Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dolce Italiano

For my birthday, back in April, our friends Patrick and Rita gave me a wonderful cookbook, Dolce Italiano by Gina de Palma, the pastry chef at Mario Batali's Babbo restaurant. The first thing I made was the lemon sorbetto, which is better than the same thing at Macaroni Grill - although I liked what I had at Macaroni Grill enough to want to make my own ;-). But the latest thing I've made from this lovely cookbook is the fantastic Sweet Grape Focaccia (Schiacciata d'Uva).
     You can find de Palma's recipe at: . My play-by-play commentary follows:
Here's the Schiacciata on the cooling rack, looking rather less impressive than in real life (the browner-than-usual top is because for some reason it wasn't browning so I popped it under the broiler for a minute). It's very big, having been baked in the largest rimmed cookie sheet I have, 9" x 18", and amazingly rich and tender, since unlike the usual focaccia, it's sweet (but not too sweet) and made with 3 sticks of butter and 6 eggs. BUT, it is a very big pastry! De Palma says it will serve 10 to 12 but those would be quite large servings - this pan would give you 18 three-inch squares.
     It's a yeast bread, but very delicate, and with no kneading. I started it around 8  in the morning and had it ready in time to pack up a quarter of it to take to my mom's for lunch.

I like the rustic look of cooking parchment tied with yarn, but I learned in doing this that regular Scotch tape doesn't stick to parchment. Maybe stickers would work . . . . there must be something one could use.
 This is the first step, proofing the yeast in warm water and milk. I love the way the surface looks as the tiny bubbles appear and disappear, creating a sort of extraterrestrial or lunar map effect.

 Then you beat in 1 1/2 cups flour to make a sponge:
 and leave it for its first rise.
 Then it goes into the mixer bowl (where I will start it next time - de Palma has you using two bowls but that's just silly, since it means more dishes to wash) for the rest of the ingredients and another rise in a buttered bowl.
 After rising it goes into (onto?) the pan. You can see how puffy and delicate the dough is. I line my pan with parchment and then spray it with cooking spray, both because I'm not a big fan of cleaning up baked on stuff on cookie sheets and because, when it's done, you can just lift it out in one piece by carefully picking up the parchment extending out at the ends of the pan to transfer it to a cooling rack. Otherwise the large, delicate pastry may break - alternatively, you could just cool it in the pan.
 De Palma says to poke little holes in the dough with your fingers and put the grapes in, or you can just pour the grapes over the dough and push them in where they fall (my method). Then sprinkle the dough with some raw or turbinado sugar and bake it. I use Zulka, a raw sugar from Mexico that's less expensive than the raw or turbinado sugar at the natural food stores; it's available it the Hispanic supermarkets here in Tucson: El Super and Food City. (El Super is a fairly new addition to the supermarket scene here and I love it for its wonderful produce, like green garbanzos and verdolagas, and its amazing deli and bakery, as well as its reasonable prices. Joe loves it too - when we first went he said it was like going to a food museum and getting to take the exhibits home with us!)
 So here's the Schiacciata ready for the oven and in 18 - 20 minutes it's done.
     It's so easy and so delicious, and I think it would be wonderful with other fruits as well: cherries, sliced peaches or plums . . . . Di Palma uses Concord grapes but those are hard to find here in the Southwest, so I used seedless red grapes and they worked very well. Sometimes we get wonderful black seedless grapes and when I have the chance I'll try those. She specifies 2 cups of grapes, but I used a few more, since they were large grapes. I'd say, start with 2 cups of fruit and then add more if you think you'd like it.
     And I really do think you'll like it!

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