Roasted Peach Focaccia

You just can't trust peaches anymore!

Earlier this month, I brought home a basket of the ripest, juiciest peaches I'd seen in a long time. Having nearly given up on them in the past, I was thrilled.

"They're back!" I exclaimed to absolutely no one, as the juice dripped down my chin. I devoured the entire batch in a day or so, and--quickly forgetting their past peachy transgressions--I eagerly awaited the next bunch.

They soon showed up in my CSA, plump and fragrant on the outside, but one bite led to pure disappointment.

Dry, mealy, and insipidly sweet; these came from a wonderful local farm, so I couldn't even blame the source. Once again, I found myself wondering what to do with a pile of bad peaches.

Heat is always the answer. There is something about the combination of a blah peach and the high blast of oven heat that can make everything right again. But craving something a little more savory than sweet, I skipped over the previous cakes and jams, and decided to bake some bread with my peaches.

Specifically, I made Roasted Peach Focaccia--crisp on the edges, tender on the inside, scented throughout with fresh thyme, allspice, and lemon zest. After a spell in the oven, the peaches soften and sweeten, becoming almost jammy.

Pure heaven on that salty-crisp crust.

I started out with a basic focaccia dough--water, yeast, a little sugar for sweetness, and a lot of fruity olive oil. Focaccia is rich with oil, which is why it crisps on the edges and dances on your tongue. Don't skimp on the oil! Use the good stuff, and pour it in. Roll the dough around in it. When I make focaccia, I end up with oil up to my elbows.

(No worries. I just rub it in. It's great for the skin.)

I was feeling frisky, so I decided to add a little spice to play along with the sweetness of the peaches. Some cinnamon. Some allspice. I let the mixer do the kneading, and then scraped the whole ball into an oiled bowl.

Once risen, I spread the soft, sticky dough out on a large baking sheet, stretching out my fingers and poking holes throughout for the perfect craggy texture.

While that puffed up one more time, I worked on the peaches.

I left the peels on because I'm lazy, and diced them.  I tossed them in a bowl with some lemon juice, a little sugar, vanilla, and a generous slosh of brandy I had sitting around in the kitchen from my previous adventures in brandy milk punch-making.

I sprinkled on some fresh thyme from this week's farm share, and let that whole gorgeous mess macerate into syrupy perfection.

I used my hands to tuck individual pieces of peach throughout the entire tray, admittedly eating every third piece of peach. Then drizzled it with more oil (yes!), and sprinkled on some course salt, raw sugar, and a bit more thyme.

Focaccia, you know, is all about that topping.

About 25 minutes in the oven and I had a big, gorgeous slab of fragrant peach focaccia. I let it cool (barely; I'm impatient), and then served rectangles of it topped with salty prosciutto di parma and crumbled goat cheese.

Eugene walked in the door a few minutes after I finished taking these photos. "Oh what's this!? Is this for eating?"

We each had one, then another, and another. It was lovely with wine, then again for breakfast with coffee the next morning. In the afternoon, we enjoyed it with a bubbly red and a bit more ham, and each time I go into the kitchen, I notice yet another square missing.

The rest of the tray likely won't last the night.

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Roasted Peach Focaccia Recipe

2 cups warm (not hot!) water
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons raw sugar (substitute granulated white sugar)
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 1/2 cup for greasing pan

For the topping:
3 large peaches, pitted and diced (do not peel)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup brandy or bourbon
2 tablespoons fresh thyme plus additional for garnish
Fresh lemon zest, course sea salt, and raw sugar, for garnish

In the base of a mixer, combine the water, yeast, and sugar and whisk together. Let sit 5 minutes until foamy.  Add the flour, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil to bowl and use the dough hook to mix for 1-2 minutes until it forms a dough, then knead for 5 additional minutes. (If dough is too wet, add more flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, but keep in mind that the dough should be sticky).

Grease a bowl with olive oil, then scrape the dough into the bowl, turn once to coat, and then cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 1 hour or until doubled.

In the meantime, combine the peaches, lemon juice, brown sugar, vanilla, brandy, and 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves. Mix and let sit at room temperature while the dough rises.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Once the dough has doubled, pour the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil into a cookie sheet pan and spread out evenly. Then dump the dough into the center of the pan and use your hands to press and stretch until it reaches the edges. Use your fingers to make holes throughout the dough (this will create focaccia's bumpy texture.) Let rise 30 - 40 minutes until doubled.

Once risen, arrange the macerated peaches throughout the dough, pressing them in slightly. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, and sprinkle generously with lemon zest, coarse sea salt, raw sugar, and fresh thyme.

Bake 25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp at the edges. Remove and let cool before cutting into slices and serving.

Note: This focaccia is best the first day, but still pretty great a day or two after. Keep the leftovers tightly wrapped at room temperature, and then pop the leftovers in the oven for a few minutes to crisp them up again slightly before serving again. 

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