Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October Daring Bakers Challenge - Pizzaiola!

October's challenge, brought to us by Rosa from Switzerland, is to make "real" pizza dough. The recipe is adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart. The original recipe makes 6 pizza crusts. I halved the recipe and made three, baking one right away and freezing the other two for another time. Each one of my pizzas measured to about 12-14" and was more than enough to feed 2 people for dinner, especially with a small salad on the side. I have made my own pizza dough before and I would say that, in comparison to other recipes, this one was not bad. I found it a little bland. With the right toppings, it can still be very tasty!


4 1/2 Cups bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
cornmeal for dusting

To get started, get yourself a nice, flat place to work. I have tiled countertops, so I use a board from Chef's Catalog. Then, mix the flour, salt and yeast together in the mixer bowl. Add the oil, sugar, and cold water and mix (using a large spoon or your dough hook) well to form a sticky ball of dough. Move this to a well-floured board and knead (THIS IS THE FUN PART!) using your hands (also well-floured) for about 5-7 minutes. It took me 10 minutes. Once you are done, your dough should be elastic and smooth.

Cut the dough into equal portions using a bench scraper and, using floured hands, roll each portion into a smooth ball. Place each ball into an oiled bag (I use a plastic grocery bag) and store in the freezer (for future use) or, overnight in the refrigerator. Seal the bag by pressing the air out of it and tying a knot towards the top of the bag. You want to make sure to leave room in the bag for the dough to grow and release carbon dioxide during fermentation. If you freeze the dough, you can probably keep it there for a month or so, and make sure you move it to the fridge overnight the day before you want to use it.

The following day, about 2 hours before you plan to use your dough, remove it from the fridge and peel it out from the bag onto your lightly oiled and floured work surface. Using plenty of flour for your hands, the surface and the dough, press the dough into a round disk about 1/2" thick. Cover it with a towel or some plastic wrap and allow it to rest for about 2 hours.

About 45 minutes before you bake the pizza (1 hour 15 minutes after you set it to rest - are you paying attention to all of these timelines?), preheat your pizza stone by setting the oven to the highest temperature possible (500). Pizzas cook best with INTENSE heat underneath them. This is why stones or brick ovens (sometimes get up to 700 degrees!) are used. If you do not have a stone, you can use the back of your baking sheet, but it won't get as hot.

After 2 hours rest, sprinkle the back side of a large baking sheet or jelly roll pan with durum/semolina flour or cornmeal and move the dough to your floured hands, keeping your fists rounded. Begin by stretching the dough in a circular motion with your hands. When you are comfortable, progress to a full TOSS! While you are doing this, if the dough sticks to your hands - FLOUR them! If the dough does not want to stretch or expand, it just needs a little more time to rest. Set it down for another 20 minutes and try again.

Once your pizza crust is the size you want it, place it on the back of your baking sheet, making sure there is enough flour or cornmeal to keep it from sticking. (You are going to want to be able to slide it off onto your pizza stone.)

Top your pizza with the toppings of your choice and place the pan in the oven, or slide it off on to your preheated pizza stone. Bake at 500 for about 5-8 minutes and then begin checking. You want the crust to be cooked from the underside, but the cheese and toppings on top to be melted and hot.

When it's done, take it out of the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before cutting. ENJOY!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

September Daring Bakers Challenge - Lavash....

...which is just a fancy word for crackers, really. This was fun!! I've never made crackers before, so this really was a new challenge.

Dough (makes 1 sheet pan of crackers)

1 1/2 c. bread flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. instant yeast
1 T. agave syrup or sugar
1 T. vegetable oil
3-4 fl oz. water, room temperature

There are a few distinct steps to making any bread dough. To begin, you measure and mix the ingredients. The recipe I used just said to mix all ingredients together in a bowl, but I prefer to mix the dry and liquid ingredients separately and then add the liquids to the center of the dry and mix, adding more liquid as necessary. Also, I did not have instant yeast, so I found a conversion chart on the web and substituted 1/2 t. + 1/8 t. active dry yeast.

