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This Italian focaccia with vegan melted cheese is thin, crisp, melty, stringy and packed with flavour. It's the perfect meal to share with friends, and you can eat it as a starter, main, or as an indulgent Sunday brunch.
I'll show you how to make melty vegan cheese at home, without nuts and without blender. It's super easy and it only takes 5 minutes in a pot. I'll also show you how to make a delicious thin and crisp Italian focaccia.
What is a crisp focaccia with melted cheese?
First things first, this is not your regular thick, soft, doughy focaccia with rosemary on top, but rather a thin, crisp, melty one, filled with plenty of stringy vegan cheese. If you are looking for a delicious thick, soft and airy focaccia check out our no-knead Italian focaccia recipe.
Focaccia with melted cheese, sometimes known as "Focaccia di Recco" is a traditional type of focaccia popular in the Liguria region of Italy, around the cities of Genova and Recco. The main characteristic of this focaccia is that is made with two very thin layers of dough, filled with a stringy and melty cheese called "stracchino" or "crescenza".
The dough is a very simple one, made with flour, water, olive oil and salt. There is no yeast in this dough, so you don't have to wait for it to proof. It's rolled very thin - I'll show you how to roll it later on - and then filled with the cheese. Stracchino is a traditional Italian fresh and soft cheese that melts really well.
We developed our own vegan melted cheese that is very similar in flavour and texture to Italian stracchino. It's absolutely perfect as a filling for this thin and crisp focaccia. Also, as you can see from the pictures, we made two versions of this focaccia: one just with melted vegan cheese, the other with spinach and cheese.
Ingredients & Substitutions
For the focaccia dough
- Flour: all purpose flour, bread flour and semi-wholegrain flour all work to make a thin dough for this focaccia.
- Water: just plain tap water at room temperature.
- Oil: best if extra virgin olive oil. Alternatively other vegetable oil that is liquid at room temperature. I would not recommend coconut oil for this recipe.
- Salt: we use sea salt.
For the vegan cheese
- Plant-milk: must be unsweetened and without aromas. We prefer to use unsweetened organic non-GMO soy milk.
- Oil: extra virgin olive oil is best to give a fuller flavour. Any other vegetable oil would work, but the flavour won't be exactly the same. Coconut oil is not recommended for this cheese.
- Cornstarch: to give creaminess to the cheese. Try not to replace this.
- Potato starch: to give a stringy texture to the cheese. Try not to replace this.
- Nutritional Yeast: to give a cheese flavour to the cheese. Try not to replace this.
- Soy Yogurt: must be unsweetened and without aromas. We prefer soy yogurt to get the flavour as close to the Italian melted cheese, but you could use any other plant-based yogurt, as long as it is not sweet.
- Salt: we use sea salt.
- Spinach: we filled one focaccia with cheese and spinach and it was delicious. So, spinach are optional, but we highly recommended. You need to cook them on a pan with a pinch of salt, until they loose all the water and are quite dry.
- Worktop + rolling pin: to knead and roll the dough.
- Baking trays: with our dose you can make 2 to 3 baking trays of the focaccia depending on how thin you are able to roll it. You can use any baking tray.
We used a round one that is 28 cm or 11 inches, and a rectangular one that is 40cm x 30 cm or 16 x 12 inches.
- Pot and whisk: to make the vegan cheese.
Mistakes I made
- Did not put enough filling: make sure you put enough vegan cheese, the first time I didn't and I regretted it. This focaccia needs to be packed with melted cheese. Have a look at the video to have a better understanding of how much I actually put.
- I undercooked it: the first time I baked this I though the focaccia was ready after 12 minutes because the top was nice and golden. But that wasn't enough time!
You need to bake it for at least 16 minutes in total at 230C or 450F - 13 minutes touching the bottom of your oven, and the last 3 minutes on the middle rack. With some ovens it might take a minute or two longer.
- Knead well: knead vigorously for at least 5 minutes, better if 10. The dough should be smooth and elastic. This is important so that you can later roll it very thin. You can use a kitchen aid if you don't want to do it by hand.
- Let it rest: resting is key for this type of dough. During the kneading part, you are essentially developing the gluten network of the dough, the elasticity. Elasticity is great, however, if you don't let it rest, you won't be able to roll it thin.
In most cases 30 minutes of rest should be enough. If you are struggling to roll the dough because it's too elastic, then let it rest 30 more minutes.
- Oil the baking tray well: to prevent the focaccia from sticking you should brush the bottom of your baking tray with olive oil. You can of course use baking paper instead if you are trying to cut down on oil consumption, but with oil it tastes better.
- Don't forget the wholes: make sure you remember to pinch some wholes on the top layer of dough so that the steam can get out.
How do you roll the dough so thin?
- Knead well: kneading helps build elasticity so that the dough won't tear when you stretch it. You should knead vigorously till the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Let it rest: resting allows the gluten to relax and it will be a lot easier to manipulate and stretch the dough after it rested for at least 30 minutes.
- Rolling pin: try to make a round shape with the rolling pin first. Go as thin as you can with the rolling pin, without damaging the dough.
