Developed centuries ago in Rome and still found in most supermarket bread aisles, focaccia is not rare. What is rare, however, is freshly made focaccia that has a thin crisp crust while maintaining a soft airy interior. The kind that can be eaten all on its own, and perhaps in one sitting.
Why is this type of focaccia elusive? Maybe because of that one thing which has ignited many L.A. vs. NY pizza crust debates: the water content. For example, Rose Levy Beranbaum included several different focciacia recipes in her comprehensive Bread Bible with that reach up to 113.5%. These doughs require skillful handling because they have a constancy almost like a cake batter, or as Levy Beranbaum once described in her blog, “like melted mozarella cheese.” To start our search, we headed to the place that supplies the bread to some of the best Italian bread baskets in the city, Celestino Drago's commercial bakery, Dolce Forno.
It took a little bit of time and a few trips around the block to find Dolce Forno Bakery because it is so hidden. (HINT: It's behind the Honda dealership) Nevertheless, they do welcome orders from the public. Putting in an order for a half sheet of focaccia in the afternoon means picking it up the following morning. When slicing up their focaccia, it appears to have substantial crumb, but the texture is actually bouncy and light. Topped with fresh tomatoes and generous sprinkling of rosemary adds enough flavor to make the bread quite snackable. However with its springy texture and toppings, it works best when sliced crosswise and used as a sandwich, as the flavors on top mingle with whatever is stuffed in the middle.
In between the crispy rice with spicy tuna of the hot spots and the spicy beef salads of Thai town there is the pizza al taglio, by the piece, of I Panini Di Ambra. Modeled after Italian paninotecas, casual panini and pizza cafes, general manager Mickey Marvic explains that their selection of focaccia is made in the style of pizza bianca, without sauce, and topped with cheeses like gorgonzola. The standout is their version of Focaccia di Recco. Ambra's focaccia is thin with a slight chew and when the imported creamy crescenza cheese fuses on top of spongy crumb it makes the whole rectangular slice taste luscious without feeling dense.
Saturday is focaccia day at Eagle Rock Italian Bakery. Arrive by 11:30 a.m., take a number and wait in line. Within moments warm focaccia will come out from the back and won't last long. Although the initial allure to their focaccia is the top, studded with chunks of rich and flavorful stewed tomato, the real treasure is on the bottom. The bakery's pans are coated with olive oil, so as the focaccia bakes, the bottom sizzles; frying the bread to the far edge of golden crispness. They pack up the focaccia in just a simple brown bag, so its hard to even get one yard away without reaching in and plucking a bit of still warm focaccia for a quick taste. At first we were hit with the crunch, and then the bite seemed to melt into itself.
Dolce Forno Bakery: 3828 Willat Avenue, Culver City, (310) 280-6004. I Panini di Ambra: 5633 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, (323) 463-1200. Eagle Rock Italian Bakery: 1726 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, (323) 255-8224.