Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pie time

When I first started this blog last December, I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to blog about.  I do a lot of baking, and like experimenting with recipes.  I do cook as well, every day.  We very seldom eat out--saves money, and I generally like doing it.   Of course, there are days when dinner consists of pretty simple things like frozen ravioli.  =)  I enjoy trying new savory recipes and do sometimes make notes about them in my notebook.  But the vast majority of my notes are about things I've baked, and I ultimately decided that I would just blog about baking.  Of course, sometimes dinner involves baking, too.

If I had to pick a favorite food, it would definitely be pizza.  I love pizza.  In pretty much any form, but my favorite is thin crust pizza.  That's one thing that I miss about the east coast.  Austin tends toward Chicago-style pizza.  But we do have a few options, including a great New Jersey transplant.  We make pizza at home on a weekly basis, all from scratch.  People always seem so surprised when I tell them that.  "You make the crust?  Yourself?  Every week?"  I can't quite duplicate real pizzeria crust, since my oven only goes to 550 degrees F, but I keep trying. Using my baking stone helps as well.  And I've learned to make a big batch of dough and freeze half of it, so I don't actually have to make dough every week.  =)  Over time, I've played around with different recipes, and pretty much settled on my go-to dough.

And then came the October Daring Bakers challenge.  This month's host was Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums, and she chose Pizza Napoletana from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  I have this cookbook, and have liked everything I've made from it so far.  The pizza was on my to-do list, but I hadn't gotten to it yet.  Rosa gave us a lot of flexibility, but did set a few requirements.  Something saucy.  Some sort of topping.  And tossing.  Yes, tossing the dough, as opposed to rolling it out.  With pictures. =)

One thing that's different for me about this dough recipe is that it uses cold water.  I've used room temperature water, but not cold.  Peter Reinhart had an article in Fine Cooking earlier this year that had some tips in in that I applied to my usual dough recipe, including a slow rise in the refrigerator.  This recipe has you do the same.  I actually don't do an overnight rise--I make the dough first thing in the morning and leave it in the fridge all day (usually at least 10 hours), and that seems to work quite well.  The recipe also calls for less yeast than I'm used to, which helps make for a thinner crust. 

Since I make pizza every week, I was able to try this dough a couple times during the month.  The first time, I made it as written, except that I didn't add any sugar.  I was making it from my copy of the book, which doesn't have any sugar in the recipe, and I didn't realize that until after the dough was already made.  As directed, I divided the dough into 6 balls.  I put three in the fridge to rise and put the others in the freezer.  When it came time to shape the dough, I couldn't believe how easily it stretched.  It was actually a little too thin.  I always shape dough by stretching it over my hands, not rolling, but there was no chance of tossing--it was just too stretchy.   But we topped it and baked it and it made for some very tasty pizzas.  

Which leads me to another thing that people can't believe.  My favorite pizza is plain cheese.  Tomato sauce and mozzarella, maybe with a little parmigiano reggiano on top.  Whenever I'm in a group that's ordering pizza, people give me a hard time because I want pizza with no other toppings.  But you know what?  It always gets eaten, and not just by me. =)  I do like mushrooms on occasion, but one thing I don't like is pepperoni, which is why my husband and I make our own individual pizzas.  He loves everything, but usually goes for pepperoni and black olives at home.  And he adds provolone cheese and maybe a bit of romano on top.  A few years back he switched to turkey pepperoni and loves it because it's less greasy.  

The frozen dough from that first batch worked fine as well, but I decided to tweak a few things when I made my second batch of dough a couple weeks ago.  When I made it the first time, I used all bread flour and the full 2 ounces of olive oil.  I cut the oil back to one ounce, hoping to make the dough a bit less tender.  And I tried one of the side-bar variations in the recipe and substituted white whole wheat flour for 10% of the bread flour.  I also increased the yeast just a little bit.  After kneading the dough in my mixer, I put the whole batch of dough in one of my dough buckets and put it in the fridge for the day.  That evening, I divided it into 6 portions of dough (and froze half of them).  

The verdict?  I liked my variations better--the dough was easier for me to work with.  I liked the additional flavor and texture from the whole wheat flour.  It's amazing how just a small amount can make a difference.  I'll probably continue to play around with the recipe--for one thing, I like some semolina flour in my pizza dough.  But I'm sticking with the cold water and smaller amount of yeast (my old recipe used 2 teaspoons).  On the whole, this was a very successful challenge for me.

Check out Rosa's blog for the original recipe and complete method.  Here are the ingredients for my variation:

2 ounces white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
18 ounces bread flour (King Arthur)
1 3/4 teaspoons table salt
1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
14 ounces cold water (from the fridge - 40 degrees F)

And here's my standard sauce recipe:

Easy Pizza & Pasta Sauce

3 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 to 3 teaspoons olive oil
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch of kosher salt

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds (don't let it brown).  Add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Stir in the seasonings, including salt to taste.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Leave the sauce chunky or puree it with an immersion or regular blender until smooth.

