Friday, May 18, 2012

Sweet Focaccia and Childhood Memories #BreakingBread

   When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco, my father was a San Francisco fireman. That's dad on the left side of the picture back in the early 60's.

His working schedule was two days off one day on. That one day was overnight, 24 hours, and would sometimes run longer if a box tapped in (there was a fire) before he was set to come off duty. My mom spent a lot of nights alone with us kids and we would always hold our breath waiting in the morning when we heard about a fire overnight or in the early hours before dawn.

   Sometimes he would be delayed for hours. A few times we'd hear on the news of Fire Department injuries or sometimes a death, and then we'd wait nervously for the phone to ring. He served for 30 years and then one morning he fell through a roof and was injured. My mom said that was it. He was eligible for retirement and the wrath of my mom was more of a risk than the dangers of firefighting, so he retired. My parents live about 7 miles down the road from us here in Sonoma.

   Both my parents are Italian Americans. My moms' family has been in the US since 1832 and she has a bit of French and Irish mixed in there. My dad's parents were right off the boat and he grew up speaking Italian as his first language. My dads' family is from Florence and Lucca. My moms' is from Genoa, the home of Focaccia. One thing my father always did before coming home from work was stop off at a couple of bakeries in North Beach and bring home a treat. Often it was day-old cookies. But who cared? Cookies are  cookies when you're nine years old. Except when it was Lent, and then there was a very special treat. Sweet Focaccia. A lot of my friends grew up eating hot cross buns, but around our house it was Sweet Focaccia that was the sure sign of Springtime. Served up  to me with a big bowl of hot milk mixed with coffee. I left home wired up enough to drive the nuns crazy for another day.

   I never knew where in North Beach the bread came from, and it was certainly never baked at home since my moms' specialty is whacking a roll of Poppin' Fresh against the counter. So when Shulie of Food Wanderings , Lora of Cake Duchess and Marnely of Cooking With Books decided to do a feature called Breaking__Bread I knew I had to participate. People were talking focaccia and wondering what sweet focaccia would be like. I told them about my experience eating sweet focaccia as a kid and they suggested I bake some. I don't do focaccia very often, not because I don't love it, but  because I don't like to supersize my pants too much. However, when I do bake it, it's always the usual savory focaccia. So, urged by my friends, I've recreated my childhood sweet focaccia  here as I remember it.

Sweet Focaccia

Here's What You Need:

1 packet of active dry yeast
2/3 cup of warm water
1 cup of  good quality unbleached flour. I use Giustos Ultimate Performer or King Arthur
Another 1/2 cup of water
1/3 cup of dry white wine. I use chardonnay
1/3 cup of good quality olive oil, plus a bit extra from drizzling
12.7 oz of flour and a couple of extra Tbs for kneading and dusting
2 tsp of kosher salt
1 tsp of sugar
1 cup of sultana raisins
2 Tbs of fresh chopped rosemary

Here's What To Do: 

Put the warm water in a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it.
Stir the yeast in well
Add in 1 cup of flour.
Mix it all together well, seal the top with a layer of plastic wrap and place everything in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.
Soak the Sultana raisins in warm water to soften them and set them aside.
After 30 minutes, the mixture should be nice and bubbly.

If you have a fancy Kitchen Aid Mixer it gets a LOT easier here.
I do not  have a Kitchen Aid Mixer (sigh) but it's also easy to do by hand, and who doesn't like to show off a nice set of guns come summer time?

With A Mixer:

Use your paddle attachment and beat the wine oil and water together with the bubbly yeast mixture.
Add in the  rest of the flour, raisins, chopped rosemary and salt. Mix it together until the dough gets all shiny and smooth.  I am sure this takes just a few moments and you will not break a sweat.
Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead the dough for about 3 minutes on medium. Stop a couple of times to put the dough back into a ball.
Take the dough out of the bowl  put it on a lightly floured board and add in 1 or 2 Tbs of flour to finish.
Hand knead it about 6 to 8 turns

Without A Mixer: 

Add 1/2 cup of water, 1/3 cup of wine, and 1/3 cup of olive oil to the bubbly yeast mixture
Stir it all together.
Mix 1 cup of flour into the bubbly yeast mixture along with 2 tsps of salt.
Add in the rest of the flour, raisins and rosemary. Beat it together until you have a soft sticky dough.
Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured board.

