Overnight, refrigerator focaccia bread, freshly baked and sliced.

A few summers ago, I bumped into Richard Bourdon at Berkshire Mountain Bakery. During our brief chat, he told me, among other things, he would never write a cookbook because he’s always changing his methods.

I was shocked to hear this because I would have thought that after 30+ years of running his renowned bakery, he would know all there is to know about bread baking, that his formula would require zero tinkering, and that he and all of his staff could churn out the acclaimed BMB breads in their sleep.

But it was refreshing and reassuring to hear this, too, because I’m constantly changing how I make things, and I don’t know that I’ll ever stop. For the past few months, I’ve been making the base focaccia bread recipe from Bread Toast Crumbs, but trying different things: using more yeast, using less yeast, doing longer, slower rises at room temperature, doing longer, slower rises in the refrigerator.

What Makes The Best Focaccia?

I’ll spare you all the details of the various experiments and skip straight to what I’ve found creates the best focaccia, one that emerges golden all around, looking like a brain, its surface woven with a winding labyrinth of deep crevices: refrigerated dough.

This is nothing novel—many bakers extol the virtues of the cold fermentation process—and it came as no surprise to me either: it was, after all,  past-prime Jim Lahey refrigerated dough that showed me how easy focaccia could be: place cold, several-days-old pizza dough in a well-oiled pan, let it rise for several hours or until it doubles, drizzle with more oil, dimple with your fingers, sprinkle with sea salt, then bake until done.

Employing a refrigerator rise takes time because the cold environment slows everything down initially, and during the second rise, the cold dough takes time to warm to room temperature. The overall effort, however, is very hands off, and the result is worth it. In sum, I’ve found:

  • Allowing the dough to rest 18 to 24 hours in the fridge yields the best results.
  • The amount of yeast doesn’t really matter.
  • A buttered or parchment-lined pan in addition to the olive oil will prevent sticking. I’ve been baking the focaccia in two 9-inch Pyrex pie plates. Butter + oil is essential to prevent sticking. I also love my 9×13-inch USA Pan for this one.
  • Count on 2 to 4 hours for the second rise.
  • After the second rise, dimple the dough, then immediately stick the pans in the oven — this has been a critical difference for me in terms of keeping those desirable crevices. If you dimple and let the dough rise again even for 20 minutes before popping the pan in the oven, the crevices begin to dissolve. Note: The bread still tastes delicious without all of those crevices, but there’s something appetizing about the brain-like appearance … or is that just me?

Friends, the above video shows how to bake the focaccia in a 9×13-inch USA Pan and the below photo play-by-play offers the same instruction but for glass Pyrex pie plates. With my USA Pan, I do not need to butter before it before I oil it; with my Pyrex pie plates, butter is essential to prevent sticking. As always, I am here if you have questions.

PS: Simple Sourdough Focaccia

PPS: All The Bread Recipes

A familiar scene: 4 cups (512 g) flour, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons instant yeast:

Flour, salt, and yeast stirred together in a large bowl.

Add 2 cups lukewarm water:

Flour, salt, yeast and water in a large bowl.

Mix dough:

Focaccia dough all stirred together.

Cover bowl. You all have one of these, right? Stick bowl in the fridge immediately; leave it there to rise for 12 to 18 hours (or longer—I’ve left it there for two days).

Dough covered with a Dot and Army cloth bowl cover, ready to rise.

Remove from fridge, and remove cover:

Dough removed from the refrigerator after 18 hours.

Deflate dough:

Focaccia dough deflated using two forks.

Butter or line with parchment paper two 8- or 9-inch pie plates or something similar; then pour a tablespoon of olive oil into each. (The butter/parchment will ensure the bread doesn’t stick.) Divide the dough in half and place each half into the prepare pans. Use your hands to turn the dough in the oil, creating a rough ball. Don’t touch the dough again for 2 to 4 hours depending on your environment.

Focaccia dough transferred to greased pie plates, ready to make another rise.

When the dough looks like this…

Focaccia dough, after 3 hours, ready to be dimpled.

…pour another tablespoon of olive oil over each round, and using your fingers, press straight down to create deep dimples. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt, such as Maldon.

Focaccia dough dimpled with fingers, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt.

Transfer to oven immediately and bake at 425ºF for 25 minutes or until golden all around.

Overnight, refrigerator focaccia bread, just out of the oven.

Focaccia brain.

Up close shot of overnight, refrigerator focaccia bread, freshly baked.
Overnight, refrigerator focaccia bread, resting on a cutting board.
Overnight, refrigerator focaccia bread, resting on a cooling rack.

Remove focaccia from pans and place on cooling racks.

Overnight, refrigerator focaccia bread, cooled and ready to be cut.
Overnight, refrigerator focaccia bread, cooled and sliced.
Overnight, refrigerator focaccia bread, halved crosswise to reveal the crumb.

One of my favorite thing to do with these rounds of focaccia (besides serving them with olive oil and dukkah) is to make a slab sandwich. Here are three fun ideas:

  1. Prosciutto, Arugula & Mozzarella:

2. Mashed Avocado, Pickled Beets and Turnips, Pea Shoots:

3.Roasted Red Peppers, Olive Tapenade, & Whipped Honey Goat Cheese