On the instant a score of the famished brutes were scrambling for the bread
– Jack London, Call of the Wild, Chapter III
Okay, so there aren’t 20 people living here. And we’re not exactly famished. But when it comes to seeing warm bread on the table, well….
This month, Elle chose potato focaccine for us to bake. Here is what the inimitable Carol Field has to say about focaccine:
Focaccia […] is sometimes shaped into small focacce, or focaccine, little discs made just to fit into the palm of the hand. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since these little breads were originally baked as a simple treat for children, hungry bystanders, or for the bakers themsleves on the one day of the week that country women produced the family’s bread. […]
No one knows who invented the first focaccia, but the contribution, like the discovery of fire or creation of the wheel, has enriched the experience of the civilization that followed. […]
There are two distinct types of savory focaccia in Italy: low chewy ones that rise to about 1/2 to 3/4 inch, and much thicker ones from Puglia that get their height and soft texture from the presence of mashed potatoes in the dough. […] [T]his fragrant rustic bread […] is meant to be eaten at any hour of the day, and its flavors satisfy in their simplicity, for they come from the best that nature has to offer. […] LET THE BAKING BEGIN!
– Carol Field, Focaccia: Simple Breads from the Italian Oven | Introduction, p. 17
Both Carol Field’s recipes for focaccine and the BBB potato focaccine recipe call for commercial yeast. But during this extended time of semi-house-arrest, we have been thrilled with our Jane Mason starter. I couldn’t NOT use it. Besides, our commercial yeast expired and had to be tossed into the compost bin….
Here’s how things went with making November’s bread:
BBB Potato Focaccine diary:
5 October 2020, 15:04 How fun, Elle! Focaccia with potatoes!
2 November 2020, 10:41 It snowed (eeeeeek!) last night and reminded me that it’s November! So I looked more closely at this month’s recipe. In my usual freaky fashion, I added weights where they were missing.
But I’m a little confused by “Fresh brewer’s yeast, 15 g or dry brewer’s yeast, 8 g” and wondering if perhaps this is a mistranslation on Fiorenza’s (My Pinch of Italy) part. (Does brewer’s yeast work to raise bread? My only knowledge of it is from the 1970s when my dad went through a phase of adding a spoonful to his orange juice because it was “good for you”. It tasted TERRIBLE!!)
I searched for an Italian recipe for focaccine (I LOVE the internet) and came across “Focaccine di patate” and “FOCACCIA PUGLIESE ricetta con LIEVITO secco e fresco” at Giallo Zafferano
One of the ingredients in the Focaccine di patate is “Lievito di birra secco“. The Focaccia Publiese calls for “12 g Lievito di birra fresco (oppure 4 g di lievito di birra secco)”
Google translates Lievito di birra secco as “dry yeast”. But. If only the words “Lievito di birra” are entered, it is translated as “brewer’s yeast”. Narrowing further “birra” is translated as “beer”. Fiorenza’s (My Pinch of Italy) Apulian Focaccia simply calls for “dry yeast”….
I’m speculating that because these recipes could easily date from earlier than the end of the 19th century when people used beer barm to get their bread dough to rise, this is how Italian recipes specify commercial yeast. What do you think?
It was in the middle years of the nineteenth century that compressed yeast, also confusingly called dried yeast and German yeast, began to appear in England. During the preceding thirty years or more there had been many attempts to produce a form of solidified yeast which would be more stable and less bitter than ale and beer yeasts and more efficient than those obtained from a solution or wort of fermented grain, potatoes, flour, sugar, hops, malter barley — there were any number of variations — and drawn off into bottles to be stored in the brewhouse or bakehouse. These yeasts were as tempermental as ale barms.
– Elizabeth David, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, p94
12:51 Hello my Italian speaking friends: If an Italian bread recipe calls for “lievito di birra fresco” or “lievito di birra secco”, am I correct that that means “fresh yeast” or “dry yeast” rather than “brewer’s yeast”?
Or can it be that brewer’s yeast is really meant because they want the bitter flavour it may lend to the bread?
Claudio? Ilva? Ines?
– me, FB, 2 November 2020, 12:51
Alas, Claudio didn’t know the answer, even though he is a great cook (apparently he doesn’t bake bread…). But Ilva came through. Yay, Ilva!!
Fresh yeast! […] And obviously dry yeast, you are right
– Ilva, FB, 3 November 2020, 00:29
4 November 2020, 14:30 Ines answered as well, by quoting Google Translate. Phooey!
I should have said before asking, I had already seen that Google Translate said that!
But. While I gather that brewer’s yeast might be able to be used as a leavener for bread dough, it just doesn’t make sense that all of these Italians would be using it instead of baker’s yeast.
