La Focaccia della Befana  (La Focaccia Dolce Piemontese) / Sweet Focaccia from Piedmont

April 8, 2023

I came across this recipe whilst searching for a way of making the focaccia dolce I once had in Southern Italy, in Basilicata to be precise. It was a form of a slightly sweet sourdough and olive oil bread with a sugared crust.

Instead I found this almost forgotten Focaccia Dolce Piemontese, studded with raisins and candied orange peel which has a beautiful and heart warming story behind: it used be prepared for the Christmas festive season all the way up until Epiphany, but it was also baked on occasions when people just wanted to gather to spend some together, share a meal and enjoy each others company.

I like to simplify the final form of the focaccia and just bake it in a tin. The traditional way however,  is to flatten the dough into a disc about 2cm thick, then make 8 cuts around the centre, which then have to be twisted twice.

Something to bear in mind is to allow enough time for the dough to rise. I like to leave it first for an hour or so at room temperature and then in the fridge (4C) overnight, but during winter I actually leave it in the coolest part of the house. If you are in a hurry, just increase the quantity of fresh yeast.

  • 250 g Italian „00”flour , or just plain flour, sifted
  • 250 g of Manitoba flour, sifted 
  • 10 g of fresh yeast
  • 180 g of tepid milk
  • 70 g of sugar
  • 85 g of butter at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 50 g of raisins, soaked in warm water for about 20 minutes and drained well
  • 50 g chopped orange candied peel

To finish the focaccia:

  • 1 egg white
  • some caster sugar for sprinkling over the focaccia

Start with preparing the yeast.

Crumble slightly the yeast and put it into a small bowl, add one teaspoon of sugar and pour in a little bit of lukewarm milk, stir well.

Sprinkle some flour on top, cover the bowl with a plate and leave in a warm place for about 5-10 minutes, which should be enough to activate the yeast.

Next put both flours along with the sugar into a bowl of a standing food mixer.

Using the paddle attachment mix the dry ingredients, then add the eggs, one by one, whisking all the while.

Next add the yeast mixture and gradually pour in the milk. Once all the ingredients are well combined, change the paddle attachment for the dough hook.

Start working the dough on a medium speed, add a pinch of salt and a knob of butter. Once the butter has been fully absorbed add another portion of butter. Continue until you’ve used all the butter. Once the dough is silky smooth, shiny and elastic (it should take about 15 minutes), lower the speed and add the chopped orange zest and drained raisins (dusted and tossed with some flour) into the bowl and mix everything for a few seconds.

Brush a large bowl with a few drops of sunflower oil.

Transfer the prepared dough into the greased bowl and cover with cling film.

Leave it in a warm place until the dough has almost trebled in size, you may have to allow 6 hours or so.

If you like you can leave the dough first for one hour in a warm place and keep overnight in the fridge to rise.

Once you are ready to bake heat the oven to 180 C (static oven).

Grease with butter and line with baking parchment a round baking tin, 24-26 cm in diameter.

Transfer the dough into the lined baking tin, cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for 30-45 minutes.

Lightly beat the egg white and brush it all over the top of the focaccia. Sprinkle generously with some caster sugar  and bake in the preheated oven for about 35-40 minutes.

It’s just wonderful eaten still slightly warm, or toasted with some some meting butter on top the following day.