Apple and Cheddar Focaccia

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About two years ago, we made the decision to bake our own breads* at Gramercy Tavern.

The idea was born when local flours from companies like Farmer Ground and Maine Grains became widely available to the restaurant through Greenmarket.co.  We challenged ourselves to come up with delicious breads made with local flours that we could execute in our restaurant ovens(which were definitely not built for bread baking). What followed was countless recipe testing with many different flours, a re-organization of our kitchen to suit the new production needs, then re-organizing and re-organizing it again. We added more people to our team and more equipment to our kitchen. With more people in the limited space we had to totally restructure the way we work, and when. And, as luck would have it, for the majority of that year the air-conditioning in the pastry kitchen was failing. The song "Hot in Here" by Nelly, became our anthem. But don't worry, no one took of their clothes off 😊

There was also some restriction of what bread we could make from a service perspective. We knew we had to create a delicious bread that could be served at room temp and remain tasty and fresh. 

We turned to good old focaccia. Since we're not an Italian restaurant we had to 'Americanize" this classic bread. Inspired by the all the local flour we were using, we decided to go off on a very NY angle by including apples. And with apples, cheddar cheese can never be too far behind.

So we added some apples on top of our focaccia, and a slug of cider in the dough. Apples plus cheddar and little a bit of herbs and chilies made for one delicious tasting bread! We bake this bread twice a day and there is always this sweet aroma of freshly baked bread and gently caramelizing apples spreading through the restaurant. When it comes out of the oven I just cannot stop myself tearing off a corner of warm, cheesy, mildly sweet focaccia.  Trust me, you won't be able to either!

*Today, at Gramercy Tavern, we make all our breads except for the delicious m'semen that we source from  Hot Bread Kitchen The mission of this amazing non profit is to support low income immigrant women, something that is dear to my heart. We at GT remain committed to supporting HBK anytime and any way we can. 

 

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APPLE AND CHEDDAR FOCACCIA  

  • 24oz/ 680 g apple cider * 
  • 1oz/ 25 g organic sugar, such as Wholesome  
  • 1.5oz/ 40 g olive oil 
  • 2 tsp/ 15 g sea salt 
  • 1 tbsp/ 8 g Aleppo or other hot chilli peppers 
  • 1 tbsp/ 6 g chopped rosemary 
  • 1.5 tsp/ 10 g active dry yeast 
  • 27.5oz/ 780 g all purpose flour, such as King Arthur * 

For topping:

  • 2 large apples like Honeycrisp, Gala or Granny Smith
  • 7oz/ 200 g sharp cheddar cheese, grated, such as Cabot 
  • 1 large sprig of rosemary 
  • coarse sea salt 

Preparation:

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl of a stand mixer, and mix with hook attachment for 5 minutes, on low speed (if using Kitchen Aid mixer, don't go over speed 3). Transfer to a well oiled bowl and cover with clean cotton cloth. Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes you will fold the dough with a well oiled hand, by grabbing the dough from the side, stretching it and folding it in towards the the middle (see picture below). Keep stretching from the sides and folding into center, working your way around the bowl twice. Cover with the cloth and let it sit for 30 minutes. Repeat process of stretching/folding and resting 3 more times. This will build the structure of the bread, but be aware this is a looser dough. 

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After the final rest take an 18 X 13 in (46 X 33 cm) sheet tray and generously oil with olive oil. Place focaccia on oiled sheet tray and stretch with your fingers until it fits the tray. You might not be able to stretch it fully right away as the dough might contract. Just cover it, let it relax for 10 minutes and try again to stretch it till it fills the entire sheet tray.  Cover and let it rest while you cut the apples. 

Core and cut apples in half. Slice apples about 1/8 thick. Layer apples on top of the focaccia as in the picture below. Remove rosemary needles off the sprig, roughly chop and scatter on top of the apples. Sprinkle over all of the cheese in an even layer. Season generously with sea salt, cover with the towel and let it proof in a warm place for 20 minutes. It shouldn't quite double in volume. 

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Preheat oven at 375 degree F. When bread is ready place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes rotate tray and bake for 15 more minutes. The time is just a guideline. Not all ovens are made equally, so use your best judgment. Look for golden color, nice caramelized cheese top, and fully baked bread. Don't be afraid to carefully touch it. It should spring back, without signs of being doughy. 

When done remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes to slightly cool down. Loosen the bread from the sides, lift one short side with large spatula and slid the bread onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

As tempting as it is, please don't cut the bread while it is fresh out of the oven. Doing so will squish the bread and kill its light and fluffy structure. Slice after it cools down and reheat as needed. It's perfect on it's own, but goes will with fall and winter squash soups. 

 

Notes:

  • If you wish to use water in place of cider that's fine, but you will have to decrease the amount of water needed by 2oz/ 57g in order to get the proper dough consistency. 
  • In the interest of home cooks, I tested this recipe with commercial (but great!) King Arthur Flour. At the restaurant we use a 1-1 combination of King Arthur All Purpose flour and Farmers Ground local, organic All Purpose flour. Local flours or those from heritage grains are usually not as heavily processed, and tend to be a touch inconsistent in a sense. Bread made with these flours tends to be less fluffy, but more moist with more character and flavor, not to mention more nutrition. I encourage you to explore some great local or artisanal flours near you. Some of my favorite are: