Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

I used to be pretty handy with yeast. I would go through phases where I played around with baking breads, breakfast pastries and pizza. There’s nothing like the smell of bread or croissants baking in the oven. In Arlington I lived across the street from a really good pastry shop (the one I eventually worked in), and loved it when the wind blew those aromas onto my balcony.

It’s been a long time since I opened a package of yeast, but a few weeks ago I had the urge to make a whole wheat pizza. I was going to use my mixer to knead the dough because that’s been my habit, it’s how we did it in school and in the shop and it stuck with me, but my KitchenAid attachments were in the storage unit. I’m glad they were. It felt good to knead. A dough is really yours if you knead it. I know that sounds corny, but try it and see if you agree. And really, a mixer saves you what? About six or seven minutes? I rather knead.

The pizza came out great. I used a recipe from Eating Well. A whole wheat pizza dough that you make in a few hours will never be anything close to a regular dough that rises over time, but it was tasty, a different pizza experience, but a really good Friday pizza night dinner.

I saw this recipe in the local paper, a New York Times recipe from Melissa Clark. The same week I saw Giada De Laurentiis make grape focaccia on the Cooking Channel. She added shallots and garlic to hers. I followed Melissa’s recipe with Giada’s additions, but adjusted the topping ingredient amounts a bit. It made a delicious sweet and salty Sunday afternoon snack. And Monday morning breakfast. And Tuesday morning breakfast too.

I know yeasted doughs can be daunting, but if you use fresh yeast and follow all the instructions, you’ll do fine. No matter what happens, the focaccia will be delicious.

grape rosemary shallots garlic focaccia

Grape and Rosemary Focaccia

You’ll need a small skillet, instant-read thermometer, large bowl, dough scraper (optional), clean dish towel and a 11×17″ sheet pan or cookie sheet.

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for greasing and drizzling
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped, divided
  • 2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed
  • 2/3 cup fine cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1/2 large shallot, cut into thinly sliced rounds
  • 1 cup seedless black or red grapes, halved
  • Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling.

Warm the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the rosemary leaves. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.

Place 3/4 cup lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees) in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over it. Let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Stir the olive oil mixture, 1-2/3 cups flour, cornmeal, 3 tablespoons sugar and salt into the yeast mixture. Stir until a soft dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, or knead in a stand mixer with a dough hook attached, for about 5 minutes. If using the stand mixer, finish the dough by hand, on a floured surface, for 1 minute. Add more flour if the dough feels sticky. According to the recipe, it could need as much as another 1/4 cup if the dough feels very sticky. You want damp but not unworkable dough.

At this point in the recipe I was wondering if I messed up measuring because the dough was really sticky and soft. It absorbed at least an additional 2/3 cup of flour as I was kneading. Did I forget to add the cornmeal? I’ll never know until I make it again. I used my dough scraper in my right hand as I kneaded so I wouldn’t gunk up two hands. But it all turned out well. The dough doubled in size during its rise and rose again when baked.

Oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat it lightly with the oil. Cover the bowl with a dish towel. Place the bowl in a warm place, and let it rise until the dough has doubled, about 1 hour. Good places for rising dough: gas oven with just the pilot light on, on top of the refrigerator, in a dishwasher a few hours after it’s run  and it’s still a bit warm, near a heat source (but not on or too close to it), or a sunny (but not drafty or too hot) window.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a large cookie sheet or baking pan with some olive oil.

Punch down the dough, then pat it into the pan, stretching it gently into a square or oval about 3/8- to 1/2-inch thick. It should not fill the entire pan. Sprinkle the dough with the garlic and shallot. Scatter the grapes over the dough, pressing them in lightly. Sprinkle the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon rosemary and flaky sea salt over the grapes. Drizzle all over with oil. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Original recipe: Grape Focaccia, News & Observer

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