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Jan 8, 2012 05:46 PM

Ciabatta vs Focaccia: When to use one vs the other?

When would you want to have ciabatta vs focaccia bread?

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  1. Focaccia if you want a flat bread, particularly if you want toppings. Ciabatta if you want a loaf. OTOH, ciabatta is not a traditional Italian bread, so probably anything goes.

    1. Ciabatta -- sandwiches
      Foccaccia - pizza base or topped with herbs, often cut into slivers and served with olive oil for dipping. Foccaccia topped with carmelized onions and rosemary? Heaven!
      Ciabatta originated in the Lake Como area, possibly by a Italian baker who moved to the area and created the bread. Its name is derived from the Italian word for "slipper". While not historic, it did originate in Italy making it a traditional Italian bread in my books as Italy is the country of origin, albeit a fairly modern origin.

      4 Replies
      1. re: freia

        Love them both, deeply. I learned fairly recently that Focaccia got its name because it was baked on the hearth. Fun when you think about all the breads that are traditionally baked on the floor or walls of a fireplace or pit, like the stuff they slap on the walls of a tandoor in India. My first time watching Italian cooks managing a huge woodfired oven, sweeping its floor and sliding pizzas and bread in and out, was something I'll never forget; boy, that was COOKING!

        Trader Joe's used to sell ciabatta rolls sized exactly right to use as burger buns, and golly, were they good, much nicer IMO than brioche. Those and the pre-formed Steakburger patties (also NLA!) added up to the best burgers I've ever grilled.

        1. re: Will Owen

          I get TJ's ciabatta rolls as a base for cream cheese and lox. I like them better than bagels for that purpose.

          1. re: Sharuf

            Oooohh, I would too! I'm losing my taste for chewy bread anyway; much prefer good crumb and crisp, tender crust. And, ya know, for that very reason it's been entirely too long since I had any lox and cream cheese. Many thanks, Sharuf!

            Actually, now, I'd bet these would be the ticket for just about any sort of gooey filling that tends to squirt out the sides when you try to eat it on tough bread. Egg salad, tuna, liverwurst …

            1. re: Will Owen

              My lox, cream cheese, ciabatta creations I always serve open-faced. I slice the rolls in half, and I lightly toast them first to bring out flavor and freshness.

      2. I would say that ciabatta is more a 'contained' bread. It has crust on top and bottom. So it's great for cutting in half and putting something in between it.

        Focaccia sometimes has a crumbly top, depending on what people put on it. In a way, it's like pizza* bianca: a pizza base with no cheese or sauce on it. So it's good as the bread portion of a meal, not necessarily for sandwiches. (*Thick Sicilian, not thin Neopolitan)

        1. In my experience, ciabatta is thick enough to slice in half, and make a sandwich, and sturdy enough to grill in a panini press. Focaccia is thinner and softer. It may be thin enough to top with cheese etc and broil, or may even come topped. But I've also had focaccia that is thick enough to slice. Basically shape determines the use.

          1. Ciabatta for sandwiches (noting, as upthread, that it isnt traditional Italian, apparently dating to 1982 according to the sometime saccurate Wikipedia - my partner's ex-colleague from Turin regards it as "foreign").

            Focaccia on its own, when I want bread as the carb for a meal

            14 Replies
            1. re: Harters

              We learned how to make it at the Cordon Bleu in Firenze, as a "traditional bread",and even they were pretty upfront that ciabatta wasn't historic, as in it was a recent entry into the bread world in Italy. And besides, most breads from Italy aren't terribly good in my experience as they do have a general lack of salt.

                1. re: paulj

                  No, not each and every Italian bread, just in general, and in particular the Tuscan ones. And salt is being added to the general recipes, too. The thing is, Italy really isn't known for its breads, not like France or Germany are. They are known for other culinary delights. That's just my personal observation, having lived in Germany, France and Italy.
                  The interesting thing is during my language courses, when the instructor would ask us "foreigners" about what we disliked about the food in Tuscany, almost to a person the answer was "the bread tastes like cardboard". LOLOLOL. Tuscany isn't known in any event as a great culinary destination amongst the Italians, hence the term "bean eaters", used in reference by other city-state citizens to describe the Tuscans.I personally loved the bistecca fiorentina and fagioli dishes, but could lose the lampredotto.
                  Oh, and btw, I used to live just down the street from an Il Fornaio in Florence, by Chiesa Santo Spirito.. And the article doesn't mention that traditional use of old bread, Rebollito, which just means "reboiled" -- basically soup broth of veggies and beans ("bean eaters" LOLOLOL) into which bread is soaked, making a thick chunky soup. Because of its heartiness, its served seasonally only. :)

                  1. re: freia

                    Italy is not known for its bread? Are you fricking kidding me?! You go to one region and that makes you an expert? You didn't even visit the Bread Bowl of Italy. You probably can't even tell me where the Bread Bowl is.

