Look! In the Oven! Is it Pita? Is it Naan?

No! It’s flatbread! The term “flatbread” is an umbrella term for many different kinds of bread, from all over the world. The main subdivisions are leavened and unleavened. Leavened flatbreads include naan, pita, and of course, pizza! Unleavened flatbreads are more cracker than bread, as they contain no yeast, although some might use a chemical leavening agent like baking powder. Think matzoh or chapati. Note to self; is bread leavened chemically pareve? Can they be consumed on Passover? Do I care?

I love leavened flatbreads. Naan, in particular, and pizza eternally. Naan is a pain to cook, though, because of the high heat it demands. I’d suggest just buying it. Stonefire makes regular, garlic, and whole wheat naan, and it’s becoming widely available at supermarket chains. Brush a little ghee (clarified butter), or olive oil on, throw it in a warm oven for a couple of minutes, and voila! The perfect accompaniment to nearly anything. Or, use it to make pizza! A flat bread by any other name, right?

The problem with homemade naan is that as it cools, it gets stiff and brittle. It doesn’t keep well at all as far as staling is concerned. Much as I love it, because of the nuisance quotient, I’ll relegate naan to Indian restaurants and supermarket packages.

Today, I offer an alternative to naan. It’s very similar to naan, but it’s thicker, puffier, and more pliant, even after it’s cooled, as long you don’t stretch it too thin when you knead it. It makes a great sandwich, a quick pizza, or just for dipping in hummus or tzaziki. Feel free to add a half teaspoon of garlic powder to the dough for extra flavor, but not more, as garlic affects the action of the yeast. And it’s pillowy soft, which gives my poor, aging dentition a break. My favorite thing about this bread, though, is that its so easy! Mixing the dough takes twenty minutes at most, with only a one-hour rise time! You do have to cook each round separately, unless you have a skillet or griddle the size of a small state, but the cook time is so short for each round, that you’ll have a nice batch of flatbread ready for lunch in no time. No preferments, no rising in the fridge for hours or overnight. You can literally make this bread on a whim (as long as you have the ingredients on hand, of course).

I still don’t have access to my stand mixer. We moved back here nearly two years ago, and my beautiful beater is still in a box in the garage somewhere. So I’ve adapted this recipe for Hubert, my trusty bread machine. But, if you’re using a bread machine, the only cycle you’ll use is “mix,” or whatever the corresponding cycle is.

In about two hours, you can have pillowy soft bread rounds sitting hot on the counter, ready for your dressings, toppings, fillings or dip. Let’s get to it!

Skillet Flat Bread

I adapted this recipe for Hubert (my bread machine). If youre using a stand mixer, or your hands, its not hard to reverse-engineer it. And I don’t do volume measurements any more, and I won’t apologize!
 As you can see from the formula, this dough is really wet. If it got any wetter, it’d be batter. But otherwise, its not much different from any other standard bread formula. The difference is in the order of ingredients, and there’s only one rise (and a rest at the end).
  • Combine the water and milk and warm briefly in the microwave. You’re looking for 90°F to 100°F. Add it to the bread pan with the sugar, the yeast, and about a third of the flour. Set the machine to “mix” and engage.
  • After about two minutes, add another third of the flour and the salt. Continue mixing for another 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add the rest of the flour and continue mixing until the dough comes together. Add milk a teaspoon at a time if the dough is too dry, or a pinch of flour if the dough is sticking to the sides. But you knew that, right?
  • Restart the “mix” cycle if you knead to (pun intended), and start adding the oil in small amounts, a teaspoon at a time, waiting until each teaspoon is incorporated.
  • Turn the dough out onto an oiled surface, give it a few turns and form it into a ball. Put it into a lightly oiled bowl. Turn it in the bowl to make sure the whole ball is coated, cover with plastic wrap and, (shall we say it all together?) place it in a warm draft-free place until doubled in size, about an hour. (Amen.)
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and knead a few times. Separate the dough into twelve equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Spray or brush the balls with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let them rest for thirty to forty minutes. The dough will be very sticky. Instead of adding flour, lightly oil your hands.
  • One ball at a time, press each ball into a flat disc, then roll out to about 1/8” thick, 6” diameter circle, don’t make it too thin, it wont stay soft and pillowy. I really suggest partially rolling it, then finishing the shaping as you would a pizza. Place each round on a piece of paper towel and keep covered while working the rest of the pieces.
 
  • Heat a skillet, cast iron is best, on medium high heat, turn on your kitchen fan, open the doors and windows, and if you can, disable your smoke alarms! Spray the pan with a neutral flavored, high smoke-point oil. I like coconut oil.
  • Place a round in the skillet. When it starts to bubble, wait a moment more, then flip it with a spatula or tongs. It will bubble again. Remove the round to a paper towel lined plate and cover it with another paper towel. Or use fancy linen napkins that you kyped from an expensive French restaurant! I get cheap, flimsy handkerchiefs from the local dollar store. They take the place of cheesecloth too, when I’m straining soups or broth.
  • Repeat for each round, spraying the pan with oil for each round. You may find it necessary to remove the pan from the heat occasionally, to avoid excessive scorching. A few charred spots are actually desirable, though.
My husband and I devour this bread; we use it for dip (super for hummus or tzaziki!), sandwiches (think pulled pork ot chicken), last-minute pizzas, or just as a side for dinner or a salad. Conceivably, you could roll the dough very vey thin, and use it for a thin crust pizza!
Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, tweaks, or corrections. If you make this lovely bread, let me know how it turned out! Or just say “hey!”
I’ve been very “bread-centic” lately. Again, no apologies, I think I’ve found my passion! But I do promise a non-flour, non-yeast recipe in my next post!
Thank you for reading! And remember: Dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening,  but cook like everyone’s eating!

Thanks again! Bon appetít!
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Game Day Noshes

I’m no sports fan, I’ll admit. I was a dancer for twenty five years, and an amateur Ballroom Dance competitor for three years. That’s another story; it just illustrates my lack of interest in competitive sport. The Super Bowl is a bit different, though. It affords me a chance to cook! And of course, I watch for the commercials and half-time.

This year, though, I’m not cooking for anyone. But I did come across a couple of things that might help you out! One’s more of a tip than a recipe. The other is an actual recipe, but a quick and easy one. And very adaptable too!

I’m working on another post, but I wanted to get this out to you all before Game Day! Play ball! Oh, wait, that’s that other game. I think.

Stuffed Mushrooms

This pic didn’t come out very well, I’m afraid. I was too hungry to pay much attention to photography!

Stuffed mushrooms at any kind of gathering is so classic that it’s become cliche. They don’t appear very often on buffet tables and party spreads any more. I can only guess at some of the reasons; “that’s sooo last century,” or “nah, it’s been way overdone” could be two. But I think the main reason is that stuffed mushrooms invariably turn out either mushy or leathery. But there’s also a reason they persist on appetizer menus. They’re delicious when they’re made right. And thanks to America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve discovered the secret! I won’t print the recipe here, and I would never presume to tell you how or with what to stuff them. (I stuff mine with crab or shrimp, Parmesan and mozzarella, panko bread crumbs that I season myself, a bit of sour cream and an egg to bind, and topped with more panko moistened with butter.)

