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.
Combine the following in a large mixing bowl:
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:
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.
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.