Pizza

After more than forty years of baking pizza, I’ve come to believe in these key methods: 1)Let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator; 2)Use parchment paper under each pizza; 3) Put the cheese UNDER the sauce (thanks, ATK); Bake one pie at a time on a pizza steel at the bottom of a 500 degree oven.

Six 12″ pizzas:

Combine 1 3/4 cups warm water with 2 tsp dry yeast–let sit until yeast dissolves (5-10 minutes) whisk in 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil.

In a food processor fitted with the dough blade, combine 600 grams of bread flour or all purpose, plus 25 grams of spelt (or white or regular whole wheat). The high protein bread flour makes the crust chewy and the spelt adds flavor. (To transform all purpose flour into bread flour, add 30 grams of vital wheat gluten and 30 grams of barley malt powder to 540 grams of all purpose) Add 5 grams of salt (a scant teaspoon) and process until blended. With the machine is running, slowly pour in water/yeast/oil mixture, and process until the dough comes together in a ball. Let rest 15 minutes. Process again until the dough is smooth. Place the dough into an oiled bowl and cover, then let it rise in the refrigerator at least 8 hours and up to 24.

Place the baking steel on the bottom rack or on the bottom of the oven itself. Remove the other racks from the oven so it’s easy to maneuver. Preheat to 500 at least 1/2 hour before you start to bake.

An hour or so before you want to bake, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and cut the dough into six pieces. Press or roll out each pizza on a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour. (Just using a pizza peel to move the pizzas into the oven was too tricky for me; sometimes the dough stuck to the surface and wouldn’t slide.) I press, then let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes, then use a rolling pin to get the dough thin enough, to roughly 12″ rounds or rectangles. (I tried the “gentle” method of cutting the dough into six individual pieces for the refrigerator rise and then patting and pulling in order not to deflate the air bubbles, but my recipe and method produce almost as many air bubbles with much less fuss, and anyway I prefer that the middle of the pizza have a thin crust.) Cover the pizza dough with shredded Italian cheese. (I like Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio which contains shredded fontina, asiago, parmesan and provolone–all more flavorful than mozzarella–and without cellulose, a wood pulp fiber added to other packaged shredded cheeses to prevent clumping.) 12 ounces will cover six pizzas, although you could use more.

Then use an angled spatula to spread marina sauce on each pizza, yes, OVER the cheese in the center, leaving a 1/2 inch to one inch rim. This gives the cheese a chance to bond to the dough (including the edges) and prevents it from slipping off when you take a bite after it is baked. Putting the sauce on top also allows some of the moisture in the marinara to evaporate, intensifying the flavor. You could put basil leaves under the sauce, too (as in the photo above) but I think fresh basil tastes better scattered on the pizza AFTER baking. Use between 24 and 28 ounces of sauce on the six pizzas. You can also let the pizzas rise for another 15-20 minutes, or you can start baking as soon as they all have been covered with cheese and sauce. The extra rise makes makes the edges (especially) more puffy.

Since you’ve put each pizza on a separate piece of parchment, it’s easy to slide each one onto the baking steel into the preheated 500 degree oven. A pizza peel or a rimless baking sheet works well to slide the pizzas on and off the steel. Bake about 11-13 minutes–the edges should be brown, and if you lift the bottom of the pizza, the bottom should be brown too, although it won’t be as brown as the edges. The other pizzas will be fine waiting to bake.

A pizza steel will last forever. Since I put one in my convection oven, I no longer have to rotate cookie sheets when baking cookies to avoid burning the ones on the bottom rack. I leave the steel in the oven, because it’s heavy and also because it makes the oven more efficient by holding heat.

Better (and Very Easy) Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

I used to work in a restaurant that sold Maida Heatter’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake, always sitting on the bar so that everyone could see it. It was the most popular dessert and I liked it too. Years later I created my own version of it–made in a food processor–using less sugar and far less effort. The batter takes 10 minutes to put together, the cake takes 20 minutes to bake (while you clean the kitchen and make the frosting) and the whole thing is ready in an hour. If you know anyone who uses cake mixes, please give them this recipe. I can’t guarantee results if the ingredients are not weighed, though, so maybe also give them a scale.

Better Sour Cream Chocolate Cake

All ingredients should be room temperature.

1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter  (6 ounces)

¾ cup sugar (5 ounces, 140 grams) (I whir Turbinado in a blender until it’s finely ground and sometimes use that for extra flavor.)