Here’s the secret. I can almost guarantee you’ll think to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Roast the mushrooms before you cook them! Stem your mushrooms, toss them with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and your favorite seasonings, then put them, gill side up, into a preheated oven. Let them roast until the caps are filled with liquid. Then turn them over on the baking sheet (I like to empty the accumulated liquid from the caps as I turn them and save it. It makes a great addition to soups and sauces) and continue roasting until they’re beautiful brown. Let them cool a bit on a rack and proceed to stuff. Back into the oven until the panko topping is golden and crunchy. No matter what stuffing you use, you can’t miss!

Cheesy CrackersI didn’t poke any holes in this bunch. I like ’em a little puffy and pillowy!

These crackers approximate the most popular brand of cheese crackers in the U.S. (I didn’t actually research that, but the moment you read “cheese crackers,” you knew what brand I was talking about, right? These are great for cuddling up on the sofa with a good book or movie or your S.O., or for making a few batches for your party. Or your friend’s party. Or you can make the crackers and add them to your favorite Chex Mix recipe. They’re very easy, and unleavened, so there’s no waiting for rise times and proofing. And they keep well, if you can hold on to them! These are fun to make, too, and you can involve kids in the prep; it’s kinda like playing with Play-Doh or clay. One caveat: with the exception of a good, sharp cheddar, I wouldn’t use strong cheeses, like bleu or Gorgonzola, or soft cheeses, like Brie or Camembert. The strong cheeses give the crackers an off taste, and they’re kind of stinky. And the soft cheeses make the crackers too soft and moist.

Ingredients

Sorry. In the interest of brevity, something I’m not known for, generally. Don’t worry about the formula, unless you want adjust the recipe amounts. Just make sure the dough isn’t too dry, and have fun! Make sure you’re using baking powder, not baking soda. In addition to the above ingredients, prepare an egg wash by lightly whisking an egg white and a few teaspoons of water. You’ll also need a bit of coarse sea salt or other topping for sprinkling.

Prepare the dough

If you’ve got children, then by all means, let them mix the dough by hand! It’ll be fun for them. Otherwise, a stand mixer, bread machine or food processor will work equally well, although it pays to be a little careful with a food processor. The sharp blades and rapid action can bruise the dough.

This is so simple, it’s really unnecessary to list the steps. Gently whisk the flour, the baking powder and salt, and transfer the mixture to the bread pan of a bread machine or stand mixer (or give it to your kids). Add the butter and cheese and process on the “mix” cycle until the dough starts coming together. Slowly add the water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough is just wet enough to squeeze like Play-Doh. Stop the cycle and remove the dough to your work surface. If you that find the dough is too wet, knead in a few pinches of flour.

Separate the dough into 2 equal parts and mold each piece into a flat rectangular brick, tightly wrap each brick in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. If you have one, place a baking stone on the bottom shelf in the oven. Preheat to 350°F

Odd color, isn’t it. This was my attempt at making a bleu cheese version. The bleu turned the dough green! An unseemly color, and the odor was a bit off putting, too. But these bricks are just the right size and shape.

After the dough has chilled, take one brick and roll it into a large rectangle, as thin as you can make it. Try for about 1/8 of an inch. Cut off the superfluous edges (they’ll burn in the oven anyway) and, using a pastry cutter, a pizza cutter, or a very sharp knife to cut even squares. You’re not working for Nabisco, so don’t worry too much about uniformity! I like to roll out the dough on a piece of parchment paper, cut it, and transfer the whole kit and kaboodle (when was the last time you heard that phrase?) into the oven. If you’re using a baking pan, either butter it or move your parchment paper with the goodies on it to the baking sheet (I just got myself a SilPat, one of those silicone baking sheets. It’s wonderful!).

At this point, if you don’t like your crackers too puffy, use the dull end of wooden skewer to poke a hole in the center of the each cracker. Make an egg wash with the white of one egg and a teaspoon or so of water. Brush the cut crackers with the egg wash, then sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt. Bake the crackers for 14 to 16 minutes, and cool them on a rack. Touch down! Store the cooled crackers in airtight container for up to two weeks, if they last that long!

If your oven’s big enough to accommodate two baking sheets, make both batches at the same time, or store one brick in the fridge for up to three days. Or freeze any remaining dough for up to three months. Thaw the bricks in the fridge overnight and they’ll be ready to roll out and bake in the morning.

So who are you and your family rooting for? New England or Minnesota. I must confess that I don’t even know the difference between the two, except geographically, but I’m compelled to root for the Vikings because I lived in Minneapolis for a few years. On the other hand, I love lobster. Maybe if I root for the Patriots, and they win, they’ll send me a case of Maine lobsters!?! Now that would make Super Sunday special!

Enjoy the game. And remember until the next time, dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Thank you very much for reading. I welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, or just a friendly note. Bon appétit!

Congratulations! It’s a… Pizza!

I can say, with a fair amount of confidence, that most every culture in the world, and throughout history, has had some kind of bread. Feel free to correct me. And every society that has bread, has a version of it that’s topped and baked. Even if you don’t call it pizza, the basic concept is the same. In Japan, they have have a “pizza” that’s really a stuffed pancake, for which you choose your own toppings.

Pizza in America used to be a very specific thing, although there were different types. See “deep dish,” “Sicilian,” “New York style,” “thin crust, ” or any other style. Lately, perhaps from 15 years or so ago, someone decided to give it a posh name. Flatbread. Even better, artisanal flatbread. That singular term can cost you anywhere from five to twenty dollars on top of the pizza’s price, and if Wolfgang Puck’s name is involved, you can get a pizza that costs more than your best pair of shoes.

I guess I would categorize pizza as a leavened flatbread, usually topped with a sauce, cheese, and two or three toppings. But there are now so many “pizzas” these days that don’t fit into that definition. Apparently, pizzas no longer need sauce. Or cheese. Or pepperoni, or any other ingredient that we commonly associate with pizza. The modern pizza crust can be thick or thin, a perfect circle or a ragged, rustic crust, and toppings that make you go hmmmmmm… And purchasing options! Frozen pizza? Thick or thin, self-rising, gluten free, “French bread” pizza; there’s an entire aisle in the supermarket dedicated solely to frozen pizza. I personally don’t like frozen pizza, in spite of its convenience. The edges always seem to get too brown before the middle is cooked.

Then there’s the “take and bake” pizza. Most supermarkets have them, and I know of at least one national chain that does nothing but. They’re prepared on-site but not baked; you do that yourself. Better than frozen, but still a stop-gap, and you have no control over the ingredients or the freshness.

