Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kevin: Italian Breads From Local Breads - Focaccia

I was about 12 or 13 the first time I tried baking bread. I produced two whole wheat bricks. I tried again a number of times over the following few years but without any great success. I did produce some decent English muffins — although nothing as good as those I made using the No-knead Bread Dough.

Then in 1981 I'd just gotten out of school and while I was trying to find a real job I decided to make sandwiches and sell them door-to-door at offices. Not content to do it the easy way, I elected to make the sandwiches using croissants. — homemade croissants. Croissants are one of the most labor-intensive breads you can make. After mixing and kneading the dough, you roll butter into it, then fold it and roll it out again, then do it again. The next step is refrigerating it, not because you've finished but because the butter needs to harden again. The process of folding and rolling is repeated at least twice more, maybe three times.

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Once you've made enough folds, you roll the dough out one last time and cut it into triangles, which are rolled up and shaped into crescents. Then back in the fridge until 4:00 the next morning at which time I'd get up and move them into some jury-rigged proofing ovens. Back to bed until 6:00 when I'd get up and start baking them while making the various sandwich fillings. I've never worked so hard in my life and I haven't made a croissant since. But I did start occasionally making bread again.

In 1995 I bought a Kitchen Aid specifically for making bread and sausage and at the same time I bought Daniel Leader's Bread Alone, which I proceeded to read cover-to-cover. I learned a lot, so, like my confreres, I was pleased to get a review copy of Local Breads: Sourdoughs and Whole-grain Recipes from Europe's Best Bakers (and I confess, I haven't read it cover-to-cover) and was equally willing to feature it here this month (with no promises that anyone would be happy with the results). Although we'd decided to do breads involving a biga, I decided instead to do focaccia from the same section of the book. I'm fond of flat breads and it's a simple straightforward recipe. Given how busy this month has been, simple and straightforward seemed like a good idea.

One note, the recipe calls for 3 1/4 cups of flour and I ended up using almost 4 cups. I should have weighed it to see how close my cups came to Leader's, but by the time I realized how much flour I'd used I'd used up the last of that bag — and weighing flour from a different bag wouldn't have told me anything.

Click to enlarge

Grape Harvest Focaccia (Schiacciata all'uva)
Adapted from >Local Breads.

Ingredients | US volume | metric volume | US weight | metric weight
water — tepid 1 1/4 c | 296 ml | 10.6 oz | 300 g
instant yeast 1 tsp | 5 ml | 0.2 oz | 5 g
unbleached all-purpose flour 3 1/4 c | 770 ml | 17.6 oz | 500 g
extra-virgin olive oil 1/3 c | 80 ml | 2.1 oz | 60 g
sea salt 1 1/2 tsp | 8 ml | 0.4 oz | 10 g
red seedless grapes 1 1/2 c | 355 ml | 7.1 oz | 200 g
fresh rosemary — chopped 2 tbsp | 30 ml | 0.2 oz | 6 g
coarse sea salt 1 tsp | 5 ml | 0.2 oz | 5 g
additional olive oil

Pour water into the bowl of a stand mixer bowl and add yeast, olive oil, salt, and 3 cups of flour. Mix the ingredients on low (2 on a KA) using the paddle attachment on a Kitchen Aid until shaggy, then swap to the dough hook. Add additional flour as needed until a dough forms. Increase speed to medium (4 on a KA) and knead for 9 to 10 minutes.

As I mentioned above, I needed about 4 cups of flour. I'd added about 3 3/4 cups and thought that was fine, and then a strange thing happened. In the last 3 minutes of kneading the dough fell apart. It lost it cohesion as a mass and became something like an exceptionally thick batter. I've never seen this happen before. I added about another 1/4 cup of flour and it came back together.

Scrape dough out onto a lightly-floured board and shape into a ball. Note: I always knead the dough a bit by hand at the end to make sure it feels right. In this case the dough is moist, but not sticky (the oil accounts for this).

For this amount of dough, I typically use the mixer bowl for the fermentation phase. I wash it out and dry it, then lightly spray it with oil, shape the dough into a ball, lightly spray the top with oil, cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until doubled in bulk.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush lightly with olive oil. Scrape dough out onto baking sheet and let rest for 5 minutes. Oil your hands and then stretch the dough out on the baking sheet, if it resists, allow to rest for another five minutes and continue. The dough should end up about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) and form a rough rectangle about 12 inches by 16 inches (30 cm by 40 cm).

