Jen’s Schiacciata: a Tuscan treat

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This is a story about bread bakers, King Arthur Flour, the Internet, and Facebook.

I’ll make it short because, unlike the slow-rising yeast breads so many of us love to bake, we don’t have time.

Time to get our work done, to connect as we’d like with family and friends, to stop and smell the roses (or at least pull a few weeds), or to spend even 30 seconds enjoying a beautiful sunrise.

Life today is go-go-go, 24/7. We’re assailed by electronically delivered information every waking moment.

It’s like standing outside in a hurricane: exciting, an adrenaline rush – but ultimately, enervating.

Which is why baking – and thinking about baking, reading recipes, and sharing our thoughts (and recipes) with other bakers – is such a soothing  experience.

Which brings me to Jen McAllister, a long-time friend of King Arthur Flour. I met Jen, an aspiring bakery owner, nearly 10 years ago when she was attending a week-long professional class at our Baking Education Center.

After the class had ended, we stayed in touch, exchanging recipes, asking and answering one another’s baking questions, and getting to know each other better – all via email.

When Facebook came along, we both signed up – and now, suddenly, we “see” each other every day. Jen has moved to California; there’s very little chance we’ll ever meet in person again. Yet, across the miles, the connection remains strong.

Jen ultimately decided not to open her own bakery, becoming a lawyer instead. But her near miss with professional baking resulted in the following recipe for schiacciata, Jen’s version of a traditional Tuscan sweet flatbread (inspired by one in Carol Field’s landmark book, The Italian Baker).

This light focaccia is brushed with olive oil and topped with purple grapes drizzled with Sambuca before baking. The combination of Sambuca (a licorice-flavored liqueur) and grapes sounds odd, but it works well. In the final outcome, the Sambuca comes off as sweet and complex, rather than licorice-y.

And, if you’re totally averse to alcohol (or licorice) – flavorful boiled cider is a worthy substitute.

The dough for this bread takes longer to make than most – not because it’s difficult, but simply because it takes its sweet time.

And remember, where yeast dough is concerned, time = flavor; so poking along is a good thing!

Let’s start with a simple overnight starter – a biga.

Did you know that by clicking anywhere on this block of pictures, you can enlarge them to full size? Go ahead, give it a try; it’ll work for any of our photos.

Combine the following in a large mixing bowl:

1/2 cup cool water, enough to make a smooth dough
1/16 teaspoon instant yeast (pinch)
heaping 3/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Cover the bowl, and let the biga rest, at cool room temperature, overnight. It will grow and become bubbly.

Next day, add the following to the bowl with the biga:

1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 3/4 cups (11 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Mix everything together to make a very sticky, shaggy dough. Then knead for 5 minutes or so, using an electric mixer or bread machine. Or knead with your hands. Since this dough is going to ferment for quite awhile, you don’t want to knead it fully; the gluten will continue to develop as the dough rises.

Scrape the dough into the center of the bowl, cover it, and allow it to rise for 1 hour.

Gently deflate it, and return it to the bowl upside-down from how it was when you picked it up. This is called a turn; it helps distribute the yeast and yeast food.

Let the dough rise, covered, for another hour. Deflate it again, and let it rise for 1 more hour, for a total of 3 hours of rising.

It’s hard to tell in these photos, but every time you deflate the dough and let it rise again, it’ll be more fully risen than the time before.

Preheat your oven to 450°F, using a pizza stone if you have one.

Divide the dough into three pieces.

If you don’t want to make all three immediately, it’s OK to freeze one or two for later. Place each piece you won’t be using right away in a lightly greased plastic bag; secure the top, leaving some room for expansion; and freeze for 3 to 4 weeks maximum, preferably in a freezer without an auto-defrost cycle. When you want to bake, thaw the dough, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Roll one of the pieces to a 1/8″-thick, 12″ circle. An easy way to do this is to roll it between two pieces of lightly greased parchment.

Ed. note: Jen says she rolls the dough on a floured work surface to about 8″ in diameter, then picks it up, drapes it over her hands, and stretches it over the backs of her hands to about 12″ — the way you would when making strudel.

Place the dough round on a cornmeal- or semolina-dusted piece of parchment, or onto a cornmeal- or semolina-dusted pizza pan or baking sheet. Allow the round to rise, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Get your grapes ready; you’ll need about 2 pounds.

I thought I’d try two different varieties. On the left, tiny seedless Champagne grapes. On the right, a Thompson/Concord cross, also seedless.

Can you use other types of grape? Sure. Try for smaller rather than larger grapes and, of course, seedless are easier to eat.

