BLACKBERRY SEASON is making me a little nostalgic. Blog-nostalgic, that is (though I still think blog is a particularly ugly word), as I wrote my first post on Toby’s Kitchen Notes nearly seven years ago, toward the end of berry season, with my recipe for Blackberry Cobbler No. 8.
It seems hard to believe I’d made eight versions of blackberry cobbler in 2009, but I did, along with some other must-have fruit desserts. This year, as I write, it’s just the beginning of blackberry season, and the other day I had a couple freshly picked pints on hand. I really wanted to bake something with them — but not a dessert. Aha — it remembered Nigel Slater’s marvelous recipe: Blackberry focaccia.
Blackberry focaccia has only a hint of sweetness, from sugar sprinkled atop the dough.
Half the recipe would be plenty, I figured, as there were only two of us eating it, and it doesn’t keep well for leftovers. (I wrote of this before, so the recipe is here.)
The yeast dough is easy, but does need gentle handling, especially when you fold in half the berries after the first rising. The rest of the berries are strewn on top; then, it rises again and you drizzle olive oil and sprinkle demerara or sparkling sugar on top.
Once out of the oven and cooled just a bit, you can sprinkle with confectioners sugar if you like.
We had a choice: ruin our appetites by devouring the focaccia immediately or wait a few minutes, make a green salad, and call it supper.
We chose the latter — and it wasn’t a sacrifice. Calling it supper gave it a certain sense of legitimacy, if not outright virtue. (More nutritious than pancakes with syrup for supper, anyway.) And yes, it was delicious. I plan to repeat this combo!
August 15 is Ferragosto, festival of the Emperor Augustus, a celebration of the late summer and a day when everyone in Italy takes a holiday.
Here in the Northwest, it’s time for the annual blackberry binge (my daughter, who’s living in Virginia, tells me that East Coast blackberries cannot compare).
There’s a wealth of wild brambles near our house, loaded with plump deep-purple berries (as well as red and green berries that will ripen in the weeks to come). In the mornings and evenings, we ramble to the brambles to fill up our containers, return home with scratches and stains, and I make blackberry sauce, blackberry jam, blackberry sorbet, blackberry crisp, blackberry cobbler (in fact, I wrote my very first blog post ever at the end of blackberry season, when I’d made 8 versions of blackberry cobbler). I also freeze a lot of the blackberries to enjoy through the winter.
This summer I was inspired to try a new blackberry recipe by my current favorite food book (which I wrote about earlier) Nigel Slater’s “Ripe.”
Besides the beautiful photos and writing, Slater has some wonderful recipe ideas… and one of the most unusual is the one for blackberry focaccia.
It’s not very sweet or very rich, and it’s so good–the blackberry juice bursting through the dough– it’s hard to stop eating it.
The first time I made it, three of us devoured the whole focaccia which Slater writes is “enough for 8.” I served it with some chilled white wine and a green salad on the side and called it supper.
The second time, I made half the recipe and served it with tea. I imagine it would also make a satisfying breakfast or a hearty contribution to brunch. Here’s the recipe, below. It’s just fine to substitute whole wheat flour for up to half of the bread flour.
- 3¼ cups (450g) bread flour
- 1 package (2 teaspoons/7g) quick-rise yeast
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon superfine sugar
- 1½ cups (350ml) warm water
for the topping:
- 1¾ cups (8 ounces/250g) blackberries
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons superfine or demerara sugar
- Confectioners sugar, for dusting
Put the flour in a large bowl, add the yeast, the sea salt (if you are using coarse salt, crush it finely first), then the sugar and warm water. Mix with a wooden spoon, then turn the dough out onto a generously floured board and knead lightly for five minutes or so. You need not be too enthusiastic. A gentle pummeling will suffice.
Once the dough feels elastic and “alive,” put it into a floured bowl, cover with a clean cloth or plastic wrap, and leave it somewhere warm to rise. It will take approximately an hour to double in size. Once it has, punch it down again, knocking some of the air out. Tip it into a shallow baking pan about 12 inches (30cm) in diameter. Gently knead half the blackberries into the dough, scattering the remaining ones on top. Cover the dough once more and return it to a warm place to rise.
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Once the dough has expanded to almost twice its size, drizzle over the olive oil, scatter with the sugar, and bake for thirty-five to forty minutes, until well risen, golden brown, and crisp on top. It should feel springy when pressed. Leave to cool slightly before dusting with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into thick wedges and eat while it is still warm. It will not keep for more than a few hours.
© 2012 Nigel Slater