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Archive for October, 2008

Ahh, pizza.  On my list of the top 5 favorite foods, I would say pizza is either number 1 or 2 on the list.  If you asked me any day of the week what I wanted to eat for dinner and I could have anything I wanted, chances are good it would be pizza.  Hot, melting mozzarella, perfectly seasoned sauce, light, crispy and slightly chewy crust, garlic, any manner of cured meats – how can you not just love something like that?

I was really excited when Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums announced this month’s challenge was Pizza Dough – hand tossed, no less.  My mind started dancing around ideas for pizzas.  The challenge left a lot of room for interpretation of your final pizza, as long as you hand tossed the dough and used some kind of sauce.

Unfortunately, this month has been so busy, I just couldn’t get to the challenge until the end of the month.  That’s just not the best way to do things – being rushed is a recipe for some kind of failure.  And, failure is what I experience (at least, in part).

It wasn’t a monumental failure, things just didn’t go how I had planned.  First, tossing the dough was an exercise in futility.  The first one started really well, but it wasn’t getting big enough.  I finally had to resort to kind of letting the dough fall over my hands as I rotated it to get the right size, shape and thickness.  Second, I thought I had liberally dusted the pan with semolina, and I was just going to slide the pizza right onto the hot stone in the oven.  It wasn’t to be.  The pizza would not move from the pan.  So, I ended up baking it on that pan, which took twice as long as the recipe called for, resulting in a new delicacy – blackened sun-dried tomatoes.  These tomatoes look like they were sun-dried on the surface of the sun itself.  Thankfully, even burned, they actually tasted good, hey, maybe I’ve discovered something I may try again.  Third, one piece of dough just wouldn’t work for me.  I had split my dough into 4 pieces and froze 1.  I pulled out 3 for the evening. 

I had planned 3 pizzas that night.  We were having guests and I decided, against my better judgment, to violate one of my rules about baking:  Never try a new recipe on guests, always test bake it at least once first.  Well, this was the only night I had available, and the guests were added after I made my plans.  Soooo, they get to by my guinea pigs.

For the savory pizzas, I made a simple pizza sauce I’ve used before.  Pizza #1 was topped with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted chicken breast.  Pizza #2 was topped with mozzarella, turkey pepperoni, sliced mushrooms and sliced olives.  So, back to problem #3 – one of the dough balls just wouldn’t work at all for me.  It tore, it formed a weird shape.  I let it rest and tried again, same problem as before.  I let it rest once more and it wouldn’t move, it was all seized up with gluten.  I tried to roll it out with a pin, but it wouldn’t budge.  I finally, out of desperation, trashed that piece of dough – I just didn’t have time to deal with it.

My dessert pizza was going to be a caramel apple crisp with a cinnamon cream cheese sauce.  I think it would have been great, and I’ll probably try it again sometime, but I just couldn’t get to it that night.  Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately), I had already sliced up 5 apples and sautéed them with butter and brown sugar.  Now I had this pan of nicely cooked apples in a sweet buttery sauce and no dough upon which to which to mount my culinary creation.  But, this post is about the Daring Bakers, so if you want to see what I did with this, just scroll down to the next post or click here.

All in all, this challenge was only OK for me.  I really wanted to like this challenge, but I just didn’t have the time, the patience or the technique to do it quite right.  My guests were pleased and they ate up the 2 pizzas I did make, along with my dessert ‘punt’.  The dough wasn’t quite to my taste, though.  It just wasn’t quite the taste and texture I like.  While pan pizza isn’t my favorite (I prefer a thinner crust), I do really like this recipe I’ve used before.

You’ll notice that there is no photo of me tossing the dough.  Because of the last minute guests, I didn’t have another set of hands available to photograph me tossing the dough.  Sorry to bug out on that one.  I did try it, though I made larger pizzas and the dough kind of fell apart.  One other problem.  I’m 6′ 1″, and my ceiling is just a bit higher than 7′ – it doesn’t leave much room for tossing – the whole time I pictured a moment that might be like something out of an old I Love Lucy show – either pizza dough stuck to the ceiling, or draped all over my head.

Thanks again to Rosa and the Daring Bakers for the challenge.  It was a fun one.  I’m looking forward to checking out all the other DB creations out there, I can’t wait!!

I’ve posted a copy of the recipe for the dough and the sauce here.  Click on any of the photos below to view a larger version.

