grape and cheese focaccia
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I am not quite sure why grapes are not popular as cake ingredients. All summer berries, cherries, stone fruit and apples get to play, jumping into soft sponge, orderly marching onto tarts, drowning in runny clafoutis and sweating gently underneath crumbles. Come autumn, you’d think their place would be respectfully taken by the autumnal fruit, especially that these days the seedless varieties prevail? But no – wine seems to be the only thing grapes are seen as good for, the remaining ones used in baking all right, but when dried and shrivelled – as raisins and sultanas.
Things in cookery are usually done, or not, for a reason, like frying in olive oil or microwaving a meringue. So I thought grapes were unsuitable for baking with: they’d burst, go mushy, run too much liquid or all three. The only encounter between cake and grapes that I knew of was schiacciata, Tuscan sweet bread, and even there the grapes only timidly adorn the top while the filling is made of their dried offspring, raisins.
I tried muffins first, sticking a few grapes into the mix filled cases here and there – good result. They admittedly don’t impart much flavour but then do raisins? They didn’t burst or mush and were quite as nice as any other fruit would be in their place.
This is the next chapter – and here’s where grapes came into their own because no other fruit would go with cheese. Strawberry and mozzarella flan? Raspberry and Parmesan biscuits? Passion fruit halloumi tray bake? I thought not. While grapes, raw or baked, will go great with Roquefort, chèvre or even Camembert. Go grapes!
- 80g sourdough starter at 100% hydration
- or 10g fresh (1 tsp instant) yeast
- 360g water at room temperature
- 10g raisins or sultanas
- 500g strong bread flour
- 10g salt
- 40g olive oil plus about ½ cup more for drizzling
- a large bunch of grapes
- 100g blue cheese
- a pinch of dried oregano
Mix the starter with 300g of the water in a large bowl, add the raisins, flour and roughly combine. If using yeast, mix it into the flour and stir in the water and raisins. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave for 40 minutes. Add the salt and remaining water; knead in a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment or by hand – but the dough will be seriously sticky and runny. Keep adding the 40g oil while kneading or mixing, until the dough feels stretchy, smooth and elastic.
Transfer the dough to an oiled tub or box, place in a warm place and leave for 2 hours in total. Every 30 minutes stretch and fold the dough in the tub; folding in three in one direction and again in three in the opposite direction. After each stretching session cover the tub and return the dough to the warm place.
Lightly oil a baking tray about 20 x 30 cm (7 x 11in). Gently tip the dough out of the tub into the tray and stretch to cover its length and width. Crumble the cheese over the surface and arrange the grapes pressing them into the dough. Drizzle with oil. Loosely cover with cling film and prove for 1hour.
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7. When the focaccia has puffed up sprinkle it with oregano, drizzle with more oil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle with more oil. Leave it to cool for 15 minutes before cutting into squares.
Serve warm – on the next day, if there’s any left, warm it up in low oven before you eat it.