Once the dough is mixed into a ball, it needs to be kneaded for a while to develop the gluten. Gluten is the protein in wheat that develops when the dough is kneaded with some liquid. Some flours are naturally higher in protein content, like bread flour, and are more appropriate for forming an elastic dough. (As an aside, flours with less protein, like cake flour or even all-purpose flour, are usually used for cakes, cookies or pastries that you do not want to be tough or chewy. The instructions also usually indicate not to overmix the batter/dough.) It took me about 12 minutes to knead this dough to the appropriate texture. When it is ready, it should pass the "windowpane test" (google it!), be smooth, stretchy and somewhat firm. Form it into a nice ball, put it into a lightly oiled bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm (not hot!) place to rise.

Now it is time for the fermentation! This is the key to yeasted doughs! In a nutshell, rising / fermentation is when the LIVE yeasts are eating!! Specifically in this dough, the yeast, when combined with something sugar or agave and warmed, begins to feed. Yeast feeds best at a nice, warm temperature. Too hot and the yeasts die, too cold and they slow down or become dormant. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the fermentation process for this recipe will take about 90-120 minutes. You'll know it's ready when the dough has doubled in size and the plastic wrap is poofing out. A little more science here - the byproduct of yeasts feeding on sugar is carbon dioxide and alcohol. (Did you know that beer and wine are also produced by feeding yeasts?!?! Sure you did.)

Now, preheat the oven to 350 and mist your workspace lightly with oil. Transfer the dough to the workspace. With your fingers, gently form the blob into a square, lightly sprinkle some flour over the top and begin using a rolling pin to roll out the dough. You may have to stop periodically to let the dough rest or relax. Working the dough now has the same effect as when you kneaded it early. Too much working and you develop more gluten, which equals more elasticity, which means that your dough might not stay where you roll it to! Take a 5 minute break, come back and check again. You also might want to periodically lift the corners of your dough up and shake them out to stretch it more. The final size of your cracker will depend on how thin you've rolled it. I like a nice thin cracker, so I kept going until it was almost translucent. Once the cracker is rolled out, gently move it to a parchment-lined baking sheet. If you want cut or shaped crackers, you can use a rolling blade or pizza cutter to precut the dough. You do not need to separate it, as it will snap apart after baking. If you want rough shards, just leave the sheet whole.
The creators of this month's challenge allowed us the option of choosing our own toppings and our own dip or salsa. I decided to go with a sweet cracker and lightly misted the top with water, then sprinkled raw sugar, cinnamon and vanilla powder. Alternatively, you could use seeds, other spices, sea salt, cracked pepper, etc. to make a savory cracker. You can also make stripes or designs across your crackers to give them a more colorful look.

Pop the sheet into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, just until the cracker is browning evenly across the top. Of course, if your dough is thicker, it might take a little longer. Remove the pan from the oven, let the crackers cool for about 10 minutes, then break (or snap on precut lines) them apart and serve!

I chose to serve my Cinnamon Sugar lavash with a Creamy White Peach dip. For the dip, I blended 2 cut peaches, 6 oz. plain yogurt (you can use soy yogurt for a vegan version), 2 T. brown sugar and about 1 t. lemon juice in a food processor. Serve, dip and enjoy!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

July Daring Bakers Challenge - Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

I'm making plenty of desserts these days, but not branching out as often as I'd like. I joined the Daring Bakers in order that I might get at least ONE new challenge each month and write about it. For my first month's challenge, we were to make the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Carole Walter's Great Cakes. This cake has several components - the Hazelnut Genoise ("the cake"), a sugar syrup (for soaking - genoise is a fairly dry cake and typically gets soaked to make it moist and provide flavor), Praline Buttercream, Apricot Glaze, and Ganache. I made the cake first, following the recipe exactly. My only change was to use two 9" pans (instead of one 10" pan). I filled them evenly and then torted each one, making my final cake 4 layers instead of 3. (This is my favorite size cake, plus it fits my cake boards and cake carrier.)