I’m going to go with Ilva’s answer on this – simply because she lives in Italy….
Also, going down the rabbit hole further by looking at the English on the label on Italmill® lievito di birro secco, there is no mention of “brewer’s” or “beer”. And looking at the label for Solgar® Brewer’s Yeast Powder, the recommended use is as “a dietary supplement” (but nothing about leavening bread, even though it is Saccharomyces cerevisiae).
This label for Kate Naturals Brewer’s Yeast Powder says that it can be used to make “lactation cookies or added to shakes, smoothies, salads, soups, and sauces” (but nothing about leavening bread).
That clinches it. I’m NOT using Brewer’s yeast!
5 November 2020, 11:59 We’re having an uncommonly warm spell now (after snow last weekend!) and are planning on going on a physically distanced picnic with my sister on Sunday. Maybe, by a miracle, I’ll get my act together to take potato focaccine…. I bet they’d be good, even if they aren’t warm out of the oven.
8 November 2020, 18:27 Alas, I didn’t plan ahead properly! (So what else is new?) We got distracted by going for a bike ride yesterday and then going to sit physically distanced on friends’ back deck with a little chiminea for olives, cheese and apple cider from a small orchard north of Toronto (great cider! like proper European cider instead of the cloyingly sweet cider that is sold in the liquor store here – remind me to rave more about that cider!).
I was so thrilled by the little outing that I completely forgot to prepare our leavener to make focaccine. It looks like I’ll make them on Tuesday or Wednesday. That’s right. I’m not going to use any commercial yeast at all.
Form discs of about 1 centimeter with a pastry cutter or with an upside-down glass
– BBB November 2020 recipe
I take that to mean that the dough is to be rolled out to 1 centimeter (about 3/8 inch) thick and then rounds would be cut out using round biscuit cutter or an upside-down drinking glass.
I looked at another recipe for potato focaccine and that seems right:
11, iniziate a stendere con le mani l’impasto, potete infarinarvi le mani per stendere meglio l’impasto se risulta appiccicoso, procedete poi con il mattarello stendendo una sfoglia alta circa 1 cm
12, poi con un coppapasta dal diametro di 10 cm ricavate le focaccine
13, con le dosi indicate otterrete circa 10 focaccine. [11, start to roll out the dough with your hands, you can flour your hands to spread the dough better if it is sticky, then proceed with a rolling pin rolling out a sheet about 1 cm high 12, then with a pastry cutter with a diameter of 10 cm cut the rounds 13, with the indicated amounts you will get about 10 buns.]
- Giallo Zafferano | Focaccine di patate
10 November 2020, 13:45 I’m thinking more about this biscuit cutter idea and am planning to bypass the cutter altogether and just dividing the dough into 10 or 12 even pieces, to form them into rounds (walnut size, perhaps?) and then just flatten them into discs. That way, I wouldn’t have to wash any cutters or wonder how to deal with scraps of dough.
14 October 2020, 08:21 It suddenly occurred to me that Carol Field MUST talk extensively about focaccia in her book “The Italian Baker”; there’s a whole chapter entitled ‘Pizze e Focacce.
I went down to the kitchen and carefully pulled the book down from the shelf. Carefully, because its binding is absolutely destroyed. (I do not know why cookbooks are bound so poorly! This was my first serious bread book given to me in 1995; it came apart almost immediately. ) I turned to the Pizze e Focacce chapter. Yes!! Look, there it is on page 300:
I discovered this unusual kind of focaccia in Puglia, the region right on the heel of the boot in southern Italy, where huge well-kept farms with great green and golden fields of grain are interrupted only bey stands of olive trees, stone walls, and trulli, charming whitewashed round houses with conical roofs. […] This special version of focaccia [is] made with the potatoes that grow throughout the entire region. About 1¼ inches high with what looks like a dense breadlinke texture, it is actually as light as cake when you eat it. The tomato-scented oil painted across the top leaves a veil of red sprinkled with a dusting of oregano.
– Carol Field, The Italian Baker | Focaccia alla Pugliese, p.300
We’ve made lots of focaccia based on the kind made in Luguria. But we’ve never made focaccia based on the kind made in Puglia! This is even more exciting that I thought.
15 November 2020, 08:04 I’m looking at the recipe again and realizing this is going to make a LOT of focaccine! I think I will make half of this dough into a little loaf.
Also 350F seems a little low for baking bread, doesn’t it?
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Bake the focaccine, in two batches, for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are golden brown. Cool the focaccine briefly on a cooling rack. Serve warm.
