The saucy tomato bread I've thought about every day for 16 years

Inspired by Liguria Bakery in San Francisco

Published October 14, 2018 8:00PM (EDT)

 (Julia Gartland/Food52)
(Julia Gartland/Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

The best bakery in San Francisco sells only one thing: focaccia.

Olive oil – drenched sheets of it, in 10 flavors (11 on Saturdays). Place your order — hurry; there's a line out the door — and Liguria Bakery's proprietors will wrap your stack tightly in white butcher paper and truss it with bakery twine so quickly, it'll be like watching a surgeon deploy emergency stitches.

It’s near-impossible to pick a favorite type. The raisin variety is perfectly, subtly sweet; the jalapeño-cheese kind implores you to eat it at the speed of light, before anyone notices you brought it home; I could live off of the plain.

But it’s the “pizza” focaccia — topped with tomato sauce and chopped green onions, and despite its name, lacking cheese of any kind — that’s always held my attention. The thin layer of jammy tomato sauce across its top lends it an almost doughy texture that, when coupled with the crunch of the crisp bottom and the uniquely tight, yet light crumb of the interior, makes for the world's most perfect bite. The heavy-handed scallion application infuses it with an indispensable savoriness that's at once gentle and intense. It's impossible for me to see bakery twine and not crave it.

The shop opened in 1911 as a corner bakery before evolving to offer only focaccia, as a means to outpace a commercial bakery boom. It’s a family-run operation occupying a postage stamp–sized storefront in North Beach, from which you can just barely get a glimpse of the kitchen, where the proprietors begin baking at the crack of dawn, and close down once the last sheet of bread's been sold.

I first entered Liguria Bakery on a Saturday morning in August 2002. We’d just moved across the country, and everything felt like a fever dream — a sensation that was only exacerbated by the chilly weather of San Francisco’s "summer." Some family member somehow had found out about this place, a few blocks down from an apartment that felt so new and disorienting to me. We all shuffled over, like zombies. And then, the next day, we shuffled back again. And again.

Who could blame us? The stuff was dead-perfect. I wish I could say the Liguria Bakery focaccia became our everyday, all-purpose bread-of-choice (Use it for sandwiches! Broil cheese on top! Pair it with a scrambled egg!) but the truth is, it never lasted more than an hour. We’d eat it bare, while it was somehow still vaguely warm despite the 10-minute walk home, standing around the kitchen counter. Most of the time, we wouldn’t even bother with utensils or plates.

When I moved to New York nine years ago, I felt its loss keenly, thinking of it sometimes twice a day. Every slice of focaccia — of any tomato sauce-slathered bread, really — I've had since has made me long for the one I love. Finally, I had to do something about it. If I couldn't have the real thing, I had to give making my own a shot. It’d have to be different, of course — not only was I not able to get the original recipe, but I also didn't have an oven that's capable of 1,500° F heat. I scoured message boards and Yelp comments. I maniacally quizzed my family members about what they remembered of the crumb. I researched the unique aspects of Ligurian-style focaccia, and during a recent visit to Italy, convinced a chef who knew the traditional Genovese method to tell me what I was doing wrong. I kneaded and kneaded, tweaked water proportions, and tried out all sorts of sauce toppings.

This is where I landed — it might not be quite Liguria Bakery status, but it hits the spot.

"Pizza" Focaccia with Tomato Sauce & Green Onion
Makes: 1 9x13-inch sheet

1 cup slightly warm water (222 grams) (it should feel just a tiny bit warmer than your body temperature to the touch)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (7 grams)
2 1/2 cups bread flour (300 grams), plus about 1/3 cup more for kneading
1 teaspoon kosher salt (7 grams), plus more for sprinkling on top
2 tablespoons olive oil (28 grams), plus 3 tablespoons olive oil (42 grams), plus 1/2 cup olive oil (110 grams)
3/4 cup chopped scallions (the green part), divided into 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup
1 cup canned crushed or pureed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

Click here to read the full recipe.

By Ella Quittner

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Focaccia Food52 Liguria Bakery Recipes San Francisco Tomato