Napoletana Pizza

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Napoletana Pizza I love pizza. Thin crust, thick crust, deep dish, whatever. I love it all. This is my second attempt at pizza dough (the first time I made this yummy recipe) and I’m still amazed at how easy it is.

Although this recipe looks daunting with the multiple steps, don’t be scared! It’s fairly simple to make, worth the time, and yields a thin crust with a nice crunch is spots. Top it with whatever you want (I used homegrown green peppers from my balcony garden, among other things), and enjoy your delicious pizza!

Photos of the process here.

Some notes:

  • I used a mixer (first the paddle attachment then the dough hook) and froze all of the dough balls so that I can pull them out and put them in the fridge the night before I want to make pizza. Talk about convenient!
  • I don’t have a pizza stone so I used a regular cookie sheet and baked the pizza at 450F for 7-8 minutes.
  • I had trouble tossing the dough so I rolled it out with a rolling pin.

Ingredients
4 1/2 c unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled (I used bread flour)
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1/4 c olive oil
1 3/4 c water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting (I used cornmeal)

Preparation, Day One

  1. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl. On low speed, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.
  2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil (or lightly oil the parchment). Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas), You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it. Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan. Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.
  3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: If you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.)

Preparation, Day Two

  1. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator two hours before making the pizza. Dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Let rest for 2 hours.
  2. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800F (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550F, but some will go higher). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.
  3. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss. If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn’t as effective as the toss method.
  4. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The American “kitchen sink” approach is counterproductive, as it makes the crust more difficult to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.
  5. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan) and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes.
  6. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.

Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice via Perry’s Plate.
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Challah

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ChallahChallah is an egg bread traditionally eaten on shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) that is similar in texture and taste to brioche, but is made without milk or butter. For shabbat, challah is usually braided using three or six strands, and on Rosh Hashana, it’s usually twisted in a circular shape (to symbolize the cycle of a year, as Rosh Hashana is the Jewish new year). And often times the bread is sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds.

As a kid, I ate my sandwiches on challah or challah rolls. And my mom always used it when she would make us french toast. Seriously, challah makes for the most incredible french toast! But the best way to eat a challah? The way my family does it now–rip into it and tear out the insides, leaving a shell of the crust. Mmm.

This recipe, while time consuming, was pretty simple and oh so good! (In fact, I’m going to make a few loaves for Rosh Hashana later this month.) The bread is soft and chewy with a nice crust and the dough was easy to work with. There’s a lot of sitting and waiting, so it’s best to do it when you have stuff you can complete in spurts while waiting for the dough to rise.

Finally, I halved the recipe (because I was trying out different recipes) but this is so good you should make the full recipe and freeze one loaf.

Photos of the process here.

Ingredients
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

Preparation

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
  2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading.)
  3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
  4. (I tried this but got entirely too confused and just braided it with three strands, the same way you braid hair.) To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
  5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.
  6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking. Then dip your index finger in the egg wash, then into poppy or sesame seeds and then onto a mound of bread. Continue until bread is decorated with seeds.
  7. Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool loaves on a rack.

Yield: 2 challahs.

Joan Nathan recipe from The New York Times.

Low Fat Banana Muffins

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Low Fat Banana MuffinsI’ve read about how applesauce can be used in baked goods in place of fats such as eggs, oil, and butter but hadn’t tried the substitution until now. And I’m happy to report it’s a good substitution!

Of course, these muffins are not meant to replace my favorite banana bread. They are simply a low fat alternative, and even with the chocolate chips they are still only three points each. They’re easy (no need for a mixer!), moist and flavorful, and lighter than I was expecting after reading some of the reviews.

The lightness may be because I made muffins rather than a loaf (I like wrapping them individually then freezing them so I can defrost one at a time). I made the mistake of using paper liners, and the muffins completely stuck to them so I suggest spraying a muffin tin with Pam and forgoing the liners.

Photos of the process here.

Ingredients
4 very ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar (I used Splenda Sugar Blend)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
4 tablespoons applesauce (I made my own)
1/2 cup chocolate chips, optional

Preparation

  1. Mash bananas in a bowl.
  2. Add all other ingredients and mix well.
  3. Pour into greased loaf pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes if making muffins (or 50 to 60 minutes if making a loaf), or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.

Yields 16 muffins or one loaf.

Recipe adapted from Recipe Zaar.

