Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Pizza Dough

I'm not a big pizza person, but I'll eat just about anything that's homemade. Even pizza.  And I am not a pizza person.  I don't actually mind making the pizza, it's just the dough that gets me.  So I decided to try this recipe and see what I got.

The recipe itself takes two days to make, so you can't be in a hurry. I topped my pizza with sauce, baby bella mushrooms, luganiga sausage, and a mixture of Italian cheeses, including mozzarella, Parmesan, and Romano. Then into the oven it went.  I kept waiting for it to start puffing up, but it never did. It remained stubbornly flat. It didn't even brown around the edges. I had followed the instructions to a T, and made sure that the yeast was fresh, but it just didn't activate I guess. It's too bad, because otherwise the pizza was delicious, especially when topped with a little chopped fresh basil.

Pizza Dough
From The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

4½ cups unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1¾ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
¼ cup olive or vegetable oil
1¾ cups water, ice cold (40° F)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).  Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.  The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50° to 55° F.

Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.  With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.  Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about ½-inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow it to rest for 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500°F).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.

During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.  In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully, then try again.  You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

When the dough has the shape you want (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter - for a 6 ounce piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.  Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For even baking, rotate 180 degrees.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pan to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly pan.  Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

White Chicken Chili

Today was the first time I heard the word "snow" as part of the sentence "Tonight it might..." October seems awfully early to me to be talking about flurries, but then again I'm still in the Texas mindset. So it seemed the only thing to do was to bring some Texas sensibility to the ridiculously cold weather. I needed some warm, spicy chili. My mother makes a traditional red chili that's a little on the mild side and includes some of those big red kidney beans. I'm not a personal fan of big beans, so I instead chose to make a white chicken chili with little white beans. I didn't really have a recipe; I mostly winged it. Luckily for me it was absolutely delicious. I used a whole jalapeño pepper for mine, and it turned out about medium Texas spicy. The amount of jalapeño can definitely be reduced or it can be left out all together. I served mine with avocado, sour cream, and cilantro. And of course I also topped it with cheese. You can use Monterey Jack, Cheddar, queso blanco, or anything else that catches your fancy. I personally used smoked Gouda because...well...I really like it. And I forgot to buy Monterey Jack.

White Chicken Chili

1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 (15½-ounce) cans Goya small white beans or cannellini beans
2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles (use Hatch chiles if you can find them)
1½ cups pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
½ cup milk or cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine onion, garlic, jalapeño, and butter in a large pot. Sauté for several minutes until the onion starts to soften. Sprinkle cumin on top to release the flavor. Add beans, green chiles, chopped chicken, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Once chili is heated through, add milk and stir in. Put cornstarch into a small bowl. Carefully ladle some liquid from the chili onto the cornstarch, and mix to form a thin paste. Pour the paste into the chili and allow several minutes to thicken slightly.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Recipe Girl: Chocolate-Chip Pumpkin Spice Bars

I'm a big fan of everything chocolate. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate. Chocolate and peanut butter. Chocolate and orange. Chocolate and chili pepper. But I hadn't seen any chocolate with pumpkin, at least not until recently. Then a delicious pumpkin cake with mini chocolate chips caught my eye. I knew in that moment that I just had to have it. And none of this whole wheat flour silliness. I wanted the full naughty experience, fluffy white all-purpose flour and all. Absolutely delicious. The rest is going to work with me tomorrow, as there is no way I could finish an entire cake. Although I might be inclined to try...

Chocolate-Chip Pumpkin Spice Bars
From The Recipe Girl blog

1¾ cups unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1½ cups granulated white sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ cup mini chocolate chips

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups confectioner's sugar, measured then sifted
½ cup mini chocolate chips (for topping)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 10x15-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs and sugars until combined.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves. Toss in mini chocolate chips and stir to combine. Add dry ingredients to the wet and stir until moistened.  Pour batter into prepared pan coated with nonstick spray. Bake until the center springs back when lightly pressed in the center, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and place on wire rack to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla. Slowly add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, and mix until smooth. Frost bars and sprinkle with additional mini chocolate chips.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Smitten Kitchen and Gourmet: Pumpkin Muffins

Well, it's fall. And fall means cold nights, frost on my car in the morning, bags of apples at the grocery store, and pumpkin everywhere. It means cinnamon brooms by the door of the grocery store that make the whole place smell like spices. Getting into the spirit of the season means making at least a couple things out of pumpkin, and I am more than pleased to oblige, since I love pumpkin.

Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Gourmet magazine, November 2006, as adapted from The American Club in Kohler, WI

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup pumpkin puree (unflavored canned pumpkin is fine)
⅓ cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice OR ½ teaspoon cinnamon plus ¼ teaspoon ground ginger plus ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1¼ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon plus 1 tablespoon sugar for topping OR unsalted sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put liners in cups of a muffin pan. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Whisk together pumpkin, oil, eggs, spice, and sugar in a large bowl until smooth, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. If desired, stir together cinnamon and 1 tablespoon sugar in another bowl. Divide batter among muffin cups, then sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar mixture or sunflower seeds. Bake until slightly browned and wooden pick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer muffins from pan to rack to cool.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: Applesauce

When I saw the fifty bags of Macintosh apples on display at the grocery store, it finally hit me. It's apple season. And I'm sitting in the middle of Appletopia. My apples come from right down the road. It would be sacrilege to not buy some and do something with them. So I folded under the pressure of the fantastic shiny orbs and bought a bag.

Then I had to figure out what to do with them. Apple pie? Hard to eat the whole thing if you're single. Apple crisp? Delicious, but only really at its peak the first night you cook it. Applesauce? Sure, I've never made it, but why let that stand in my way? After coring and peeling an infinite number of apples, I was actually able to make it through the rest of the recipe.  And this recipe makes a very delicious applesauce.  Lots of flavor and spice and a beautiful hint of vanilla.

From Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics

18 McIntosh apples (about 6 pounds), peeled, cored, and quartered
1 cup apple cider
1 large cinnamon stick
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground mace
½ cup sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed wide saucepan.  Place the saucepan over medium heat, and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching, until the apples are broken down and saucy, 50 to 60 minutes.  Mash any large pieces of apple with a large wooden spoon to help them break down.  Season with more sugar and spices.  Remove the apple mixture from the heat, and let stand to cool completely before serving, discarding the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod.  The applesauce can also be stored in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Makes about 7 cups

Monday, October 06, 2008

Food 2.0: Smoked Salmon Tartlets

Okay, who do I need to talk to?  Seriously.  If this is the way Googlers are eating on a regular basis, I need to get in line with my job application.  And here I thought snacks came out of the vending machine (or from the closest Starbucks).  A bit salty, but gosh, this is such a wonderful splurge.

Smoked Salmon Tartlets
From Food 2.0 by Charlie Ayers

6 large, rectangular sheets of phyllo pastry
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 tablespoon whole milk
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 ounces smoked wild salmon trimmings or slices, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces salmon caviar

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Brush a sheet of phyllo pastry with a little butter. Lay another sheet of phyllo on top and brush with butter again. Repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo. Cut the phyllo into 12 squares.  Press the squares into the cavities of a muffin pan. Bake until crisp and golden, about 8 minutes.  Let cool.

Beat the cheese with the milk, chives, and lemon juice. Separate the pieces of salmon and mix in. Season the mixture to taste.

When ready to serve, spoon the salmon mixture into the phyllo cases and garnish each with a small spoonful of salmon caviar.

Makes 12 tartlets

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Food 2.0: Mint-Chocolate Brownies

Mint brownie.  What an excellent idea.  It's like a York peppermint patty, except a brownie.  And all hot and fudgy and gooey and melty.  And it goes perfectly with ice cream.  Unless it's cold.  Then it's just perfect in all its warm yumminess.

Mint-Chocolate Brownies
From Food 2.0 by Charlie Ayers

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double boiler or in a bowl set over, but not touching, simmering water in a pan. Stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a small bowl.  Beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer until very thick and pale, and the beaters leave a trail when lifted out of the mixture. Mix in the melted chocolate and the peppermint and vanilla extracts at lowest speed. Fold in the flour mixture and the chocolate chips, mixing just until the batter is no longer streaky.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted about 1 inch from the edge comes out clean, about 35 minutes. The top should feel set, but the center should still be quite soft. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool and cut into squares when cold. Store the brownies in an airtight container.

Makes 16 servings