As I mentioned in my last post, the first thing that came to mind when I stumbled upon a pile of Concord grapes at the farmer’s market was focaccia. In its most basic form, this Italian flatbread starts with a dough of white bread flour, yeast, water, and salt, moistened with a generous amount of olive oil. After rising for a bit, the dough is pressed out into a baking sheet in the shape of a rectangular slab. Dimples are created by pressing into the dough with your fingertips, making little crevices for flavorful olive oil to pool. Half an hour in the oven yields a golden brown flatbread, slightly puffed, with a tender, moist, and chewy crumb that’s perfect for a convivial table served in torn and rustic pieces or cut into neat squares. Focaccia is often adorned with toppings, from a simple sprinkling of rosemary leaves and sea salt or olives, to this recipe I baked last year topped with caramelized onions, pears, and blue cheese. During the fall harvest, grapes are a popular topping for focaccia, and the jammy fruit compliments the savory olive oil dough beautifully. So many recipes for grape focaccia can be found on the web, like this one by Melissa Clark, but I like to keep it simple and resist the urge to turn this bread into a dessert. I enjoy balancing the savory and sweet, which makes for a more versatile bread that can be served on the dinner table with an autumn roast meat, alongside a bowl of root vegetable or cauliflower soup, or as a grilled cheese panini.
I always use Richard Bertinet’s method for making bread from his book, Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads, and adapted his focaccia recipe by adding wheat flour, honey, and infusing my olive oil with rosemary. During fall, I really enjoy the nutty, wholesome flavor of whole wheat flour and a touch of sweetness from freshly harvested golden honey. By finely chopping the rosemary leaves and adding them to warm oil, I was able to infuse a more mellow flavor of the piney herb throughout the bread. Many recipes for focaccia are rather quick to throw together, calling for only an hour rising time. I prefer the method below, which calls for about 2 hours and 15 minutes of resting time to allow the yeast to develop a greater depth of flavor in the bread. Longer rising times and a nice wet dough results in a light loaf with good structure and plenty of air pockets. Nancy Silverton, a bread guru and the lady behind Mozza, shares some great tips on baking focaccia in the LA Times.
Focaccia is an easy bread for the novice baker. This Honey Wheat Grape Focaccia with Rosemary is a festive addition to the dinner table, but I also like it for breakfast or at tea time in the afternoon. Concord grapes lend an intense, jammy flavor, but any red grape would be just fine instead. If you’ve never baked bread before, this is a great way to start.
Honey Wheat Grape Focaccia with Rosemary
Adapted from Richard Bertinet’s Focaccia recipe in the book, Dough: Simple Contemporary Breads. Makes 1 large slab of bread
With practice baking bread becomes an intuitive process. I always use Richard Bertinet’s somewhat unique method for baking bread from his book, Dough. I’ve described it here, and if you’re going to give this recipe a go I suggest taking a look at his book to familiarize yourself with the technique, or just incorporate these flavors into your favorite focaccia recipe. You can also play with the ratios of white and wheat flour, according to your taste. The recipe would be delicious using only white bread flour. Because of all the moisture and olive oil in focaccia, it freezes very well. Feel free to freeze half the loaf for later, I did with very good results.
- 12 ounces white bread flour
- 6 ounces wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 9 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
- 12 ounces warm (not hot) water
- 2 cups Concord grapes
Heat 5 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium low until warm. Toss in the rosemary leaves and remove the skillet from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool a bit.
Pour the white bread flour and the wheat flour into a large bowl. Using your hand, stir in the yeast until all ingredients are well combined. Add the salt, honey, and the 5 tablespoons olive oil with rosemary, stirring with your hand to combine with the flour. Pour in the warm water a little at a time, until the dough is moist and pliable (you may not need all the water). This video shows the Richard Bertinet method for mixing the dough, which is the same method for all his recipes. Once the dough comes together, turn it out onto the counter (do not flour it). The dough will be soft and moist, but this will change as you work with it.
Work the dough using the Richard Bertinet method, which involves slapping the dough on the counter, stretching it up towards the sky, then folding the dough over on itself. Repeat for about 5 minutes, until the dough is elastic and no longer sticks to the counter. Shape into a ball, dust with flour, and place in a large bowl covered with a lint-free dish towel to rest for 1 hour, until doubled in volume.
Meanwhile, work on the grapes. If the grapes have seeds, it will take a good half hour to remove them. I find the easiest method is to make a cut halfway around the grape to the center where the seed is, then pry open the grape and pinch the seeds from the seed sac. This keeps the grapes relatively intact. Do what comes easiest to you, and after a few grapes you’ll get your groove. Set the grapes aside.
Turn the dough out onto a generously oiled high-sided baking sheet pan. Pour the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil over the dough, and use your fingertips to gently push the dough out towards the edges of the pan. Cover with a lint-free dish towel and let it rest in a warm place for 45 minutes.
Heat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Dimple the dough all over by pressing in with your fingertips, then cover it with the towel and let it rest 30 minutes more.
Scatter the grapes over the dough, pressing them in gently. Sprinkle with a few pinches flakey sea salt and place the baking sheet in the hot oven. Turn down the temperature to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the focaccia for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack, brushing with a little ext a olive oil while the bread is hot.