Filbert Genoise
1 1/2 c. toasted, skinned hazelnuts (also called filberts!)
2/3 c. unsifted cake flour
2 T. cornstarch
7 large yolks
1 c. superfine sugar, divided (buzz regular sugar w/food processor for 10 sec)
1 t. vanilla (never use imitation!)
1/2 t. lemon zest
5 large egg whites
1/4 c. warm (100-110) clarified butter

Remember to start with the mise en place. Get all of your ingredients, tools and equipment (food processor, bowls, saucepan, measuring cups) together. If you have to prepare the nuts or the clarified butter*, do so now. Preheat the oven to 350. Buzz the nuts, flour and cornstarch in the food processor for 30 seconds, then pulse until ground. Don't overdo this step, or you'll release too many of the oils in the nuts and end up with a pasty mess!

Beat the yolks until thick and lightened (3-4 minutes on medium-high), then add 3/4 c. sugar, slowly and continue to beat until ribbony. Blend in vanilla and zest. Next, whip the whites to soft peak. Slowly add the remaining sugar and whip about 30 seconds longer. Add the yolks to the whites and whip together for about a minute. Remove from mixer and add in dry ingredients ("nut meal") by sifting over (about 2 tablespoons at a time) with a medium strainer, folding carefully. When about 2 T of nut meal remains, pour the warm butter into the batter in a steady stream. Quickly fold in the remaining nut meal, taking about 15 turns. All of this folding should take you about 50 turns or so with a wide spatula. Since this cake has no chemical leavener (this is one of the hallmarks of a genoise cake - did you notice??), the whipped yolks and whites need to retain air in order to allow the mixture to rise some.

Pour batter into greased and floured pan(s), tap once on the counter to remove any bubbles, then bake for about 30 minutes. The cake is done when it springs back to the touch and pulls from the sides of the pan. Remove, cool slightly in pan, then invert on well-sprayed cooling rack.

*To skin hazelnuts , bake in a single layer on a cookie sheet in 325 oven for about 10-12 minutes, then rub them between a dish towel while hot. Remaining nuts can be reheated again if you need to. To clarify butter, place the amount you need PLUS about 25% more in the microwave in 30 second intervals on medium power. Alternatively, you can do this slowly over the stove. Once the butter separates into distinct layers, skim foam from the top. Pour off clear liquid butter into a fine sieve, taking care not to let any milk solids from the bottom come through.

To answer that big question that many of you inevitably are dying to ask - I don't know how important it is in this recipe to clarify the butter. The main purpose in removing milk solids and water in butter is to allow it to be heated to a higher temperature without burning. Clarifying butter slowly over gentle heat also helps it to develop flavor. Feel free to try it without clarifying the butter. IMO, it probably does not matter much in this recipe.

Simple syrup
1 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
2 T liquer, like Grand Marnier or Rum (optional)

Boil water and sugar, remove from heat and add liquer when cool. Rewarm to use.

For the buttercream, I made my own recipe, Italian Meringue Buttercream, instead of the recipe's Swiss Meringue Buttercream. With Italian Meringue, a sugar syrup is cooked to about 240-250 degrees (soft-firm ball stage) and then poured over whipping egg whites. With a Swiss Meringue, the whites are combined with the sugar and then whipped together over heat to about 120 degrees. I find the Italian method makes a more stable buttercream, so it's what I prefer to use.

Praline Buttercream
4 egg whites (or about 4 ounces)
1 c. sugar (or about 6-8 ounces)
pinch of salt
2-3 sticks of room temp butter, cut into chunks (start with 2 sticks)
1/3 c. praline paste

Place sugar in a saucepan over high heat with enough water to make a thick slurry. (It doesn't matter how much water you add because it will evaporate away as it boils. The more you add, the longer this step will take.) Put your whites in the mixer bowl with a pinch of salt and begin whipping on medium speed. Boil the sugar water until it reaches about 240. You can also look for visual clues - the bubbles on top will get bigger and slow down a lot. Like this:

One of these days, I'll show you a really cool trick for testing sugar stage. :)

You need to keep an eye on your whites while the sugar is coming up to temp. If they start to develop firm peaks, slow or stop the mixer until your sugar syrup is ready. When the sugar syrup is ready, make sure the whites are whipping at medium-high and SLOWLY pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl.