2 large eggs

¾ cup sour cream (5 ounces) 

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour (5.3 ounces, 150 grams) Bleached flour makes an even more tender cake.

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (1.5 ounce)  (You can use all natural, half natural and half alkaline-treated if you like, or all alkaline-treated (“Dutched”).

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

roasted cocoa nibs, optional, 2 Tbs., for sprinkling on unbaked cake

Cream butter and sugar in food processor (or mixer) until fluffy, about a minute. Add  eggs, then sour cream and vanilla, process briefly after each addition until smooth, scraping the sides often. Then add dry ingredients which have been sifted or whisked together, and process again for 30 seconds. Spoon into two greased and floured (I use Baker’s Joy) 8” pans and level the batter. Bake for about 17-20 minutes at 350 degrees or until tester comes out clean and cake just begins to shrink from the pan. (In my convection oven, the cakes are done at 17 minutes.) Let cool for a few minutes, then turn out on racks.

Sprinkle on cocoa nibs (1 Tbs. per layer) before baking or frost with sour cream ganache (or both):  Whisk 9 ounces of room temperature sour cream together with 9 ounces of melted chocolate (any kind; I use 72%; fewer cocoa solids create a softer frosting and sweeter taste.) If you use 72% and want the frosting sweeter, you can add a bit of stevia. To melt chopped chocolate in microwave, use high power for one minute, then stir and heat again at 15 second intervals until stirring melts all of the chocolate. Flavor with a few teaspoons of brandy or liqueur if you like. Or fill the cake with apricot or raspberry or blackcurrant jam, then frost.

Cake tastes best room temperature but keeps best in the refrigerator. It tastes especially delicious with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Makes twelve 3” cupcakes. Fill paper liner between 2/3 and ¾. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Gluten-free variation with chestnut flour:

Whir all dry ingredients except sugar and nibs in blender with 1/4 tsp xanthan gum as a first step, then dump into a bowl and follow recipe as written. Reduce sugar to 3.5 ounces to compensate for the sweetness of the chestnut flour.

Fresh Tomato Soup

The farmers’ markets are loaded–some vendors are even discarding bruised or overripe tomatoes. This pains me! In my experience, vendors are willing to sell cheaply or even give away what they can’t sell. I’ve seen them dump produce at the end of the market. If you have ripe tomatoes, too many to eat raw, here’s a simple and completely delicious recipe. I peel the tomatoes by cutting out a small cone at the core and placing them in boiling water for about 40 seconds. The skin will come off easily. The habit of peeling comes from my mother; she also peeled cucumbers, potatoes, and apples, disliking bits of skin in her teeth. But I know people who never peel their tomatoes.

For about two pounds of tomatoes (cut into big chunks), use 1/2 pound peeled onion–any kind–yellow, red, white–cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Combine with 4 tbs. butter (salted or unsalted, you’ll correct the seasoning later). You can use olive oil if you must. Simmer on low for about 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then blend until smooth. Don’t seed the tomatoes! The seeds will dissolve during the blending, and they add flavor and nutrition. That’s it. Add salt to taste. The soup freezes well.

Of course, the flavor and ripeness of the tomatoes will affect the soup. Imagine this taste of summer on a cool fall day–with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Buckwheat Hazelnut Cookies

(adapted from Tartine 3, makes about 2 dozen)

The first time I make a recipe, I follow it exactly. Actually, I thought the Tartine recipe (which calls them sables) was wrong when the finished dough resembled butter, and the baked cookies looked like puddles instead of disks, but could a fancy bakery and Chronicle Books not have tested, not have proofread? In fact, the cookies did turn out greasy. They also didn’t resemble the photo in the book. Somewhere along the line, a typo, a mistake. So yes, I think the recipe was wrong. In any case, the second time, I used less butter and increased the flour and they were excellent. They are gluten free and not too sweet. I simplified the procedure, too, by using already toasted hazelnuts, and only the food processor. Just be aware that you should not grind the nuts fine, you want texture in the cookie. These come together quickly and are buttery and the citrus taste is subtle.

150 grams toasted hazelnuts (I use Trader Joe’s)

120 grams buckwheat flour (I use Pure Living Sprouted Buckwheat Flour)

160 grams unsalted butter (or use salted butter and omit the salt, below)

½ tsp. fine sea salt

100 grams coconut sugar (the second time I used turbinado, also nice)

2 large egg yolks

Zest of one lemon

Zest of one orange

OR shortcut to substitute for the zest: about 12 drops of citrus essential oil—I used tangerine.

