A Sort of Fruity Focaccia with Wild Fennel - sweet, savoury and totally addictive.
Both a little sweet and a little savoury, this ‘squashed’ grape bread could happily fit anywhere really, as a breakfast, a merenda, or as a summer lunch next to some good cheeses. It is essentially a focaccia dough filled to bursting with sweet grapes, which stain the crumb the most wonderful berry-purple colour. Deriving originally from Tuscany, it would traditionally be made with wine grapes after the harvest, but I’ve made it with cherries, with blueberries and with the elusive Uva Fragola, or strawberry grapes (these are best). The fennel seeds add a wonderful aromatic edge, and the crunch of oily, salty bread with a sugared, fennel-scented crust, giving way to a soft, winey interior and the occasional pop of grape and crunch of seed, is truly magical. It’s also very good toasted (or warmed in the oven the next day) and eaten with a blob of mascarpone.
It’s easiest to make the dough the night before you want to bake the bread, so it can rise in the fridge.
Makes 1 rectangular baking tray, feeds 8-10
500g bread flour
7g fresh yeast (or around a scant teaspoon of dried)
375ml water (room temperature)
300g Grapes (or blackberries, blueberries or cherries)
2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
4-6 tbsp sugar (depending on sweetness of fruit)
4 tbsp olive oil
Make the focaccia dough. Dissolve the yeast in the water and then mix it with the flour, kneading until you have a smooth dough (it will be quite wet, so this is easiest in a machine). Place the dough in an oiled bowl.
Allow the dough to rest, covered, for half an hour. Add the salt and the extra 10g of water, and knead them into the dough until they are incorporated. Leave, covered for another half hour.
Now stretch and fold the corners of the dough, pulling outwards from the base and then tucking the folds over each other. Do this once more, half an hour later. (you are building elasticity in the dough and incorporating air at this stage).
Leave the dough overnight to rise in the fridge, well covered with an oiled plastic bag or clingfilm.
The next day, remove the dough and allow it to come up to room temperature. Divide it into two pieces, rolling them out (using oil for your rolling pin and surface rather than flour) into oblongs to fit your baking tray.
Place one oblong in your oiled baking tray, then sprinkle over half the fruit, one teaspoon of the fennel seeds, half the sugar and half the oil.
Place over this the other oblong of dough and press down firmly to seal the two pieces together, spreading the bread out with the palms of your hands to fit the oblong tray. Sprinkle over the remaining fruit, the remaining fennel seeds and sugar, and drizzle over the remaining oil.
Preheat the oven to 190.
Bake the bread from 30 minutes, until golden and crisp. Cut into squares and enjoy warm or cool.
photo & recipe from my book, La Vita è Dolce. All photos by Charlotte Bland.