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A No-Knead Focaccia for Thanksgiving and Beyond


A No-Knead Focaccia for Thanksgiving and Beyond

November 20, 2023

Good homemade focaccia is irresistible, and impressive. Straight from the oven or savored later, focaccia should be crunchy with olive oil on the outside, tender on the inside, and taste of the moment. The toppings, whether garden-grown, wild-foraged, or hunted down at at your local farmer’s market or supermarket, offer endless ways to be creative. It is ideal rustic fare but impressive enough to share at a Thanksgiving table.

Here’s the no-knead focaccia recipe that makes the most of any season.

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

Above: A summer sour cherry and mugwort focaccia.

For years, my baking life has included focaccia. The round cast iron skillet I usually bake it in allows the bread to fit and travel snugly in a backpack for the botanical picnics I feed to adventurous attendees in just about every month of the year. But it’s also a comforting foundation for cheese suppers and a perfect dunk for soup lunches.

Above: Three-cornered leek and waterblommetjie focaccia in Cape Town in spring.

In spring, my focaccia may be laced with pungent ramp leaves, field garlic, dandelion flowers, nettle purée, or pheasant back mushrooms. In early summer, cherries with mugwort leaves, black currants, and elderberries, or chanterelles. Fall’s figs, persimmons, and local grapes follow. Winter’s focaccia feature hoshigaki (dried persimmons) and honey, dried aronia, or preserved mushrooms. The possibilities and improvisation are endless. Focaccia is an adaptable medium for edible creativity.

Above: Black currant and elderberry focaccia, using my kneaded focaccia dough method.

My go-to focaccia recipe has always been based on a kneaded dough. The dough is scented with Earl Grey tea and the soaking water for the fruit (the recipe is in the persimmon chapter of my cookbook Forage, Harvest, Feast). It makes a beautiful loaf, open to variation.

Above: Fig and mugwort flower focaccia, about to be baked.

But since spring this year I’ve been improvising wildly on a no-knead focaccia recipe shared generously on Instagram by the founders of Keepwell Vinegar. (Based in Dover, Pennsylvania, their inspiring line of vinegars is available online; but they appear to excel at anything yeast-related.)

Here it is:

You can see why it is is irresistible.

The deep appeal of this focaccia is that the wet dough is not kneaded. Mix, rest, fold, rest, fold. The fun part, dimpling the delicately jiggly dough with olive-oiled fingers, follows. Toppings happen. And after a brief, blazing bake, you have a glorious focaccia.

Above: Blanched ramp leaves and ramp leaf stem confit adorn an April focaccia.

After a first, experimental loaf with the ramp leaves of spring, there was no holding back. No matter the season, there is a delicious topping to be found somewhere—in my pantry (all three shelves of it); my forage-cupboard, where preserved wild things live; at the local market; or on a tree nearby.

Above: Juicy sour cherries were roasted first to draw out some moisture.

Fruit features often in the summer and fall focaccie I bake. Before adding them to the yielding dough, I roast juicy fruits like cherries, quartered apricots, grapes, or figs in a 350-degree oven for around 25 minutes. This draws out some moisture, leaving plenty for a luscious mouthful but saving the bread from being drowned. Onions and garlic also benefit from a slow roasting or sautéeing.

Above: Onions and Maldon salt on one half; grapes, rosemary and sugar on the other.

Ever been unable to decide on pizza topping? It happens with focaccia, too.

Above: Which side would you choose?

Mugwort, an extremely common weed-slash-delicious-herb, tempers the sweetness of the fruit toppings with an earthy herbal bitterness. But rosemary is just fine, too. So is sage.

Above: Early fall’s figs and mugwort, about to be roasted as a topping.
Above: Fragrant Muscat grapes and mugwort, after roasting.
Above: Concord and mugwort focaccia (recipe below).

