Them Apples

this photo does no justice to the apple focaccia
After The Great Portobello Smokeout, I considered throwing Lucid Food out the window. But I already had ingredients for a second recipe from the cookbook, so I politely set it aside until I had the strength to tackle Charred Eggplant and Polenta Torta

The torta topped a layer of polenta with eggplant, tomatoes, basil, thyme, spinach and fontina cheese. So many ingredients, such a bland result. Maybe I didn't add enough salt, but there was also a serious lack of textural diversity. I like polenta, but it's mush and to cover it with roasted eggplant, sautéed tomatoes and wilted spinach... well, it was green mush on top of red mush on top of off-white mush on top of yellow mush. And that's a lot of mush. It wasn't terrible. It certainly was healthy. It just required an unjustifiable amount of time and ingredients for an underwhelming dish. The temptation to throw Lucid Food out the window grew.

But there was one last page I had dog-eared, Fall Fruit Focaccia. Not only do I like alliteration, I also like focaccia and I still had some apples. I didn't think I would ever use all the fruit I got apple picking, but I surprised myself. I made a peach cobbler and had a peach with lunch for a week or two. When I felt they were just about to turn, I peeled and cut all the remaining peaches and they are currently hanging out in my freezer.

Apple time. I made cranberry apple sauce, apple and cheddar scones, an apple cobbler and an apple crisp. That used up all my green apples, all my fujis and a fair amount of the Arkansas Blacks (which I just started seeing at the Hollywood Farmers Market, by the way). But I still had half a dozen of the A.B.s and they seemed perfectly suited for a Fall Fruit Focaccia. But that was the recipe that called for barley malt syrup, the same barley malt syrup I mocked a few posts ago. Where was I ever going to find that? Nowhere, that's where. And then I got on my high horse about cooking that boasts of market fresh simplicity and then calls for obscure ingredients that even seasoned cooks (I asked a few) have never heard of.

And then I was buying sugar at Whole Foods and noticed jars of barley malt syrup on a lower shelf right next to golden syrup. Ok, maybe it's not so hard to find. I did buy some, but I eyed it suspiciously. It was the interloper in my grocery bag and I didn't want it to forget that.

I was a little breaded out after the Dead Bread... multiple rising times sort of shackle you to the kitchen. But after spending several days out of town in Philadelphia for the holiday (you guys, it SNOWED on Thanksgiving morning), I was happy to be back at home and anxious to get my hands dirty.

I cracked Lucid Food on Sunday morning and put the dough together (as published, parts of the recipe were a bit fussy for my taste, so the following instructions have many of my own shortcuts): proof 2 teaspoons active dry yeast in ½ cup of warm water mixed with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set that aside while you whisk 4 teaspoons of salt into 5 cups of flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. After about 5 minutes, your yeast should be good to go. Pour it into the flour, also add ¾ cup water, ¼ olive oil and ½ cup of honey. Using a dough hook, turn the mixer onto low until the ingredients are combined and then turn up to medium and let mix for a couple more minutes. When the dough forms a ball, looks smooth and feels tacky but substantial, put it in a large bowl and rub the exposed dough with olive oil. I think the olive oil keeps the surface moist, which promotes rising. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and put in a warm place until it doubles in size. I like to rise dough in my oven. Even in a "cold oven", the pilot light adds a little warmth. It took about an hour and half for my dough to double in size, or enough time to go to the Farmer's Market, Trader Joes and Whole Foods.

After my groceries were put away, I oiled a 17 by 12-inch rimmed baking sheet, plopped the dough onto it and pushed and pulled until it roughly covered the pan. That took some doing, as the dough would shrink back when I though I had it stretched to the edge. But I was persistent and won that particular battle. Then I used my fingertips to make dimples all over the dough. Next, the recipe told me to press "3 cups of sliced ripe fall fruit" onto the dough. Peeled fruit? Sliced how thin? Ugg, Lucid Food, help me out. The photo in the book showed unpeeled apples, which added a bit of color and looked very pretty, but I peeled mine, because I don't like the texture of cooked apple peel. I cut my apples into healthy ¼ inch-wide slices and that seemed to work out ok.

I'd like to take a moment to mention that the neighbor above me appears to be demolishing his or her apartment... the noises up there are scary. If this blog entry cuts off abruptly: my ceiling caved in and I was crushed.

Back to the focaccia. I layered the apples fairly evenly over the top of the focaccia and pushed it into the dough, not lightly. Recovered with the damp towel, the tray went back into the "cold" oven for a second rise.

After 45 minutes, I pulled out the focaccia and stretched a few shrunken corners, so the dough filled the edges of the pan. I preheated the oven to 425 degrees. In a small saucepan, I combined ½ cup of Pennsylvania's finest honey and ¼ cup of the barley malt syrup, which is the most viscous liquid I've ever seen in my life.

Quick tip for measuring out sticky stuff and I may have written about this before: lay a good sized piece of plastic wrap over your measuring cup and push it in, so it lines the cup. Then pour in your honey or wait 20 minutes while 2 ounces of barley malt syrup takes its sweet time leaving the jar. Once you've filled your measuring cup, gather the edges of the plastic wrap and twist them together, so you have a little pouch of sticky liquid. Then hold that pouch over your saucepan or mixing bowl, poke its bottom with a knife and squeeze out the sticky stuff.

Whisk the honey and syrup together over low heat to combine and let it come to a simmer. Then, pour it over the focaccia and tilt the pan around, or use a pastry brush to ensure the whole top of the focaccia gets glazed with the honey/syrup mixture. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt over the top and into the oven for 15 minutes. After that time, rotate the pan 180 degrees (this helps baked goods cook more evenly) and bake for another 5-10ish minutes until the visible parts of the bread are golden and the fruit is tender.

Weird ingredient, many steps, hours of prep time... was this recipe worth it? Oh heavens yes. It was deeeeelicious. The Arkansas Blacks were tender and spicy. The bread itself tasted sweet and sophisticated and the barley malt syrup was kind of amazing. It's caramely, but with a bite like molasses. I will never mock it again. I forgive you, Lucid Food, such is the power of your Fall Fruit Focaccia.

I apologize for the poor photo quality. I was so busy eating, I forgot to stage a nice shot. I brought the leftovers to work and managed to snap a pic with my phone before it disappeared.

And then there were 3 (apples leftover).