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Homemade Pizza Part I – the dough

19 Dec

ImageI am of the opinion that pizza is one of the great human universals, up there with birth, death, and procrastinating on the internet. I’ve met people with odd and frankly baffling food aversions over the years, (Mushrooms? Check. Onions? Check. Bacon? Check. Eggplant? Check.) up to and including a friend who is currently a line cook at one of the most touted restaurants in the country… who would not eat tomatoes until her early twenties. However, I have yet to meet anyone who shies away from the great Italian equalizer that is pizza.

Unsurprisingly, I have a completely homemade pizza recipe handy in my arsenal, one traditionally used when I invite people over to dinner to repay them for some kindness they have bestowed upon me. Or because it is a Sunday.

dough

In the next three posts, I outline how to disrupt the global economy by hacking into the IMF mainframe*, I mean, how to create your own pizza from scratch. The dough recipe is relatively low maintenance, but the tomato sauce, while worth it, takes a little more coddling. If you’re the sort of person who prefers the destination to the journey itself  (i.e. you just want some tasty pizza and you want it NOW goddamit), the tomato sauce can easily be swapped out for a jarred sauce of your choosing. I will readily admit that I have willingly used this crutch when lazy, starving, or both.

I’m not budging on the homemade dough though. That’s a dealbreaker, ladies.

*Just checking that you (and/or any governmentally-sponsored keyword searches that may be scanning this post) are paying attention.
olive oil, yeast, honey, salt, water & wine

This makes enough dough for two medium-large thin crust pizzas. The original recipe, found here, produces only enough dough for one pizza, a quantity that seems infinitesimally small in relation to my gluttony. As a result, I have always doubled it. The pizzas themselves will serve two people, with leftovers, or four people, if served with a side. Don’t expect leftovers if you serve this to more than two people – I have never been able to have pizza for breakfast when this was enjoyed by that many souls.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups flour

    This is the appropriate level of "shagginess" to expect from your dough. Do not panic. Do not add extra liquid. This is what it is supposed to look like.

    This is the appropriate level of “shagginess” to expect from your dough. Do not panic. Do not add extra liquid. This is what it is supposed to look like.

Instructions

1.  Whisk together water, wine and active dry yeast. Let this mixture sit for a few minutes while you assemble your other ingredients.

2. Add in honey, olive oil and salt. Whisk to combine.

3. Add in flour and stir together with a large wooden spoon, until the dough comes together into a shaggy, poorly delineated mass, as outlined in the photo above. At this point, feel free to plunge your hands into the bowl until the dough starts to behave itself, or turn the whole mess out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it for a few minutes until it falls into line. Either way, make sure to knead it until it becomes smooth and elastic.

4. Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil (for better flavor), or spray it with Pam (for greater efficiency). Cover the bowl with saran wrap, a lid, or a damp dish towel, and let it sit for one to two hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

5. After the dough has completed its first rise, divide into two equal portions using a large knife or dough scraper/

Alternative Rise Methods: This whole process can also take place overnight in the fridge, during a “cold rise”. The same technique works over the course of an eight-hour work day, if you want to make the dough before you leave and bake the pizza upon your return. The dough will keep in the fridge for up to two days if wrapped tightly in saran wrap, or in the freezer for up to a month. To use after freezing, simply place it in the fridge for eight hours or over-night so that it thaws, and then roll it and prepare it as outlined in the “assembly” post, which will come soon!

unassuming dough....

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Swedish Cardamom Bread

18 Dec

During the summer after my first year at university, I spent four weeks working on a project run out of the University of Oulu, in Finland. I braved the northern wilds with four other McGill students, and we quickly became fast friends. Together we were exposed to the horrors of Finnish coffee (unspeakable), the mediocrity of Finnish beer (tolerable), and the surprisingly tasty, and ubiquitous Finnish breakfast pastry, a cardamom spiced sweet bread called pulla. Despite the inadequacy of the local beverages,  the experience was incredible and since then the scent of cardamom has been enough of an olfactory trigger to bring me back to that time.

Unsurprisingly, I was elated when I found this sweet bread recipe. Like the Finnish pulla, it’s a lightly sweetened breakfast offering, spiced with a touch of cardamom. This ‘coffee bread’ is basically a Scandinavian take on cinnamon rolls. You make a yeasted sweet bread dough, allow it to rise for an hour, roll it out, add your fillings and roll it back up. Then you do some moderately fancy scissor-work, which I found to be the most trying part of the ordeal – a closely guarded secret from my misspent youth is that I was forced to repeat Kindergarten because of scissor issues, and since then I have been particularly sensitive to my failings in this department.