                    1. re: pdxgastro

                      I think what it comes down to is that Italy hasn't bothered to advertise its bread as France has, because Italians aren't as hung up on it as the French are. That may be a rather harsh thing to say, but I have no markers on this thread asking me to say otherwise.

                      My favorite artisanal bread on the North American continent is a loaf from Bread & Company in Nashville, Tennessee, called Pane Bello. This is a Pugliese style loaf, with a firm dense crumb and a crisp but tender crust, baked from the same soft wheat that southern Americans use for their quick breads. Whereas I used to beg travellers to the west coast to bring SF sourdough to me, when I lived in Nashville, now I bring Pane Bello home to California when I'm leaving Nashville.

                      1. re: pdxgastro

                        No expert here LOLOL, but I'll bet when I say "name me a food from this area", and said:
                        you'd say croissants
                        if I said
                        you'd say PASTA, not bread?
                        Italy isn't known for its breads, and I stand by that, fricking kidding aside LOLOLOL

                        1. re: freia

                          Italy isn't known for it's bread? That's crazy! Italy was divided into states before being united and each region had their own bread that's why there are so many varieties. As one post mentioned, they just don't advertise, as they are the biggest pasta producers in the world. I'm Italian and still learning about Italy's foods, it's never ending. As for breads, do your research about Italian breads. I've been baking breads for a while now. Here in Little Italy, I grew up on Pugliese before Ciabatta was even known here. As far as baking breads, Italian breads are more forgiving and easier to make for the home baker.

                          1. re: taurus30

                            More forgiving because of the lack of salt as mentioned above and the general simplicity of recipe -- compare making a foccacia with, say, a croissant or brioche or baguette. Just sayin'
                            And yes I still stand by my statement, based on experience of having been there. Having a regional bread for each city state doesn't make that bread either remarkable nor wellknown. In Little Italy you may have grown up on Pugliese, but in Italy proper there is far less of a bread culture than you imagine. Check out any Il Fornaio -- the biscuits and sweets and biscotti and pizza by the slice far outweighs the variety and overall tastiness of the bread on offer. Just my experience (and the experience of my Cordon Bleu instructors, from whom I took the Pane and Foccacia breadmaking series when I was over there)

                            1. re: freia

                              I think your range of experience is simply not extensive enough to judge.

                              Of course, since I happen to like the Tuscan breads, my taste may be suspect! but it is perfect for eating the way the tuscans eat it. Yes there is a lot of dried out commercial bread that sappears in restaurant bread baskets, but if you eat it with your food it has a rationale. Then, if you explore a littel further there is an amazing range of wonderful country breads avaiable, which to me are among the most satisfying avaiable anywhere, We carried a Kayser country loaf home from Paris and likewise carry loaves of Genzano and Lariano breads home from Rome. You may have to seek them out in respected bakeries and gastonomie but they are extraordinary. We certainly enjoy many of these Italian traditional breads in Brooklyn, NY but a trip to Rome, Campania, Sicily, Puglia , Emilia Romagna and and many other Italian regions will reveal them.

                        2. re: pdxgastro

                          I couldn't agree more. Bread is as basic to Italian eating as the baguette is to French. And the varieties of bread in Italy are impressive. What is pizza, besides bread with a topping?

                        3. re: freia

                          >> about what we disliked about the food in Tuscany, almost to a person the answer was "the bread tastes like cardboard".

                          Completely agree. I've been to Italy > 12 times, mostly Rome, Milan once and Florence twice. Even in expense account, fancy restaurants, I did not find any of the bread very interesting. AND much of it was "cardboard"-y.

                          I also never had a pizza slide that was notable in Italy, though I did not go to Naples.

                          (on the good, I had the most delicious pasta, seafood, vegetables, and of course wine ever.)

                            1. re: sweet100s

                              A hotel in Rome was where I first encountered the REAL "continental breakfast", with pitchers of coffee, pitchers of milk, and baskets of breads and rolls and bowls of sweet butter. Tasted no bread that was not wonderful - none of your flabby American rolls there! - and though my idea of a good hotel breakfast usually involves eggs, potatoes and multiple pork products, I adored my Roman breakfast. Fond memories still after 32 years …

                          1. re: paulj

                            Good article, paulj! I wonder if our Dear Critic read this.........LOL