Then there’s delivery. With all of its inherent problems. Will it arrive hot? Will it reach your dining room with the melted cheese and toppings slid to one side, or worse yet, on the pizza box lid? Is your delivery person Charles Manson? And there’s the BIG THREE. You know who I’m talking about. Convenient, cheap, usually prompt, and generally their pizzas taste like cardboard slathered in ketchup and topped with “cheese food” and frozen veggies. I’m lucky, I live in a very large city that has local pizzerias on nearly every corner. They are much higher in quality, but the delivery’s inherent problems persist with mom-and-pop pizza joints, and their pies can be expensive, relatively speaking.

So, what’s left? You could go out for pizza. The pizza’s piping hot, and you can usually get a cold beer or a glass of (cheap) wine, some salad, and you can watch the game while you’re eating. Or even indulge your techie self; a lot of these joints have video arcades. And there’s no clean-up. But ugh! Getting dressed up (or just getting dressed), parking, tipping, and high prices can dull your enthusiasm for a piece of hot bread with some sauce and meat on it.

The best convenient option is to get pre-cooked crust from the supermarket. Pop in your cart as you’re shopping for the ingredients, top the dough and bake. You don’t have to use pizza, either. My favorite is naan, which has become widely available, tortillas for a “thin crust” pizza, or even pita. All convenient, fast, tasty enough for a quick bite, and relatively inexpensive. It’s nothing, nothing like homemade!

But pizza isn’t hard to make at home. It’s time consuming, yes, but most of that time is passive. And there are so many choices available! The world is your oyster (yeah, you can even top your pie with oysters)! And pizza dough freezes really well, so you can make a ton of dough that will be ready for you whenever you want it. Thaw, top, and bake, and you’ve got a snack for one, or a feast for ten. You control the ingredients, the heat, and who gets the first slice. (Spoiler alert: the pizza chef gets it, often before the pizza makes it to the table. After all, ya gotta taste before you serve!)

There was an Italian restaurant in, of all places, Osaka. Japan. They had the best pizza. It was an airy crust, and topped simply with olives, garlic, and anchovy (not everyone hates ’em. Otherwise, why does every pizzeria offer them as a topping?). I’ve spent many hours trying to find a similar ‘za here, but nothing came close. So, into the kitchen, armed with cookbooks, and pantry and fridge stocked with all the right stuff, I decided I’d try it. I only failed miserably a few times. Most every other pie I created was edible, even tasty, but nothing came close to my Japanese pizza.

It turns out that using a preferment is key to a delicious pizza. So I offer you the following. You’ve gotta plan ahead, though. A pizza made with a preferment can take up to a whole 24 hours. Some pro bakers even suggest forty eight to to seventy two hours to rise! Of course, you could just throw the basic ingredients into a bread mixer, shape the pie and top it. But that will take you at least three hours, anyway, and the crust will be “good’ at best. And using a preferment cuts down on the amount of yeast you’ll use, so the crust, not the yeast, will be the star taste.

This is a basic pizza dough recipe. All it has are five ingredients: Flour, water, yeast, salt, and olive oil. You can add a tablespoon of sugar if you’d like, but it’s not necessary. You can sub flat beer for some of the water (not all of it). You can add cheese to the dough, or your favorite blend of spices (easy on the garlic, though. It can impede the yeast). You can even experiment with different flours and flour mixtures. The possibilities are, as they say, infinite. Here is the formula, and the recipe that followed:

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH WITH BIGA

This chart shows the formula that recipe comes from. You can bake directly from the formula, and making adjustments to amounts or ingredients is easy!

Recommended Equipment

  • Bread machine or stand mixer
  • Baking stone
  • Parchment paper
  • Pizza peel

Ingredients

  • All purpose flour 250g (8.8oz) plus more to adjust the dough, and for dusting your work surface.
  • “00” or bread flour 100g (3.5oz)
  • Water 245g (8.6oz) plus a bit more for adjusting the dough’s consistency, if necessary.
  • Bread machine or instant yeast 7g (.2oz). A pinch of this amount will be used in the biga, about 1g.
  • Salt 10g (.35oz)
  • Olive oil 28g (1oz)

Making the biga

Here’s my biga just before I use it in the dough. The mottled and bubbly surface means that the yeast has been diligently working all night!

  1. Combine the two flours well with a whisk or fork.
  2. Measure 105g (3.7oz) of the four mixture into a medium glass or clear plastic bowl. Reserve the rest of the flour mix in a sealed container or ziplock bag. Add a pinch of yeast, and whisk again lightly to combine.
  3. Measure 95g (3.4oz) of water and microwave it for just about ten seconds. The water should be warmer than room temperature, but not hot, between 90° and 100°F.
  4. Pour the warm water into the flour and yeast mixture and stir well to combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. The oven, if you’re not using it for other things, is perfect. Just don’t forget that it’s in there!
  5. Pour a glass of wine and binge watch your favorite series, or go to bed. This puppy’s gonna be fermenting for 6 to 8 hours, up to 12!

Prepping the Dough

I use a bread machine to knead and raise the dough. The order in which they are added to the machine is recommended by the manufacturer. If you use a stand mixer or your hands, adjust the order of the ingredients as necessary. My bread machine dough cycle includes a 12 minute initial mix, followed by a 5 minute rest, an 8 minute knead, a twenty five minute rise, a brief stir down and a final rise of 40 minutes.

  1. The biga should have risen to about double the size and have a bubbly surface. Scrape the biga gently into the bread pan. Don’t forget to secure the paddle in the bread pan before you add the biga. Learning from other people’s mistakes (mine, in this case) is the best lesson!
  2. Heat the remaining water (150g, 5.3oz) to about 90°F and add it to the bread pan. Add the remaining flour mix, and make two little valleys. Add the salt to one and the yeast to other. Keeping the yeast and salt separate ensures that the salt doesn’t impede the yeast’s action. Set the machine to the “dough” cycle and engage the cycle. Check the dough towards the end of the first mix. If the dough is dry and not coming together, add water, a few drops at a time. If the dough seems too wet, add a few pinches of flour at a time until it firms. The dough will be wet and sticky. Only add flour if the dough is sticking too much to the sides of the pan.
  3. At the start of the second knead, very slowly add the olive oil, waiting before each addition to let the oil incorporate fully into the dough. It will look like a greasy mess. That’s okay. Resist the urge to add more flour, unless the dough is absolutely soupy. The wetter the dough, the crisper the crust! Well, usually. I highly recommend prepping your toppings well ahead of proofing the dough. You want them to be ready when the dough is. Mise en place, people!

Proofing and Baking

  1. Place a baking stone on the second lowest rack in the oven. Most recipes I researched recommend the bottom rack, but at some point, you’re gonna need to pull the rack out, and my oven doesn’t leave enough room to get ahold of the rack without getting third degree burns! With the stone in place, pre-heat the oven to 500°F, or as hot as it will go. Professional pizza ovens can reach temperatures of up to a whopping 1,000°F. I’m betting that yours doesn’t, right? Ideally the oven should be heated for at least an hour before baking, to ensure that stone is evenly heated and screaming hot.
  2. Lightly oil a large glass bowl, and dust your surface lightly with flour.
  3. Turn the proofed dough onto your work surface. Give a few good kneads to degas it, then form it into a ball, tucking the dough under and pinching it into seam. At this point you can wrap the dough, or any portion of it, tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze it. Refrigerated, it’ll keep for up to three days, and frozen dough will keep for up to 3 months. Bring the dough to room temp and proof it before baking.
  4. Place the ball in the oiled bowl, turn it once to coat the dough with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof. This final proofing can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending upon a variety of factors, so rely on your senses, not a kitchen timer, to determine when it’s ready. It should be doubled in bulk and shiny. When you poke it, the dent should remain for a few moments before slowly rebounding, and the dough should feel moist and a bit sticky.

