Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pizza Dough of Destiny

Team. It's time for another break from Beard on Bread, because I must explain to you how great home-made pizza is, and how versatile is the ultra-simple dough we use, and many other good things.

First, the recipe:
1 cup water ("about shower temperature" is a good rule of thumb)
2 tsp - 1Tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp or so of sugar/honey/similar
1 tsp (ish) salt
3 cups flour
generous splash olive oil
whatever else you want (chopped herbs? shredded cheese? nuts? go nuts!)

1. Put the sugar and yeast in the water, mix, and let it sit for a few minutes (say, 5) in a warm spot.
2. Dump in everything but the "whatever else," mix it up, and knead until nice and smooth and elastic (for the sake of ease, let's say 5 minutes again -- maybe a little more?). At some point in the kneading process, dump in the whatever else. Make sure it gets kneaded all the way in.
3. Put it back in the bowl. Drizzle some more olive oil over it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it sit a while -- a minimum of 15 minutes (if you're thinking thin-crust pizza), a minimum of an hour (if you're thinking a loaf of bread).
4a. Is it pizza/cinnamon rolls/apple pastry thing you want? Great! Uncover the dough and roll it as thin as you can (for pizza) or a little thicker (for other stuff), making sure it stays nicely floured. This recipe makes two cookie-sheet-sized thin-crust pizzas.
4b. ALTERNATIVELY: Is it bread you want? Punch it down, knead it for a while and then make it into the correct shape (formless blob = totally fine, baguette = traditional for this recipe). Let it rise another hour or so.

Congratulations! You have dough.

For pizza, drape your dough over a cookie sheet, put stuff* on it, trim or fold over the edges, and bake in a very hot oven (we use 500 degrees F) until it's nice and brown, anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on the depth and density of toppings. (Hint: peek under the bottom to figure out whether it's nice and brown; don't trust the top.)

For a yummy pastryish (not actually pastry, but you get what I mean, right?) thing, drape your thin dough over a tart pan (or whatever), fill it with stuff,** and bake it in a 375-degree oven until it's nice and brown top and bottom and whatever's inside is bubbling audibly. Tonight's rendition at our house took about 30 (?) minutes total.

To fake some cinnamon rolls, take your sheet of dough (a rectangle is best) and slather it with yummy stuff.*** Then roll it up nice and tight. Use whatever implement comes to hand to seal up the seam (I like toothpicks). Same baking instructions as the previous thing.

For bread: After its second rise, put your lump/baguette/whatever on a cookie sheet. Slash it artistically with a nice sharp knife. Put it in the oven at about 400 degrees until it's nicely browned and sounds hollow. Times vary a lot. You will have to experiment, but something with more surface area (e.g., baguette) will finish much more quickly than will something with less (e.g., lump).

* I'm partial to greens, actually. Hot pepper flakes, kale, fontina, and onions is a favorite combo of mine. But seriously, we've done potato-rosemary-bacon; we've done tomato-basil-mozzarella; we've done onion, mushroom and sausage; we've done everything.

** Example pastry filling stuff: apples sliced thin, coupla tablespoons lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, pinch of cornstarch, BOURBON.

*** Usually butter, brown sugar, raisins, cinnamon, cloves. Sometimes also nuts, other dried fruit, or fresh apples chopped small. Although obviously you could also go savory with this one.

Here's the thing: this recipe (which is basically the same as one my pal Hollis taught me back in college when I was still afraid of making bread) can do anything. The bread it makes is not spectacular unless you flavor it spectacularly, but it is bread. Perfectly wonderful bread, especially when it comes out of your oven all bread-smelling and you made it yourself. It's easy!

In other news, here are two views of the galette-shaped apple "tart" thing I made tonight. It tastes a little like a mixed drink (see BOURBON under note ** above) and has completely made my day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Doughnuts and Irish Soda Bread (a two-for-one post)

I admit it: I let life get away from me a little bit after the new year. I woke up New Year's Day without a voice, sure that it was Nori's awesome party's fault. But no, it was germs. At a family gathering a couple of days later, Jarrod said I sounded like Mike Tyson. Jarrod's dad said I sounded like I was faking. (He said it nicely, though.)

Anyway, all that is just to say that it has been a low-energy couple of weeks. However, we did manage some bread preparation, including a major departure from James Beard. So now, in chronological order, I offer you Breads of the Last Two Weeks (not to be confused with Breads of India).

