Pizza and focaccia, two flatbreads which are so similar yet so far apart. What are the differences between the two and can we make one using the dough from another?
The main differences between pizza dough and focaccia are:
- Focaccia dough usually has oil included while pizza dough is optional
- Focaccia is left to rise before baking to produce a thicker bread, but pizza is cooked straight after stretching so remains thin
- Focaccia generally has more yeast to boost a larger rise
- Focaccia has minimal toppings, while pizza is weighed down with many layers of toppings
- Focaccia accompanies meals while pizza is usually the main part of the meal
I’ll outline the main differences in the preparation of the two, how you can swap the doughs for each other, and also mention some recipes and history.
Differences In Ingredients
The vast majority of breads are made up from 4 ingredients – flour, water, salt and yeast. This gives a basic white dough which is then prepared, shaped and baked to many types of bread. So there is obviously much more emphasis on the preparation and cooking of these doughs to make different breads rather than the ingredients which go in.
Between pizza and focaccia, the main difference in ingredients are the addition of oil. In a traditional Italian pizza from Naples, there is no oil in the dough. It isn’t required in the hot wood fired ovens used to cook. In a New York style pizza, oil is added to help tenderize the dough which is cooked a little longer in a cooler oven, therefore it has the risk of drying out. Focaccia relies heavily on olive oil as an ingredient. It is added to the dough to make it more chewy, it is drizzled on top before baking, and sometimes into the crust when it is cooked.
As doughs go, they can be pretty much used interchangeably and you will turn out with something that resembles a pizza or focaccia if you prepare it right. Usually a pizza dough contains less yeast because it is left to rise for a longer time to build up flavor from fermentation.
Differences In Preparation
Probably the main thing which sets these two breads apart is the preparation of the dough. This is what we are doing to the dough before it is baked, which obviously has a big impact on the outcome.
Bread is usually given two rises after it is mixed. The first rise lets the yeast develop some flavor, and gives off gas which makes the dough rise. The dough is “punched down” to remove the large bubbles, and we let the dough rise one more time before baking e.g. in a loaf tin. This is called the “proofing” stage.
A focaccia has this second rise in a baking tin, or skillet. Usually it is spread into a wide container, so the dough only rises up a few inches, rather than a tall loaf. Dimples are made in the dough so that it rises evenly, and pockets of olive oil can gather in the holes. It is then baked which makes it rise another few inches.
Pizza dough has a first rise, it is punched down, then shaped into individual dough balls. These balls are given a second rise, but then they are flattened out with the hands or rolling pin into a pizza base. The crucial part now, is that the base is topped with tomato and cheese and then baked straight away. There is no time for a second rise, so the base stays very thin. The crust has no weight of the toppings, so we see an inch or two of rise around the rim. This gives us the main difference in shape and texture of the two baked foods.
Differences In Toppings
Toppings are quite different between the two, as pizza pretty much always has a tomato sauce base. Focaccia is uncommon to have a thick liquid base, and often just has olive oil drizzled on the top with some salt and herbs. That is where most focaccias are finished, but some do have extra toppings.
With pizza, the next layer is usually cheese, either a fresh mozzarella in Italy, or dry mozzarella popularised in the US.
A focaccia may have cheese as a topping, but it is more sparse and used to accompany other toppings, such as a goats cheese. The most common topping for focaccia is oil, sea salt and herbs like rosemary.
They both can take any number of meat and vegetables as the final layer. Meats like pepperoni and sausage are popular for pizza, and focaccia sometimes has vegetables.
Differences In Cooking
Pizza is known for its fast cooking, which improves the texture by puffing up the crust quickly. A wood fired oven can cook a pizza in around a minute. Even in a home oven, people are aiming for the fastest times by adding pizza stones to provide a hot surface to cut cooking times. You can expect 5-10 minutes to bake a pizza in a home oven.
Focaccia is cooked hot, but doesn’t have the focus on being quite so hot. As with most breads, we allow the dough to rise and cook in the oven over 20-30 minutes or so – much more time than a pizza. Because the bread is thicker, we aren’t so worried about it drying out.
Using One Dough For The Other
If you have spare dough or simply want to use a familiar dough to cook the other, then it is easily possible. Mix up the dough and let it rise for at least an hour – the step following this is where the recipes diverge. If you are making pizza then you should create individual dough balls – around 250-350g is best. A 275g ball will create a medium size pizza for one person. Allow these to rise for at least another hour before stretching or rolling out, topping and baking in your hottest oven.
If you don’t want to make dough balls, you can still make a “pan” pizza which is very similar to a focaccia. Start by oiling a sheet pan and stretching the dough into a rectangle. If the dough is very stretchy it needs time to allow the dough to relax and fill the container to the corners. It’s best to parbake this pizza so that the base is starting to rise and crisp up before you add the toppings. Bake for 15 minutes on your ovens highest setting, then add the toppings and finish baking for another 5 minutes. For full recipes, there is a recipe section below.
History Between The Two
The focaccia is said to have originated in Ancient Italy or Ancient Greece, so dates back a very long way. It is understable it is so old, being fairly simple and the obvious building blocks for other bread. Today there is different variations in all regions of Italy.
Pizza is said to have originated in Naples, Italy, with the first written account in 997 AD. Perhaps it was a regional variation of focaccia – it would be natural to add other toppings. Surrounding Naples grown in the volcanic soil are the most premium tomatoes in Italy, if not the world. Also originating there is the buffalo mozzarella. These two classic ingredients, along with basil, formed the “Pizza Margherita” when Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889.
To make a classic pizza dough check out my best pizza dough here which has taken inspiration from years of trial and error. It is suitable for beginners and advance pizza makers alike. It uses a longer fermentation time for an excellent taste and texture.
For a good focaccia recipe, check out this one which has some great instructions and images. Comparing the two, you can notice how the ingredients are similar but the instructions are different to give you the different outcomes.
Now you know the differences in the doughs, it should be clear that the emphasis is in the preparation rather than the ingredients. Many breads such as baguettes, ciabatta, focaccia all have the same 4 ingredients. But careful preparation sets these apart considerably.
The differences between a round pizza and a focaccia are quite noticeable, but the pan pizza and focaccia do start blurring the lines. The pan pizza is usually more crisp, and needs a parbake to allow all the extra elements to be fully cooked before serving. But swapping doughs out does work and it can be fun to experiment.