Brioche

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Chocolate Chip BriocheWhen the kind folks at KaTom Restaurant Supply offered to send me a silicone brioche mold to test out, I of course said YES! (Note: They also sent me one to give away, so stay tuned for your chance to win it later this week.) This recipe was a learning experience for me, as I have never a) made a yeast bread or b) baked with a silicone mold.

As you can (or actually, can’t tell from the picture), I chose to do the brioche à tête (think round knob on the top of the loaf); my skills are obviously lacking. Also, I dumped in some mini chocolate chips (1/2 cup? 3/4 cup?), because I figured they couldn’t hurt. I mean, I like challah with chocolate chips, so what’s not to like about brioche with chocolate chips, right?

Chocolate Chip BriocheThe recipe itself wasn’t difficult, there’s just lots of do this and wait, then do this and wait some more. And the recipe instructions were kind of vague at times (e.g., Fold it over several times, making it pliable without becoming too soft. What exactly is too soft?) I wasn’t thrilled with the flavor, but then again, I rarely eat brioche plain, usually it’s used for French toast and drenched in syrup. I’ll probably bring it in to my office guinea pigs tomorrow and see what they say.

On a positive note, the silicone mold is really cool. I didn’t have to grease it, and the brioche just popped right out. And it was super easy to clean–there wasn’t even a crumb, which is always a plus!

Photos of the process here.
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Ingredients
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter

Preparation

  1. Pace 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, water, sugar, and eggs into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Cover the mixture and let it sit for 45 minutes
  2. Add the remaining 1 cup of flour, the salt, and beat with electric mixer for 45 minutes.
  3. On a loured surface, flatten the butter into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick with the heel of your hand or on a rolling pin. Fold it over several times, making it pliable without becoming too soft. Add the butter to the dough and beat until it’s fully incorporated.
  4. Cover the dough and allow it to rise for 1 hour.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over several times. Place the dough into a greased bowl, cover, and refrigerate it overnight. The chilled dough will be less sticky.
  6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and quickly form it into a round loaf. Place loaf into the brioche pan. Cover with a light cloth and allow it to rise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until it’s doubled and is crowned over.
  7. Beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water, and brush all exposed surfaces with the egg wash.
  8. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F (190 degree C) oven until it’s oglden brown, about 45-50 minutes.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool it in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool completely on a rack.

For a classic topknot, cut off an egg sized piece of the dough when it is removed from the refrigerator, allow it to rise separately in a small bowl, and add it to the top of the main loaf just before baking.

Recipe (sans chocolate chips) from the brioche mold packaging.

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits

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This is my first Tuesdays With Dorie post as well as my first attempt at making biscuits, and I think they both went well! (Photos of the process here.)

First things first–I’m not a huge biscuit person. Growing up, the most popular kind of bread in our house was bagels (you can eat anything on a bagel!) so the majority of my biscuit consumption has been limited to the rare times I have ordered something at a restaurant that comes with a biscuit. (Every Father’s Day it’s chicken, waffles, and biscuits at Roscoe’s in Hollywood, but that’s a story for another time.)

Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits (minus the pecans)

These were good, but not exactly what I imagined them to be. I suppose I should have realized that a biscuit with brown sugar would be a bit sweeter than your everyday biscuit, but for some reason, I ignored that hint. Also, these were definitely a lot denser and browned a lot more than I expected.

And of course, it should be noted I don’t have a round cookie or biscuit cutter, hence the um, flower shaped biscuits. Also, I left out the nuts because nuts in baked goods just ruin everything! (So says my ten-year-old self.)

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cold whole milk
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Get out a sharp 2-inch-diameter biscuit cutter and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Preparation
Whisk the flour(s), baking powder, salt, and baking soda together in a bow. Stir in the brown sugar, making certain there are no lumps. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You’ll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between– and that’s just right.

Stir the sour cream and milk together and pour over the dry ingredients. Grab a fork and gently toss and turn the ingredients together until you’ve got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading– 3 or 4 turns should be just enough to bring everything together. Toss in the pecans and knead 2 to 3 times to incorporate them.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour, pat the dough out with your hands or toll it with a pin until it is about 1/2 inch high. Don’t worry if the dough isn’t completely even– a quick, light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use the biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of the first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working with them as little as possible, pat out to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer these to the sheet. (The biscuits ca be made to this point and frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight and kept for up to 2 months. Bake without defrosting– just add a couple more minutes to the oven time.)

Bake the biscuits for 14-18 minutes, or until they are tall, puffed and golden brown. Transfer them to a serving basket.

Yields 12 biscuits.

Recipe from Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan.

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