– Mary Ann Esposito, Ciao Italia | Focaccine with Herbs
Just as Naples is the capital of Italy’s thick-rimmed wood fired pizza pies, Bari and its surrounding Pugliese towns are known for a beloved regional flatbread, focaccia. […] To get the unique texture of Focaccia Pugliese, you need to bake with intense heat from underneath. Since the conditions of Puglia’s bakeries are difficult to replicate in a home oven, I suggest cooking the dough quickly on a stovetop, then transferring it to the oven. You will get the best results by using a frying pan or skillet with only metal and no plastic or wood parts for baking the focacce.
Katie Parla | Focaccia Pugliese Recipe from Food of the Italian South Cookbook
Katie Parla bakes her focaccia at 425F. And Silvia Colloca (Silvia’s Cucian) bakes her Focaccia Pugliese (home-made focaccia Apulian style) at 400F.
09:15 After reading “lightly packed, peeled, riced boiled potatoes” in Carol Field’s recipe for Focaccia alla Pugliese in her excellent cookbook “The Italian Baker”, as I was about to use the potato masher on the unpeeled, cubed yellow fleshed potatoes I had just boiled – because we don’t own a ricer – I suddenly realized that the food mill IS a ricer!
How cool is that? It’s so easy to use too. Although. I did feel just a little guilty putting the now-compacted peels into the compost bucket. Normally, I would have just left them there and put them into the bread. So what if there are a few lumps? But, with these now so stunningly beautifully riced potatoes, it didn’t seem right to try to push the little mass of gluey peel in too.
Speaking of Carol Field… she puts no olive oil into her Focaccia from Puglia, just onto it before baking. (She also calls for zero malt powder in her Focaccia alla Pugliese. But I had already measured the flours, malted barley, and wheat germ into the bowl. Che ci puoi fare? )
Italian bakers use malt as a yeast food to improve the dough in a variety of ways: It encourages the growth of a loaf, retains moisture in the dough, and is definitely responsible for a lovely golden crust.
– Carol Field, The Italian Baker | Baking Basics, p.51
Even though I haven’t yet added the salt plus 25 grams of water, the dough seemed excedingly dry. I added 10 more grams of water. It did nothing. So, throwing caution to the winds, and because I’m an EXPERT, I sloshed in 40 more grams of water.
Oops!! That’s really slack dough now!!
Perhaps I will just be adding salt and no more water.
12:57 We have both sage and oregano still growing in the garden. I’m waffling!! Carol Field calls for oregano on her potato focaccia. It has already been decreed that I will add a little tomato paste to the olive oil for the top of the focaccine. But at the same time as the decree, T said that sage would be just fine.
Then, when we considered that we were going to serve chili with the focaccine, we decided to use just oregano, and leave the sage sprig in its little vase (a mini jam jar).
He also said that there was no need to cut the dough in half to make a loaf of bread and several focaccine. I’m to make all the dough into focaccine!
• 3 tablespoons of Evoo – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• 7-8 fresh sage leaves, to chop
• rock salt, to taste
– BBB November 2020 recipe for potato focaccine
• 2 to 3 tablespoons oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes; or 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil mixed with 1 tablespoon mashed plum tomatoes or ½ teaspoon tomato paste
• 2 teaspoons dried oregano
– Carol Field, The Italian Baker | Focaccia alla Pugliese, p.301
Ha! Topping problem solved. I will put sage on half of them, and oregano on the other half. And coarse salt on all of them.
17:56 Oh oh. The dough doesn’t seem to be rising quite as spectacularly as I had hoped. Maybe, by a miracle, it will be ready to shape and bake in an hour. Fingers crossed!
We really really want to serve these with chili and collard greens tonight. (Who cares that the bread is Italian and the chili and collard greens are typical of the American south??)
18:31 That! Little! Rat!
We made the mistake of leaving the little bowl of olive oil and tomato paste uncovered on the counter while we watched the news. The furry black fiend helped himself. Apparently the Hug a Black Cat for Good Luck campaign last Friday (the 13th) did nothing. Or perhaps the good luck was only for Friday.
Happily, the little thief left the oregano intact though.
19:13 Even though the dough hasn’t really moved very much, it clearly has risen a bit. We decided to go ahead.
I poured the dough out onto a floured board, and folded it gently in half. Yay!! There were bubbles! I divided the dough into 8 and we formed 8 spheres that flattened out almost immediately because the dough is so wet, placed them on 2 parchment papered trays, and covered them with a tea towel.
19:41 We dimpled the sort-of spheres into discs, starting by flouring our fingers, then realized that wet fingers would be much more efficient. Then T spooned on newly mixed olive oil and tomato paste onto the tops of each puddling disc. I scattered chopped oregano (we decided that sage wasn’t quite right to go with chili con carne) and coarse Camargue sea salt on top. Then into the hot oven they went.