First project: DOUGHNUTS. Yes, you heard me right.

For Christmas I ordered Jarrod a doughnut cookbook and doughnut cutter (like a thick cookie cutter that only makes rings), and when the book finally arrived—late—we made some basic raised doughnuts with chocolate glaze first thing. Putting the dough together was a long and moderately arduous task. Unlike many bread doughs, you can't just chuck everything in a bowl and knead, knead, knead.

Side note: One thing that surprised us was the amount of yeast involved in a single doughnut recipe (8-12 doughnuts, depending on size): 3 tablespoons! Then again, they are expected to rise astronomically and to be full of air, so.

In any case, there were lots of steps. The dough was very soft, just on the edge of sticky before its final rise, but surprisingly easy to handle. Which is good, because "handling" in this case means rolling out, cutting out, allowing to rise, then frying in 360-degree vegetable oil.

The final result was pretty amazing (especially after glazing with hella rich chocolate glaze) the first night, but actually kind of cruddy by the next day. I think it's safe to say that, of all the items I've cooked, doughnuts keep least well. That probably had something to do with our pitiable frying technology: we think that the type of oil we used (plain ol' vegetable oil, as opposed to the pure safflower oil recommended) may have caused some unintended greasiness, and we know that our oil was practically never the right temperature. So that.

Holy CRAP they were delicious right after being made, though.

Second project: Irish Soda Bread (back to James Beard!), just this afternoon. As you can see, I was mixing business (terrific edited volume entitled Sex, Drugs and Body Counts, on the politics of numbers) with pleasure.

This has long been one of my favorite recipes, largely because it is insanely easy, fast, and fragrant. Four cups of flour, some buttermilk (I substituted yogurt), baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix, knead three minutes, form, bake. There's no yeast, and hence no rise, and the result is a big round rustic loaf with thick crunchy crust, small chewy crumb and amazing hearty smell. Nom nom nom.

This recipe surprised me by actually calling for enough salt...which is to say, I added too much salt because I usually find Beard's recipes undersalted. Live and learn. Live and learn and nom.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Whole-Meal Bread with Potatoes

Amelia here (for once). It's Hanukkah! Or possibly Chanukah. Which means that shredded potatoes are on our mind here at Casa Verde. Which additionally means that potato bread was the obvious choice for today's Adventurein Baking. In a pleasing homage to my roots, this particular potato bread is, according to Beard, "provided by the Norwegian Government School for Domestic Science Teachers."
I made half a batch; a whole batch makes two immense loaves and requires 10 cups of flour. I also altered the recipe somewhat, substituting sour cream for buttermilk.

The dough was a joy to work with once it was finally mixed -- not at all sticky, not at all crumbly, generally awesome. And of course, it being a yeasted bread with sour cream and potatoes, it smelled amazing. Like a lot of Beard's recipes, this one has the potential for undersaltitude (yeah, that is totally a word) -- I added a bit more than the suggested amount (1-2 Tbsp for a whole batch, which, again, I halved), and if I had it to do again, I'd probably add even more.

A lot of potato bread recipes (and I say this on the basis of two or even three whole minutes of browsing Beard + internet) require a significant chunk of processing for the taters -- boiling or mashing or what have you. This one, not so much -- another bonus. Grated potatoes go into the proofed yeast with the sour cream (or buttermilk if you like following recipes), followed by salt and flour. Combine. Knead forever. Rise. Knead. Rise. Bake. Et voila. All of which is to say that this is a very small amount of labor for a very large amount of awesomeness.

Here are the fruits of my labor (NB: not the actual fruits) -- post-first-rise dough on top, pleasingly crunchy finished product below.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Jane Grigson's Walnut Bread from Southern Burgundy