Brush the entire surface of the dough with olive oil, then spread about 1 1/2 cups grapes (about 10 1/2 ounces) over the dough, leaving a 1/2″ border around the edge. I’m using the Thompson/Concord grapes here.

Bits of Brie cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces) or Gorgonzola (or Cambozola) sprinkled onto the bread before adding the grapes is a yummy variation (bottom photos).

Drizzle the grapes with 2 to 3 tablespoons Sambuca or anisette; or with boiled cider, or grape juice. Sprinkle the grapes with coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired, for added crunch and sweetness.

Place the schiacciata in the oven (leaving it on the parchment if you’re using a stone). Bake it for 8 minutes, then remove the parchment, if it’s on a stone.

Bake for an additional 4 to 7 minutes, until the schiaciatta is golden brown on the bottom and around the edges, and the topping is bubbly.

While the first bread is baking, prepare the second one.

When the first schiacciata is done, remove it from the oven, and place it on a rack to cool.

Bake the second schiacciata; while the second one is baking, prepare the third.

When the second schiacciata is done, bake the third and final one.

Serve the schiacciata warm or at room temperature, cut in wedges, with a nice soft Brie or Saga blue cheese, if you haven’t already made cheese one of the toppings.

See the light-textured bread beneath its crown of juicy grapes? Letting the dough rise three times in the bowl, and a fourth time once shaped, really gives the yeast a chance to do its work.

So, what about those Champagne grapes?

Meh. They were OK, but not as juicy as the Thompson/Concords. Next time I’ll save them for eating.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Jen’s Schiacciata.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. cejp

    Can’t wait to try this! But I’m thinking I might have a hard time finding those thompson/concord grapes. I think that they would have the best flavor for this, but I used all the ones I had making jam!
    A little help in pronunciation of Schiacciata please?

    Reply
  2. sundance183

    I guess wild Concord type grapes would be a bit too sour? I’ve about enough for one batch left over from jelly making. My favorite eating ones are those simply sold in the grocery as “black” grapes. They’re a bit sweeter.

    Depends – I’ve had some very sweet wild Concords. You can always sprinkle them with sugar, too, before baking. Watch out for those seeds, though – :) PJH

    Reply
  3. Sarah H.

    I made something similar to this tonight from the smitten kitchen website. Thomcord grapes are the best grape in the world! Her recipe calls for raw sugar and sea salt sprinkled on the focaccia with halved grapes and rosemary. Delicious!

    Reply
  4. "Tom George"

    I have made this recipe several times with great results. Most recently, decided to go for a double layer variety. I had followed the recipe in making the first bread, and frozen the remaining dough. After thawing overnight in the refrig, I rolled out the remaining two rounds to about 10″. Put a layer of red grapes (cut in half as they were fairly large), sprinkles of Gorgonzola cheese on top, then covered with the second round, pinching the edges. Let it rise about 20 minutes, and before baking added another layer of halved grapes, drizzled with Grand Marnier (couldn’t lay my hands on any Sambuca), and sprinkled with course sugar. I was baking the bread on parchment paper on a baking stone, so started with a 425 deg. burn but after removing the paper, lowered the oven to 375 to allow the thicker dough to cook without burning the top. Came out as the best sweet focaccia yet. Thanks for the recipe!
    So glad that you are enjoying the recipe. Thanks for sending along these tips and tricks. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Gambles

    OMG! I thought I wanted cheese fondue with my birthday dinner, but I might just have to change to this. (fyi: candles were a brilliant idea for baker’s membership) Assuming I can find the grapes et al, I still have the issue of hating licorice. I also have tended to find the boiled cider too overpowering in 4 out of 5 recipes I have tried it in, even when I cut it way back. So, what other liquors would you suggest?? Any chance there are a few other choices just in case one is in the house already?? I have no idea what the body of Sambuca tastes like so I’m just no sure even what direction to go in. I did see that one poster used Grand Marnier – which I’ve heard of but have no idea what it tastes like. I’m not a big drinker! :)

    Oh, the other flavors I don’t like are: Cherry and almond to with my hatred of licorice. Did I just eliminate any suggestions?

    Thanks for any help,
    Suzanne

    The first test drive of this recipe, use the grape juice for this sweet dessert flatbread. As you enjoy it, then imagine the possibilities for future bakes or road tests! Irene@KAF

    Reply
  6. Gambles

    Irene: I just found the grape juice option in the blog. I’m so sorry to have wasted your time. I guess I should have at least checked the recipe instead of just reading the blog, but I was just so excited when I saw this…..I guess I read it too quickly.
    Suzanne

    Reply

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