Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sweet Focaccia

“Aaaawww! You didn’t tell me you were going to kill it!” –Linus to Lucy as she cuts into a pumpkin in It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

I kept the cute little pumpkin that we got in an October CSA box around until after Halloween. It served as a table decoration, but then I wanted to serve it for dinner. Typically, I realize that all of my squash are going to go bad if I don’t soon eat them or roast, puree and freeze them for later use. Then, I go into a bit of a baking frenzy and get several of the squash, including my little pumpkin, out of the way. This year, instead of taking a cleaver and mallet to the hard squash, I tried an idea from my mom (mom’s often have very good ideas) and baked the squash for about 30 minutes in the oven (I think mom uses the microwave) to soften the skin and flesh enough to cut it open more easily. I was just sure to poke the squash skin all over with a knife to allow some steam to escape and avoid explosions. It worked! I could then cut open the squash without pounding, scoop out the seeds, and continue baking until done.

If I don’t have any brilliant ideas about new recipes to try, I’ll make an old stand-by out of some of my new puree. Often, it’s a soup and/or this Pumpkin-Walnut Focaccia with Gruyere from Cooking Light magazine. Recently, however, inspired by recipes I’d seen for breakfast focaccia, I went on the sweet side. I messed around with the original savory recipe to make a sort of breakfast or snack or afternoon tea bread that has a sweeter, more buttery dough, a flatter slice, and pecans and dried cranberries on top.

Because of the presence of the pumpkin (and probably the extra butter that I added) the dough for this bread is very, very soft, moist and sticky. I just kept adding flour until I thought it looked right, which is a terrible thing to reveal if you’re trying to share a recipe with other people. I used my heavy-duty stand mixer to avoid making too much of a mess. The dough does become more manageable after the first rise, that is, it is more like a bread dough than a sticky batter. It needs to be soft so you can stretch and press it into a rimmed baking sheet, but if your end product is too moist or too stiff, I think you could shape it however you can or want.

The final product is a golden brown, sweet flatbread with plenty of pumpkin and spice flavor and a moist interior. I liked the cranberries and pecans on top, but you could use other nuts or dried fruit (I particularly like dates with pumpkin) or leave them off for a plain focaccia. While this is quite a sweet bread, which I first served with hot chocolate for a late evening non-supper and have been munching for breakfast and coffee breaks, I think it might go well on the dinner table also.

While I’d love to recommend this most as a breakfast or brunch bread, it does take time to make. The way I move in the morning, a breakfast starring this bread wouldn’t be served before 3 pm. I do think, however that the dough could be made ahead of time, and perhaps even pressed into the pan and refrigerated until ready to bake. I haven’t tried this yet, but I guess I now have something to keep me busy with the rest of my squash puree.

Sweet Pumpkin Focaccia
I use a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook to make this bread because the dough is fairly moist and sticky. The amount of flour required to make the dough may depend on the moisture content of your pumpkin or squash puree. Canned pumpkin is fine in this recipe.

You could use different dried fruit or nuts to top the focaccia.

¾ cup warm water
½ cup brown sugar, divided
2 ¼ teaspoon (1 package) active dry yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour
3-4 cups bread flour, divided
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup pumpkin or other winter squash puree
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped pecans

1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, combine the water, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and the yeast. Let stand at least 5 minutes, or until the mixture is foamy.

2. Add the remaining sugar, whole wheat flour, 1 cup bread flour, 4 tablespoons melted butter, and pumpkin. With the paddle attachment, stir on low speed to make a wet batter. Cover and let stand 15-30 minutes. (This makes a “mini-starter” that I find adds flavor and consistency to my breads. To save time, you could skip the standing time an move on to the next step.)

3. Add 2 cups bread flour, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Mix together until a wet dough forms. Remove the paddle attachment and replace it with the dough hook. Knead the dough on low to medium-low speed about 10 minutes, adding as much of the remaining flour as is necessary to create a smooth but somewhat sticky dough. You want it to be able to hold together as you pull or stretch it, but it will still be quite wet.

4. Form the dough into a smooth ball. Oil a large bowl or spray with cooking spray. Place the dough ball in the bowl and spray or oil the top. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough. Cover with a towel. Let stand in a warm place for about 1 hour.

5. Gently press down the dough and form it into a new ball. Let stand 5 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 400 F. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter. Brush about half the butter all over the bottom and sides of a large rimmed baking sheet. Press and stretch the dough into the baking sheet, filling it as completely as possible. The dough should be soft enough to shape easily.

Sprinkle the cranberries and pecans over the top and press them into the dough. Cover with a towel and let stand 20 minutes.

7. Press the dough all over with your fingertips to create large dimples. Brush the remaining butter over the dough. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown. Cool slightly before slicing into squares or rectangles. Serve warm.

Makes about 12 servings. Keeps well in a zip-top bag for at least a day.

Other recipes like this one: Pumpkin Oatmeal Quick Bread with Dates and Pecans, Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

One year ago: Chocolate Orange Bread

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