Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pizza Party with the Daring Bakers

This month's Daring Baker challenge (hosted by Rosa's Yummy Yums) was, again, a recipe I've been wanting to make but I had just never gotten around to. It's amazing how almost every month when I see the new challenge I find myself saying "oh cool, I've been wanting to try that!"

I have certainly made pizza before, but we often just use whatever bread dough we have in the fridge when we are in the habit of keeping Artisan Bread in 5...dough around. We have become particularly fond of the semolina dough as a great pizza base. We've made them in the oven on the stone, grilled them directly on the grill, and grilled them on the stone as well.

This time, we were excited to try a real pizza dough recipe, from Peter Reinhart's classic The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which I happen to have. Thus far, I have only managed to make bagels from the book, and that was only after finding the recipe somewhere online first. So I've now tried two recipes from the book and I have to admit, not my favorite so far. I am certainly planning on working with some of the other more traditional breads in the book and I will even try this pizza dough recipe again because most of the other DBers seemed to really like it. But we were largely disappointed with the taste, and the texture was only okay. The dough was fun to work with, supple and soft, and part of the DB challenge was that we had to attempt tossing the dough. I ended up doing only mini tosses because the soft dough stretched out so quickly.

In honor of the challenge I made my own mozzarella for the pizzas. I also put together a batch of pesto with some basil from the yard. To end the evening, I also put together a small dessert pizza. This one ended up being our favorite. I dotted the dough with butter and cream cheese and covered it with cinnamon spiced apples and sliced almonds. It was just sweet enough, rich and had a nice thin, crispy crust.

I definitely recommend making your own pizza: it is relatively easy and almost always better than the alternative. And most importantly, it is always fun to come up with your own toppings.

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
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
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
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.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Homemade Mozzarella

I don't drink a lot of milk, due in large part to a lapse in consumption when I was about 9. Prior to that, I could down a few glasses of cold, nonfat milk like it was going out of style. But I was also sick a lot as a kid. One summer, my mom took me to the regional hospital for several tests to see if we could figure things out. One thing the various doctors tried was to take me off milk for six months, thinking I may be allergic to dairy products. They eventually decided that the dairy was not to blame and said I could start drinking milk again. We went straight to a Mexican restaurant that evening, and I ordered cheese enchiladas and a large milk. Talk about getting sick! Needless to say, I never became a milk fan again.

R and I do drink soy milk, and we keep organic milk in the house for the kids, which is running $3.75+ a half gallon. So when everyone remarks about the astronomical rise in grocery costs, I'm nodding my head in agreement. And it seems the big ticket items on our grocery receipts are always cheese and milk, often totaling about $15 of our weekly $45-50 bill. Luckily, when I checked the recipe for making cheese, it specifically warned that the process would not work with "ultra pasteurized" milk, like our organic stuff. Who knew regular milk was so cheap? A gallon of good ol' fashioned milk is about $2.70. So I picked up a gallon of the cheap, pasteurized, non-organic milk and we were ready to rock.

I don't think I did everything exactly right, because my curds never set up well, but the end result was good. I am going to keep working at it, and make some ricotta as well (I've a hankering for ricotta gnocchi) so I'll keep you updated.

The process is pretty easy.

Add citric acid to milk, heat the milk to 90 degrees.

Add vegetable rennet, stir, and let sit on low, or off the heat for about 5 minutes. After the curds have separated and set at the top, cut through them with a knife, and spoon the curds out of the whey with a slotted spoon into a microwaveable bowl.

Drain off any excess whey and microwave for 30 seconds.

Drain whey and knead until the cheese cools. Heat again, drain, and knead.

Once it reaches about 135 degrees, it's ready to knead on the counter. Pull it and knead it like it's taffy. Finally, stretch it out and knead it into a tight, shiny ball, and plunge it into an ice bath until it cools. It's ready to use once it's cool, or you can wrap the cheese in plastic and keep it in the fridge.

You can use the leftover whey to make ricotta, which I attempted to do, but you are supposed to not handle the whey too much, and I had already drained and strained the heck out of it because my curds had not set well enough to spoon out of the pot completely. The ricotta attempt failed, but I think next time, I'll add a touch more rennett and leave on the heat for a bit longer than 5 minutes after the curds begin to set. Trial and error.

I got all my supplies for the 30 minute Mozzarella Kit as a gift from my wife for my 30th birthday earlier this year (but she got it at cheesemaking.com ). I'm planning to master the mozarella and ricotta, and then maybe we'll branch into a hard cheese for fun.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Best Pastry Assistant Ever - and Really Good Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been having fun with two things in the kitchen lately 1. experimenting with great chocolate chip cookie recipes, and 2. having H want to help cook. Almost every day when I get home from work, H will tell me, "I'm going to get my apron and help you cook, Dada!" She'll put her apron on, I'll set her on the counter and she'll "help" me cook. It has been a lot of fun for us. Plus, there's the added bonus of H learning more and more about food and cooking. She has always had a great palate - last week, I gave her some Pecorino on her pasta and she told me, "Dada, this tastes like goat cheese." Technically it's sheep's milk, but she knew it wasn't cow's milk cheese. And as young as nine months she used to eat pasta with pesto, sausage, and feta that we put through the food mill.

So it came as no surprise that she would easily jump into some Chocolate Chip Cookie adventures. I have of course read all about the CCC recipe from the NY Times that everyone is blogging about. I will get around to that eventually, but it requires resting the dough for up to 36 hours, and I just didn't have that kind of time: our friends had just had their baby girl and we wanted to bring these cookies over as a fun welcome later that day. So I scoured some of my favorite blogs and found a reference on David Lebovitz's blog to a post on 101 Cookbooks where Heidi made David's cookies (recipe). So I gave David Lebovitz's cookies a try, omitting the walnuts this time (because I really have to be in the mood for walnuts, and I didn't have any in the house).

The recipe is quick and easy, and fantastic. We have made them several times already and everyone has really enjoyed them. They are very chocolatey (I recommend using a good quality dark chocolate chip) and will probably be even better with the walnuts which we'll include next time. They are bordering on too chocolatey for R and I think the walnuts will be a great balance.

H and I will tackle the NY Times recipe next and we'll post our comparison. In the meantime, I'm going to keep enjoying the fact that H wants to cook with her Dada.