Click to enlarge

Using the balls of your fingers, press indentations into the dough, then drizzle a bit of olive oil on the top and, using your fingers, coat the top with oil. Press the grapes into the surface about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) apart. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and chopped rosemary. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until double the height (45 minutes to an hour).

At this point I also began heating my oven to 375F (190C) and positioned a rack in the center.

Bake focaccia for 20 to 30 minutes, but do take your own oven into account. My oven tends to cook slowly for some reason (and yes, I have verified the temperature with a thermometer) and I baked the bread for 40 minutes until it was a golden brown and the grapes had shriveled slightly.

Cool for about 5 minutes on a rack, then dive in.
This was absolutely the best focaccia I've ever made. The bread was delightfully sweet (and look, Ma, no sugar), moist, and chewy. The rosemary is a perfect flavor pairing with the sweet grapes (an added burst of sweetness), and the coarse salt provide both textural and flavor contrast.

Adapted from a recipe in Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers by Daniel Leader (c) Copyright 2007 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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Blogger kitchenmage said...

Oh man, that looks so good! I've been using focaccia as my standard sandwich bread this summer and loving it. I keep looking st these pictures and wondering what this would be like if the grapes were swapped for kalamata olives...obviously have to try it.

7/19/2007 2:05 PM  
Blogger Kansas A. Lillooet BC said...

That looks so good! But am I missing something?? The permalink points to another post (susan), and then a blank page comes up? Could be my computer, gremlins and all :)

7/19/2007 2:37 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Olives would be excellent, and Leader also suggest cherry tomatoes. But the bread itself has a surprising sweetness that the grapes really play to and that captivated me.

Try it again, it's working for me.

7/19/2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger Carolyn T said...

I made a bread very similar to this last summer. A focaccia with red grapes. But mine had sugar sprinkled on the top of it. It also had rosemary on it. It was absolutely wonderful. I served it to dinner guests as our appetizer, and although we all loved it (a lot) it kind of took the edge, or more than an edge off our dinner appetites. I'm not sure when would be the right time to eat this - with salad doesn't sound right. I suppose breakfast would work. Anyway, it was very good.

7/19/2007 3:02 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

In fact, the day I made it I had that (far too much of it) and a salad for dinner. Very satisfying.

7/19/2007 3:20 PM  
Blogger Rose said...

That looks delicious - I bet it would go great with Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern menus. For toppings, what about apricots and almonds? Dates and goat cheese? Can't wait to try it!

7/19/2007 3:42 PM  
Blogger Kansas A. Lillooet BC said...

Thanks Kevin :) This is the url it points to: but at least now I can see the recipe! And I wouldn't want to miss one, love this site :)

7/19/2007 3:42 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

The bread is a great foundation, I may have to make it again soon and try something else (KM's thought about olives and maybe a bit of minced anchovies or sardines) calls to me.

Ah, yes. I misnamed it originally, but apparently blogger figured it out.

7/19/2007 3:55 PM  
Blogger Peg-woolinmysoup said...

The bread is delicious. I made it today and we had it for dinner - the grapes are wonderful and I have always used olives, but it will be grapes for me whenever I have them on hand!
We ate it with a fresh green salad and some pulled pork - it would also be good with cheese and a salad for a light meal, or cheese and fruit for dessert. A very versatile recipe!

7/19/2007 8:06 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I love that "I just read the recipe and made it immediately." And this was, as you noted, an exceptional focaccia. It's seldom I want to make the same bread twice (after all, there are so many breads I've never made), but I think I'm going to have to do this one again as is and also with olives and a third time with cherry tomatoes.

7/19/2007 8:36 PM  
Blogger David Hall said...


Great to stumble across you, a great Blog. I love foccaccia, me and the nipper design our own and it is great fun and always tasty. Will be checking in now I have found you.

All the best

7/20/2007 7:26 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Welcome to bread central!

7/20/2007 9:35 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

The picture of that bread looks so good, but I have to say that the thought of grapes is making my stomach turn -- but I think that's because I'm pregnant. I'm thinking about making it tomorrow for lunch with olives AND cherry tomatoes (or cheery tomatoes, which I typed first), and eating it with goat cheese and a small salad. Yum!

7/20/2007 2:36 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I'm going to have to make another batch tomorrow.

7/20/2007 2:57 PM  
Anonymous courtney said...

I love focaccia. I just made my first loaf in May, and it has been my favorite (to make and eat) of the 5 or 6 yeast doughs/breads I have made since I started working with yeast early this year.

I can't wait to try a sweet focaccia. As I usually make a rosemary parm loaf.

