Focaccia Bread – A Brief History

Focaccia bread is a member of a family of common Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern flat breads. Ranging from chapattis, tortillas, and pita, to the beloved Italian-American version of pizza, these breads grew out a common heritage of bread making that developed in the earliest ages of civilization.

Bread was first made in Mesopotamia. The simplest form of bread is a blend of water and ground wheat cooked on the hot stones of a fire pit or on the ashy embers that remain after a fire has burned low. These old breads survive as vital elements in many cuisines around the world, commonly used for wraps, dipping scoops, and foundations for other dishes.

The development of yeast was a natural extension of bread-making. Over time, as cooks learned to enjoy and then promote and preserve yeast cultures, yeasted breads became the standard by which most people judge all breads. Yeast breads were often no more than a flat disk tossed on the hearth, on the floor of an oven, or slapped onto the side wall of a cooking stove. The very name focaccia comes from the Latin term “panis focacius.” That translates as “hearth bread,” implying a comforting loaf from the home kitchen: something a busy mother could toss together while cooking the family meal.

In Italy, France, and Spain, focaccia has taken forms far beyond that core notion of a simple, round home loaf. Holiday focaccia rounds made for Christmas Eve can include many rich additions that they seem more in the spirit of flat panettone or sweet challah, rather than the rougher and far plainer versions Americans associate with the name.

The fundamental idea of a quickly made, casual bread type remains at the heart of modern American versions of focaccia, developed from old Italian traditions. Whether the loaf is a soft, easily tossed-off round bread with a cakey crumb and plenty of enriching olive oil, or a less rich, chewy version made with pizza dough, focaccia bread is rightly seen as hearty, flavorful, and simple: the perfect accompaniment to stews, roasts, salads, and more.

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