Pizza Pizza!

Friday night is often pizza night in our house. It started back many years ago when the boys’ Karate Sensei would habitually ask the kids, “Having pizza tonight?” on Friday nights; we weren’t, but the idea took root in our brains and eventually we were. (I secretly think he was a shill for the local house of pizza.)

Lately, I’ve been seeing posts about Jim Lahey’s latest — the no-knead pizza crust — everywhere, and in spite of my previous disasters (read about them here and here) with his no-knead bread, I was intrigued. I had planned to attempt it this week when, as so often happens, the Baker’s Banter blogged about their version of his no-knead crust (This happens a lot — I have a particular baking project in my head, and then Baker’s Banter blogs about it. It’s actually very eerie. I’m concerned they may have tapped my brain.). The no-knead pizza dough is super wet and unlike any pizza dough I’ve ever worked with before. I was concerned I wasn’t going to be able to do anything with it (it’s like wrestling a large mass of ooze) but somehow managed. It helped that I divided the batch into quarters (I made a double batch), so I could sort of juggle each portion of dough in two hands. I made 4 pizzas — they received raves from the eaters. The crust is a little different than I’m accustomed to. It’s chewy and substantial, but not thick. It’s like an artisan bread turned pizza. We had a lot of toppings on them, so the crust really needed to be strong (otherwise it would be a big mess) and it was. It really helped that I precooked the crust before adding the toppings, otherwise I doubt the crust would’ve cooked at all.

Above, the pizza on the left is meatball with roasted green peppers and caramelized onions. It has homemade marinara sauce as a base. I used a pizza cheese blend (mozzarella and cheddar) on all the pizzas. The one on the right is a barbecue chicken pizza — seasoned chicken breast, a drizzle of Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce and cheese. Below, the pizza on the left is a chicken and vegetable pizza — more seasoned chicken breast, caramelized onions, roasted green peppers, chopped garlic and sauteed mushrooms (no sauce). On the right is a vegetable pizza — sliced Roma tomatoes, chopped garlic, caramelized onions, roasted green peppers and sauteed mushrooms. Out of all the pizzas, the favorite was the barbecued chicken pizza.

I also made another (different) type of pizza crust. C. recently got a palate expander and has been having difficulty relearning the chewing and swallowing process (everything seems to get caught in the appliance). The orthodontist told him to take care to not eat crusty things lest it bend the metal, so I thought maybe no-knead crust was not the way to go for him this week. I got the recipe for his pizza out of The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book. It’s just the Basic Pizza Dough recipe, with a cup of whole wheat flour substituted for one of the two cups of flour. For the other cup, I think I may have used King Arthur all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour the recipe calls for in an attempt to make the bread a little less chewy (I can’t remember because I went back and forth on the decision and in the end made the dough so hastily I don’t know what I did!). C. likes his pizza with cheese and no sauce. I thought it turned out beautifully and it was delicious as well. As expected, it did not have the chewy crust the no-knead dough did, but it was tasty, nutritious and just what the orthodontist ordered!

cupcake decorating

These are from last night’s cake decorating class. They’re somewhat sad-looking; I was a little late to class and never quite recovered from feeling harried. The flowers, fruit, heart and bears are straight from the book, but the lavender-yellow creation is all my very own. I did that one at home this afternoon. It’s not attractive, but it does use one of the techniques we learned last night. C. was chomping at the bit to devour the whole batch, but I told him he couldn’t finish them off until I had finished decorating and photographing them all. He proclaimed the devil’s food cupcakes delicious (it’s been one of the few things he’s managed to eat since he got his palate expander earlier this week) but I can’t take any credit; the cake is from a box and the frosting is the usual Crisco-laden Wilton class buttercream icing. Actually, even C.’s not a fan of this icing, but he said it doesn’t taste as bad with the boxed cake mix. I figure that’s because he’s accustomed to that particular synthetic taste combination, having eaten plenty of boxed cake mixes with ready-made (and shortening-heavy) canned frosting. We’ve come a long way, as he now largely prefers homemade baked goods (except for homemade brownies — we’re still working on that!).

butterscotch chocolate toffee squares

I needed a snack to send for another of L.’s teen gatherings and found half bags of milk chocolate toffee bits and milk chocolate chips in my pantry. A few minutes of trolling the Internet and I came up with this easy recipe from Relish Magazine, which is apparently a food publication carried by some newspapers (not mine). The recipe is actually for Butterscotch Toffee Squares, but I only had about 2/3 cups of toffee bits (it calls for a cup) so I supplemented it with milk chocolate chips.

