Blueberry and apple salted caramel focaccia
Weighing the soft flour, measuring the warm water, stirring in the little pearls of yeast, folding the smooth dough, peeping under the cloth to see a mushroom of billowing dough, shooting my spray bottle of water into the oven and hearing the hiss of steam, clearing the counter with my dough scraper, the aroma that permeates the whole house, smearing butter onto a slice with the memory of warmth; I like everything about bread-making except for one thing. Sticky hands. The cloying paste clinging to my fingers in little gooey clumps makes me run for the tap. If I’m making a wet dough (which seems to give superior results) I will usually reach for the dough hook and let a machine transform the icky stuff into a silky ball.
Richard Bertinet is stalking me. OK, I might be exaggerating but his name kept cropping up in connection with bread, then a friend brought round his book and DVD, Dough, as she thought I’d like to borrow it, then when I was in Bath I just happened upon his bread shop, shelves laden with the most tempting loaves and pastries, and finally this month’s Fresh From the Oven challenge is set by Bertinet-fan and ace baker Euan (aka Signor Biscotti) who advocates the Bertinet kneading method. I watched RB’s DVD and a video online (with one of my food heroes Tim Hayward). The dough looked sticky and they were getting their hands right in there. It was time to overcome sticky-hand-phobia and get right in.
And although the dough was a bit unwieldy to work with at first, it soon transformed into smooth, silky, dough which rose with beautiful pockets of air. The stickiness seemed to vanish very quickly and it was easy to clean my hands by rubbing them together (as advised by RB). I might be cured of my mani appiccicose phobia!
Bread making takes a while – not the bits where you are actively involved, but the proving times in-between. We think of keeping dough in a nice warm place but I find that the fridge is often my friend. When my day took an unexpected turn (“Mum are you going to stay for my band audition semi-finals?”) I put the half-proved dough in the fridge to carry on rising very slowly through the afternoon, spread it out in on the tray with the topping on and left in overnight and brought it out into the warm kitchen for just over an hour in the morning before baking.
My family are dried fruit haters and I wanted something fresh to counteract the sweetness. I followed the original recipe with the following changes:
- Dissolving the dried yeast in the water (blood-temperature) before adding it to the flour. We get dried active yeast here in Dubai and it’s not as forgiving as easy-blend.
- Using all white, strong bread flour (hard to get 00 here).
- I added a bit more water (shock horror, even stickier) as the dough looked quite dry. It could have been down to the type of flour.
- Instead of raisins I used 75g of fresh blueberries, folded into the dough.
- The candied peel was omitted.
- My topping was 50g of cold, unsalted butter (in wafer thin slices), 50g of light brown sugar, a scant sprinkling of coarse sea salt (half a teaspoon-ish) and a whole apple, sliced and layered over the lot.
- Don’t expect a hard or sticky layer on top, it’s more a caramel taste as you bite into this soft bread, the fruit bursting through the doughy sweetness. Some of the caramel seeped underneath and reminded me of a dripping cake (or dripper) – anyone in Gloucestershire remember these?
Teen approval (we celebrated the band making the final) and even KP gave it the thumbs up (not a breadaholic like me). This is a truly terrific recipe and it’s got me thinking of all sorts of other combinations of ingredients to try out. Thank you Signor Biscotti for finding and translating it from the original Italian (and converting me to the RB way!).
As always you can admire everyone else’s version of this recipe at the end of the month here.
P.S. I’ve just got the L-plates off and I’m shooting in RAW which means I’ve had to grapple with post-production. Can’t wait for the Lightroom and post-production part of the Food Photography and Styling Workshop with Meeta in October. There are a few places left if you get in quick.