The rest is kind of up to you, dear readers! You can make a traditional pizza, or form the dough into buns, or make calzones, or pizza bites stuffed with cheese, or… As you can see, the possibilities go far beyond a ‘za with double cheese and pepperoni! I won’t even offer any suggestions. A few tips, however.

Tips

Use extreme caution when placing the dough in the oven, and when removing it. I like to brush my pie’s outer crust with olive about halfway through baking, and it’s a bit scary! And I’m not even a thrill seeker.

The high heat of the oven demands a short baking time, ten to fifteen minutes. Watch carefully (without opening the oven too much), because the crust can go from golden brown to scorched in very little time.

If you find that cheese is bubbling before the crust is even brown, next time, try freezing the cheese for thirty minutes. Cold cheese will allow the dough to catch up.

If you’re using meat or poultry as a topping, it’s important to pre-cook it, as the high heat of the oven won’t give either a chance to cook properly. Shrimp, clams, crab, and white flesh fish will benefit by par-cooking them, but the high heat will cook them, so it’s not necessary. And yes, friends, seafood pizza is common all over, except here. I love shrimp pizza!

I highly recommend building your pizza on a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour or cornmeal, and then transferring it to the oven, parchment and all, using a pizza peel. It’s takes a bit of risk out of the whole drama!

Give the pizza a couple of minutes to cool before slicing and serving. It allows the cheese to set, and also prevents you from getting the roof of your mouth scorched!

If you don’t have a baking stone, a.k.a. pizza stone, you can use a large cast iron griddle or a baking tray turned upside down to allow the pizza to slide off easily. Just make sure your baking tray can withstand high heat.

I didn’t have any sauce on hand for this puppy, so I used sliced tomatoes seasoned with oregano, thyme, basil, and salt. I added a thin layer of cheese under the tomatoes to protect the pie from getting soggy

Finally…

If I had to choose only one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would probably be the magnificent pizza. It’s a meal in itself, and I could fudge the “only one thing” by topping each pizza differently. No matter what you put on it, it’s still pizza, right?

Leave a comment if you try this recipe! Let me know how you tweaked it, how it tasted, or if I’ve made any egregious mistakes in my recipe. Enjoy your ‘za, dudes, and in the meantime; dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like EVERYONE’S eating!

Bon appetít! And thanks for reading!

Kitchen Miracles; God is in the Details¡

I had an epiphany this last weekend, a small one, and probably not original, but I thought I’d share it with you anyway. And I’ll try not to wax religious. You folks all worship who want, when you want and where you want, or don’t worship at all. Whatever brings you peace in times of chaos, comfort when you’re grieving, and the simple joy of belonging to a community.

I was raised Jewish, nominally. My parents both grew up in orthodox households. When they married, I think they both just said “why do we have to do this?” and just kind of gave it up. Not God; just all the rituals. My dad and mom both identified strongly as Jewish, and at the core of their lives were the basic tenets that make up Judaism; charity, education, and hard work. I trained for my bar- Mitzvah, from age ten to thirteen, and I think that was the only time my family attended services regularly.

So, aside from the attendant Hebrew school and Sunday school, I was never really indoctrinated into religion. I consequently had a very vague idea of who, or what, God was. Most of my friends were Catholic, and that probably didn’t help.

And then I discovered cooking. And canning. And baking. And this last weekend I realized God wasn’t somewhere in the heavens. God’s in the details! God didn’t create the earth, but S/he did create a universe in which the earth is possible! And God didn’t create bread, either, just a universe in which bread is possible. And that’s the miracle! When you mix flour and water, salt and yeast together, and heat it, you get bread! Every time! Flour and butter, 1:1, stirred in a saucepan never fails to make roux (unless you burn it), and cold meat in a screaming hot skillet will give you a char, guaranteed. God didn’t create humankind; that is, to me, an absurd notion, but God did create a universe where humanity is possible. When you or I make a loaf of bread, we’re paying attention to those details, lovingly coaxing out a wondrous loaf from four humble ingredients. So, when you bake bread, you’re worshipping (you atheists are more than welcome to just call it “baking.” That’s fine.) God left a long long time ago. Maybe to create another universe. Or maybe just to get a nice piece of homemade, hot buttered bread and some coffee!

Wow, that was one long-winded epiphany for being such a small one. Let’s get to the miracle, shall we?

About Dutch Oven Bread

Bread baked in a Dutch oven is often called ” no knead bread,” because there is very little handling of the bread. The dough is extremely moist, even wet, but you won’t be handling it much, and the moisture is the most crucial ingredient in a Dutch oven bread; it steams the bread, keeping the crust hydrated and slightly cooler, and creates those lovely holes that are characteristic of a rustic loaf. You get a very thin, crackly crust, but the interior is moist and soft, like the best bakery French bread.

Dutch oven bread is not a bread one makes on an impulse. Although it’s not on the ingredient list, patience is going to be the most critical addition to this recipe (and love, of course). The rise is slow, very slow; and so is the proof. And then there’s the cooling time (which, as tempting as it is to cut into a hot, crackling, aromatic loaf) is necessary to let the loaf set; cut into it too soon and you’ll be releasing gasses and moisture that the loaf needs to set properly.

Professional baker and author Jim Lahey claims to have invented Dutch oven bread. I think that’s a bit of a stretch, because humans have been baking bread in covered pots since before recorded history. But it’s an excellent book, with a lot of “aha” moments, especially for novice bakers like me. The book is My Bread; The Revolutionary No-Knead, No-work Method. It’s available on Amazon, new or used, and a friend of mine said she found a copy at the library. It’s well worth the dough (groan) if you’re looking for something to study, rather than a mere bundle of recipes. In fact, the recipes for Dutch oven bread are rather redundant (the last half of the book is about shaped loaves baked on a tray), but the info is strong and the photographs are a lesson in themselves. The other cookbooks I found were written for campers. They dealt a lot with the proper amount of coals and their placement, minutiae I have no patience with or need for, as my idea of camping is staying at a Motel 6!

Aside from the usual baking equipment, you will need a Dutch oven. If you don’t have one yet, and this method of bread baking appeals to you, you will have the best results with a cast iron Dutch oven, or an enameled cast iron oven, and it should be at least 4 1/2 quarts. If it doesn’t have a lid, you can seal the oven with heavy duty aluminum foil (and risk third degree burns as you try to affix the foil to a screaming hot pot), but if you’re going to purchase one, get one with a lid! The enameled ovens are more expensive than the cast iron ovens by magnitudes. I got the above 7 quart Lodge Dutch oven, apparently a very respectable brand, for less than $50. Go to Amazon or Walmart, there’s a myriad of choices. I’ve had several people tell me to shop around on weekends at garage and yard sales, or flea markets – you can sometimes find an heirloom pot for a song!