7/20/2007 4:07 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I'm not sure why this bread tasted so sweet, it might just have been my mouth that day. But the grapes were a decidedly sweet note and contrasted wonderfully with the salt.

And BTW, I'm pretty skeptical of sea salt (I can't taste any difference in salts) but I'm not skeptical of the textural difference between salts and this is a case where sea salt absolutely makes a difference in the eating experience, if not the flavor.

7/20/2007 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Emily said...

Hi Kevin --

Just made this tonight and it was fantastic -- I can't believe how good the grapes were with the rosemary and the salt (I used kosher as its what I had on hand)... I also liked the fact that it didn't taste too greasy, as I've found some foccacias can...

One thing is I would have liked the bread itself to have a little more flavor... I'm thinking actually a biga might be good for this -- may try it that way...

But to all the other readers who are thinking of subbing olives or cherry tomatoes, while I'm sure they would be good too, try the grapes! The grapes really made it for me...

7/21/2007 12:13 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

A biga would help, but one of the nice things about this bread is how quickly you can make it.

7/21/2007 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anita said...

Hmmm, I think I have to make this very soon...but since grapes are not in season I'll try to see if I can get cherries, or tomatoes (ordinary ones, since we don't get cherry tomatoes here!) it will have to be. Great focaccia, Kevin.

7/21/2007 9:29 AM  
Blogger Bob del Grosso said...

It reads like a great foccacia (grapes, rosemary a dead rights to certain sounding dough) but the pics make it look a bit anemic. Was it more browned than the what is shown here? I imagine that with all that superficial water from the grapes, the surface may not have dried out enough to brown well.

7/21/2007 7:39 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

The color was anemic -- despite an extra ten minutes in the oven. And frankly, I'm baffled as to why, but I plan to ask Leader what his thoughts are.

7/21/2007 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great recipe-dough is beautiful.Used olives as had no grapes.Wll be making it again with grapes


7/22/2007 2:32 PM  
Blogger s'kat said...

I had something similar in Italy as a dessert. Served with a searing shot of grappa, it was a memorable end to a memorable meal.

You now have me itching to fire up the oven again!

7/25/2007 11:44 AM  
Blogger oopsydeb said...

I've been out of town for a few weeks and not baking, so I was thrilled to come back to a recipe that looked good and fairly quick.

I really wanted to try the grapes, but I also had grape tomatoes on hand. I resolved my inner conflict by making half the bread with grapes and half with grape tomatoes. I ended up using about 3.5 cups of flour.

The bread--both versions--is great! My first focaccia! The grapes really are fantastic on this. I'm going to go pick up our CSA share so I can figure out what kind of sandwiches we're having tonight.

7/25/2007 4:53 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I haven't had grappa in ages, I should buy a bottle.

Best focaccia I've ever made.

7/25/2007 5:50 PM  
Anonymous Susan said...

I have made the grape focaccia from Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery, and I loved it, but I never though of using salt instead of sugar on the top. This looks really wonderful and I am excited to try it.

7/27/2007 7:00 PM  
Anonymous Darby said...

Every time I bake focaccia something awful happens. 1st time, I got a great smelling rock-hard cracker. 2nd time, my sea salt grinder became uncapped as I was salting.... This time the curse struck by causing me to grab the balsamic vinegar bottle instead of the olive oil. Imagine my surprise as I began to "drizzle" ....However, I saved 2/3 of the dough and baked it in a round. And finally, I made focaccia that tasted AMAZING!

8/13/2007 2:34 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Maybe you've broken the curse. I hope so.

8/13/2007 4:12 PM  
Blogger Lyra said...

I saved this recipe to my files the minute I read it...never heard of grape focaccia before, and thought it would be a great 1st focaccia to make. The dough is rising now-its like making pizza dough, frankly, and Ill report back soon (ish) on how it tastes...can't wait! I only have dark black sweet grapes, but I think they'll be delicious

9/29/2007 6:03 PM  
Blogger Lyra said...

Oh yum this is so delicious!!!! And so easy to make. I cut the dough in half and put half of it in the fridge before the 1st rise, because its only me eating it tonight, and its still a big focaccia! I also sprinkled about 1 tsp of sugar on top along with the coarse salt. It is so yummy and browned up nicely in my oven...Thanks Kevin!

9/29/2007 8:57 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

It's the best foccacia I've ever eaten.

9/30/2007 10:04 AM  
Blogger Lyra said...

Hey Kevin I posted about the focaccia bread and link to a year in bread and all the Year in Bread contributors' blogs. You can check it out here:

10/02/2007 12:11 PM  

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