Although pizza may be the best-loved product of the Italian baker’s oven, it could soon be challenged by the focaccia. Both are hearth breads, originally cooked on the oven floor before the chief event of the day, the baking of the really big loaves. The French version of focaccia, fougasse.
Focaccia was the baker’s hors d’oeuvre. As soon as the fire had been raked out, he popped these inside the door to cook quickly while the temperature of the oven settled, the hot-spots on the roof died down, so that the large loaves, that would be left in for an hour or more, would not be irretrievably burned. (Burned bread is almost a thing of the past today, but it happened as regular as clockwork in the old ovens. Grandfathers will remember that their parents would often ask the baker for an outside loaf - one that had been cooked right at the edge of the oven, where the heat was at its most fierce and the crust correspondingly dark.)
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.