Lately I've been craving baked goods that are sweet and savory at the same time: sea salt and chocolate chip cookies, bacon brownies, apple tart with a Cheddar cheese crust. With these treats, I can have it both ways: the comfort of a cupcake and the pleasure of a slice of pizza in every bite.
Recently, I decided to bake a rosemary focaccia to accompany my grilled chicken. Could I sprinkle sugar on top of the flatbread and still serve it for dinner? I remembered the sweet-and-savory squares of grape focaccia that Italian children pick up on their way home from school. If I scattered the top of my focaccia with grapes, I might get away with it.
I used instant yeast (sometimes called bread machine yeast), which I buy in bulk at my warehouse club. It's convenient and reliable, and doesn't have to be rehydrated before being mixed with the flour. In the food processor, kneading took just seconds.
But I didn't want to proceed in too much of a hurry. The longer dough is allowed to rise, the more time it has to develop flavor and a bubbly texture. So I used just a teaspoon of yeast (many recipes call for more than double that amount) and then patiently let the dough stand on my countertop for a little more than four hours before gently pressing it into a baking sheet and letting it rise another 90 minutes.
Avoid "rapid rise" yeast, which contains yeast food, encouraging the yeast to proliferate quickly. Rapid rise yeast will cut rising time in half but won't allow for the various enzymatic actions that contribute to the complex flavor of well-made bread.
A little melted butter kneaded into the dough gave the finished focaccia a tender crumb and richness. A sprinkling of sea salt along with a couple of tablespoons of sugar on top gave my finished flatbread a deliciously crunchy and nicely balanced topping. The sugar and salt enhanced the flavor of the grapes.
FOCACCIA WITH GRAPES
I used instant yeast to make my focaccia, but active dry yeast will work, too. Just make sure you whirl it in the food processor with the water until it dissolves before adding the flour, salt, rosemary and melted butter. I served this bread with chicken kebabs marinated in olive oil, parsley and a lot of garlic. I loved the way the juicy, garlicky chicken tasted alongside the juicy, sweet grapes. It would also be good as an appetizer with some Gorgonzola or robiola cheese or slices of prosciutto and sopressata.
1 1/3 cups warm tap water
1 teaspoon instant yeast or active dry yeast (not "rapid rise")
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes
2 tablespoons sugar
Sea salt for sprinkling
1. Combine water, yeast, flour, salt, rosemary and 3 tablespoons of butter in the work bowl of a food processor and process until a rough ball forms. To knead dough, continue to process 30 seconds longer.
2. Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Shape the dough into a rough ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand in a warm, draft-free spot until it has more than doubled in size, 4 to 5 hours.
3. Spray a 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Turn the dough into the pan (it will deflate) and gently press it into pan so it reaches the edges of the pan. Loosely cover the dough with plastic wrap, and let it stand in a warm, draft-free spot until it is puffy and almost double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
5. Press grapes into the dough at 1-inch intervals. Drizzle remaining tablespoon of melted butter over dough, letting some collect in grape indentations. Sprinkle the sugar and sea salt, to taste, over the dough.
6. Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Use a large spatula to remove it from the pan and slide it onto a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.