And don't forget to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll for more wonderful pizza ideas!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chocoholics in training

For Brianna's first birthday cake, I tried to come up with something at least a little bit healthy.  I made carrot cake (this fabulous recipe) with cream cheese frosting.  She ate a little of it.  Then, a couple months later, I made chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for Jamie's birthday (his favorite).  Brianna devoured it.  And never looked back.  Every year now, she reminds me repeatedly that her favorite is "just chocolate."  As if I would forget.  =)  Now Brianna's birthday isn't until January.  But last year, she figured out that she could get her favorite more often--if it was Gillian's favorite, too.  Fortunately, Gillian has been quite happy (so far) to go along with that.  

While it's nice to know the Tuesdays with Dorie recipes ahead of time (for shopping purposes), I try not to bake ahead.  Part of my reason for joining TWD was to bake every week.  When this week's recipe of Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes was chosen by Clara of I♥food4thought, she suggested that we could decorate them for Halloween.  But a couple weeks ago, I was trying to figure out what we could do to celebrate Gillian's birthday in the middle of a crazy week.  And I realized that the cupcakes would be perfect!

The recipe was pretty easy to mix up, though it was a bit different from some of the other chocolate cake recipes I've made.  There's cocoa powder mixed in with the dry ingredients, and then you fold melted chocolate into the batter right at the end.  (I used Scharffen Berger cocoa and some of my new Ghirardelli chocolate pieces.)  I think I baked them for about 22 minutes.  (I forgot to write it down!)  The ganache glaze was easy to whisk up as well--more chocolate (El Rey 58% this time), a bit of powdered sugar, and some butter.  I had just enough time to spread it on the tops of the cupcakes before it set up.  I finished them off with some pink and white non-pareils (another favorite that Brianna's been sharing with Gillian).  

The verdict?  Dorie prefaces this recipe with "Sure, you could serve these to three-year-olds, but I think everyone would be happier if you waited until your audience was grown-up enough to appreciate the cupcakes' dark, close crumb, the very dark and not very sweet chocolate flavor and the elegance of the glaze..." She's never met my girls. =) They've never met a chocolate they didn't like.  (Gee, I wonder where they get that from...) Actually, they're cake snobs. They won't eat grocery-store-bakery chocolate cake, because it's not chocolatey enough. These cupcakes were right up their alley.  Jamie and I enjoyed them as well.  I liked the recipe as is, but might try adding a bit of instant espresso powder next time to bring out the chocolate flavor even more.  And if Brianna and Gillian have anything to say about it, we won't be waiting for the next birthday to make these again.  =)  If you want to try them for yourself, head on over to Clara's blog for the recipe.  And be sure to check out the rest of the TWD bakers--there are sure to be some great Halloween cupcakes!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's a great pumpkin muffin, Charlie Brown

I'm really glad that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was an easy one.  Last week at work was very long (my boss was on vacation, leaving me as the only manager).  And then this weekend I managed to catch the cold that Jamie had that Gillian had that now I have...  I'm sure I'll live, but right now I'm quite miserable.  I walked around work on Monday with a box of tissues in one hand and a bottle of hand-sanitizer in the other.  My nose hurts.  And I still can't breathe.  

Thanks to Kelly of Sounding My Barbaric Gulp! for this week's Pumpkin Muffins.  This one fit right in with my craving of all things fall.  I made them for breakfast Sunday morning, making a couple of changes to the recipe.  I've been trying to make our meals a bit healthier by adding some whole grains in ways that my kids won't complain about.  So I substituted a cup of white whole wheat flour for one of the cups of all-purpose flour.  I also increased the salt to half a teaspoon.  I divided the batter in half so I could make a couple variations.  To one half, I added a couple tablespoons of mini chocolate chips.  To the other, I added a handful of raisins (maybe a third of a cup?).  After scooping the batter into my muffin pan (with my handy-dandy #16 disher), I sprinkled some pepitas over the tops of the raisin ones.  Apparently I can't read recipes correctly, because I could have sworn that it called for pepitas.  But after reading a comment on the P&Q, I went back to the recipe and realized that it actually called for sunflower seeds.  Oops. =)  I baked the muffins at 400 degrees F, but only for 20 minutes, which was just right for my oven.  (I really need to get an oven thermometer one of these days...)

The verdict?  As I expected, Brianna loved the chocolate chip version.  I think Gillian preferred the raisin one, but she mostly just picked the raisins out and ate them, leaving the rest of the muffin on her plate.  I thought both versions were great.  I really liked the addition of the pepitas on top--a bit of salty crunch to complement the moist texture of the muffin.  Jamie liked them, too.  I'll definitely be making these again.  

Want to try some pumpkin muffins for yourself?  Then get yourself a copy of the book, or head on over to Kelly's blog for the recipe.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tea and cookies

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is Lenox Almond Biscotti, selected by Gretchen of Canela & Comino.  

But first things first. Happy birthday (today) to my little munchkin, Gillian! I can hardly believe that she's two. Where does the time go?