Put the hazelnuts and half the flour in a food processor and pulse until pebbly. Do not grind fine. Dump into a bowl and whisk in the rest of the flour. 

In the empty food processor, whip the butter until creamy, then add the sugar and the salt and process until smooth. Add the egg yolks, scraping down the bowl, and process again. Then add the nuts/flour mixture and pulse only enough to combine. If necessary to keep from grinding the nuts pieces too fine, remove the mixture from the processor and combine by hand.

Place the dough on a long (16”) piece of plastic wrap and shape into a 14” log. (I did not make it evenly round, you’ll see from the photo; I kind of like the squarish–call it artisanal, call it handmade–shape.) Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to two days. 

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cut the dough into coins (i.e. slice somewhere between ½ and ¼ inch pieces) and place 1 ½ inches apart on the parchment. Bake for about 15-16 minutes, rotating the sheets if necessary to bake to an even brown.

Florentines

When the temperature dropped from 100 to 94, I was gripped by the urge to bake, and the cookie I craved most was a Florentine. Because it is chewy and crisp, buttery and caramelly, citrusy and chocolatey, it satisfies candy and cookie cravings. I’ve tried many recipes and found fault with them all–too fussy, too stodgy, too complicated, too sweet, not chocolatey nor citrusy enough–and then developed my own: simple, forgiving, delicate, and, if you use good ingredients, utterly delicious. You’ll be making a caramel syrup that simmers unattended for 20-25 minutes, grinding nuts with citrus peel, then combining the two mixtures.

NB: I’ve never tried the recipe in a humid climate; because honey and the syrups are humectants (they absorb moisture) I wonder if the cookies become too gooey. Using all sugar might be the answer. These cookies break easily (but the chocolate gives them strength!). If you want a sturdier cookie, you can add one or two tablespoons of flour. I’ve made them with chestnut flour to keep them gluten-free. I like using raw cashew pieces because they are already skinned and easy to obtain, although this does move the cookie away from its Italian origins. If you don’t have a stash of candied orange peel, you can make it (easily) or buy it. I’ve made them with candied grapefruit rind, which lends a sophisticated bitterness. The cookies keep well–refrigerated or frozen if it’s 100 degrees, otherwise at room temperature in an airtight container. I’ve kept them (albeit in winter) for a month. The recipe makes four or five dozen, depending on the size.

Caramel:

4 Tbs unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

2/3 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup honey or golden syrup or corn syrup or combination.

½ tsp salt

Simmer together (low heat, uncovered) for 20-25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

In food processor, combine:

1 ½ cups raw cashew pieces or almonds or combination (12 ounces)

1 cup candied orange rind chopped into one-inch or smaller pieces (8 ounces) (I make my own from organic citrus in the winter and keep it in the refrigerator for this and other uses.

Drops of citrus essential oil if you like–I usually add 10 drops of tangerine oil.

Pulse/chop the nuts with the citrus rind until pieces of both are about the size of grains of rice.

Stir fruit/nut mixture into the cooled caramel mixture.

Drop by half teaspoons on parchment and pat with a finger moistened in water to a circle. Cookies will spread to about 2 1/2 inches, so space them generousl Bake at 350 or 360 (if you are impatient) for about 15 minutes or until evenly brown. Cookies will firm upon cooling. Once the cookies are cool, brush the back of each one with a thin layer of tempered bittersweet chocolate (you’ll need about a pound, or maybe more!) I use a silicone brush which is easy to clean. To temper 72% chocolate, melt it to 105 degrees, then let cool to 80 before brushing. This assures a crisp snap and a shiny look. It also helps preserve the cookie.

simmering caramel

midstage caramel

Summer Fruit Sparkling Wine Gelatin

I had a bottle of sparkling riesling wine not good enough for drinking and wanted to serve it with summer fruit…but wondered how to make it more substantial, more dramatic? Gelatin! Not good for vegetarians (next time I’ll try agar agar, which has a different texture) but easy. Put 3 packets of unflavored gelatin in a cup of sparkling wine. Heat another cup of the wine to boiling, then add a couple tablespoons each of honey and lemon juice (or a teaspoon of TruLemon powder). Mix the gelatin-wine mush with the hot wine and then add the remaining cup of cold or room temperature sparkling wine. Taste. It might need more honey or lemon. Let the wine-gelatin mix cool, then pour it over 6 cups of washed, cut fruit in a large bowl. I used sliced strawberries, halved cherries and cantaloupe balls–but you can use any summer fruit: halved grapes, honeydew melon, plums, apricots, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, etc. Make sure the pieces are bite-sized. Refrigerate the bowl for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days (maybe longer? will the fruit begin to weep through the gelatin?). To unmold, briefly set the bowl in a larger basin of hot water and invert on a serving plate. Or place the bowl upside down on a serving plate and then cover the bottom of the bowl with a hot wet cloth (use the microwave). The sparkling aspect of the wine comes through in a subdued way and the fruit is enhanced without being overshadowed. The dessert feels very light (after all, it’s mostly fruit) but still festive. You could cut it into wedges or serve with a spoon. Serves about 8.