These bars almost didn’t make it to their destination! After I cut them up, I had to sample one (I told myself it was for quality control, but the truth is I’m a sucker for anything butterscotch or toffee) and of course, L., being his mother’s son, had to try one too. They were chewy but a little crunchy (we had the edge pieces) and sweet and butterscotchy and just soooooo good. The recipe only makes an 8″ x 8″ pan so after sampling there were only 14 pieces remaining and it just didn’t make sense to send in so little. And they always have too many snacks at those gatherings anyway. Surely they wouldn’t miss my little contribution? But cooler heads prevailed — P. told me to box them up and send them on their way. Sadly, there were no leftovers at the end of the evening for L. to bring home. Now I will have to go out and buy more toffee bits so I can make a pan for myself!

healthier burger buns

First of all, I must give props to P. who came to the rescue and did most of the work making these buns when I sliced my fingertip this morning and had to go to the ER to have it glued back together. This is the same King Arthur Flour recipe I made back in June except I replaced a cup of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. They went great with P.’s hand-shaped burgers and hand-cut sweet potato fries!

soft garlic knots

It’s Pasta Night at our house! I needed something bready to go along with Giada De Laurentiis’s marinara sauce and turkey meatballs, so this recipe came to mind. Baker’s Banter featured them awhile back and I tucked it away deep within the recesses of my brain. Mine didn’t rise as much as theirs and didn’t puff as much — I suspect there are two reasons for this. First, I probably should have mixed it longer — my dough wasn’t as smooth as their pictured dough. Secondly, (related to the first thing) I realized belatedly that the recipe suggests you add additional water if you are making these in the winter (due to drier conditions). A little more liquid would’ve made the dough smoother as well.

I made about half of them plain garlic butter and sprinkled the other half with Italian herbs. I made the mistake of trying to puree the garlic and the melted butter together in my food processor, as Baker’s Banter did, instead of following my intuition and either chopping the garlic in the processor before adding the butter, or crushing the garlic by hand. Baker’s Banter did their processing in a mini-processor; I used a full-size processor and the blade did not make adequate contact with the garlic and so I ended up with butter with largish garlic chunks. As a result, the knots weren’t really that garlicky. Lesson learned for next time. They were good with the pasta dinner nevertheless.

cranberry whole-grain muffins

Now this is a proper whole grain muffin! It’s made with whole wheat flour and oats, and also has fresh cranberries, orange zest and chopped walnuts. The original recipe actually calls for an orange glaze, but I omitted it because I didn’t feel it needed more sugar. Without the glaze, the muffins still have a touch of sweetness which contrasts very nicely with the tartness of the cranberries. And best of all, they are moist and tender, not tough like I feared a whole grain muffin might be.

chocolate-chocolate chunk muffins

On a typical Saturday morning, I make chocolate chip muffins for C. He’s a great aficionado of that variety and to make us both feel better, I add a little bit of whole wheat flour and substitute apple sauce for some of the butter in my version. This Saturday morning, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I made these double chocolate muffins from Baking: From My Home to Yours. No whole wheat and full butter (and more than the original untweaked chocolate chip muffin that I usually make) but heck, it’s Valentine’s Day, right?

C. wasn’t sure about the results — he felt they were light on chocolateyness. L. liked them; he said they were about as chocolatey as he would expect a muffin (i.e. non-cake, non-brownie) to be. I myself was unsure about the recipe, since the batter contains a small amount of cocoa powder and melted chocolate, and only 2 ounces of solid chocolate chips. I might use more chocolate chips in the future and perhaps more cocoa powder in the batter. Also, the batter might benefit from a little espresso powder to draw out more of the chocolate flavor. If you didn’t want to up the amount of chips in the batter, I think it would be better to use mini chocolate chips instead. Something about the smaller bits makes them distribute themselves more evenly in batter so you feel like you’re getting more in every bite.

happy valentine’s day!