Okay, back to the baking. =)  For a change, I actually made these early!  Part of the reason was because I knew my schedule at the end of the week would be crazy.  And part was because I've never made biscotti before.  In fact, I don't think I've ever eaten biscotti before this.  Sure, I've seen them plenty of times.  But they are often flavored with things like almond and anise, which I really don't like very much.  So right, off, you can probably guess that I made some changes to the recipe.  

For my first attempt, I substituted 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla for the almond extract (which was also 1 1/2 teaspoons in the original recipe--that's a lot of almond!).  I went with pecans instead of almonds (had some left from last week) and added half a cup of bittersweet chocolate pieces.


The chocolate was actually a cool new product that I learned about courtesy of Anna at Cookie Madness.  They actually come in 58%, 72%, and 100%.  Pretty handy.  

With the first batch of biscotti, I learned that you really don't want to make the logs too wide, since they spread a lot.  And they take longer than expected to bake through.  I pulled mine out at about 17 minutes, and I should have left them in longer, since it turned out that the centers were still not quite done.  After letting the logs cool, I sliced them on the bias, and put them back in the oven for another 18 minutes.  

The verdict?  I love the pecans in these.  The chocolate was good, but almost a bit too bitter, especially in contrast with the sweetness of the pecans.  Not bad, but they need work.

So I made them again. =)  I continue to crave fall flavors.  And one of my favorite teas, year-round, is chai.  So I decided to come up with a chai spice version.  I kept the vanilla, but cut it back to 1 teaspoon.  I added 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cardamom and freshly grated nutmeg to the dry ingredients.  For the second round, I was much more careful shaping the logs.  I baked them for 25 minutes the first time, which firmed them up nicely for cutting.  For the second bake, I went with 15 minutes.  Had I added any nuts or other additions, I would have kept them in longer.  As the cookies were cooling on the rack, they looked a bit boring, though.  So I whisked some powdered sugar with a bit of milk and drizzled the glaze over them.

The verdict?  Fantastic!  The flavor combination was just what I was after.  Great with tea, chai or otherwise.  I know some bakers didn't really care for the crunch from the cornmeal, but I like it.  I'm looking forward to experimenting with some other flavor combinations.  

For the recipe, head on over to Gretchen's blog.  And don't forget, if you want to join us in our weekly baking adventures, sign up by October 31st!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How to clean your stove

I wonder sometimes how my mom did it.  She managed to keep up with the four of us (I have three younger sisters) and still have a reasonably presentable house.  Some of it was the fact that she didn't work outside the home until I was in high school.  But I realized that a lot of it was the fact that she put us all to work.  =)  I'm starting to be able to do that with Brianna--she has some special jobs for which she can earn a total of a dollar a week (aside from the expected picking up her stuff).  But there's still a lot that doesn't get done.

It used to really bug me when there were unwashed dishes in the sink and clutter all over the kitchen table.  Okay, to be honest, it still does.  But I've learned to live with it.  The fact is, there are only so many hours in the day.  And if I'm going to spend any of them with my kids, something has to give.  I'm getting better at doing little bits of cleaning up here and there, either after they're in bed, or it the morning before I go to work.  Some of the bigger stuff gets done on the weekend, but the more involved things have to wait for when I have some time off (Thanksgiving week, anyone?).  Of course, sometimes things happen that force me to clean up right away... having a caramel volcano erupt on my stovetop.  I can't believe I did that!  I really do know better.  I've made caramel many times before.  But it's usually in smaller quantities, so I just didn't take into account how much more quickly the cream would boil over when it hit the hot caramel.  Ugh.  And I was so happy that I hadn't let the sugar get too dark!  Actually, once the bubbling subsided, most of the caramel was still in the pot, and I was able to add the butter and proceed.  (And by the way, since I only use unsalted butter, I did add about 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt to the cream before I added it to the sugar.)

Why was I making caramel?  For this week's Tuesdays with Dorie, of course!  Tammy of wee treats by tammy selected Caramel Peanut Topped Brownie Cake.  Peanuts just aren't my favorite, so I decided to go with pecan halves.  They looked really nice on top of the cake, and tasted fantastic with the caramel.  I cut a couple pieces of cake for Brianna and Gillian (they aren't big nut eaters, though I discovered this evening that Gillian likes cashews) and spooned the pecans and caramel onto the top of the rest.  Mmm.

The verdict?  Brianna and Gillian really liked the cake.  I thought it was a bit dry.  What is it with me and cake lately?  I can't seem to get it quite right.  Sigh.  I baked it for the shorter amount of time in the recipe, but maybe that was still too long.  I would have preferred something more brownie-like.  The topping was fabulous, though.  I think Jamie would have really liked it, but he was side-lined with what we think is the same stomach bug that was plaguing Gillian last week.  I ended up taking about 3/4 of the cake to the daycare on Monday morning.  It got rave reviews and apparently didn't last long.  =)

For the recipe, you can certainly turn to the book itself.  Or check out Tammy's blog.  And if you've been thinking of joining our merry band, now is the time to do it.  You only have until October 31st.  Oh, and my stove looks great, since I figured I'd better just clean the whole thing while I was cleaning up the caramel. =)