Basic Dutch Oven Bread

Formula and Ingredients

I won’t belabor this, but baking using weight measurements is far more accurate than measuring by volume. Kitchen scales are widely available and inexpensive. It’s very frustrating to me when professional bakers rave about the importance of weighing as opposed to measuring, then publish their recipes without weights or bakers’ percentages. I’ve added the volume measurements here for your convenience, but I do encourage you to use the weights and formula. Once you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll wonder why you ever did it the “other” way!

Using the above table, decide what size loaf you’d like. As you can see, I decided on a 1 1/2 to 2 pound loaf. Once you’ve decided the amount of flour you want to use, the rest is easy math. Flour is always 100%. The rest of the ingredients are a percentage of the total flour. The above table gives us the following recipe. Of course, if you have a kitchen scale, you can do away with volume measurements altogether. (Unless you have a wicked accurate and sensitive kitchen scale, the volume measurement for tiny amounts serves just as well as the weight measurement.)

  • 3 cups Bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Instant or bread machine yeast

As you can see, a formula allows you to size the recipe, change or modify the ingredients, or even tweak the formula, depending on the time of year, or the temperature and humidity of your kitchen.

How to Bake it

  1. In a large glass bowl, add the dry ingredients and lightly mix them with a whisk or fork until combined.
  2. Add the water to the combined dry ingredients slowly, and mix together until combined. The raw dough should be wetter than a standard bread dough. Don’t worry. If the dough seems too dry, add a teaspoon of water at a time, until the mixture is almost (but not quite) a batter.
  3. Scrape the sides of the bowl down with a spatula, cover tightly with plastic wrap. Put the bowl in a warm place, and let it rise for at least 12 hours and up to 18 hours. That’s right, folks! At least 12 hours! Binge watch your favorite show, read a book, take a nap, or clean up the kitchen. The sloth-like rise develops flavor and structure.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and give it a few turns. The dough will be sticky and wet. Flour your hands, or lightly oil them.
  5. Shape the dough into a ball and place, seam side up, into a new, slightly oiled glass bowl, lightly spritz the top of the dough with olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it is doubled in bulk. Find another book or magazine, dear readers, or a good movie. This’ll take up to two hours.
  6. About 30 minutes before the dough has fully proofed, set the oven rack to the lowest position, put your Dutch oven, covered, into the oven, and pre-heat the oven to 450°F.
  7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper, and score the dough with a sharp knife. The pattern is up to you, but don’t forget to do it! The scoring lets steam escape during the initial baking.
  8. Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven. It will be extremely hot. Remove the lid. Grab the parchment paper by its corners and transfer the dough to the Dutch oven. Replace the lid, and put it in the oven.
  9. After about 20 minutes, remove the lid from the Dutch oven. The loaf should look like one of those “bake-at-home” breads you buy at the grocery store. Continue to bake, uncovered, until the crust is anywhere from golden brown to a dark, rich ochre color. The internal temperature should be between 200°F and 210°F. A meat thermometer will eliminate the guesswork.
  10. Remove the Dutch oven and place it on a heatproof surface and allow to cool slightly. Again, very carefully, turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool until you can rest a clean hand on the loaf without discomfort, or until the internal temperature of the loaf is under 140°F. Again, this cooling step is essential to develop the bread)s structure.
  11. DIG IN!!!!

I’ve gotta make a full disclosure here. I over- hydrated this dough. The loaf consequently came out bigger and more flat than I envisioned, and the bottom crust was a bit dense and tough. This only illustrates what a forgiving technique this is for making bread, because despite my errors, the bread is not only edible, it’s nearly gone! My blog was never meant to be a textbook, or a cookbook (maybe that’ll happen one day…), but a chronicle of my culinary journey. And who likes to travel alone, right?

Speaking of not traveling alone, I’d like to introduce you to a few websites that I’ve discovered in the course of my self-directed studies. All three of these websites are forum style, like the old “bulletin boards” of the 80s, and all three are very active. I’ve gotten a lot of help and gleaned a lot of info from the friendly members, many of whom are professional chefs. And they’re all free to join!

  • The Fresh Loaf is an excellent source is great for any baking questions you might have, or to share your baking recipes.
  • Discuss Cooking is a lively site that has subjects to anything cooking related, and sometimes not related, to cooking.
  • Chef Talk is a general cooking forum as well. If you are looking to join the culinary world professionally, or are considering formal culinary training, several of the forums can address your questions. This is the most likely place to get your cooking questions answered by a professional chef or baker, if you’re lucky that is!

If you do surf on over, leave a message for me! I’m registered on all three sites as justjoel59.

So please continue with me on my journey, and don’t hesitate to make comments along the way!

In the meantime, dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Bon appétit my friends!

Never Buy Another Supermarket Loaf!

And wait! If you order now…

Just kidding. But if you can master this bread, you may really not have to buy supermarket bread anymore!

When I lived in Japan, it was an almost everyday ritual to go to a local kissaten (coffee shop), and have a slice of “butter jam toast” and a cup of strong, sweet coffee (iced in the summer). Butter jam toast is exactly what it sounds like – toast slathered with butter and strawberry jam (it seemed like that’s the only kind of jam the Japanese know). What made it special (aside from that aromatic, delicious coffee) was the bread. Japanese Bread is a whole ‘nutha animal from American white bread. The loaves are perfectly square and sold in 4, 6, and 8 slice packages. The loaves are the same size, so the size of the slice depends on the slice count; the 4 slice loaves have bigger thicker slices than the 8 slice loaves. The real difference is the crumb, though. Shokupan ( literal translation: meal bread) is a bit denser and sweeter than American sandwich bread. It’s, well, heavy. And Japanese home kitchens rarely have a toaster; home cooks rely on toaster ovens, so the thickness of the slice isn’t an issue. I wanted to post an image of commercially produced shokupan, but the only images I came up with were of home-baked loaves. Rats! Here’s a pic of my own creation, though.

The main difference between shokupan and American sandwich bread is that the Japanese bread uses a starter. I have an incomplete post all about starters saved to draft, but here it is a nutshell. Western bakers use starters, or preferments, to add structure and taste to a loaf. Starters also preserve the bread, adding a few days to its shelf life.

The most common starters in Western baking are: sourdough, which is a whole other subject in and of itself. It sparks heated debates, and recipes for the starters are closely guarded. Sourdough starters also take a long, long time to develop, and you have to feed them. I have commitment issues, so I won’t be making sourdough soon. Biga is used by Italian bakers to make their ciabatta and focaccia. It’s a stiff preferment that takes about 12-14 hours to develop. Poolish, which, as the name suggests, originated in Poland, but is mainly used by French bakers for their baguettes. It is wetter than a biga, but takes about the same amount of time to develop. And then there is the pâté fermenteé, which is basically just a reserved piece of dough from the previous loaf, added to your fresh dough. This method is great for those who back the same loaf several times a week. I haven’t tried it for shokupan yet, but I think I’ll be baking it often, so I’m gonna look into this further.

