

You see, focaccia is a rustic and simple affair: it’s a slab of naturally leavened dough topped with simple ingredients, any vegetable in season, olive oil, and salt. Some focaccia are soft, and some are crispy (my preference), sometimes thick and sometimes thin. There are as many variations across Italy as there are dialects. The beauty of this bread is that you can make it with little effort. First, mix the dough in the morning, then let it rise during the day, and finally bake it just before dinner. If you have a ripe sourdough starter, salt, and olive oil, you’re hours away from golden focaccia—and all the wonderful olfactory impressiveness therein—baking in your home oven.

Because sourdough focaccia has so few ingredients, the ones you use should be of the utmost quality. Use vegetables in season and the highest quality olive oil you can find. In this post, I worked with Jovial’s Olio Nuovo, a fresh-pressed olive oil from the Valpantena area of Northern Italy. It isn’t easy to source exclusively fresh-pressed olive oil. Usually, this oil is blended with aged oil, balancing the flavor profile to make it consistent with other offerings throughout the year. This fresh oil has a delicate flavor but a balanced, upfront fruitiness as well. If you’ve never had the chance to try an oil like this, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Olive oil, tomatoes, and rosemary toppings

Flour Selection

With this naturally leavened focaccia, I wanted little sourness in the result. While I typically include whole grains in most of my recipes, I wanted the flavor of this classic bread to be mild so the taste of the olive oil and fresh toppings pop. Removing all the whole grain flour from initial trials hit the spot.

For this formula, I blended 30% high protein flour (about 13% protein) with 70% all-purpose flour (11-12% protein). The high protein flour helps give this highly-hydrated dough strength and structure—and 30% is just enough.

Focaccia Toppings

This simple sourdough focaccia can be topped with just about anything you can imagine. My favorite is rosemary, chopped cherry tomatoes, pitted kalamata olives, coarse sea salt, and good quality olive oil. Traditionally, Ligurian focaccia (and as shown in the recent Salt Fat Acid Heat episode on Netflix) is topped with a salty brine. Instead, I love dusting the top with coarse sea salt: the chunky crystals bring unexpected pops of flavor.

Here are a few more ideas:

  • Tomatoes, capers, oregano, garlic, olive oil
  • Thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes3 with coarse sea salt, fresh thyme, and olive oil
  • Sliced and olive oil-marinated red onions, brined olives, and fresh chopped tomatoes
  • Grated hard cheeses of all kinds (parmesan, pecorino, etc.), rosemary, olive oil
Focaccia with cherry tomatoes and black olives

A Simple Sourdough Focaccia Recipe

Special Equipment

For this sourdough focaccia, you will need a round or rectangular pan for baking. I like to use a deep pan (as opposed to a baking sheet) so the focaccia doesn’t dry out too fast in the oven. My preferred pans:

Both pans have a nonstick interior, and they conduct heat exceptionally well, imparting a beautiful crust on the naturally leavened focaccia.

Vitals

Total Dough Weight1,200 grams
Sourdough Starter19.00%
Hydration76.00%
YieldOne 1200g focaccia

Total Formula

This table shows the entire quantity and baker’s percentages for each ingredient. If you’d like to make two large focaccia (or four smaller ones), double everything in the table below.

There’s no specific levain build for this focaccia, just use some of your sourdough starter when it’s ripe (when you’d normally give it a refreshment). See my post on the differences between a levain and sourdough starter for more information on the two preferments.

Target final dough temperature (FDT) is 76°F (24°C).

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
423gAll-purpose flour (King Arthur All-Purpose Flour)70.00%
181gHigh protein bread flour, malted (King Arthur Bread Flour)30.00%
12gExtra virgin olive oil (Jovial Olio Nuovo Organic Olive Oil)2.00%
459gWater76.00%
11gSalt1.80%
115gSourdough starter (100% hydration)19.00%
A Simple Focaccia via @theperfectloaf
Mature starter (left), and ingredients set for hand mixing (right).

Method

Mix – 9:00 a.m.

This dough can be mixed by hand (I would use the slap and fold technique) or with a stand mixer like a KitchenAid.

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add both the flours, water, salt, and ripe sourdough starter (hold back the olive oil until later in mixing). 

