Published May 1, 1997.
Potatoes add softness, height, and moisture to the dough, while a quick sponge creates air pockets and chewiness.
Many of the recipes we tried produced crusty, crisp bread only slightly thicker than pizza and weighed down by toppings. They were more a meal than a snack or accompaniment to Sunday dinner.
We wanted a focaccia that would be neither heavy nor loaded with toppings, soft yet chewy, with a nice high rise, and filled with small to medium-sized air pockets, creating an overall impression of lightness.
A couple of recipes from southern Italy added riced potato to the dough, and we found that it produced a bread with moistness, a pleasantly soft texture, and a high rise, but it needed more lift. We knew that sponges (relatively thin mixtures of yeast, water, and flour that are allowed to ferment briefly) are often used to lend flavor and create air holes in breads. So we tried a quick sponge with our working recipe, stirring the yeast, half the water, and a small portion of the flour together in a small bowl, then covering the bowl with plastic wrap and letting the sponge rest for 30 minutes before adding the remaining ingredients. The fermentation of the sponge produced wonderfully large bubbles, and the result was a bread that rose very high and had a nice, light texture.list of recipes