Food & Drink

Via Locusta Bakes the Best Focaccia in Philly. Here’s How to Make It at Home.

You can't eat in the restaurant, but you can bring the comfort of their fresh, warm bread into your home.


Photo courtesy of Via Locusta

We don’t often write about home cooking, but with restaurants reduced to takeout-only options, we want to continue to commune with our readers over food, which means celebrating the cooking that continues to happen in Philadelphia, both in restaurants and in homes. We’re working to keep you connected to your favorite chefs and restaurants, without needing to leave your own kitchen. So, until we can finally return to all those places that brought us joy, we’ll be publishing ways to bring that very same joy into your homes. This recipe is part of the Foobooz Guide to Home Cooking.

When our review of Via Locusta dropped on March 5th, critic Jason Sheehan recommended starting your meal with a round of the restaurant’s excellent focaccia — tender and salty, served with a dollop of honey butter. Just a few days later, the restaurant shuttered, and now they’re only open for takeout. We convinced chef Jeff Michaud to share with us his recipe for the bread, which we’ve lightly adapted for home use. Instead of the durum semolina flour they use in the restaurant to make it extra-pillowy, we’ve adapted this recipe to use all-purpose flour, which you’ll have an easier time finding in your grocery store or at your local bakery. Here’s what Michaud has to say about it:

“We wanted to have a good bread service at the restaurant and utilize our local farmers so we sourced bee pollen and honey from the farmers. The addition of those with the rosemary focaccia and sea salt on top is perfect! Raw milk from the farm is also used to make our farmers cheese. When eating bread you always want some kind of spread to go with it, whether it’s simple like olive oil for dipping or fresh cheese and ricotta to slather all over it!”

Via Locusta’s Focaccia

Yield 1 sheet pan or 3 9-inch round loaves.

Starter
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp. yeast

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, water and yeast until evenly mixed and dry streaks remain. Cover with a dish towel and set aside for at least 12 hours. The starter will be bubbly and will have doubled in size.

Focaccia
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup room temperature water
4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. yeast
1/2 cup plus 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. rock salt or flaky salt
Rosemary, for sprinkling, optional

In a large bowl, stir together flour, water, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the prepared starter and continue stirring until a shaggy ball forms. Using you hands, knead mixture for about 6 minutes, pressing dough down and folding over itself. The dough will start out very dry, but will form a dimpled ball after a few minutes. Use 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to coat a large bowl, then place ball in bowl and cover with a towel. Set in a warm area for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

To make three small, round loaves: Coat three 9-inch cake pans or pie tins in about teaspoon of butter, then drizzle with olive oil. Punch down dough, then split into 3 equal pieces. Gently pat each piece of dough into a circle, then place it in the prepare pan and use your fingers to press down and dimple dough into the shape of the pan.

To make one large, rectangular focaccia: Coat a baking sheet in about 2 teaspoons of butter and drizzle in olive oil. Scrape dough into pan and use your fingers to press down and dimple dough into the shape of the pan. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place about 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 500°F. Use your fingers to dimple again, then mix together 1/2 cup water with remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Using a spoon, drizzle over focaccia, filling holes. Sprinkle with rock salt or another crunchy salt, then let rise for another 30 minutes until again doubled in size. Bake until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to remove from pans. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve warm.

To store, let cool completely and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.