The starter used in shokupan is called a tangjhon, or water roux. The word is Chinese, but it is commonly thought that it originated in Japan. It’s technically not a roux, as it contains no fat and doesn’t darken. It’s more of a slurry. You cook the slurry over medium-low heat, and at about 150°F, it magically transforms into a pudding-like consistency. It makes for a soft, pillowy crumb that’s just a bit dense, and very moist. And starting with a tangjhon has the added benefit of keeping the bread fresh longer.

Before I share my recipe, I have to warn you. I’m starting to bake using baker’s percentages. That means weighing everything and doing math (ugh). It’s not hard math though, and the calculator is my friend! I have chosen to use metric, rather than avoirdupois, because the math is that much easier. It also makes it easy to tweak existing recipes, increase or decrease the loaf size, and create your own recipes easily. Basically, a baker’s formula consists of ingredients that are a percentage of the total flour weight. Flour is always 100%. Hydration is usually 60% to 70%. Salt is 2% and yeast is 1% to 2percent, usually somewhere in between. (I’m still trying to figure out the common ratios for eggs, sugar, and butter. I’ll let you know!). I know this will be inconvenient for American bakers, who stubbornly hold on to their ounces and pounds. If you’re one of those diehards, here’s a handy little tool to help you convert from grams to ounces: Metric Converter I didn’t add in the volume measurements, every chef in the world, literally, will tell you how important weighing ingredients is in baking (and then of course write their recipes with volume measurements). So, go get yourself a digital kitchen scale! They’re inexpensive and oh so useful.

I’ve gone on long enough, though. It’s time for the recipe!

Japanese Shokupan for Bread Machines

I used several different recipes to research this and adapt it to the bread maker, because that’s how I make my bread. It’s simple to reverse engineer, though, if you don’t have a bread machine or prefer to do things by hand. Only the order of the ingredients will be different.

Ingredients

  • Bread flour 500g (100%): 34g (6.8%) for the tangjhon, 446g (93.2%) for the dough plus extra for to add to the dough, if needed, and to dust your work surface.
  • 350g water (70%): 175g (50%) for the tangjhon, 175g (50%) for the dough
  • Kosher Salt (1.6%) 8g
  • Active Dry Yeast (1.6%) 8 grams
  • Granulated Sugar (7%) 35g
  • Powdered milk (3.3%) 17g
  • Unsalted butter (7%) 35g, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • One glass of wine, or a cocktail, to take your mind off whether the dough will rise or not!

Instructions

  • Lightly whisk the 446g of flour, sugar, and powdered milk together
  • Add the 34g of flour and 175g of water for the tangjhon to a small sauce pan. Whisk until thoroughly combined and silky. Heat over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the slurry achieves a pudding-like texture. The whisk should leave streaks in the mixture.
  • Add the mixture to the bread pan with the remaining 175g of water, the salt (use room temp spring water, it will cool the tangjhon down a bit, so as not to kill the yeast), and the melted cooled butter. Engage the “mix” cycle and mix for a minute or two, then turn the machine off (if your machine doesn’t have a mix cycle, you can just do this by hand, in a bowl, then add it to the bread pan).
  • Gently add the flour mixture to the bread pan. Make a small indentation in the flour and add the yeast. Set the machine for the “dough” cycle, and engage. Towards the end of the first knead, check the dough. It should be a bit wet and tacky. If the dough is sticking to the sides of the pan, add flour in pinches until it comes together. If the dough is flaky and dry, add water a bit at a time. Then let the machine do it’s job!
  • When the cycle is done, turn the dough onto a lightly floured, clean workspace. Deflate it a bit and form a ball. Place the ball in a lightly oiled glass bowl and turn once to coat the whole ball. Use a neutral oil, like canola, grape seed, or sunflower oil. Cover the bowl with a clean, lint-free dishcloth.
  • Put a mug of water into the microwave. (Yes, Virginia, the microwave). Heat it on “high” for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Place the bowl in the microwave with the steaming mug, close the door, and let the dough rise to double its size.
  • Remove the dough from the microwave (but leave the mug), and turn it out onto your floured surface. Roll it out gently to about a 9″ by 9″ square. Fold the square in thirds, like a business letter. Then in half again, karate chopping the center. Working from one end, seal the end and then start pinching the seam closed. Finish by sealing the other end. You should have a thick log about 10″ to 12″ long.
  • Using both hands, pick up the dough from each end, like a slinky. Place the dough in the pan, ends down and under, and gently shape the dough to the pan. Cover the pan again with the dish towel.
  • Reheat the water in the microwave and place the pan in the nice, steamy oven for the final proof. Preheat the oven (the real oven, not the microwave) to 350°F. If you’re using a Pullman loaf pan to get that perfect square (actually, in Pullman pan it’s more of a rectangle), you only want the dough to rise to about 1/2″ under the lip of the pan, so you easily get the lid on, and there’ll be room for that explosive oven rise. If you’re using a standard bread pan, let it rise until the dough is just peeping over the lip.
  • Put the pan in the oven (if you’re using a Pullman, grease the pan lid well,before sliding it on.) Bake until the top is golden brown and the bread’s internal temp is 200° to 210°F, twenty to thirty minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the oven (if you haven’t done so already, remove the lid from the Pullman) and set on a rack to cool slightly before removing the bread from the pan. After about 10 minutes turn the bread onto the rack and continue cooling. The gluten firms up and solidifies at about 140°F, so don’t give in to the urge to cut right in! If the bread’s too hot, it’ll be mushy!

Shokupan will stay fresh (moist and not stale) in a plastic bag or bread box on your counter for 3 to 4 days. It freezes well too. Slice the bread and store it in the freezer tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, and remove and thaw individual slices as you need them.

Please share with me if you make this bread! There’s plenty of room for tweaks and variations! Comments, too, are always welcome, even critiques and corrections (as long as they’re not nasty).

Until next time, Dance as if no one’s watching, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Bon appétit!

I borrowed from several recipes and websites. All of the information was essential and useful, but I really relied on Jenni Field’s recipe for Pan Au Lait. You can find her recipe, along with excellent commentary, at Jenni Fields’ Fearless in The kitchen. If you’re an aspiring baker, this is one site to bookmark!

Happy Mistakes

If you’ve read my last couple of posts, you’ll know that, since I got my bread machine, baking has been my obsession. I never saw myself as a baker, for good reason; most of my baked goods were unmitigated disasters. My mom was definitely not a baker. She didn’t even believe in pre-heating the oven, and once had a Sarah Lee frozen cherry pie explode because of it. And I don’t think I ever had home-baked cookies.

The bread maker changed everything. I can now make stunning, if slightly tall, loaves of just about any bread I care to make. I can even program it so that I have a fresh, warm, aromatic loaf when I wake up! Better living through technology, right? And if I want a loaf not bread-machine-shaped, I can use the machine to do all the hard work and just do the fun stuff: shaping the loaves, or rolls, or pizza and then baking it in the oven (that can, at times, be problematic. My oven is a cheap apartment appliance, and it’s temperatures tend to be erratic).