A personal favorite of mine is grape focaccia. Locally ripe grapes (versus the seasonless supermarket bunches) arrive from late summer through late fall, and they have real character. The flavor of the Concord clan sings. Muscat grapes are exceptionally good. Some varieties are bred to be seedless, but if the grapes do have seeds, one can either prick them out of each halved berry using the tip of a knife, or work the whole roasted grapes through a foodmill to remove the seeds, then add that purée to the top of the risen dough. I use both methods, depending on the variety of grape.

Above: A tablespoon of vivid roasted Concord juice is added before the second fold.
Above: It’s alive…
Above: Sweet Concord swirls are balanced by the mugwort’s deep, artemisia fragrance.

Concord Grape and Mugwort Focaccia

This focaccia (adapted from Keepwell Vinegar’s recipe) celebrates the musky perfume of Concords and is dramatic enough to be taken to a party.  I bake in a 9-inch cast iron pan; its heat-retention makes for a very good crust, but the focaccia works well in 9 x 13 baking trays (where it will spread more, and have slightly less elevation).

The Grape and Mugwort Topping:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups (5.5oz) Concord grapes
  • 2 Tablespoons dried mugwort leaves or flowers

The Dough:

  • 13 oz bread flour
  • 12.5 oz warm water (weight or fluid ounces – they’re the same)
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast

The Purple Swirl:

  • 1 Tablespoon cooked grape juices or pulp

For the Pan and the Drizzling:

  • ¼ cup olive oil

For the grape topping: Pre-heat the oven to 350’F. Oil a skillet or baking sheet and add the grapes. Roast for 35 minutes, until the grapes are oozing juices that have begun to sizzle. Remove from oven. Work the fruit through a foodmill (Oxo is my go-to) and measure the pulp. You need 1/3 cup. (Use leftovers for topping ice cream,  a vinaigrette, or for roasting with root vegetables.)

For the dough: In a bowl, combine all the dough ingredients and mix thoroughly. Cover, and leave for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, lift one side of the dough up and drop it over the center. Do this on four sides; this is a light stretch and fold. Cover again for 40 minutes. Now add half the mugwort and 1 Tablespoon of the grape purée. Repeat the stretch and fold until the purée is incorporated and not wet-looking, and the dough appears marbled. Cover again and refrigerate overnight (or for a minimum of 8 hours).

To bake: Oil your skillet or tray with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Turn the cold dough into the skillet or tray. Let it sit uncovered and untouched for 2 to 4 hours until spread out and risen to the top edge of the pan, and jiggly when shoved gently. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil across the top. Oil your fingers thoroughly, and dimple the dough deeply. Now add the roasted grape purée and the additional mugwort, pushing the fruit down (if it’s all on the surface it may scorch).

Slide gently into the hot oven and bake at 450’F for 7 minutes. Reduce the heat 400 for another 15 minutes. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the recipe for no-knead focaccia?

The recipe for no-knead focaccia can be found at: https://www.gardenista.com/posts/no-knead-focaccia-recipe/

Is the recipe easy to follow?

Yes, the recipe is designed to be easy to follow and requires no kneading.

What are the ingredients needed for the focaccia?

The ingredients needed for the focaccia are: flour, instant yeast, salt, olive oil, and water.

How long does it take to make the focaccia?

The total time required for making the focaccia is approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes, which includes 3 hours for the dough to rise.

Can I customize the toppings for the focaccia?

Yes, you can customize the toppings to your preference. The recipe provides suggestions for toppings like rosemary, garlic, and sea salt, but you can experiment with other ingredients as well.

Can the focaccia be made in advance?

Yes, you can make the focaccia in advance. Once baked, it can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Can I freeze the focaccia?

Yes, you can freeze the focaccia. It is recommended to slice it before freezing and store in a freezer-safe bag or container for up to 1 month.

Can I use whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour?

Yes, you can use whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour. However, the texture and flavor of the focaccia may differ slightly.

Is this recipe suitable for vegans?

Yes, this recipe for no-knead focaccia is suitable for vegans as it does not contain any animal products.

Can I make the focaccia gluten-free?

No, this recipe uses regular flour and is not gluten-free. However, you may be able to use a gluten-free flour blend as a substitute, though the results may vary.

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