20:06 20-25 minutes baking, eh? They’re not even close to being done! We set the timer for 10 more minutes….
Sigh. Did I remember that the oven should be at 400F?!
Or perhaps a little higher? Duh. Of course not. Next time, we’ll definitely bake at a higher temperature. Maybe we’ll even try using the cast-iron frying pan too….
20:31 Finally!! Dinner time!
Wow! Look at that oven spring – so much that we lost all the dimples. Still, I must say, they look great!
Our dinner (chili, stir-fried rapini, and focaccine) was wonderful!
We loved how soft the focaccine were inside and how crispy – but not too crispy – they were on the outside.
Yesterday morning, we warmed up two more focaccine for breakfast to have with rapini/onion/cheese/chili omelette. Perfection! There’s no photographic evidence though; you’ll have to take my word for it.
What a fun choice for this month, Elle! Thank you! This recipe is definitely a keeper.
Here is the November 2020 BBB recipe that we were given. And here is what I did to it:
based on the recipes for ‘potato focaccine’ on “My Pinch of Italy” and ‘Focaccia alla Pugliese’ in “The Italian Baker” by Carol Field
Potato focaccine, as they are the little version of focaccia, they suit perfectly as an aperitif with friends, as a starter or for a picnic, or even simply because you like them and have a craving for them. – Fiorenza, My Pinch of Italy
makes 8-12 focaccine
- ~20 grams Jane Mason Starter
- 50 grams whole wheat flour
- 50 grams water
- 150 grams yellow potatoes
- cold water to cover
- all of mashed potatoes from above
- 300 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
- 40 grams 100% whole wheat flour
- 10 grams wheat germ
- 5 grams malted barley
- 200 grams potato water + 40 grams more potato water
- 7 grams seasalt + 27 grams potato water
- olive oil
- tomato paste
- fresh oregano leaves, chopped
- coarse salt
- Leavener: In the evening of the day before making the focaccine: Put the starter, flour and water into a smallish bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until the flour is stirred in well. Cover the bowl with a plate and set aside overnight in the oven with only the light turned on (or everything off if it’s warm in the kitchen).
- Potatoes: In the morning of the day for baking the focaccine: Wash the potatoes well. Don’t bother peeling them, but cut them into cubes. Put them into a small pot and cover them with UNsalted cold water. When the potatoes are fork tender, drain them, reserving the water in a separate bowl. Put the potatoes through a food mill to rice them. Set aside briefly.
- Check the Leavener: Still in the morning of the day for baking the focaccine: If a small forkful of the leavener floats in a small bowl of cool room temperature water, you can go ahead and skip to the next step. If it’s particularly warm in the kitchen, and the leavener does not float (because it has used up all its food in the heat of the night), stir in 10 grams each of whole wheat flour and water (ie: even amounts by weight) and cover with a plate and leave for another hour or so. Check to see if it’s floating. If it is not, wait a little longer. If it does float, proceed to the next step.
- Mix the Dough: Sift the flours into a large mixing bowl that is big enough for the final dough to triple. Whisk in wheat germ and malted barley. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the riced potatoes. Pour 200 grams potato water overtop. Use a dough whisk or wooden spoon to mix these ingredients to make a rough dough.
Let [the potatoes] cool, but not cool them completely or it will be difficult to mix them to the flour – Fiorenza, My Pinch of Italy
If the dough seems very dry, add 10-20 grams more water. Do as I say, not as I did: Be careful about adding too much water. Use your hands to mix the flour in. Check a little piece of this rough dough against the inside of your wrist to make sure it is body temperature or less before dough-whisking in all of the leavener. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter for about 30 minutes. If you haven’t sloshed in way too much water, the dough will be quite stiff.
- Adding the salt: In a small bowl, whisk the salt into the final 10 grams water. (If you made the same mistake as I did and added too much water, refrain from adding more water; just sprinkle the salt overtop.) Pour the salt mixture over the dough.
- Kneading: Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl – this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy and seem like it’s coming apart. Persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than a horrible separated glop. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Stretching and folding the dough: Turn the bowl as you fold and re-fold the dough into the center. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter (or if the kitchen is cool like ours in winter and spring, into the oven with only the light turned on). Repeat the folding step about 3 times in all at 30 minute intervals. You’ll notice that after each time, the dough will feel significantly smoother. After the final time of folding, the dough is ready to pre-shape.
