Satisfy your sweet tooth with a vegan focaccia dulce recipe brought to us by artist, chef, and world traveler Lexie Smith.
This post originally ran in our August Magalog.
I’ve become a strong believer in the idea that we all evolve, but do not change, fundamentally. Our core, like the one I had when I moved to the jungle of Maui in 2010 to bake bare-footed and overall-ed, remains immutably within us. I eventually came back to New York after that excursion, but not before starting a small vegan baking company in the tiny desert outpost of Marfa, TX, and later working as a pastry chef in Austin. After a few years though, I tore off my butter-sodden bandana and decided that kitchen life and I were a no-go. While it satisfied the tactile artisan in me, I wasn’t intellectually or creatively stimulated. No longer enamored by the filth and the toil that came along with it all, I turned towards my visual art background and forged ahead.
While I was certain that my disenchantment was firm and lasting, this turned out to be categorically untrue. I managed to fight against the kitchen undertow for about a year back in New York before succumbing rather quietly to a position at the Baja- inspired El Rey Café on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, appeasing the growling in my gut with the sweet alchemy of food-making. But after only six months or so I was unexpectedly offered an artist residency in Nicaragua at the jungle community of Maderas Village, and parted with my home on Stanton Street, to heed the call of the ocean and my Micron pens. I was sure it was the last of my days prioritizing food over other artistic ventures.
Truth be told, I got to the jungle and found nothing that resembled an artist residency. What I found instead was a wood-burning oven that was cold, and a lot of people hungering for bread, pastries, and anything at all indulgent by way of carbohydrates. And then there was me, a sucker for a big brick oven overlooking the sea. At first I resented the fact that I would yet again fill this role, falling so swiftly back into the slot of the provider. But very quickly I saw the distinct, unmatched pleasure that a blistered loaf of focaccia or a fresh, heavily clustered batch of granola brought to these new friends. I started churning out goods throughout the day, everyday, unable to resist the adorably giddy anticipation that surrounded that oven. These people were hungry, and they wanted me to feed them. You see, here are the basic truths that I thoroughly understand now, which I’m not sure I could see before: 1) food and art are entirely conjoined for me, and not in the cliché “this crème brûlée is a work of art” kind of way. 2) Food is really important. I know, duh, but I’m not talking about in the basic physical sense. I’m talking about its ability to incur very legitimate actions and reactions in us. There are few other non-mammalian things in this world that people universally have such complex, emotional relationships with. To be entrusted with an authoritative hand in the provision of these provisions- ah! I promise I won’t try and escape that again.
So, about that core I mentioned… I’ve decided we’re all not so far from an apple, or maybe an avocado. You know, we grow robustly outward, engulfing our seeds. Our skins show the signs of all our external circumstances- the wind, the rain, the sun. We become bright and bold and sometimes soft and bruised, and we try as hard as we can to protect ourselves. But at our core we’ve got that seed nestled deeply and sweetly right where it’s always been, keeping us anchored to the selves we were all along. Luckily for me, I’m pretty sure mine tastes like sourdough.
Focaccia Dulce with Maple Rhubarb and Olive Oil Brazil Nut Crumble (Vegan)
This is a lightly sweetened take on the classic Italian flatbread. If made the right way,
focaccia dough is naturally very moist and chewy, making it an excellent though often
overlooked stand-in for cakes and quick breads.
1 cup whole-grain spelt flour
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Heaping 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 1/4 cups warm water
3 Tbsp olive oil
1. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl, taking care to not let the yeast and salt touch directly. Pour in the water, adding an extra tablespoon at a time if necessary, until a loose, but not overly wet, dough is reached. It should have a sheen to it and be pretty sticky. Mix until no flour clumps remain.
2. In another large container (you will need something about twice the volume of the mixed dough), pour in the olive oil and place the dough on top, turning it to coat. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours, but up to 48. The longer it sits, the more chew and flavor it will have.
3. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425F. Grease a large sheet pan or baking dish well . You want a really solid heaping of olive oil on the bottom and all sides.
4. Now, tenderly (you don’t want to burst the bubbles) pour the dough onto the pan and drag out with your fingers until it reaches the sides. This can be done over the course of a few minutes- the dough becomes easier to stretch as it sits.
5. Let rise for 40 minutes to an hour. It is ready to bake when you see large bubbles on the surface
and the dough jiggles a bit if the pan is lightly shaken.
6. Streak the Rhubarb Compote all over the surface, again taking care to not pop all the air bubbles, and sprinkle with more salt.
7. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove and spread the Brazil Nut Crumble across the whole surface. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. If the crumble begins to darken too quickly, cover with tin foil and continue until the focaccia is firm to the touch in the center.
8. Cool on a wire rack, or somewhere with airflow before cutting. Enjoy within a day- this bread is at its peak within a few hours of baking.
3 cups rhubarb (about 1 lb), chopped
1/4 cup maple syrup
1-2 Tbsp water
Pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
Bring the rhubarb, maple syrup, water and salt to a simmer and keep at medium heat until the stalks are broken down and mushy. Continue to cook until the mixture is no longer watery or excessively loose. Take off of heat and stir in the vanilla. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
Olive Oil Brazil Nut Crumble
1/3 cup oats
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 Tbsp flax meal
3/4 tsp salt
Generous pinch black pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup Brazil nuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup or brown rice syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla
Mix together the dry ingredients. Combine the wet ingredients separately, then pour into dry and stir until evenly distributed and the mixture clumps. Store in fridge until ready to use.
+ Have a cooking question for Lexie? Want to know more about life in Nicaragua? Tune in at 7 PM EST tonight on our Twitter page for a live chat!
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More recipe ideas from BLDG 25!