- Stretch by hand: this is actually a lot easier than it seems, I promise. You just need to gently stretch the dough with your hands till it becomes almost see-through. Check out the video below to see how I do it.
Frequently asked questions
Depending on flour, altitude and humidity of where your live, it is possible that your dough is stickier than ours. In this case, just add a little flour at the time while kneading, until you reach your desired consistency.
This is probably because it needs more resting time. Cover it up with a cloth and let it rest another 30 minutes.
You can reduce or omit the oil completely, but the focaccia won't be as crisp and flakey.
This crisp focaccia with vegan melted cheese is best eaten straight out of the oven, while still warm, melty and crisp.
If you have some leftover, you can store it in an airtight container for 24 hours, and then reheat it in the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes, until very warm again. The biggest challenge when storing this focaccia is that the dough won't be as crisp as on the first day.
You can, however, store the dough in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days in a reusable plastic or silicon bag. You can also freeze the dough for up to 3 months.
For the vegan cheese, you can store that too in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Spinach and stracchino is our favourite variation for this focaccia. Alternatively, you can also fill it with our vegan soy ricotta and spinach. That way is also delicious.
As an alternative, with exactly the same dough, you can make a piadina with melted vegan cheese and arugula, a type of Italian flat-bread popular in the Romagna region.
Crisp focaccia with vegan melted cheese
- Baking trays to cook the focaccia: we used a round one that is 28 cm or 11 inches, and a rectangular one that is 40cm x 30 cm or 16 x 12 inches.
- Rolling pin
- Small pot
- 300 g (2 cups) flour all-purpose or bread flour
- 140 g (0.6 cups) water
- 30 g (2.5 tbsp) olive oil
- 3 g (½ tsp) salt
- 370 g (1½ cups) soy milk unsweetened
- 50 g (6½ tbsp) potato starch
- 15 g (2 tbsp) corn starch
- 20 g (1½ tbsp) olive oil
- 8 g (1½ tbsp) nutritional yeast
- 3 g (½ tsp) salt
- 190 g (⅘ cups) soy yogurt unsweetened
- 500 g (17.5 oz) spinach optional
Making the dough
- In a bowl, add the flour, water, oil and salt, and mix with a fork until the water is absorbed by the flour.
- Transfer the dough onto a worktop and knead vigorously with your hand for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth and elastic. You can use a kitchen aid if you prefer. Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rest for 30 minutes.While the dough rests, make the vegan melted cheese.
Making the melted vegan cheese
- In a pot, add soy milk, potato starch, corn starch, olive oil, nutritional yeast, and salt. Stir with a whisk till there are no lumps. Then on medium heat bring the liquid to a boil while stirring continuously. Keep stirring until the liquid becomes thick and very stringy.
- Take off the heat, keep stirring vigorously for another minute, then add the soy yogurt and stir very well.
- You should see the ingredients relax and turn into a smooth, lightly stringy consistency. Your vegan melted cheese is ready. Set aside.
Building the focaccia
- First, preheat the oven to 230C or 450F. Now you need to make two very thin sheets of dough that fit your baking tray. With this recipe we were able to fill a round tray that is 28 cm (11 inches), and a rectangular one that is 40cm x 30 cm (16 x 12 inches). You can use different shapes and sizes.
- First, take half of the dough and roll it as thin as you can with a rolling pin. Dust with flour if the dough sticks to the worktop or to the rolling pin.
- Then, when you are not able to make it any thinner, take it with your hands and stretch it. It's hard to explain so have a look at the short clip below. It's actually very easy to do. Ideally, the sheet of dough should be almost see-through.
- Put the first sheet of dough on a well oiled baking tray.
- With the help of two spoons, add the vegan melted cheese.
- Roll another sheet of dough like you did before and put it on top of the baking tray, covering it completely. Cut off the dough in excess and push push down the edges to create a sealed rim.
- Pinch some holes on the top layer, where the dough meets the cheese. Then add add a mixture made with 2tbsp of water + 2 tbsp of olive oil + pinch of salt. Alternatively you can just drizzle with some olive oil.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 230C or 450F for a total of about 16 minutes. Bake the first 13 minutes with the tray touching the bottom of the oven. Finish the last 3 minutes on the middle rack.Depending on how thin you rolled the dough, it can take a minute or two longer to cook. In any case, it should be very crispy on top and the crust should be golden with some brownish spots.
Variation with spinach
- The process is exactly the same as above. You just need to first cook the spinach on a pan with a pinch of salt. For one tray of focaccia you'll need about 500 grams (17.5 oz) of fresh spinach. Cook them until the loose all the water and are completely dry. Then add them on top of the vegan cheese and follow the same steps as above.
- This one might take a few more minutes to cook. My advice is to bake the first 13 minutes with tray touching the bottom of the oven, then finish on the middle rack for the remaining 4 to 5 minutes.
Full video on youtube @theplantbasedschool
Let us know in the comments below if you tried this recipe at home, or take a picture and tag us on Instagram @italiaplantbased.