- Pre-shaping: Scatter a dusting of all-purpose flour on the board and gently place the dough on the flour. Fold the dough over in half, gently patting off any extra flour that might be there. Try to retain any bubbles that you see. Cut the dough into 8 or 12 even pieces. Obviously, more pieces will mean your focaccinne are smaller. Form each piece into a round, placing them on a parchment covered cookie sheet. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for about 30 minutes.
- Topping: Whisk tomato paste into olive oil in a small bowl. Chop the oregano leaves. Set aside. Make sure the cat can’t get at the bowl with the olive oil.
- Preheat the Oven: Turn the oven to 400F (I have no idea why I put our oven to 375F. I must have been out of what’s left of my mind.)
- Shaping and Adding the Topping: When the oven is preheated about fifteen minutes later, without breaking the skin on the pre-shaped dough, wet your fingertips and finger each round out into a disc. Spoon olive oil mixture on top of each disc. Scatter oregano leaves and coarse salt overtop.
- Baking: Place the trays in the hot oven. Bake for 20-40 minutes, until the crust is a lovely rust coloured brown and the focaccine sound hollow when knuckle-rapped on their bottoms.
- Cooling: When the focaccine have finished baking, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool briefly on a footed rack before serving.
Serve warm, as is. Or with butter….
Leavener: The leavener is made with a 100% hydration starter. It takes about 5 days to create. (Please see our take on Jane Mason’s Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.)
Oven Temperature: The BBB recipe suggests baking at 350F. This seems too low. Next time, we may preheat the oven to 450F and turn it down to 400F if it seems too hot.
Olive Oil and Topping: The BBB recipe calls for the olive oil and sage leaves to be mixed into the dough. Making an executive decision, we decided to leave the olive oil and herbs out of the dough and put them on top after shaping. Fiorenza says that focaccine are “usually flavored with rosemary or thyme” but suggested using sage, adding that it is “just as good”.
[Y]ou can use another herb like rosemary or thyme as I did.
– Elle, in message to BBBabes
But we could not help but be entranced by Carol Field’s description of Focaccia all Pugliese with the “tomato-scented oil painted across the top leav[ing] a veil of red sprinkled with a dusting of oregano“. Maybe next time, we’ll use sage….
Bread Baking Babes Potato Focaccine
Elle is hosting November 2020’s Bread Baking Babes’ project. She wrote:
I find myself drawn to baking again. Between now and mid-November there are usually plenty of occasions to have adult beverages and this Potato Focaccine from Italy is perfect to accompany them. These are like tiny focaccia. I found them on the blog My Pinch of Italy and they sounded just right for the November challenge. […] They are made with potatoes, which should give them some keeping ability, and are flavored with olive oil and rock salt (sea salt?) and sage, but you could probably use another herb like rosemary or thyme.
– Elle, in message to BBBabes
We know you’ll want to make Potato Focaccine too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: make the bread in the next couple of weeks and post about it (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 November 2020. If you do not have a blog, no problem; you can also post your picture(s) to Flickr (or any other photo sharing site) and record your thoughts about the bread there. Please remember to email the Kitchen of the Month to say that your post is up.
For complete details about this month’s recipe, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:
- BBB Kitchen of the month: Elle, Feeding My Enthusiasms, BBB November 2020
- BBBuddy guidelines
- about the BBBabes
Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ November 2020 Potato Focaccine.
- Aparna, My Diverse Kitchen: Potato Focaccine
- Cathy, Bread Experience: Einkorn Potato Focaccine Makes Great Snacking Bread
- Judy, Judy’s Gross Eats: Potato Focaccine
- Karen K, Karen’s Kitchen Stories: Potato Focaccine
- Katie (BBBBB), Thyme for Cooking: Bread Baking Babes get a little earthy with Potato Focaccine
- Kelly, A Messy Kitchen: Potato Focaccine #BBB
- Pat (aka Elle), Feeding My Enthusiasms: Babes Bake Potato Focaccine (kitchen of the month)
- Tanna, My Kitchen in Half Cups: Potato Focaccine ~ BBB
I put the music was at the top of the stairs to remind me to take it down to its folder. The cat was (and had been) nowhere to be seen for several hours. Within 1 minute of the music going on the floor, he appeared.
Our pets are such great comfort to us, aren’t they?
» Potato Pavé with Goat Cheese and Thyme (BBB March 2020)
» Elbow-Lick Sandwich Bread (BBB January 2019)
» Wildness at the BBBabes 10th Anniversary Party (BBB February 2018)
» Streusel Potato Coffee Cake – or IS it bread?? (BBB November 2011)
» Rewena Paraoa: Maori Bread (BBB March 2011)
» Catching up in 2010: Royal Crown’s Tortano (BBB February 2008)