Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Daring Baker's Challenge for October: Pizza!

When I discovered that this month's Daring Baker's Challenge was homemade pizza, I was all at once happy, relieved, confident and a bit under-challenged. Happy because who doesn't love pizza? Pizza is a mainstay of my regime....love it, at least once a week. Relieved, confident and under-challenged? Well, that's because I make pizza just about once a week, using this exact recipe! Oh well...at least it's something I love to make and the family loves to eat!

The recipe is excellent. It makes some great pizza dough. Some of the best I've ever had, even in a pizza restaurant. It's easy, too. The trick is, you MUST let the dough rest overnight, and you MUST be sure to use ice water and cold flour. I've made this pizza dough so many times and it hasn't always come out great, usually because I skipped one of those two steps.

I decided to make two pizzas: one with olive oil, cheese (asiago/parmesan/mozzerella blend), figs and prosciutto for me and my husband, one with tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni for the kids. As usual, they were gobbled up in one sitting!

Here's the recipe, and a big thank you to Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums for the challenge and sharing one great recipe with a lot of new pizza makers!

RECIPE SOURCE: “The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread” by Peter Reinhart. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. Copyright 2001. ISBN-10: 1-58008-268-8, ISBN-13: 978-158008-268-6.


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 (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled - FOR GF: 4 ½ cups GF Flour Blend with xanthan gum or 1 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup corn flour, 1 cup oat flour, 1 ½ cup arrowroot, potato or tapioca starch + 2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast - FOR GF use 2 tsp
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar - FOR GF use agave syrup
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.

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.

Pierre Hermé's "Financiers"

I've been eyeing the recipe for Financiers in my Pierre Hermé cookbook for a long, long time. This is a treat I've had in France a few times, but not enough to be a real pro at what they should taste like. And usually they are not made of chocolate, but there seems to be nothing wrong with a chocolate financier! So my intrigue was at a high, all I needed was an excuse to bake them. My excuse? My French class was hungry for a treat. Enough said.

Basically, they are a chocolate almond cookie. The name translates more or less to "banker", because the pastry shop where they originated catered to many of the "financiers" in the bourse district of Paris. They are traditionally shaped like a bar of gold, but now you see them baked in boat-shaped molds. I used a baking pan with multiple mold shapes (flowers, hearts, bundts, etc.) and they turned out great.
Because of the almond flour, they are very moist and can be kept at room temperature for a number of days. Easy to make, yummy to eat...my kind of treat!

3 /12 ounces (100 g) bittersweet chocolate
3 lg eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 Tb. sugar
1 cup finely ground almond powder or finely ground blanched almonds
1 stick plus 1 Tb. unsalted butter at room temperature
1/3 cup plus 2 Tb. tepid water
1/3 cup plus 2 Tb. all purpose flour, sifted

Preheat your oven to 350. Butter and flour molds (rectangular, boat shaped, something that holds about 3 Tb. water. Adjust cooking time if you have different sized molds). Place molds on jelly roll pan.

Melt chocolate in bowl over and not touching simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. It should be just warm to the touch when you use it.

With an electric stand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar and almond powder together on medium-high speed until it is pale. Reduce speed to medium, add butter in 4 or 5 peaces and beat until just incorporated. On low speed, add chocolate and mix to blend. Add the water, increase speed to medium, and beat until it comes together.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour. (This batter can be kept covered airtight in the refrigerator for a couple days).

Spoon batter into molds until they are almost filled, and bake for 15 - 18 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cookie rack and cool for 3 minutes, then remove cookies from the molds. Cool them airtight to room temperature.

Optional: add a sprinkling of cocoa powder or confectioner's sugar

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chocolate Tart with Salted Butter Caramel

I noticed a few years ago that the salted butter caramel rage had hit France with a vengeance. You could find it everywhere: from Pierre Hermé and Ladurée's macarons to Berthillon's ice cream, everyone had this flavor in their repertoire. And they still do, it's extremely popular over there, and will probably remain so since it's soooo delish. It's just catching on in the U.S. (we're always a few years behind France in all things hip and trendy). In fact, I noticed that Starbucks even has a salted butter carmel hot chocolate...which kind of scares me yet intrigues me at the same time....don't know if I should try it or run from it.

So I was invited to a friend's for dinner tonight and was in charge of all things sweet. It's my favorite contribution, of course, and I wanted to do something that would please all ages, since 50% of us were under 5. So I went to my old Bon Appetit magazines and found this yummy looking tart that seemed almost like a candy bar, with its caramel and chocolate combo. I had all the ingredients. Had the time. Had the patience for caramel....so I went for it.

The tart in itself is super easy to make. You only bake one thing: the crust. And the crust is very yummy with the little bits of cocoa nibs (which are probably not necessary if you don't have them or want to invest in them). The hardest part is the caramel, but that's not even hard, you just have to be sure not to burn it. I take it off the stove when it is uniformly amber in color, about 7 - 9 minutes into its boil. The final result of this tart is not unlike a snickers bar without the nuts. It's sweet, but daaarn good. The caramel, if you cook it correctly, will be soft and perfect under the very nicely softened layer of chocolate ganache. The tart is good, damn good. In fact, we scarfed the whole tart down in a matter of minutes, it's pretty addictive. It was requested to go in my "repertoire"...and so it shall. The only thing I would change would be to add just a bit more fleur de sel, the salt did not come out as much as I would have liked.