Mix on speed 1 for 1 to 2 minutes until incorporated. Then, mix on speed 2 for 5 minutes until dough strengthens and clumps around the dough hook. Let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for 10 minutes.

Next, turn the mixer on to speed 1 and slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl while mixing. Once all of the olive oil is absorbed, turn the mixer up to speed 2 for 1 to 2 minutes until the dough comes back together.

Transfer your dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.

This highly hydrated and enriched dough is  wet and loose , it won’t strengthen to the same degree as a typical bread dough.

As you can see below on the left, immediately after mixing the dough is still very wet and chunky. However, it’s not falling apart or soupy. Resist the temptation to add more flour at this point, as you can see below in the image at the right, by the middle of bulk fermentation it’ll strengthen after several sets of stretch and folds.

Dough at the beginning and end of bulk fermentation
Dough at beginning of bulk fermentation (left). Dough after several sets of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation (right).

Transfer the dough to a covered container for bulk fermentation.

Bulk Fermentation – 9:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.

Give the dough 4 sets of stretch and folds4, starting 30 minutes after mixing, and a set every 30 minutes thereafter.

Every 30 minutes for the remaining 2 hours of bulk fermentation gently stretch the dough, with wet hands, toward the corners of the rectangular container. The dough will resist stretching and spring back (especially with the oil underneath), but don’t force it—each time you stretch it’ll relax a bit more and eventually fill the container.

Spreading focaccia dough in pan
Dough transferred to baking pan for final proof

Proof – 11:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Transfer the dough to a deep rectangular pan that’s been greased with olive oil. If you don’t have a pan with a silicone liner, make sure to heavily oil the pan’s interior so the focaccia doesn’t stick during baking.

At 76-78°F (24-25°C), the dough will proof for 4 hours. This time period is flexible and dependent on the temperature: if it’s cooler, let it proof longer, and conversely, if it’s warm, you might be able to bake sooner.

Every 30 minutes for the first hour, uncover the pan and gently stretch the dough with wet hands to the pan’s edges to encourage it to fill the pan. The dough will naturally spread out during this proofing period, so it’s unnecessary to spread the dough aggressively. Once the dough is mostly spread to the edges, cover the pan and proof for 4 hours.

OVERNIGHT OPTION: After two hours in proof, cover the rectangular pan with an airtight cover and transfer to the fridge. The next day, take out the dough and let it come to room temperature, and continue with the Top & Bake step below.

The rectangular pan I use fits perfectly inside my B&T Dough Proofer. I keep it inside the proofer, covered with reusable plastic, and set to 78°F (25°C) until ready to bake.

Proofing dough

About 30 minutes before you anticipate the sourdough focaccia dough being ready, preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C) with a rack placed in the bottom third (a baking stone is not necessary).

Top & Bake – 3:15 p.m.

Dimpling focaccia dough

First, dimple the unadorned dough with wet fingers. Make sure the dimples are evenly spaced and go all the way down to the bottom of the pan. Then, drizzle on 1-2 tablespoons of your extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with herbs and coarse sea salt. If using other toppings, add them now as well—I like to press them into the dough gently.

A Simple Focaccia via @theperfectloaf

Bake the focaccia in the oven at 450°F (232°C) until deeply colored on top, about 30 minutes. Rotate the pan front-to-back halfway through this time. Keep an eye on it during the last 5 minutes and pull it out if it’s coloring too quickly, or leave it in longer if you’d like it a little darker.

Let the focaccia cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. It’s fantastic warm from the oven, and best on the day of baking, but it’ll keep well for a couple days loosely wrapped in foil (reheat under the broiler before serving).

Conclusion

When I topped the pillowy focaccia dough, the aroma of fruity olive oil and chopped rosemary was captivating. Once the pan was slid into the oven, my house gradually filled with the most intoxicating perfume as the dough rose high and the edges began to crisp. The melange of baking dough, toasted herbs, olive oil, and briny olives had me checking the oven frequently—as if checking on it would expedite things. Sit tight, wait for it to finish, I told myself as I gently slapped my hand from opening the door yet again.