     

     

     

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When Life Hands you Lemons…

…make Apple Crisp, right?  Perhaps, if you’re a baker, you may prefer a Lemon Meringue Pie.  I’m not a big fan of lemons, myself, so I’d probably just say ‘Thanks Life, I appreciate the lemons.  I think I’ll just put them over here for now.  Hey, would you mind handing me those apples behind you?  Yeah, those nice Granny Smiths – right there.  No, I don’t want the lemons right now.  Really.  I know people like lemons, I’m just not a big fan.  Besides, it’s fall, I want to use apples.  Yes, I’m sure.  Look, I’m the one doing the cooking, I promise I’ll use them for something later.  If it bugs you that much, you could just give your lemons to someone else.  Maybe they need a little zest in their lives, ha ha!  Yes, I thought that was funny.  Well, now you’re just being rude.  Just hand me those apples and go, we can talk more about this later.”  Wow, Life can be a real pain in the rear sometimes.

So, I was working on my October challenge for the Daring Bakers.  Pizza was the theme, and I had planned both sweet and savory pizzas.  At the last minute, the night I was going to make them, we ended up with visitors, a large group, so I had to rush things together a bit more than I had planned.  I set out 3 dough balls for my 2 planned savory pizzas and the dessert pizza.

The first one came together just fine, but the second one had a problem.  The dough came apart as I was shaping it, so I had to form it back into a ball.  By the time I had handled it that much, the dough would no longer stretch, so I set it aside to let the gluten rest.  Dough ball number 3 went fine again and I assembled my second savory pizza.  While those were cooking, I was also sautéing some apple slices, butter and brown sugar to prepare my dessert pizza topping.

I returned to that final ball of dough.  The gluten had relaxed and I tried to form it again.  Again, it didn’t work, the dough was tearing and not forming properly.  I decided to try rolling it out and wound up with a tightly wadded piece of dough that would hardly stretch.  I finally had to give up, the more I worked the dough, the worse it got.  That gluten is tough stuff, and a dough like that just couldn’t take the extra work.

So, now I had a house full of guests and no dessert.  The apples were now thoroughly cooked through and placing them into a dish that needed to be baked would have turned them to absolute mush.  I thought about a number of different apple dishes, but the apples I had cooked were sitting in a nice lightly sweet, buttery sauce, reminiscent to me of Apple Crisp.  I had recently read a blog entry by Joy the Baker for an Apple Crisp recipe.  I took the topping from that recipe, laid it out on a cookie sheet and baked it for about 20 minutes.  When it came out of the oven, I broke it up into pieces and used it to top spoonfuls of the tart/sweet apple mixture.

Results?  Success.  Lemons into apples.  Failure into triumph.  Everyone thought I had made a true bake-in-the-pan apple crisp.  Okay, so maybe it wasn’t done the traditional way, but you couldn’t tell the difference.

By the way, if the recipe makes more of the crisp topping than you need, not to worry!  It is a great addition to fresh fruit, ice cream, oatmeal, or even just to munch on (not that I would do that).

Life, I got you again.  You’re going to have to try a little harder to derail me in the kitchen next time.  Pfblllppfff!!!

I’ve posted a copy of this recipe here.  Click on any of the photos below for a larger view of the image.

     

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Cheese and Chocolate

If midnight had a flavor, these brownies might come pretty close to capturing it – at least what I imagine in my mind midnight might taste like:  dark, rich, dense, smooth and not too sweet.  Imagine, if you will, a pure chocolate indulgence that screams sinfulness, yet exudes a level of luxury and sophistication.  Sophistication aside though, it’s time to clean out your pie-holes, clear your palette, and get ready for some serious taste.

Allow me to present Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies.  I discovered this recipe on Bri’s blog: Xplicit Sweetness.  She posted about them awhile ago and I marked that recipe as one I needed to try.  The photo alone made them look so good they needed to go on the ‘make it soon’ list.

Since I’m currently underway with a lifestyle change ala weight loss, I’m fighting the urge to bake things that are so tempting as to derail my efforts.  Thankfully, I decided to make these as a kind of fair well to the old me – not so much a celebration of my old habits as much as a look ahead to the person who can some day make these kinds of treats and enjoy them in simple moderation, all the while being satisfied that I don’t need more than a reasonable portion.

So, these were actually made over a month ago, but I’m only now getting to the post.  The recipe uses Mascarpone cheese in the batter.  If, by some chance, you aren’t familiar with Mascarpone, it’s kind of an Italian cream cheese – not quite as ‘sweet’ as regular cream cheese and not as ‘hard’.  It is a bit more expensive, so I don’t buy it very often.  If you want to see some of the other uses for Mascarpone, just check out Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network – she makes good use of the stuff.

