Two Italian Brothers Slid into My DMs and Shared the Secret to the Best Focaccia

published Dec 1, 2022
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Credit: Nicole Rufus

Sometimes, my job as a food editor forces me to do some truly objectionable work. For instance, last year I had the absolute displeasure of trying four of the internet’s most popular focaccia recipes and judging them for our focaccia recipe showdown. Poor me, right? All jokes aside, that showdown taught me so much about focaccia making, and I still use many of the techniques I learned to this day.

Samin Nosrat’s focaccia recipe from her cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat, was easily my showdown winner. (My former colleague, Arie, was also a huge fan of Samin’s focaccia recipe.) The resulting focaccia is so dreamy. It’s pillowy on the inside but crispy on the outside with the perfect level of saltiness. The techniques used in Samin’s recipe are what really set it apart from the others for me.

Credit: Nicole Rufus
Credit: Nicole Rufus

In addition to the 12- to 14-hour fermentation period, the technique I was most intrigued by in Samin’s recipe was the salt-water brine. Once the focaccia has been stretched out in the pan, you pour about 1/3 cup of lukewarm salt-water over the dough. It felt so wrong! The dough looked so wet and goopy, but the brine imparts extra moisture and a wonderful salty flavor into the focaccia as it bakes.

After trying Samin’s recipe, I really didn’t think that I had much more to learn about focaccia baking, but it turns out I was wrong. Usually, I hate it when I’m wrong, but this was a rare instance where it turned out to be a good thing.

A few weeks ago, I was digging through my Instagram messages and found an unopened message from March. It was from two Italian brothers from Liguria who were opening a focaccia bakery in Michigan, called Dante’s Bakery. One of the brothers wrote to let me know that he had seen my focaccia showdown and agreed with my evaluation, but he had just one suggestion.

Credit: Nicole Rufus

According to him, in order to achieve the very best focaccia results, one should use liquid malt in place of honey as the sugar added to the yeast. Apparently, this is a common practice in Italy and it results in a perfectly crisp, flavorful crust. Now, I may know more than the average person about focaccia, but who I am to argue with two Ligurian focaccia-baking brothers? I wouldn’t dare. Instead, I decided I would give it a try by following Samin’s focaccia recipe but subbing in 1 tablespoon of liquid malt per the brother’s advice. Samin’s recipe calls for 2 1/2 teaspoons of honey, so I opted to use just a tad bit more liquid malt, as it’s not as sweet as honey.

Not to be dramatic, but the results were kind of mind-blowing. The malt imparts this entirely new depth of flavor into the focaccia that I had not anticipated. It gives the bread a subtle richness. On top of that, the crust was just so … sexy! Sorry! But it’s true. It was golden-brown, crisped to perfection, and every bite was an absolute joy. I had my friends over for our weekly Bachelor in Paradise screening, and we devoured this focaccia. Even my friend who had told me just hours before that she wouldn’t be eating any gluten that night couldn’t resist the temptation.

To the brothers of Dante’s Bakery, I thank you! No one has ever slid into my DM’s for so worthy a cause. You were not wrong — this truly is the trick to making the best focaccia.

Credit: Nicole Rufus