By Angela Denstad Stigeler
While winemaking is in full swing in much of Europe, there’s a great grapey little bread being baked as well – a special sort of focaccia, or Italian flatbread, that celebrates the harvest. Focaccia is found all over Italy in various forms and derives its name from the Latin word for “hearth.” In Tuscany, however, they emphasize the process by which it’s made, calling their flatbread by a word which means to crush or smash. The fact that, at this time of the year, they put grapes in it makes it all the more appropriate, though in the bread, the grapes are left whole – seeds and all.
The preferred grapes for this bread are strongly flavored wine grapes or Concord grapes, which lend a wonderful jammy flavor and aroma. The seeds roast inside the skins and become crunchy, which is seen as part of the charm. Also, Tuscan bread is traditionally made without salt. If you prefer, you can put a little salt in the dough, and even substitute seedless grapes if you want, though you should use the most flavorful fruit available. Either way, you may find yourself falling for this seasonal treat. The crushed dough and grapes are sure to be a smash hit.
Tuscan Flatbread with Grapes
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups lukewarm water
1 packet (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
a of fresh concord or other sweet red grapes
5-6 tablespoons caster or raw sugar
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
confectioners’ sugar for dusting, optional
Place the flour into the bowl of a standing mixer or other large bowl. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in about ½ cup of the water and mix in a tablespoon of the flour. Allow it to rest until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and mix to combine. Add the rest of the water slowly, working the dough after each addition. If the mixture becomes too soft, add a bit more flour. Work one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to the dough and knead it for 5-10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball, lightly oil the bowl and place the dough in it, covered with a damp cloth and set it in a warm place until it doubles in size (about one hour). Alternatively, you can leave the dough to rise in the refrigerator overnight.
Wash and pat dry the grapes and separate them from the stem. When the dough has risen, brush a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Take the dough out of the bowl with well-floured hands and divide it into two balls, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger ball on a well-floured surface to about ¼-inch thick. Lay the dough in the pan, pushing the dough to the corners and sides with your fingers. Scatter two-thirds of the grapes on top and sprinkle with half of the sugar. Drizzle with olive oil.
Roll out the second ball of dough to the size of the pan and cover the grapes with this second layer, pressing the edges of dough together. Gently, with your fingers, push down on the surface of the dough. Cover the top with the rest of the grapes, sprinkle with the remaining sugar and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the dough becomes golden and crunchy on top and the grapes are juicy and cooked through.
Allow to cool completely. When ready to serve, cut into squares and dust generously with confectioners’ sugar, if using. This is best served and eaten the day of baking, or at the most the next day.