Lately, I’ve been concentrating on rolls. I have a counter full of “monkey bread.” If you’re not familiar with that term, you probably know it as “pull-apart” bread. I’ve got sweet, savory, and one that wasn’t even fit for consumption. I’ve thrown more bread away than is morally acceptable. And cookbooks! I’ve got zero space for even a single issue of Bon Appétit in my kitchen, let alone a shelf full of cooking tomes, so I get everything on Kindle. Some of those books are almost as expensive as their hardcover editions! I now have everything from Julia Child to James Beard in my little digital library.

I had a very happy moment or two yesterday. It was late to start baking, but I was itching to try making stuffed pretzel bites. (I’ve tried making actual pretzels, but alas, my pretzel-twisting skills are non-existent.) Pretzels stuffed with cheese doesn’t take a degree in molecular biology.

I had a recipe for the dough, which is just basically dough. Flour, liquid, salt, sugar, and yeast will end up being bread if you just mix it together and through it on a hot sidewalk in July. It won’t be good bread, but technically it will be bread. My recipe for pretzel dough is no exception, but for the fact that it calls for an egg, separated; yolk for the dough, white for the wash.

I had one egg in my fridge. It was cracked. So I just gave up.

Of course I didn’t! I just did an hour of research to find what I could substitute for that egg. I could have gone to the grocery store in half that time! But I managed to find a substitute for the egg. I was skeptical. I’m still studying the science of bread, and I’m still not really sure why egg is an important ingredient in some breads. And 2 tablespoons of water, a tablespoon of oil, and a half teaspoon of baking powder just didn’t seem to be sufficient to substitute for the mightiest of ingredients. It also adds quite a bit of liquid to the recipe, and that kind of throws a wrench into the “baker’s ratio.” Indeed, my dough was wet, sticky, and came out of the bread maker like a slimy alien escaping from a boxy space pod! It rose to about triple its size. I literally had to pour it out of the machine onto my board. But a well-floured board and a quick final knead were enough to make the dough workable. The egg was was problematic. The egg hack didn’t look too appetizing to use as a wash, and I was reluctant to add more baking powder, so I used clarified butter. The rolls are missing that pretzel sheen, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do! The last thing was worrying about the cheese melting into the bread. It’s gonna happen. But I found a tip on a blogger’s post that saved the day. Freeze the cheese! There’s still a little seepage, but the end result was beyond my wildest, flour-dusted dreams!

I ended up with the lightest, airy, tangy little bites than I could have hoped for. Perfect with mustard, or any other dipping sauce, these little gems are not your standard bar fare!

Here are my bad boys just before I took them out

And here they are, just out of the oven

And here’s how I made them:

GARLICKY CHEESE PRETZEL ROLLS

  • 1 1/4 cups of water, heated to between 80°-90° F
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon neutral oil, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, whisked. You can also use an egg yolk but I think this mixture was the force that drove such a fantastic rise
  • 3 1/2 cups (455 grams) of bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • Whole Wheat flour as needed, about 1/4 cup

Add the above ingredients except the whole wheat flour to your bread machine’s pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer. For most bread machines, the liquid ingredients and the salt are added first, flour next. Make a small hollow in the middle of the flour and add the yeast. The yeast should not come into contact with the liquid or the salt. Set the machine for the “dough” cycle. The dough cycle kneads and proofs the dough for you. The final prep, shaping, and baking are up to you! Most dough cycles run 90 minutes. After the first knead, check the dough. If it feels really tacky and wet, and is sticking to the sides of the bread pan, add a bit of whole wheat flour, a pinch at a time, until the dough is still tacky, but has resilience when you poke it. If the dough is too dry, add some lukewarm water, a teaspoon at a time, until the desired texture is reached. Do not add flour or water to the dough after the second knead. If the dough still looks overly tacky, you’ll remedy that in the final punch-down.

While the bread machine is doing its magic, prepare the following:

  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, or the cheese of your choice, cubed into 1/4 inch squares. Don’t be fussy though! I suggest harder cheese, as it will melt into the dough less, and leave a delicious, tangy pocket in the middle of roll. Wrap the cubes in plastic and put them in the freezer, not just to chill. Freeze ’em, it’ll help retard their melting into the dough.
  • About 1 tablespoons of ghee, or clarified butter. Ghee has become available, jarred, at my local supermarket. It’s a real time saver, and I don’t have to mess around clarifying butter.
  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt.Don’t go buy garlic salt unless you use it regularly. You can make your own; 1 part garlic powder to 3 parts kosher salt, well blended with a fork or a whisk
  • Pre-heat the oven to 400° F
  • Fill a large pot with water (about 4 quarts) and a scant 1/2 cup of baking powder. When you start forming the pretzel bites, turn the heat on to high and bring to a rolling boil
  • Prepare a baking pan with either a SilPat (gotta love those things!), or a lightly oiled piece of parchment paper.
  • A cutting board or pastry slab, dusted liberally with whole wheat flour. I like using whole wheat flour for the dusting and kneading. It lends a nutty, sweet flavor to the dough, but there isn’t enough to hinder the final rising or make the dough dense and tough
  • A very sharp slicing knife, or a bench scraper, or a pizza cutter, for dividing the dough
  • A rolling pin An empty wine bottle works great if you haven’t got one!

Now the fun begins!

When the dough cycle is complete, remove the dough (or spill it out!) from the machine onto a generously floured surface. Knead it a few times to incorporate some of the whole wheat flour into the dough and make it more workable. Cut the dough into four equal pieces. If you don’t have a kitchen scale (I highly suggest getting one as it makes baking so much easier), just eyeball it. At this point, if you’re only cooking for two, you can wrap two of the portions tightly in plastic wrap and freeze them. They’ll keep for 2 to 3 months in the freezer; just defrost them in the fridge overnight and form your rolls.

Decide how many rolls you want, and what size you want them to be. More rolls equals smaller rolls. I used two of the sections and froze the other two. I divided each section in half and each half section into four pieces.

Lightly press a cube of cheese into the center of each piece of dough, then form the dough around the cheese, pinching the seam at the bottom to seal it.

When you’ve finished shaping the rolls, the water/baking soda mix should be well into a rolling boil. Using a spider or slotted spoon, gently lower the rolls into the bath 4 at a time. Move them around gently in the bath for 20 seconds (use the “Mississippi” counting method, it’s very scientifical!), then remove them to a paper towel. When all the rolls have “bathed” and the excess moisture has left the scene, place the rolls on the prepared baking sheet. The rolls should not be touching.

