Within seconds of unwrapping one of my birthday gifts—a jar of Fig and Walnut Butter—I already had a plan for how I would use it. The image of a chewy, well-risen focaccia with a layer of Fig Butter and a scattering of creamy, thoroughly veined blue cheese was quickly constructed and before I knew it, we were all sitting down to a dinner of polenta tart with a warm rectangle of the focaccia and my favorite chocolate cake for dessert. The sweetness of the figs pairs well with the pungency of the blue cheese and the thin slices of shallots, and the crunch from the walnuts is a nice contrast to the bubbly dough.
My family always gives the best birthday gifts, and this year was no exception; all of the presents I got for my 18th birthday were so thoughtful, and unsurprisingly, food-related. My dad found the aforementioned Fig Butter as well as two new types of cookie butter, one with graham crackers and the other with vanilla wafers that I anticipate will surpass my love for specculoos. From my mom, I received a cutting board for “The Obsessive Chef” that delineates measurements, knife cuts, and angles along the surface. (I cut garlic cloves at a 45 degree angle into a fine brunoise, how about you?) My brother gave me the amazing gift of a water carbonator, which he knew I had had my eye on for a while, and is by far the coolest kitchen gadget I’ve ever used and has prompted me to make carbonated water at all hours of the day.
I am so lucky to have a generous family that allows me to have fun in the kitchen and share food with them. If my 18th birthday was any indication of what the rest of my life will resemble, then I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Fig and Blue Cheese Focaccia
Makes one, 12″ x 8″ focaccia, serving 8 for appetizers
1 cup water, warmed to 100F
1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
Scant ½ cup fig preserves (I used Fig and Walnut Butter from Stonewall Kitchen, but any sort of fig preserves will work)
3 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (I highly recommend Point Reyes Blue Cheese)
Freshly ground black pepper
- For the Dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water and yeast, stir to combine, then let sit for 5 minutes to activate the yeast. Add the flour, salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and mix on low until the flour is combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and knead for 5-6 minutes, until the dough gathers around the hook and becomes almost smooth and shiny. This dough will be very sticky, so do not try to knead it by hand. Turn off the mixer, remove the dough from the hook, then cover the bowl with a dishtowel and let rise until doubled in size, 1-1 ½ hours.
- Once the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 450F and place the remaining tablespoon of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the risen dough onto the oiled baking sheet, then turn over a few times to coat all of the exterior with the oil. Stretch the dough out into a rough rectangle, about 12″ x 8″ in size, using your fingers to shape the dough. If the dough resists stretching, let it rest for 5 minutes, then try again.
- Toss the shallot with the ½ teaspoon olive oil in a small bowl, then scatter the shallot slices over the surface of the focaccia. Sprinkle with the sea salt, then bake in the preheat oven for 10 minutes, until puffy and risen. Remove from the oven, and spread the fig preserves over the surface of the focaccia, then distribute the blue cheese on top of the preserves. Return the focaccia to the oven and bake for another 4-5 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, then slice into 8 even pieces and serve.