Whip until cool (less than 100), then add your butter, piece by piece. Add in the praline paste. (If you can't find this, I bet you can use Nutella, which is a chocolate praline paste. YUM!) Since praline paste isn't very "stiff," you may need to add a little more butter in order to get the consistency and texture of your final buttercream where you want it.

Now that I've said all of that, here is a great EASY recipe to make Italian meringue buttercream. Following the steps above, use x amount of egg whites, 2x ounces of sugar and 2-3x ounces of butter. Another helpful tip is that 1 cup of sugar weighs about 7 ounces. Don't get too worked up over it. Just remember - x + 2x + 2-3x. For example, if x=4 egg whites, then 2x (sugar) is 8 ounces, or just over 1 cup. Butter is between 8 ounces (2x) and 12 ounces (3x). Or don't, and just pull up this blog!

Apricot Glaze
2/3 c. apricot preserves
1 T. water

Combine and heat to slow simmer. Remove from heat and strain out chunks. Thin if you want and rewarm slightly before using.

6 ounces chocolate, chopped or chips
6 ounces heavy cream
1 T light corn syrup (optional)
1 T liquer (optional)
1 T water (optional)

Combine cream and corn syrup, bring just to a boil, then pour over chocolate. Whisk smooth after about a minute. Add liquer (optional) and water, if necessary. Cool to about body temperature (when you dip your finger in, you feel neither hot nor cold).

Cake Assembly
To assemble the cake, torte the cooled layer(s) as you wish. As I said above, I made two 9" layers and cut them each in half. (Torting simply refers to cutting a cake into more than one layer.) Place the bottom layer on your cake board, moisten with a few tablespoons of syrup, letting it soak in for a few minutes, then spread with about 1/4 of the buttercream. Continue stacking the layers, moistening each one with syrup before spreading with buttercream. Moisten the top of the cake with syrup, let it soak in and then pop the whole thing in the fridge (at least 30 min) or the freezer (10 min) to chill. Remove chilled cake and use a serrated knife to trim the sides perfectly straight. You can also give the top edge a slight bevel to allow the glaze to drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the glaze, sealing all of the cut areas. Chill in fridge while preparing the ganache.

When I'm covering a cake with ganace glaze, I always put it on a cake board that is exactly the same size as my cake, so that glaze can drip off without getting the board all messy. Then, when you are done, you can just pop the whole thing on another, larger, fancy (if you want!!) cake board. That said, place the whole cake on a cake rack set on top of a bowl that is at least an inch or two wider in diameter than your cake. When the ganache glaze has cooled some, pour it over the cake, starting in the middle and pouring until glaze goes down the sides. If you want to completely cover the cake, make sure you quickly check all of the sides and the back to see that the glaze has gotten everywhere. It's important to do this quickly because the chocolate will cool as it touches the chilled cake. Once you are done glazing, let the cake sit on the rack for a few minutes, then carefully lift using a spatula under the board. Place on your larger board or serving plate.

All of the above being said, I only had about 4 ounces of cream, so I skimped on the ganache and ended up running out before the cake was covered. So, I chilled the whole mess and then reworked it using a warm spatula over the cake. If you'd rather not pour the glaze, alternatively, you can chill the ganache, whip it with a mixer and spread it over the top of the cake. Nothing compares, though, to the fanciness of a ganache glazed cake!

You can decorate the cake however you want, using whipped ganache or the leftover praline buttercream. You can use chopped, toasted hazelnuts or candied hazelnuts for dramatic effect. I chose to use the praline buttercream for a shell border around the bottom and a decorative design on top.

Oh, and, most importantly, ENJOY!!!! YUM!