I recently started taking a Wilton cake decorating class. I am not what I would call a naturally artistic person and given that I have little decorating experience and I will have to take two terms of cake decorating at culinary school, I thought it might be wise to try to get a leg up with a little practice and perhaps learn a different technique than will be taught at school.

The first cake you decorate in Course One of Wilton is a rainbow cake. I could’ve gone rogue and done my own design, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to come up with something different. The original cake is a boy’s birthday cake, complete with name and age, but C. suggested that in honor of tomorrow being Valentine’s Day, I freehand a heart instead. It’s a little wonky (symmetry is not something I’m terribly good at) but I think it looks great!

And not that you can see it, but the cake underneath is the cake from Cook’s Country’s Chocolate Blackout Cake. I’m not sure how it goes with Wilton’s required (no butter — not sure how I feel about eating this) class buttercream icing, but I wanted chocolate for Valentine’s Day and the Blackout Cake recipe made two 8-inch rounds, which is what I needed for the assignment.

miche poilâne

Boulangerie Poilâne is a Parisian bakery, founded in 1932 by Pierre Poilâne. It is most famous for its huge miches (or large boules). What makes Poilâne’s miches distinctive is that they are sourdough loaves made using stone-ground wheat flour and sea salt from Guérande and are baked in a wood-fired oven. You can actually mail order a Miche Poilâne direct from the bakery to the U.S. for about $48. A Poilâne-style miche is featured on the cover of Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

These facts notwithstanding, the primary reason I decided to bake the Poilâne-style Miche from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice was because I had to feed my existing sourdough starter and I didn’t want to discard the remaining 7 ounces of old starter. And as luck would have it, the Poilâne-style Miche uses exactly 7 ounces! I actually set out to make petit pains Poilâne — smaller boules — because Peter had noted in the book that many testers felt the full-sized miche was a bit unwieldy. However, making multiple, albeit smaller, loaves would’ve required more available space in my refrigerator (the loaves have to be retarded overnight in bannetons, or proofing bowls, in order to keep their shape). A single giant bowl takes up less fridge real estate than two or three large bowls, so a giant miche it would have to be.

Making the miche was a three-day affair. The first day, I mixed the starter (using the sourdough starter, flour and water). The second day, the starter was added to the remaining ingredients, resulting in a monster of a dough. The dough is actually too large to be mixed in a stand mixer at this point so it has to be hand-kneaded for 10 to 15 minutes. I haven’t hand-kneaded anything for more than a couple of minutes since I got my stand mixer last fall, and let me tell you, it’s a workout. Time never moves as slowly as when you’re vigorously kneading a gigantic five-pound mass of dough. But… it is a really nice dough to work with — slightly sticky — and I had forgotten the sensation of feeling a dough take shape beneath your hands. You can actually feel the dough transition and the gluten do its thing as you knead it. I knew this was true intuitively (it’s why many bakers eschew the use of stand mixers and other gadgets and work their dough by hand), but I really needed to experience it again to remember.

After the kneading, the dough rests for awhile at room temp, and then is shaped and put in the refrigerator to retard overnight. The next day, the dough is baked on a stone in a steam-filled oven et voilà! Une miche Poilâne. Below is C. holding the miche (and no, he isn’t holding it closer to the camera; it really is wider than he is!)

wild rice and onion bread

This multigrain bread first appeared in Peter Reinhart’s excellent Brother Juniper’s Bread Book. I used Lundberg Family Farms Wild Blend (a blend of a couple varieties of brown rice, as well as wild, Wehani and Black Japonica rices) in the dough, as well as diced fresh onions. P. said the taste reminds him of Scallion Pancakes. I find the onion flavor somewhat subtle, but it’s definitely present. L. seeemed a bit taken aback by the notion that there were all these different kinds of rice in the bread, but he had several slices nevertheless!