Knead it with about 2 Tbs of flour for 6 to 8 minutes.
You want it nice and soft, and silky smooth.

The Rise:

Lightly grease a large bowl with olive oil.

Rub the oil around the inside of the bowl.

Lay the dough in the bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap.

Set it aside in a warm place to double, this should take about 1 hour.
Take the puffy, bubbly dough out of the bowl.
Often focaccia is baked in a jelly roll pan.
I do not happen to own a jelly roll pan so instead, I used a long Pyrex casserole. My childhood memories are of a rather tall focaccia, so this seemed absolutely perfect.
Lightly grease the pan or casserolle with oilve oil.
Stretch the focaccia dough in the pan and dimple it with your knuckles.

Drizzle oilve oil over the dough in the little indentations.

Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top of the dough.

I'm talking just a spoonful of sugar. This is a Lenten dish after all.
Cover the focaccia with a tea towel and let it sit to rest again in the pan for about 45 minutes.

About 30 minutes before you are going to bake the focaccia, place a rack on the lowest level you have put a pizza stone on it and preheat it to 425 degrees.
Just before baking, set a pie pan of other container of water below the pizza stone for proper moisture.
Slide the focaccia into the oven.

Immediately turn down the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes or until the focaccia is golden and firm to the touch.
Set it on a rack to cool. Drizzle with a tiny bit more olive oil and another pinch of sugar.
I took my focaccia down to the Sonoma Farmers Market for our friends to enjoy at our weekly picnic on the lawn.

The Tuesday Sonoma Farmers Market is our regular gathering place.It was a sunny evening that quickly turned windy and cool.

Why do people always take one's picture with one's mouth full?
Serving the focaccia up  with a bit of Pliny The Elder beer, some wine, Cypress Grove chevre and apples, it was quite the feast.

   I got a total rush of childhood memories having that focaccia bread again. I kept thinking I had to get home and take care of my spelling homework, it worked that well. Franscois, a chef friend of ours, wandered by and had a piece. He told me it was similar to a Lenten bread his family used to eat in France, only instead of raisins they added orange zest.

   Will I be baking this bread again? You bet. I can't wait to serve it for a summertime brunch, and I have an idea that it would make a great sandwich. Of course I didn't get to try that this time as it disappeared too fast. Plus, there's always that French version with the orange zest!

   Coming up next a fast and easy Indian green bean dish  perfect for a company dinner with the neighbors.Follow along on Twitter @kathygori 


  1. Love this post. Love your bread! Love you ;--)

  2. Wow! This post brought #breakingbread to an entirely different level! So profound! Kathy, you know it already but you got such a knack for writing. You bring all emotions out and a burst oflaughter when least expected! This post encompasses all I love about food writing! Thanks for taking a part!

    1. thanks so much..coming from you high praise indeed. I've earned my living as a screenwriter for years and years but writing about food is something new for me

  3. How nice to have them down the street. This bread is beautiful and one to eat with a full mouth!

  4. It's so beautiful to see the photo of your dad from when he was fireman. I know that baking/cooking certain things can evoke different emotions from our past. Kathy-your post was a pleasure to read and your focaccia looks perfect! So pleased you baked with us for #breakingbread and thank you:)

    1. Thanks , yes..I need to do more baking with you guys! No telling what it'll shake loose.

  5. Can imagine the taste ,this one looks delicious,..happy weekend,

    1. belated good weekend to you too! Thanks for the bread luv!

  6. Lovely to read about your family!..and beautiful bread..



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