Anyone who has made cinnamon rolls from scratch will attest to the fact that it’s not a simple process, what with the first rise and roll out and second rise, a baking saga that leaves your kitchen covered in a dusting of sugar, flour, cinnamon and melted butter. However, the results are always well worth the messy effort. Unless, of course, you screw up and burn the cinnamon rolls, which is understandably tragic.

Happily, the fillings for this cardamom bread are also quite versatile – I used a combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, slivered almonds and almond paste, but you could likely use jam or cream cheese in a pinch – pretty much anything you’d want to put in a breakfast pastry! While not as sweet as cinnamon rolls, the ‘christmas bread’ doesn’t suffer for it, and on the whole is lighter and less guilt inducing than most other glazed breakfast pastries. The lightly sweetened dough allows the flavor of the cardamom to take centre stage, while complementing the richest and most flavorful  elements of the filling – particularly the almond paste and toasted almonds. The recipe itself is filched entirely from Simply Recipes, but I’ve added a few tips that will make working with the dough a bit easier, and I’ve discovered that you can flash freeze the whole shebang after the second rise, which makes it a cinch to prepare in advance. Given that this recipe yields two ‘wreaths’ of cardamon bread, I would strongly recommend making one and freezing the second one.   So – on to the recipe!

Ingredients for Dough
  •  2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
  •  1 cup whole milk
  •  1/2 cup white sugar
  •  1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  •  1/2 tsp salt
  •  1 & 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 4 cups AP flour, + additional for flouring surface

To make the Dough

1. Heat the milk over medium-high heat until it steams, then remove from heat and stir in butter and sugar until the mixture is smooth.

2. In a large bowl, add the dissolved yeast/water mixture to the milk mixture. Stir in the egg, mixing until smooth.

3. Add the salt and cardamom.

4. Add three cups of the flour until the mixture has pulled together, adding up to one more cup as needed. The finished dough should be soft, but not overly sticky. I wound up using all four cups of dough, plus additional dough when flouring the counter. Knead the dough for 7 – 10 minutes, or until it has come together.

5. Place dough in an oiled, covered bowl and allow to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in size. While the dough is rising, assemble your fillings!

 

Filling Ingredients

  • Two tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 tbsp white sugar + 2 tsp cinnamon, mixed together
  • 1/4 cup almond paste, chopped into small chunks
  • Half cup slivered almonds, toasted

After the dough has risen, I would recommend putting it in the freezer for ten minutes or so to make it easier to  handle and roll out!

To Make the Filling & Finish the Wreath

1. If you are baking the wreaths right away, preheat the oven to 350 F.

Lightly flour a broad surface (I used my kitchen table, for extra space). Dust a large rolling pin with flour. Take half of the dough and rolling into an 8″ x 16″ rectangle, trying to maintain a relatively even thickness across the entire dough.

2. Brush the rectangle with butter, leaving a 1/2 inch gap around the edges of the dough, to make it easier to work with.

3. Sprinkle buttered area evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture.

4. Sprinkle on any additional toppings, including the almond paste and slivered almonds.

5. Carefully roll up the dough tightly, and join the ends together so that it forms a circle, making sure to seal the seams by pinching them together. If you find the two ends of the ‘log’ are pretty much just dough, lacking any filling, you can trim them (which I did).

6. After you have joined the ends of the dough together to form a circular log, take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the wreath into even sections, cutting about 3/4 of the way through the dough,working from the outside of the circle to the inside. Use scissors to partition the entire circular log into such sections, pushing alternating sections to the right or the left as you go, to create the desired wreath shape. See below for desired outcome, or check the Simply Recipes post for more detailed guidance in the form of step-by-step photos.

7.  After shaping the dough into a wreath, cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another forty minutes.

8. For each wreath, whisk together one egg yolk with one tbsp of cream and brush over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush. At this point, you can flash freeze the dough if you so desire (place it on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet in the freezer until frozen, and then store in a tupper ware or large ziploc bag until you are ready to bake it). If you flash freeze it, you may need to allow more time in the oven on baking day, but you won’t have to let the bread rise again, as it underwent both rises before being frozen.

9. If you want to bake it right away, do so at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until the top of the wreath is golden brown. Careful not to over-bake, as I found that the bottoms of the wreaths began to brown rather aggressively towards the end – and mine had come out of the freezer.

10. Finally, a glaze nicely complements this bread once it has been removed from the oven and cooled. I whisked together 2 cups of powdered sugar, 1 & 1/2 tbsp milk, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to create a glaze of a consistency that was pourable, but not so liquid that it would slide right off the baked bread.