A Simple Focaccia via @theperfectloaf

Thanks to the copious addition of high-quality olive oil, both in the mix and on top of the dough, causes the dough to turn crispy and take on a beautiful golden hue. Biting through a slice first provides a faint resistance, then gives way to a soft and ultra-tender interior. A perfect mix of flavors and textures—an experience best savored, as if you’re at the beach without an agenda.

This simple and rustic sourdough focaccia, made with a naturally leavened dough and topped with just the right balance of ingredients, brings me right back to the blue waters of the Adriatic; the sun in my eyes and thick, crunchy slices of bread eaten with haste. The only things absent are the beautiful white wrapping paper and all those little bits of sand that seem to work their way into just about everything—yea, I can do without that.

A Simple Focaccia via @theperfectloaf
My son, ever-ready to snag a piece of bread off the table.

Thanks so much to Jovial for supplying me with their wonderful olive oil and sponsoring this simple sourdough focaccia recipe! As usual, the content and opinions here are my own.

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A Simple Focaccia via @theperfectloaf

A Simple Sourdough Focaccia

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  • Author: Maurizio Leo
  • Prep Time: 6 hours
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: One 1200g focaccia
  • Cuisine: Italian

Description

This easy to make and delicious focaccia comes together all in one day using your already ripe sourdough starter. Top with tomatoes, olives, rosemary, and coarse sea salt—or, really, anything you have in the kitchen that’s fresh and sounds delicious!


Ingredients

  • 423g all-purpose flour
  • 181g high-protein bread flour
  • 12g extra virgin olive oil
  • 459g water
  • 11g salt
  • 115g ripe sourdough starter

Instructions

Mix (9:00 a.m.)
This dough can be mixed by hand or with a stand mixer (like a KitchenAid). To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add both the flours, water, salt, and ripe sourdough starter (hold back the olive oil until later in mixing). 

Mix on speed 1 for 1 to 2 minutes until incorporated. Then, mix on speed 2 for 5 minutes until dough strengthens and clumps around the dough hook. Let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for 10 minutes.

Next, turn the mixer on to speed 1 and slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl while mixing. Once all of the olive oil is absorbed, turn the mixer up to speed 2 for 1 to 2 minutes until the dough comes back together.

Transfer your dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.

Bulk fermentation (9:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.)
Give the dough 4 sets of stretch and folds at 30-minute intervals, where the first set starts 30 minutes after the start of bulk fermentation.

Proof (11:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.)
Liberally oil the inside of a rectangular pan or two 8″ diameter circular baking pans. Gently scrape the dough out of the bulk fermentation directly into the rectangular pan (or onto a work surface, divide in two, and place each in a circular pan).

The dough will proof in the pan for 4 hours. Every 30 minutes for the first hour, uncover the pan and gently stretch the dough with wet hands to the pan’s edges to encourage it to fill the pan. The dough will naturally spread out during this proofing period, so it’s unnecessary to spread the dough aggressively. Once the dough is mostly spread to the edges, cover the pan and let it proof for the remainder of the 4 hours.

About 30 minutes before the end of the 4-hour proof period, preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C) with an empty rack in the bottom third.

Top & Bake (4:15 p.m.)
When your oven is preheated, dimple the top of the dough all over with wet fingers. Then, liberally drizzle on olive oil to cover the surface of the dough. Spread on chopped herbs and coarse sea salt. Bake until golden on the top and bottom, about 30 minutes. Let the focaccia cool in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack. It’s wonderful straight from the oven, and best the day it’s baked.


Notes

Overnight proof option: mid-way through the 4-hour proof, place the covered pan with dough in the refrigerator to proof overnight. The next day, take the dough out, bring it up to room temp, finish proofing until well-risen and bubbly, and continue with the Top & Bake step.

Keywords: Flatbread, sourdough, naturally leavened

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!


  1. Slice the potatoes super thin on a mandoline, then toss with coarse salt. Let the potatoes drain over a colander for 15 minutes to help remove some water.

  2. Fold a side of the dough up and over to the other side and then rotate the container to perform 4 folds per set.

  3. Slice the potatoes super thin on a mandoline, then toss with coarse salt. Let the potatoes drain over a colander for 15 minutes to help remove some water.

  4. Fold a side of the dough up and over to the other side and then rotate the container to perform 4 folds per set.

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