Chicago Red Hot Poppy Seed Buns

IMG_8677There’s nothing like a great hot dog in the summer. I was thrilled to recently discover that Ball Park Franks makes uncured dogs (as do many other companies, but I love the flavor of Ball Park more than many of those others) since I don’t love the idea of eating lots of unnecessary chemicals (although apparently I’m totally OK with eating unknown parts of cow), so we’ve been having our share of hot dogs this year.

We first fell in love with Chicago Dogs 5 years ago during a family trip to the Windy City, when we enjoyed a hotel room takeout lunch that my guys picked up at Portillo’s. For the uninitiated, a Chicago-style hot dog is a Vienna Beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, bright green relish, chopped onions, tomato wedges, a kosher dill pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt. Here in New England, short of ordering a kit online from Vienna Beef (or paying exorbitant prices at Amazon) it’s hard to get one’s hands on the required shade of relish or the sport peppers, but I can make poppy seed  buns. I found my recipe on the King Arthur Flour site.

My hot dog buns didn’t become the golden brown I was hoping for. I didn’t want them to dry out so I decided to choose taste over looks and pulled the pan out after baking them for an additional minute or so. They were beautifully tender inside, but just didn’t look as picture perfect as I would’ve preferred.

I substituted conventionally colored (let’s call it “blah green”) sweet relish for the Chicago lime green variety, and pickled pepperoncini for the sport peppers (I tried to select a jar with smaller pepperoncini to mimic the size of the sport peppers). They weren’t authentic Chicago dogs but they were close enough for us!

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There’s a hot dog somewhere under all that!

King Arthur Flour July Bakealong: Blueberry Hand Pies

IMG_8678My second King Arthur Flour bakealong! And performed in the appropriate month too. This month’s challenge is Blueberry Hand Pies (recipe here).

I made these on one of those hot and humid summer days during which I’m pretty sure you’re never supposed to make pastry. My cold butter went from rock hard to a melting mess pretty quickly; I’m sure my hot hands didn’t help either. My dough made many more trips and spent a lot more time in the fridge than the recipe suggested. I spent all afternoon just popping it in and out of the refrigerator before I even got around to rolling and cutting the little pie squares.

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The results were totally worth it though. I really loved the way these turned out. The pastry was super flaky and had a nice crispness to it. If you love pie crust, and I do, there’s lots of crust. The blueberry filling is just a little sweet and pairs very nicely with pastry. I’m eagerly anticipating having the leftovers with coffee tomorrow morning!

The Oreo Experiment

IMG_8653I’ve been meaning to attempt baking Oreos for years. Like since my Oreo-loving younger son was in middle school (he’s a junior in college now). I had three possible recipes to choose from, but just kept putting it off, seriously, like I said, for years. In fact, I can’t quite even believe I have actually gotten around to doing it.

The three possible recipes in my collection that I was choosing from were Faux-Reos from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, Homemade Oreos from Joanne Chang’s Flour and this one, America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book’s Chocolate Sandwich Cookies (Paige at Lorrabeth.com does an amazing job blogging her gluten free version, complete with original recipe here). The primary difference among the versions was the filling. King Arthur Flour’s filling contained shortening and Joanne Chang’s was more of a traditional American buttercream. America Test Kitchen’s was the simplest of the three and what I imagined might taste closest to actual Oreo filling; the ingredients were confectioner’s sugar, water, and vanilla extract.

IMG_8655The cookie dough and the filling are each rolled into a log and then chilled and sliced 1/8″ thick. Do you know how thin 1/8″ is? It’s quite thin, and I found it difficult to slice straight down so that each slice had the same thickness from top to bottom. I had even more trouble getting the cookies to be round, as you can see from my pictures.

IMG_8657The actual cookie base is America’s Test Kitchen’s Chocolate Butter Cookie recipe, and as you might imagine, are quite tender and fragile. Mine didn’t turn out particularly crisp, although that maybe due the humidity (and possibly underbaking) as much as anything. And while they are tasty (and super sweet), they really don’t taste at all like Oreos to me. As my husband put it, they are too chocolatey to be Oreos. They are terrific with a hot cup of tea but they’ll never replace my store-bought Oreos. Yes, I said it; I actually love the store-bought cookie better than homemade in this case. 🙊

King Arthur Flour June Bakealong: Classic Baguettes

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Yes, I’m a little behind. I fully intended to complete this bakealong during the designated month but I had a lot of “obstacles.” First, I decided that after years of successfully making baguettes without one, now was the time that I absolutely needed a couche to tackle the recipe. And even though I could have easily ordered one online, it somehow was completely logical to make the trip to the King Arthur Flour store in Norwich, Vermont, a hypothetical 3 hours away (really closer to 4 hours each way with real life Boston traffic), to purchase one instead. Which I did. (A big thank you to my darling sons for accompanying me!)

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And then almost as soon as we were back, we were away on vacation for a week. And suddenly it was no longer June. All very much #firstworldproblems.

Several years ago, when my bread baking prowess consisted entirely of firing up a bread machine, I first ventured into baguette baking using recipes from the King Arthur Flour site and cookbook. The resulting baguettes were okay — not stellar, but decent enough. Much to my surprise, I was quite pleased with this newer Classic Baguette recipe. Then again, my success this time may also have a little to do with the fact that I have about 9 years of bread baking and a baking and pastry degree under my belt since those novice baking days.

Remarkably, I gave myself to the spirit of the bakealong and actually followed the instructions to the letter instead of doing what I typically do, which is ignore any instruction which conflicts with my previous training. I mixed and kneaded the dough by hand instead of using my stand mixer, as I was demoing the recipe for Cormac who doesn’t have access to such equipment in his apartment. I found that the shaping instructions actually produced nicer shaped baguettes with less effort (i.e. they’re idiot-proof!) than my usual technique. And the couche worked fabulously.

The crust was a bit less crisp than my usual baguettes but Cormac said he actually preferred the softer crust of the King Arthur Flour version. All in all, a worthwhile experience. Now to complete July’s bakealong before August! 😉

A July Tradition: Grilled Asiago Rounds and Zucchini Caponata

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This pairing is a family favorite for us, especially on the Fourth of July, as my blog will attest (I’ve previously blogged about them here, and again here.) The caponata is a breeze but making the grilled breads in particular is a bit of a production. Over of the years, I’ve gotten better at the managing the process and my lovely husband has taken over most of the grilling part (although it’s still much easier with two of us working together on that part as well!).

The recipes are from the King Arthur Flour site — bread recipe is here, caponata recipe is here, and the detailed play-by-play is here. These days, I like to stretch the portions of dough as thin as they will go, about 7″ across, but KAF suggests 4″ rounds which result in plumper flatbreads. I just like how the resulting texture from my version varies from doughy to cracker-like in a single flatbread. I do have to shorten my grilling time accordingly and keep a close eye on each to ensure that they aren’t burning.

Here are all my flatbreads, stretched and queued up to go on the gas grill.

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Love, love, love this zucchini caponata! It can be a great way to enjoy local produce depending on where you live. Unfortunately, most of my ingredients were store-bought this time — it’s too early here in my part of New England for local tomatoes, onions and garlic, and while I could’ve used local zucchini, I had already used up all that was in my CSA share. The basil was fresh from the farm though!

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