I was fortunate enough to be visiting Siena in September where the seasonal treat, schiacciata, is made. Grapes are in season at this time and the Italians love to use the tiny, black grapes to make this cake-bread. Although I love the idea of the fruity focaccia I ate there, I am not overly keen on the grape seeds. I used blueberries instead and took inspiration from the alternative, fig and walnut, and added pinenuts.
I find blueberry and pinenut to both have a very gentle flavour profile so they work together in an interesting way. The schiacciata is neither overly sweet nor savoury, so it can be eaten with cream cheese or blue cheese, or extra honey and a glass of sweet desert wine, Vin Santo. I find it to be a cross between focaccia, fruit pie and vetkoek. I might try adding some plumped up sultanas next time to make it sweeter. I reduced the sweet wine with some honey and poured it all over the top when it came out of the oven.
This was the first dish I yearned to make as soon as I returned home from Italy. I was feeling a bit disorientated after weeks away from my routine and I used the making of this dish and post to pull me out of the dimension of nowhere. I can strongly recommend taking time after your travels to equalise back into your life. Inevitably you will have hundreds of new ideas and plans and you will change that life you have returned to, but start slowly. I struggled to get my creative groove on. And then I chose just one thing, blueberries, and the inspiration started to unfold again.
I was inspired by the colours of Siena and found them mirrored in the recipe-making as well as the photograpy of it. A theme emerged of the blue hour of photography and blue berries in the golden schiacciata. The beautiful amber lights and the liquid honey and sweet wine all flowed out together at the same time and it inspired this collection.
I have been learning more about the ‘co’ in co-creation. Creating can be an intense business if you take it too seriously and we forget we do not create alone.
Divine inspiration is alive and well and for that I am eternally grateful.
BLUEBERRY AND PINENUT SCHIACCIATA
- 4 cups cake flour
- 7g yeast
- 450g water
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 400g blueberries
- 100g toasted pinenuts (walnuts are also delicious)
- 1/3 cup olive oil (more if you like)
- 250ml Vin santo, Marsala or Port – I used Stellar Organics Heaven on earth
- 1/2 cup honey (more if you like)
- Coarse ground salt
Preheat the oven to 190C. Brush a deep baking dish with a good amount of olive oil. The bottom of the bread will be ‘frying’ in this.
In a small bowl add 1/4 cup warm water, the yeast and a tablespoon of sugar. Wait 15 minutes to see if the yeast bubbles. If it doesn’t, you need new yeast.
Using a countertop mixer (or hands if you like), combine the rest of the dough ingredients with the yeast mixture and start to mix at speed 1.
I like the use the paddle attachment until it’s all come together and then switch to a higher speed for about 10 minutes to give it a good structure. Then I switch to the dough hook and back down to speed 2 to finish it off for another 10 minutes.
This dough is particularly sticky so it doesn’t behave like a normal bread dough, but more like a brioche dough because of the oil and extra water.
The dough is ready when it has formed a ball and pulls away from the sides. It should also have a strong structure when you pull at it.
Leave the dough in the mixing bowl and cover with a tea towel. Set it aside in a warm place until the dough has nearly doubled in size.
Pour out the risen dough into the greased tin and brush over some oil. Using your hands, squish the dough out into the corners as best you can. Pour over the blueberries and squish them into the dough unevenly. Submerge some of them and leave others at the top. Melt a bit of honey and pour it over the top along with some more olive oil. Make sure the olive oil goes into the corners and down the sides.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, brush over some more honey and oil and then scatter on the pine nuts. Bake until the top is golden brown.
Melt 1 tablespoon of honey with the sweet wine until it has become stickier. Brush over the top of the hot schiacciata and more oil if you like. Sprinkle with salt to finish.