For the chocolate, I used my preferred baking chocolate – Ghirardelli.  I know a lot of folks prefer brands like Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Guittard, Callebaut or even something organic like Dagoba or Green and Black’s.  I’ve tried many of them, and for my money, I’ve found the Ghirardelli to work best for my taste and for those who get to share in my creations.  They say if you like the taste straight out of the package, then cook with it – and Ghirardelli is one I do like straight out of the package.  I’m not much of a chocolate snob, but I know what I like, and if I can also manage to save a few bucks a pop, well, that just means I can afford to make more later.  For this recipe, I used their 60% Cacao Bittersweet baking bar.  I will say that if I were to do milk chocolate, the E. Guittard milk chocolate chips are a fine choice.  But, I digress.

After being topped with ganache and allowed to set up in the refrigerator overnight, you are left with an amazing-looking brownie.  These are not your typical eat out of hand brownies.  No, these brownies deserve to be served with some class.  I chose a simple presentation on a nice plate followed by a dusting of cocoa powder.  Partner with a good coffee or a tall glass of milk, and you have a recipe for simple indulgence.  Is this what midnight tastes like?  I don’t know, but I suspect once you try them, you’ll wait until midnight to pull them out so you don’t have to share.

I’ve posted a copy of the recipe here.  Click on any of the photos below for a larger image.

     

     

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Catching Up…

It’s been a little while since my last post.  Things have just been a bit hectic around here – couple that with being on a weight loss program and you’ve got a lack of time to bake and a lack of desire to prepare something you may not have room in your plan to eat.

 

That’s okay, things are going well and I’m ready to start getting back into the swing of things again.  Since we’re hosting Thanksgiving at our home this year – a first for us, I’ve got to really get back in the baking/cooking mode in preparation for this.

 

One area of baking I am very interested in building some skills is the area of bread baking.  While I feel pretty comfortable making a cake or pie or some nice brownies, bread has just been something I’ve just not felt too comfortable with.  My wife used to bake bread pretty regularly in our bread machine, and, while it was actually quite good, I want to learn the traditional techniques to turn out a good loaf of bread.  I don’t have any particular bread in mind at this point, but I’m searching recipe collections to mark a few for experimentation.

 

Not long ago, I gave my first go at a true yeasted, knead by hand, bake in a pan, loaf of bread – no bread machine involved (not that there’s anything wrong with that….).  After looking around, I finally settled on a tasty looking Cinnamon Swirl Bread I found on the King Arthur Flour website.  They have a blog posted about this recipe showing step by step instructions, which is helpful for a novice bread baker like me.

 

You know, the process wasn’t as tough as I thought it might be.  The yeast bubbled up beautifully in the warm liquid.  The ingredients came together nicely.  The kneading was both work and relaxing at the same time.  The rises seemed to go exactly as planned.  The loaf rolled out very easily and rolled into a loaf just as easily.  It baked for just the amount of time called for in the recipe, hitting the internal temperature called for.  All things being equal, this recipe really went off without a hitch.  My only complaint (with myself, not the recipe) is that the loaf came out a bit ‘lumpy’ on top, not quite the nice crowned dome I had hoped for.  I’m not sure what I did wrong – one site I read suggested that a top like mine may be due to letting the loaf rise just a bit too long in the pan before baking.  I’m not sure, I’ll have to try it again – maybe I just didn’t quite form it right.

In the end, we sliced up the loaf, toasted it and served it warm with some melted butter on top.  Oh boy, this was some good stuff.  I’ve bought some great bread from bakeries, but so far, even the best store bought bread still can’t compare with the taste, texture and smell (ohhh, that smell!) of fresh home-baked bread.  Yu – mmmy! 

 

If I were to change anything about this recipe, it would be to simply add just a bit more cinnamon/sugar to the bread before rolling it up – it looked like a lot going on, but in the end, it could have handled (for my taste) even more.

Next up – I’ve got my eyes on a savory bread involving bleu cheese.  Chuck over at CookingBread.com has been kindly helping me develop a method to try and duplicate a bread I tried a restaurant recently.  It’s far too good not to copy, so keep your eyes open – I’ll post the results here when I give it a shot.

 

Click here for a copy of the Cinnamon Swirl Bread.  Click on any of the photos below for a larger image.

     

     

     

     

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