One of my favorite TV shows is a program called Unique Eats, where chefs and other food personalities shared their food experiences at different venues around the country. Recently, a new spinoff series began airing that was created in the same vein, called Unique Sweets, and I quickly became a fan of that show too. Instead of food, this one focused on delicious sweets of all kinds from around the country. On Unique Eats, some of the episodes may have revolved around where you might find the best hamburgers and Unique Sweets might have included information on where you might find the best ice cream sundaes, chocolate cake, donuts — well, you get the drift.
The chefs participating in the commentary explained why they believed each item to be the best and also gave you the information you needed on where to find them. In one particular episode, the topic was what was the best breakfast pastry you have ever had? The choices included some of the more common items we might find for breakfast options, but one of the choices surprised me, and I could not wait to try it for myself.
I remember seeing John Barricelli in many episodes of Martha Stewarts’s show called Everyday Food. He was the very talented baker who created many delicious items on the show, so I definitely knew his name. What I didn’t know was that he had left the show to open his own bakery in Connecticut called the SoNo Baking Company & Cafe.
Apparently one of the favorite breakfast pastries at the bakery that customers line up for on Sunday morning, is something he calls a fruit focaccia. The unique thing about this dough is that it’s a very wet dough, and was designed specifically to be this way. John believes that the added moisture helps to keep the dough very moist and tender. He also adds a lot of olive oil and suggested that this amount is necessary so that the bottom of the dough fries in the oil as it bakes in the oven and whatever remains, is absorbed into the bread.
Needless to say, I was intrigued and could not wait to try the recipe.
I’ve made many of my own versions of focaccia bread in the past, some sweet, others savory. I created this recipe after enjoying one of the best focaccia breads I had ever had many years ago from a bakery in Baltimore. Sadly, they have now changed their recipe and it’s simply not the same. Over the years I’ve made flavors like my kitchen sink focaccia and the super delicious cinnamon maple pecan. When creating different flavors, I always stick to the same basic recipe, but tweak the ratios and ingredients depending on what flavor I’m making.
The Unique Sweets episode mentioned that John used lots of dried cherries and golden raisins in his version, but suggested other things like currants, dried cranberries and dark raisins would work just as well. After the dough was made, it was so wet that he literally poured it into a well oiled sheet pan. The dough was then coated with more oil, covered with plastic wrap and left to rise. John said that as the dough was rising in the pan, he would come by every so often and push it down, spreading the dough out to the edges of the sheet pan. Before baking he topped the dough with more oil and sprinkled it with sanding sugar- a very coarse sugar usually added to cookies and muffins for decoration and a bit of crunch. Unlike regular sugar, sanding sugar remains intact and does not melt. Many people enjoy the added crunch they get from the sugar – but it’s not my favorite thing to eat, so I omitted it. He then bakes the focaccia in a very hot oven until golden brown.
I went hunting for the recipe because I simply had to try this and see for myself what the craze was all about. It took a bit of searching, but I eventually found the recipe in two different places. One of the links was a video of John actually making the bread (and sharing the recipe) on Martha’s other show called, the Martha Stewart Show. The segment was filmed in two parts — Part 1 and Part 2.
So, I watched them both and then went to work on making it.
It was definitely moist and fruity, but I did not find that the extra care required in the handling of the product or the extra liquid added to the recipe resulted in the final product being more moist than the recipe and procedure I usually use. I found that the use of the kosher salt (1 ¼ tablespoons) was simply too much and made the bread too salty. The 1 whole cup of oil was also too much for the bread, and the baked edges absorbed the extra oil and became overly greasy.
Was it a total loss? No, absolutely not. I sliced it up into squares and packed them into a ziploc bag that I then tossed in the fridge. I enjoyed wedges of it throughout the week sandwiched around my favorite fried egg and gooey cheddar cheese sandwich.
Was it good? I would say yes…
Was it great? Well, not any better than others I’ve tasted…
Would I make it again? Probably not…
I’ve jotted down the recipe from the video, and have listed it below. If you have a chance to try it, let me know what you think of the final product. Please click on the video links above to see how John puts it all together.
John Baricelli’s Fruit Focaccia
5 cups flour (plus a little more for dusting your counter)
1 ¼ tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup good quality olive oil
2 cups warm water
2-3 cups dried fruit (use dried cherries, golden or dark raisins, currants, etc)**quantity not specified in video
¼ to ½ cup sanding sugar
Preheat your oven to about 375°F – 400°F. If you have a large pizza stone, place that in your oven also. The sheet pan can be placed on top of your pizza stone to intensify the baking temperature of your bread. Soak the dried fruit for about 15 minutes in 2 cups of hot water, then strain out the fruit and reserve the water.
Place the 5 cups of flour into the bowl of your stand mixer, add the 1 tablespoon of yeast, 1 ¼ tablespoons of kosher salt and quickly mix to disperse ingredients before adding the liquid. Once this is done, add ¼ cup of olive oil to the water and then pour this into the dough. Toss in the re-hydrated fruit and mix it all together until just combined. Pour all of the mixture out onto a lightly floured counter top and gently fold the dough upon itself.
Pour another ½ of olive oil onto a half sheet pan and place the dough into the pan.
Use your hands to gently spread out the dough and then flip it over so that the other side is also well oiled.
Cover this with plastic wrap and allow it to rise, about an hour. As you see it rising, use your hands to press the dough down and spread it all out to the edges of your sheet pan. Do this with the plastic wrap still over the dough, do not remove it. Once it has proofed and is ready to bake, add another ¼ cup of olive oil on top of the dough and then sprinkle on the sanding sugar if you choose to use it.
You can place your pizza stone in your oven as you preheat it and place the sheet pan on top of the stone to create a more intense heat. If you do not have a pizza stone, just bake in the oven until it is golden brown on the top and bottom. Allow it to cool completely before you slice and serve or store covered in the refrigerator. Once chilled, the focaccia slices in half very well so that you can toast it and enjoy some breakfast sandwiches as I did.