Kneading the dough was one of my favourite kitchen activities when I was a child.
I impatiently sat on a chair, observing my mother's simple and precise gestures as she mixed basic ingredients such as flour, water, oil and turned them into a smooth and elastic dough.
Only then could I plunge my little hands in the bowl, witnessing the magic transformation that had occured. I liked kneading of course - squashing and pushing and folding and flattening the dough, but I always ended up making little holes in it with my tiny fingers.
That's something every kid loves doing. Exploring with the senses. Touching. Taking time to feel and absorb every sensation that rises in the here and now.
I can't help watching my daughter as she performs the same actions I did as a child.
Over and over again. Like a mantra, or a meditation. She gets quite absorbed, you know.
I usually leave an extra piece of dough for her to experiment with, and she loves the idea of preparing a treat for her dad, or for any guest who is visiting us. This time it was raisins schiacciata.
We usually bake rosemary or sage focaccia (or schiacciata, as they call it in Tuscany), thus Maddalena was very intrigued by the fact that this time I added sugar to the dough, which of course made her want to taste it immediately. She wanted to add raisins to the dough, and it came out as a good choice too!
As far as the treat I was baking, there's a just a few words I'd like to add. Grape Schiacciata is one of those italian regional recipes that celebrate the harvest time of the year. Grape vines are very common in most Italian regions but they are nowhere as famous as in Tuscany, where this recipe originally comes from. It requires a long preparation so it makes the perfect activity for a rainy and homely autumn afternoon. Choose sweet seedless grapes and a mild extra virgin olive oil to get the best results, and enjoy the juicy and soft consistency of the schiacciata once it's ready. It makes a perfect match with a glass of Italian moscato (a sweet white wine) or with a cup of herbal tea.
Ingredients (serves 8):
strong bread flour: 500 gr - 17,64 oz
caster sugar: 150 gr - 5,3 oz + 1 tablespoon for the first dough
filtered water: 200 ml - 6,8 fl oz + 5-6 tablespoons for the first dough
fresh yeast: 25 gr - 0,88 oz
seedless black grapes: 600 gr - 21,16 oz
extra virgin olive oil: 5 tablespoons
salt: one pinch
Prepare the first dough: dissolve the yeast in 5-6 tablespoons of warm (but not hot!) water mixed with a tablespoon of sugar. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes. Add 4 tablespoons of flour to this mixture and mix well. Cover with a dishcloth and allow it to prove at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Once the first dough (or starter) has doubled its size you can pour the remaining flour in a big bowl and work in the dough, adding 200 ml of warm water gradually, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing and kneading. Knead the dough carefully in order to get a smooth and elastic dough. Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary. Make a ball out of the dough, make a cross on top of it with a knife. Sprinkle this second dough with flour, then set aside in a bowl. Cover with a dishcloth and allow it to rise at room temperature for at least one hour, until it has doubled in size.
Meanwhile wash the grapes, then place on a tablecloth or towel to dry and reserve until needed.
Once the second dough has doubled its volume, add 50 gr of sugar, one pinch of salt and 5 tablespoons of oil. Mix the ingredients well and knead energetically. Allow to prove for another hour.
After an hour knead the dough again, then halve it. Flatten one piece of the dough on a wooden board dusted with some flour using your fingertips or a rolling pin.
Grease a baking pan (mine was 28 cm - 11 inches in diameter) with olive oil then cover the entire surface of the pan with the first layer of schiacciata . Drizzle half of the grapes on it, sprinkle with 50 gr of caster sugar then cover with the remaining dough flattening it and sealing the edges. Sprinkle with the remaining grapes and sugar.
Bake the schiacciata in a preheated oven (180°C - 356°F) for about 40 minutes then serve warm or cold, according to taste.