Like the way that the Barefoot Contessa simply steps into her backyard anytime that she needs fresh herbs, flowers, or vegetables, I would feel oh-so-chic if I could say that my recipes are inspired by the seasonal vegetation that surrounds me. The fact of the matter is that if this was a true statement, then I would be delivering daily delicacies like Rosemary-Cactus Cake and Meyer Lemon Sagebrush Scones (I’ve mentioned before that Meyer lemons and rosemary are about all I’ve had luck with here in the desert.) As tempting and appealing as these concoctions might sound, I think I’ll put them on the back-burner as last resorts.
If not from a lush and bountiful garden, you may be wondering where my culinary inspiration comes from, or you might not care and just want me to get on with the recipe. Point taken. I’ll be brief. Sometimes I get ideas from roaming the various departments of the grocery store, looking for what’s fresh, new, or unique. Yes, I actually do this. Other times, I’ll hear an ingredient repeated over and over again on the Food Network while simultaneously seeing it pop up in multiple food publications. Chipotle comes to mind here. Back when Food Network was fairly young, and Hot Off the Grill With Bobby Flay! was one of my favorite shows, chipotles were a recurring character. Now, they’re ubiquitous.
This particular recipe was inspired by our recent trip to Napa and Sonoma, an area known for its fertile landscape and abundant vegetation. For two days, we were lucky enough to stay at the Markham Vineyards guest house, which was smack dab in the middle of many acres of grape vines. In the mornings, we would cut through the vineyards and walk about a mile to Bouchon bakery in Yountville, surrounded by clusters of grapes. This is a sweet focaccia recipe, as opposed to the more common savory versions. The topping is a combination of grapes, walnuts, sweet Marsala, and brown sugar, which caramelizes nicely on top of the lightly spiced bread. Serve it for breakfast, as a side dish, or even as dessert, topped with a little goat cheese. Here are my extra tips for this great grape-topped treat:
- If you don’t have any Marsala on hand, or if you don’t want to use liquor in the recipe, then use orange juice or apple juice in its place. You can also substitute port.
- Although the cardamom adds a unique subtle spice, you can omit it if you don’t have any in your spice drawer. Cardamom can be expensive, so substitute ginger or allspice instead.
- This focaccia leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation. Instead of topping it with grapes and walnuts, try fresh or dried figs, dried cranberries or cherries, fresh peaches or other stone fruits, pecans, or hazelnuts. If you are using dried fruits, then rehydrate them in some warm water or orange juice for 10 minutes prior to adding to the bowl.
- The rate at which your dough will rise will depend on a number of factors (kitchen temperature, humidity, yeast), so don’t be alarmed if it takes longer than 1 1/2 hours to rise.
- If you want to start this recipe one day in advance, mix all of the ingredients together, as directed, let it rise for the 1 1/2 hours, punch it down, and then cover and chill overnight. Let the dough return to room temperature before proceeding.
Sweet Focaccia with Grapes and Walnuts
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water (100-110F degrees)
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup packed brown sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon orange zest
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
3 cups seedless grapes, halved lengthwise
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons sweet Marsala
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the yeast with the sugar and warm water. Let rest for 5 minutes until the mixture is foamy. Add the flour, salt, 1/3 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, orange zest, and butter, and combine the dough well on medium speed. Once the dough has come together, continue to knead with the dough hook for 2 minutes longer, until it is soft and slightly sticky. Form the dough into a ball, transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, and turn the ball to coat with the oil. Let the dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk.
Press the dough evenly into an oiled jelly roll pan (15 by 10 by 1 inches), and let it rise, covered loosely with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 1 hour, or until it has almost doubled in bulk.
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees and place a rack in the bottom third of the oven. In a medium bowl, stir together the grapes, walnuts, and the Marsala. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dough. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3-cup brown sugar evenly over the grapes and walnuts. Bake the focaccia in the bottom third of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until it is cooked through and the topping is caramelized. Let the focaccia cool in the pan on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.