Miniature Espresso Banana Bread Muffins

26 Sep

When I’ve had a beer or two, I sometimes decide that the time is ripe to bake something. Other times I decide I desperately need to consume some Hot Pockets, immediately. I’m a bit of a hit-or-miss drunkard when it comes to class.

While a spate of drunk baking will occasionally go horribly awry (microwave brownie in a mug, anyone?), just as often my inebriation provides a solid foundation for commendable culinary exploits. The combination of slightly exaggerated self-confidence (“Yeah, I can make banana bread AND hot fudge sauce in the time it takes my friend to get back from the store with the ice cream”) with devil-may-care hand eye coordination and split-second decision making (“That looked like a tablespoon. We’ll say that’s a tablespoon. Crap – did it call for baking powder or baking soda…?”) can work wonders in the kitchen, if channelled correctly.

Such was the case with this banana bread. I was out at dinner in a little town in Appalachia, drinking a fine local brew known as Green Man IPA, when I was struck by the knowledge that we had an excess of bittersweet baking chips back at home. Immediately, my brain began to short-circuit. “Chocolate chips,” I thought to myself “Why, if we have chocolate chips, I could make that banana bread recipe I saw the other day. But I’d need bananas for that.Wait a minute. I saw some bananas on the counter this morning, and….andI think they were overripe“.

At which point brain function shut down.

It didn’t take much to convince my dinner companions that they should skip the tavern dessert and take me back to barracks, post haste. Fortunately, the banana bread was as magical as my drunken self imagined it would be. Not all that surprising given that I used an adapted version of a recipe from the Baked cookbook. I still don’t have a copy of this ode to butter and sugar, despite looking for it in every book store I’ve wandered into for the past two months. I think it’s a little like the Loch Ness monster of the baking world – massive and somewhat terrifying in its immensity, but with an insidious attraction that cannot be denied.

The first time around I made this in a loaf pan, and served thin slices warm, with generous dollops of vanilla ice cream, topped with a deluge of salted caramel and hot fudge on top (I am aware that I am ridiculous, thank you very much).  The second time around I broke out my miniature muffin tin, and it was just as tasty. If you’re making it as a dessert, I highly recommend the former course of action, but if you’re looking for a breakfast option I would take the latter route. This will make around 32 miniature muffins or 16 regular muffins, give or take.

 

Ingredients

  • 3 large bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 & 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

 

 

 

 

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a miniature muffin pan or a regular muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Beat wet ingredients (mashed bananas, white sugar, brown sugar, melted butter, milk and egg) in a large bowl.

3. Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, espresso powder and salt) in a medium sized bowl.

4. Combine wet and dry ingredients and evenly divide batter into muffin tin, filling each cup 2/3 of the way full.

5. Bake for 15-18 minutes (miniature muffins) or 18-20 minutes (regular muffins), until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffins comes out clean.

mountain goat muffin

Apricot Ale Bread

17 Aug

Someone who knows me quite well said rather excitedly that he’d just found a recipe for beer bread. I’ve gone through a bread-making phase in recent months, in large part due to the incredible utility of this book. I have to say though, the beer bread was even easier to make than the fool-proof and quick recipes that I normally use. The original recipe can be found here, on zestycook and is great for uber low maintenance bakers. The baking powder in the dough means that you don’t even have to wait for it to rise, while the butter gives it a rich, flavorful crust. Just mix everything together, pour beer into your dry ingredients, and then drench the dough in butter. Voila. Beer bread.

You’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 cups white flour
  • 1 1/2 cups wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 4.5 tsps baking powder
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 1/4 cup butter,melted

I chose to use a local beer known as St. Ambroise Apricot Ale, which gave the bread a really light sweetness, making it perfect for breakfast (especially with something like…blueberry jam). However, we ate it at a pot luck with spicy sausages, and the sweet and savory flavors balanced each other out quite well. I’d really like to try it with a darker oatmeal stout, and if you know of anyone who has successfully done so, please let me know in the comments. I might wind up trying it in the next few days anyways, just because the bread was so good.

To make:

(1) Sift together white flour, wheat flour, brown sugar and baking powder. Stir vigorously with a fork once sifted.

(2) Pour in your chosen bottle of beer (Drinking one during the baking process is also acceptable). Stir into the dry ingredients until the mixture achieves a uniform consistency.

(3) Preheat oven to 350.

(4) Place dough in a loaf pan. Melt butter on stove and pour melted butter on top of dough.

(5) Bake for about an hour, until the crust has risen and cracked along the top of the loaf, and is quite firm to the touch.