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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot
Recipe Review

I Tried 4 Popular Focaccia Recipes and the Winner Made Me Feel Like a Professional Baker

published May 21, 2021
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Not far from my apartment there’s an Italian bakery that I’ve been known to frequent several times a week. They have the most delicious sticky buns, and a great selection of Italian pantry items, but their freshly baked focaccia is really why you’ll find me there. I’m always blown away by how flavorful it is all on its own — no toppings or olive oil-dipping needed.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about great it would be if I could re-create this Italian favorite at home. I mean, is there any better party trick than serving your guests homemade focaccia? So I made it my mission to find the perfect recipe — one with a crispy, golden-brown exterior and a soft and airy center with plenty of beautiful air pockets. Would an hours-long fermentation prove to be the secret? Or could an easy no-knead version take home the top prize? I tried four popular recipes to find out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Meet Our 4 Contenders

To narrow our search down to just four recipes, I eliminated any that called for toppings or flavor-boosters, such as olives or herbs. From there, I chose four highly rated recipes that varied greatly in their approach and level of difficulty.

Anne Burrell’s focaccia recipe has been reviewed over 300 times and has a 5-star rating, with several commenters claiming it’s “perfect” and their “go-to.” It also calls for a lot of olive oil (1/2 cup in the dough and 1/2 cup on the baking sheet), so I had to see if that was the secret to success.

King Arthur Baking Company’s reputation proceeds itself, as they’ve won multiple other Kitchn recipe showdowns. Their no-fuss recipe, which they refer to as “blitz bread,” promised perfect focaccia in under two hours — no kneading necessary.

Alexandra’s Kitchen is run by cookbook author Alexandra Stafford, who is known for her excellent bread recipes (in fact, she won our zucchini bread showdown). Her recipe required a first rise of at least 12 hours — although she recommends upwards of 18 — so I was interested to see if the wait would be worth it.

Samin Nosrat’s recipe is an adaptation of the recipe she learned from Ligurian focaccia expert Diego in the first episode of her Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Her recipe calls for pouring a saltwater brine over the top of the dough, which is a technique I’d never seen before and was instantly curious about. When the show was first released it seemed like everybody I knew was baking this focaccia and giving it two thumbs up.

How I Tested the Focaccia Recipes

Since Alexandra and Samin’s recipes required a first rise that would take at least half a day, I made their doughs the day before baking so that I could bake off all four focaccias on the same day. I used the same brand of flour, yeast, olive oil, and salt for each focaccia in order to maintain consistency across the different recipes. I tasted the focaccias when they were still a bit warm, and then again later in the day when they had cooled to room temperature.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

1. The 5-Star Focaccia That Didn’t Live Up to the Hype: Anne Burrell’s Focaccia Recipe

Given all the 5-star reviews, I was sure Anne’s focaccia was going to be a huge hit. Plus, her recipe called for the most olive oil by far, so I was expecting it to be really flavorful. But ultimately, I was disappointed with how it turned out. The focaccia was pretty dry, surprisingly bland, and had a much tighter crumb than I was hoping for. It gets a few points because it doesn’t take much planning ahead and can be made in one day, but I don’t think I’ll be making this one again.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

2. The Quick Focaccia I’d Only Make in a Pinch: King Arthur Baking’s No-Fuss Focaccia Recipe

I’ve fallen in love with quite a few King Arthur Baking recipes over the years, but I don’t think their focaccia recipe is the best they have to offer. It lacked both flavor and color: 375°F simply isn’t hot enough to achieve the browning and crispy crust that you want in a good focaccia. That said, it comes together impressively fast, so it’s a solid option if you’re in a hurry. Next time, I’ll take their suggestion to mix in cheese powder or other seasonings to amp up the flavor.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

3. The Focaccia That’s Worth the Wait: Alexandra’s Kitchen Refrigerator Focaccia Recipe

For starters, Alexandra’s recipe gets points for being so descriptive and detailed. She really helps you understand the hows and whys of great focaccia. Although her recipe took the longest to make, that time was almost entirely hands-off. This recipe really drove home the value of a long rise: the extra time (and therefore longer fermentation) leads to better flavor in yeast breads like focaccia. The bread both looked and tasted like a dream (I would definitely impress my friends if I served them this focaccia), and the only reason I didn’t give it a perfect score is because of a super-smart trick that makes the winning recipe truly exceptional.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

4. The Clear Winner: Samin Nosrat’s Ligurian Focaccia

Samin’s recipe is perfection. This is exactly how focaccia should look and taste: golden-brown all over, soft but chewy on the inside, and so delicious that it doesn’t need any additions. There are a lot of great components to this recipe, but the magic is really in the saltwater brine, which is the key to this focaccia’s perfect taste and texture. It keeps the bread moist as it bakes and provides the perfect level of saltiness. I watched in disbelief the first time I saw Samin and Diego pour the brine, but I can now attest to how ingenious this method is.

This was also the only recipe that paid special attention to getting the focaccia perfectly browned on the bottom as well (you bake it on a preheated baking sheet), and it’s that attention to detail that made it really special. This is, hands-down, the only focaccia I’ll make from now on.

Do you have a favorite focaccia recipe? Tell us below in the comments!