NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

April 24, 2013

A focaccia that's sweet and savory

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.

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