Yep, it's delicious. Full of walnuts (which I toasted, though I'm not sure how much it made a difference in the final product) and onion (I used red onion, and it was very pretty, and I'd use a little more next time) and walnut oil and milk. The dough was pretty sticky, but it came out okay. It made four cute little loaves! I thought they would be silly and small, but they're really perfect. They'd be great to bring to parties, or give as gifts. They smelled AMAZING while baking, really filled the whole house. But then the flavor of the loaf is surprisingly mild - rich and tasty, but not as strong as the smell led us to believe. Great texture - soft and chewy, with a nice flavorful crunch. A big winner.
Also, it was a little cold in the house, and I thought Where will I put the dough to rise? And then I remembered something someone mentioned once, which is to put the dough in the microwave with a bowl of hot water, and you've got your warm, moist, draft-free space right there (as long as you don't accidentally turn it on, in which case it'd be way too warm and moist, and way too explody, since I used a metal bowl). But it worked so great! The dough rose in no time. Look!
I will definitely use that handy tip again.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sour-Cream Bread

Laurel, who has previous been mentioned, has been raving lately about Strauss' new sour cream. And then, aha, there's a recipe for sour cream bread! It's like kismet. We got the sour cream. It is, indeed, delicious.
See? Watson liked licking out the container. And we know dogs won't eat just any old dairy product.

Anyway, the best thing about this bread was the dough. It smelled like the breath of angels. We kept sticking our noses up against it and going, "Mmmmmmmmm." The dough was a bit soft, and didn't rise very zestily, but it all came out beautiful. See?
 Very pretty loaf, lovely crumb. But for all that rich dairy, the bread was surprisingly light and fluffy!
 So, not so good for sandwiches - too light. But lovely for toast, because it browns so nicely.
And the french toast we made with it was definitely a winner.

Easy to make, enticing dough, and very respectable product. Hooray!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Basic White Bread Not Really

At my preschool we make challah with the kids every Friday for Shabbat. It's really awesome—we make a big batch of dough, and each kid gets to make their own tiny loaf that we bake in a toaster oven in the classroom. But this year we have one child who's allergic to eggs. But we still want him to be able to shape the dough and make his own little loaf, so I decided to make him some egg-free challah (ie, white bread), which we could freeze in tiny-loaf-sized balls and bring out each week for him to use.

Then I got fancy, I guess, because I thought, well, I'll make a big batch of dough, and some will be for us at home, and some I'll take to school. And I thought I'd throw together the basic white bread, and just do it casually, because I'm an old hand at this now, right? Except apparently not an old hand enough to make sure we have flour before I put the yeast to proof. No all-purpose flour. But we have whole-wheat and bread flour! So what the hell, I'll do maybe 2 cups of whole-wheat and 3 cups of bread and we'll see what happens.

What happens is dough that's very shaggy and tough to knead and slow to rise.
 But it smoothed out eventually, and made a dense, very flavorful loaf. Excellent slathered with butter. Ate it for a few days with butter and radishes.
I don't think I'll try to improvise whole-wheat bread again, but it was a tasty experiment. I'll let you know how the child-in-question likes it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Pizza Caccia Nanza

Okay, so this is all kinds of belated. Well, actually I guess it's just the one kind, but still. Sorry to all my hypothetical devotees.

Anyway, last week we had a potluck at work, and I thought, "Hey, bread." But I didn't want a sandwich bread, or a sweet bread, and then flipping through I found this one.
It's not pizza. At all. It was actually a lot like focaccia. Apparently the name is Italian for "pizza that you take out before," because back in the day in Italy they'd make bread in a big communal oven but they'd take some dough and make a flat bread and take it out before the other bread because, you know, it'd cook faster. Which still doesn't explain the pizza part of the name but whatever.
The other reason I chose this recipe was because were were going out to a movie, and I wanted something that would be fast and easy, and this was. Except I screwed it up! Because it was all risen, but it was time to go, so I said, I'll put it in the fridge and bake it when I get back! Except when I got back I looked at the recipe again and it called for two rises, but I had to bake it right away before I went to bed, so instead of two rises I got one rise and cold dough going into the oven. And yet: it was still delicious! I can only imagine how tasty it will be when I don't screw it up.
There's less yeast than usual in this one, and no proofing, but it all worked out just great. Shoving little bits of rosemary and garlic into holes in the top was slightly labor intensive, but it gave it exactly the right amount of flavor and scent. And coating that puppy with oil before baking gave it a delicious golden flavorful crust that was a bit messy to touch but great to pick up. Baked it longer than recommended - maybe I didn't roll it thin enough. But mm, tasty. Folks at the potluck were very impressed. It was a great bread for a side-dish, especially cut up into attractive finger-food sizes. Would be nice for an Italian sandwich too. Nom!