Now, do you want shiny rolls or buttery rolls? If you want them shiny, more pretzel-like, brush each roll with an egg wash: 1 large egg white lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water. If you opt for the buttery version, brush each roll with clarified butter or ghee. Sprinkle the tops of the rolls with the garlic salt, or the topping of your choice, pop the tray into the oven (you DID preheat it, right?) and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the rolls are brown and the crusts have cracked just a little. Remove from the oven and, if you have the patience of Job, let cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. These rolls are best eaten warm, but are easily reheated with satisfactory results. A 200° oven for a few minutes should have them warmed well and ready to eat! Serve them with a simple marinara sauce, some hot cheese dip, or some deli mustard. Or all three! Your dinner guests will make them disappear very quickly (if you didn’t gobble them all up before you could get them to the table!).

I tried writing this recipe in narrative style, rather than just listing ingredients and steps. If it didn’t work for you, please let me know. And please, let me know how this recipe worked out for you, if you decide to try it! Comments and suggestions are not only welcomed, I encourage them. Don’t be a stranger!

Every time I re-read my posts, I find an error, or something I omitted unintentionally. The pretzel dough recipe and baking instructions are pretty standard information; most pretzel dough recipes that I looked at were so similar that I amalgamated them all. But the tip for freezing cheese was genius. And I got it from Stephanie Ruel’s blog, Follow the Ruels.Thanks for that invaluable tip, Stephanie!

Until we meet again, dance like no one’s watching, but cook like everyone’s eating!

Pizza Bread, Part II, Pizza Babka!

I think I’ve discovered the perfect “pizza bread.” I need search no longer! Well, I’m always open to a better, or different take on any recipe…

The trick is to enhance a basic pizza dough with some herbs and grated cheese, make a filling that entices your palate (be sure to include some cubed hard or semi hard cheese), then shape and bake the dough like you would a babka. I made the mistake of separating the dough in half and making two braids, then adding them side by side in a disposable aluminum bread pan. I really thought that they would kind of, well, merge into a single loaf. I ended up with two smallish loaves, side by side. Not a bad thing, just unexpected.

So here it is dear readers; the pinnacle of “pizza bread.” Call it a “pizza babka” if you like (and if your East European grandma or great aunt won’t slap you!). My apologies if some of the recipe seems a little fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, but the the basic ratios are pretty solid. You may need to tweak the dough with a little extra liquid or a little extra flour during the second knead cycle, depending on the temperature in your kitchen, the humidity, and the environment in your bread maker.

Pizza Babka

For the dough

  • 1 cup flat beer heated to between 80° to 90° F I never got the “flat beer” thing. Who keeps flat beer? If you’ve got beer in your house, it’s most likely not flat! I poured a cup of beer and then whisked the foam out of it.
  • Two tablespoons of good olive oil, plus one to brush on the loaf before baking
  • One teaspoon salt
  • Two tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour (315 grams) and 1/4 cup whole wheat flour (30 grams) The “AP” stands for “all purpose,” but I’m sure you knew that.
  • One teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • One tablespoon dried onions
  • One teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated mozzarella
  • Optional: two teaspoons gluten, to get a better rise.
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • Corn meal for final knead and forming.
  • Two tablespoons melted butter or ghee, for “basting.”
  • Optional: a few teaspoons of sea salt for topping the loaf

Measure or weigh the flours. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the brown sugar, garlic powder, dried onions, pepper, the gluten if you choose to use it, and the grated mozzarella, and whisk until well combined.

Add the warmed (flat) beer, the olive oil, and the salt to the bread pan. Add the flour mix, form a small well in the middle of the flour-mix mound and add the yeast, being careful not to let the yeast and liquids meet.

Set the machine for the “dough” cycle. Check it after the first knead; if it’s too tacky, add a bit of flour a teaspoon at a time. Too dry? Add a teaspoon of liquid (water, or the leftover beer) at a time to moisten the dough.

I never understood why the yeast and liquids have to be separate! As soon as you turn the bread maker on, they get mixed together anyway. And when you use a more traditional method for kneading and proofing, you always mix the yeast, the warmed liquid, and the sugar together first, to activate the yeast! But this is what my bread maker’s manufacturer recommends, and what most bread maker manufacturers recommend. If your bread maker instruction recommends a different order, please follow their recommendations.

While the dough is rising and proofing in the machine, prepare your filling. Heres what I used:

This is where my recipe becomes a bit vague. I ended up with too much filling; I put it in a leftover container and I’m going to use it tomorrow to top an omelet!

  • Marinaded mushrooms, patted dry and finely chopped
  • Roasted, marinated garlic, patted dry and finely chopped
  • Good quality pepperoni, finely diced
  • Marinated sun-dried tomatoes, patted dry and finely chopped
  • Monterey Jack cheese, in 1/4 inch cubes and grated mozzarella, dredged in 1 tablespoon of AP flour
  • Tomato paste

After dredging the cheeses in flour, mix the first five ingredients together. Reserve the tomato paste to spread on the rolled out dough.

Assembly

Generously grease a standard loaf pan with olive oil.

When the dough cycle has finished, remove the dough to a countertop or smooth cutting board dusted liberally with corn meal. Give the dough a few turns to incorporate some of the corn meal, and form it into a long rectangle.

Preheat the oven to 400°

Now it’s up to you!

Divide the dough into two or three equal parts.

For two parts: roll each piece of the dough into a rectangle. You needn’t be too fussy about the shape, but make every effort to keep a uniform thickness. Cut each roll in half with a pizza cutter or very sharp knife. Keeping the cut sides up, braid the four pieces together, pinching and sealing the ends. Squish it just enough to fit into the loaf pan. Or, twist each cut section separately, and put them side-by-side in the loaf pan. The latter will give you two small loaves, as pictured, perfect for snacking or including in the picnic or lunch box. This is very messy; but it’s fun. Get the kids involved!

If you choose to separate the dough into three sections, after filling and rolling the dough sections, twist each section (like a dish rag, but gently, gently!) but don’t cut them; just braid the twisted rolls together and arrange them in the loaf pan. (Okay, you can cut them if you want to, and follow the above directions to braid them, cut side always facing up.)

You can also just roll the entire dough into a rectangle, stuff it, roll the whole thing up, twist it, and arrange it in a greased bread pan, bundt pan, or springform pan. I like the springform pan; it creates a beautiful loaf that’s easy to remove and present.

Whichever presentation you choose, brush the formed loaf with the reserved tablespoon of olive oil, and bake the bread at 400° F for about thirty minutes, depending on your oven. Use an instant-read digital thermometer; the internal temp should be at about 190° F, but it will continue to cook a bit after you take it out of the oven. About fifteen minutes into the baking, brush the top of the loaf with ghee (clarified butter) or unsalted butter. I prefer the ghee, because it doesn’t burn as easily. Brush the loaf again just before you remove it from the oven. You can actually brush the loaf as many times as you want, but too much butter may cause the top of the loaf to brown too rapidly, or even burn!

Remove the loaf from the oven and place it on a wire rack, covered with a damp kitchen towel (that’s damp, not wet!) and let cool for twenty to thirty minutes before devouring!

Please let me know if you make any improvements or tweaks! I love feedback!

In the meantime, dance like no one’s watching, and cook like everyone’s eating! Best wishes to you for this holiday season, regardless of which holiday you may be celebrating!