So, for a pretty easy yet impressive dessert, I highly recommend this one. Plus, it's trendy now, you could be hip like Starbucks!

You can find the recipe at Bon Appetit's web site, Epicurious. com.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin is the fancy French way of saying "Upside Down Apple Pie". This pie has four ingredients: puff pastry, apples, sugar and butter, and it is one of the most common desserts in all of France. You can order this in Paris restaurants or enjoy it in country homes. The best thing about it is it's simple, anyone can make a tarte tatin. I learned how to make this tart from the family I lived with when I was in France as an undergrad, "Madame" used to make these in a matter of minutes, or so it seemed. She had that Frenchy-french way of whipping all sorts of goodies up in no time.

Now that it's the fall, and apples are plentiful and the temperatures are dropping, it seems like a great time to whip up a nice, warm tarte tatin. I made one for my family last weekend, and my children loved it, my husband was reminded of the tarte tatin he had on a trip to Paris, and I was feeling rather guilty for all the butter and sugar involved. But 'tis the season, so they say.... we must eat tart.

4 granny smith apples
3/4 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup if you want less sugar)
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted

Use a 9 or 10 inch oven proof saute pan (with sloping sides).
Peel, core and slice apples in quarters.
Melt butter in the pan, then add sugar. Remove pan from heat, and place apples cut side down on top of the butter/sugar mixture. Pack them in tight, and cut small pieces of apple to fill in any gaps.
Replace on heat and let sugar carmelize to a golden amber.
Meanwhile, cut a circle of puff pastry about one inch wider than the pan.
Once apples are carmelized, place the puff pastry on top of the apples and roll the overhand in (it's ok, it will shrink).
Preheat oven to 350. Place pan in oven for 30 - 40 minutes, until puff pastry is golden brown.
To serve, carefully and quickly flip the pie over on a serving platter (holding pan with one hand, platter with the other).
Serve with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche. Use cinnamon if you like it!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Homemade Cinnamon Bread...yummmm

After what I would call a humongous hiatus from my kitchen due to some of the worst months of my lifetime, I seem to be trying to make up for lost time at record speed. I was in the kitchen most of the last few days, making everything from bread to pie to homemade tomato sauce. And what they say is true, it is so incredibly therapeutic. Not good for the waistline, but therapeutic nonetheless.

Yesterday was a chilly day here in Cincinnati, and with the fall chill always comes my desire for homemade bread. My Peter Reinhart book The Bread Baker's Apprentice gets its greatest workouts in the fall and winter months, when I'm dying for the smell of yeasty bread wafting through my house, and especially for that of cinnamon. Better than the best air freshener, that's for sure. So yesterday I cracked the sucker open once again and decided to try Reinhart's recipe for cinnamon bread. Well, technically his recipe is for Cinnamon Raisin Walnut bread, but I have picky toddlers in my midst, those who thumb their noses at any foreign objects in their otherwise uniformly smooth bread dough. So I forwent the fun stuff and kept it to the basic cinnamon.

This recipe was easy. I mean Eeeeeassssy. Throw ingredients in your Kitchenaid mixer, blend, rise, done. Of course, I have a Kitchen aid mixer, so that helps enormously with the toughest part: kneading. But really, the recipe is neither difficult nor time consuming and the results are, well....my family of four has already eaten 1 1/2 loaves of this stuff, and it has been less than 12 hours since it was baked. There you go, we are gluttons...but only for the good stuff.

Cinnamon Bread (A Variation of Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread):

3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
4 tsp. granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
2 Tb. shortening or butter, melted
1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temp.
3/4 cup water, at room temp.

for cinnamon swirl:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tb. ground cinnamon

For cinnamon topping:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tb. ground cinnamon

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer (or by hand if you don't have an electric mixer). Add the egg, shortening (butter), buttermilk and water. Stir together or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a ball. Adjust with flour or water as necessary.

Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter, begin to knead. Or, with an electric mixer, use the dough hook. Knead by hand for about 10 minutes, by maching for about 6 - 8 minutes. (If you want to add raisins and nuts add them during the final 2 minutes of the mixing, you may need to add them by hand to evenly distribute them.)

Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Mix your cinnamon and sugar together and set aside. Roll the dough pieces out into two 5 x 8 inch rectangles. Sprinkle 1/2 the cinnamon and sugar mixture on each rectangle. Tightly roll up the dough, from the short side up, pinching tightly after each roll. Place loaves in lightly oiled loaf pans and mist the tops with spray oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof for 60 - 90 minutes, or until the dough comes up above the lip of the pan and is about doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350. Place loaf pans on a baking sheet, but be sure they are not touching.

Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees and continue to bake for about 20 - 30 more minutes. The finished bread will be golden brown on top and on the sides and will make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.

Immediately remove the bread from the pans, brush melted butter on top, and roll them in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. This gives them a wonderfully sweet crunch.
Let cool for about an hour before serving.