I seem to be in a baking mood lately. Maybe it’s the turning of the seasons, but ever since we’ve come home from holiday, I just can’t get excited about salads, stir-fries or gratins. I’ll have to kerb this habit soon lest I become so doughy that I can’t fit into my winter coat, but for now, it’s all cakes, cookies, and bread at Casa Kitchenist. Still, I try to sneak in some veg where I can. I’m not whizzing beets into brownies or anything, but with savoury baking at least, there’s room for experimenting.
The other day, I was reminiscing about the last night of our Italian holiday this summer. We had dinner at our hotel, overlooking the ocean, and enjoyed course after course of local specialities. But it wasn’t the cheese-stuffed anchovies or fantastic wine I was thinking about, it was the bread. I’ve always had a soft spot for focaccia (could it be all that tasty olive oil and sea salt?), but these little squares were something else. Served with a delightfully peppery olive oil for dipping, they had the perfect mix of crisp, herb-scented top and fluffy, chewy interior.
Since then, I’ve been thinking of making focaccia, though of course, I went a little off-plan with this recipe. I’ve made the classic herb-and-olive-oil version before, so I wanted to challenge myself a bit this time (not to mention use up the butternut squash sitting in my fridge). A stuffed bread seemed like the answer; Autumn flavours like squash, sage, sharp cheese and toasted nuts could be tucked right between layers of dough, giving a bit of veggie bang for your buck.
As a focaccia, this is entirely different from the stuff of my Italian memories, though not in a bad way. It might not have that mouthwatering authenticity, but it’s far more substantial, and I can see it working wonderfully with a squash or carrot soup. In fact, with the days getting shorter and darker, this is exactly the kind of bread I want to curl up with, along with a mug of tea and a good book. At least until the next baking urge strikes, then it’s back to the kitchen I go.
Stuffed Autumn Focaccia
basic recipe adapted from Nigel Slater, via Let Her Bake Cake
For the dough:
- 450g plain flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. instant yeast
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 400ml warm water
- small handful cornmeal, for dusting
For the filling and topping:
- 1 cup cubed and roasted butternut squash
- small handful sage leaves
- 30g mild blue cheese or goat’s cheese, crumbled
- 3 Tbs. chopped pecans or walnuts
- olive oil
- sea salt
- 1. Mix together the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl. Pour over the olive oil and most of the warm water, leaving 1/4 cup or so aside. Stir well with a dough whisk or wooden spoon, until the dough comes together. You may need to add the rest of the water to reach this stage, but do so little by little.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead by hand for about 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic but slightly tacky. Form the dough into a ball, coat lightly with olive oil, then place in a covered bowl to rise for one hour. Dough should double in size.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F and prepare an 8″ round cake tin by brushing it lightly with oil and dusting the inside with the cornmeal. Set aside.
- Punch down the risen dough and divide into two pieces. Press one of them into the bottom of the prepared tin until it overs the bottom (it’s helpful to stretch it out with your hands before placing it inside the tin). Scatter over the roasted squash, cheese, and several torn sage leaves before topping with the other piece of dough, in a similar manner. Cover with a tea towel and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
- When it’s well risen, use your finger to press “holes” through the focaccia in a random fashion; stuff some more torn sage into each of these. Scatter the nuts over the top of the bread, drizzle with a little olive oil and scatter with sea salt.
- Bake focaccia for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven, drizzle with a little more olive oil, and cool before serving.