Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Daring Bakers Take on Pizza

Our host for this month's challenge is Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums. In honor of Sher, who was to be her co-host for this month, Rosa went with Sher's challenge idea: Peter Reinhart's basic pizza dough.

I had a lot of fun with this challenge. Shane, my friend Nancy and I gathered in the kitchen and threw the dough around, spread sauces, sprinkled cheese, scattered locally-made sausage and drizzled olive oil. (And drank wine. Lots of wine. And then watched Tina Fey. And celebrated my 31st.)

The pizza was FANTASTIC. I mean, really absolutely wonderful. The dough way a breeze to work with -- tossing it in the air, a DB challenge requirement, less so -- and baked up fabulously crisp yet chewy, just like NY-style pizza should be.

We made four types of pizza: one pesto, one pesto with spicy Italian sausage, one "regular", and one regular with sausage. All delicious, but by far the best was the regular with sausage. We ate (Sadie included) until we were stuffed.

And then we ate birthday cake.

Thank you Rosa, and thank you Sher, for sharing this wonderful recipe with the DBers. It was a wonderfully fun challenge!

Basic Pizza Dough
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast -
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. 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°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee 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 tablespooons 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.


8. 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 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. 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/260° C). NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. 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.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g 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.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

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

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

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane 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.

14. 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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Amy Sedaris' Lil' Smoky Cheese Ball

I'm a leeeetle behind on posting this recipe.

You see, Chris and Shelly, our next-door neighbors, invited Shane and I for a backyard celebration. Excellent cooks in their own right, they had a full menu planned for their event, so I needed to find something I could bring that wouldn't interfere with thier impressive spread.

After thumbing through many, many pages of many, many cookbooks, I found the Lil' Smoky Cheese Ball in Amy Sedaris' I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. Not only did it work with Chris and Shelly's menu (Appetizer! And, apr├Ęs-dinner snacking!) but it appealed to my love of kitsch.

And my tastebuds, and everyone's tastebuds. The creamy, rich mouthfeel, the smoky taste, the nutty crunch. It's a winner, and perfect to pair with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine.

This recipe makes a GIANT cheeseball, so I separated it into two, smaller cheeseballs, both of which disappeared by the end of the evening.

Oh, and the event I made this for? Chris and Shelly's Fourth of July barbecue.

Lil' Smoky Cheese Ball (adapted from I Like You)

2 cups shredded smoked Gouda cheese, room temperature
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons steak sauce
1 cup toasted chopped almonds
Crackers, for serving

Place Gouda, cream cheese, butter, milk and steak sauce in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix until well combined. Transfer mixture to refrigerator. Let chill overnight. Roll cheese mixture into two balls. Place nuts in a shallow dish. Roll cheese in nuts to fully coat. Serve with crackers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

(Low-Fat) Banana Bread

I can't believe that the tastiest banana bread I've had in a long, long time -- possibly ever -- is low in fat.

But it is. It's moist, it's sweet, it's packed with banana flavor. It's wonderful!

Low-Fat Banana Bread (adapted)

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup smashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
1/3 cup fat free milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Lightly grease 8 1/2x4 1/2x2 1/2-inch pan and dust with flour.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until thick and light, about 5 minutes. Mix in smashed bananas, milk, oil and vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt over mixture and mix until just blended.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake until golden brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Turn bread out onto rack and cool.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rustic Napoleons

I've decided that anything I make -- be it baked, sauteed, fried, roasted -- that doesn't come out looking like something out of a Williams-Sonoma cookbook will be dubbed "rustic."

Hence, rustic Napoleons. (I should probably go back through the archives and rename 95-percent of the recipes here.)

Being rustic, these Napoleons were fairly easy to whip up. I sliced a sheet of thawed frozen puff pastry into six equal pieces and baked them. After they cooled, I divided each rectangle in half horizontally for a total of 12 pieces. Then, I simply layered the puff pastry sheets with vanilla bean pastry cream, drizzled the tops with melted dark chocolate, and let them chill for an hour before serving.

Voila! Rustic Napoleons. A perfect pairing of crisp and savory layered with luscious, creamy, and sweet.

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream (adapted from CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher)

1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
1 vanilla bean
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
5 large egg yolks at room temperature

Place milk and cream in a medium saucepan. Slice a vanilla bean open with the tip of a paring knife and scrape some of its beans into the milk and cream; add the bean as well. Heat the mixture over medium heat just until everything begins to steam.

In another medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, a good pinch of salt, and cornstarch. Remove the vanilla bean from the cream and milk, and in a thin stream, pour the liquid into the the sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Return the saucepan to the heat and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.

Stir the egg yolks together in a bowl. In a thin stream, stir in about 1/4 cup of the hot mixture into the yolks, then scrape the yolk mixture into the saucepan. Return to heat and bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly until the mixture is thick and smooth.

Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap touching the entire surface of the custard. Chill until needed.

Yields about 2 cups.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Baked Blue Potato Chips

You can make baked chips with lots of kinds of potatoes, but aren't Adirondack blue potato chips fun?

The chips taste best, whether blue or of a"regular" hue, when hot from the oven. But you'll still want to chow down on them when they cool down -- if they last that long.

Baked Potato Chips

Potatoes (one makes a lot of chips, so choose accordingly)
Spray oil

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees F; spray two baking sheets lightly with some oil.

Slice the potatoes thinly, about 1/8-inch thick, using a mandoline and arrange them in one layer on the baking sheets. Spray slices lightly with the oil and bake 20-30 minutes or until they are golden throughout.

Transfer baked chips to a serving bowl, sprinkle with salt and enjoy.