Crunchiest Almond Cookies

Pains d’Amande  (adapted from Flo Braker) 40 1×3 inch cookies

Crisp cookies often involve rolling and cutting the dough—time consuming and fiddly. Here is a recipe for a thin, crunchy cookie that is not fiddly. In fact, the recipe and the process are easy, and the cookies, despite being very thin, are not fragile.

1/3 cup water

1 stick unsalted butter

1/2 tsp salt

250 gr. Turbinado  or other natural, highly flavored sugar (Demerara, Hawaiian washed, etc.) (about 1 cup) Do not use ordinary brown sugar (which is just white sugar with molasses) as the molasses will prevent the cookies from being crisp. (I tried!)

325 gr. all purpose flour (approx. 2 cups) (It’s OK to substitute gluten-free flour by weight: I used 2/3 fine white rice flour, 1/3 starch–tapioca, corn, or potato, ½ tsp xanthan gum. Note that GF will be more delicate and liable to break.)

¼ tsp baking soda

1 scant tsp cinnamon 

¼ tsp cardamon

4 ounces sliced almonds 

Melt butter in water, then add sugar and salt. Don’t let the mixture boil—it makes the cookies more crunchy to have some of the sugar remain unmelted.  Add other dry ingredients (which have been whisked together) all at once and blend thoroughly. Then stir in the almonds.

Let cool. Pack into rectangular tin (loaf pan, etc.) lined with plastic wrap. The dough will be like fudge. Freeze or chill until very firm. Unmold on cutting board. With a large, very sharp knife cut slices as thin as possible—1/16th inch—either rectangular or square. (The size of the pieces will depend on the size of your pan, although you could cut them in half.) Bake spaced apart on parchment at 325 for 10 minutes. Then take out of oven and let cool until you can turn them easily with your fingers (without burning yourself or breaking the cookies) and return to the oven to bake for another 10 minutes. A small angled spatula is useful for turning, too.  Let cool—cookies should be very crisp when cool. Packed together like cards in a deck, they are sturdy enough to mail.

The recipe can be made with different flavoring—½ teaspoon of almond extract to intensify the almond flavor, or 1/4 teaspoon of citrus essential oil, or different or more ground spices. The next time I make it, I’m going to use sesame or flax seeds instead of almonds.

Asparagus, Asian Style

My favorite Asian restaurant in Salt Lake City (Takashi) serves a warm asparagus dish that I love. The first time I had it, I went home and made it in so many variations I got tired of it. But that was three or four years ago, and it’s now spring asparagus season and I want to share it–as an anti-recipe. I don’t think you can ruin this as long as you don’t overcook the asparagus and keep tasting the sauce. To make the flavorful sauce, sauté pieces or slices of shiitake or maitake or any kind of mushroom in toasted sesame oil until the mushrooms are brown. At this point you can add minced shallot or garlic and/or ginger, tamari or soy sauce or miso, and something acid: balsamic or rice vinegar or mirin or citrus juice. In the version in the photo I used a dash of yuzu hot sauce and a splash of balsamic vinegar. You can steam or blanch the asparagus separately, or simply add it to the pan in which you have browned the mushrooms, cover, and let cook a few minutes. Add enough water to deglaze the pan and make a sauce. Maybe add more sesame oil? Keep tasting! Combine with bean thread/glass noodles that have been hydrated in boiling water. Garnish with chopped cilantro or chives or toasted sesame seeds. (I forgot about this for the photo.) If you want protein, serve with roasted tofu cubes or steamed shrimp. The dish is still delicious the next day, although I would let it come to room temperature before serving.

Five Minute Chocolate Pudding

When I was a child and my father travelled for work, my mother sometimes made chocolate pudding, from a boxed mix, as dinner for the two of us. It represented freedom from meat and potatoes and the luxury of suiting our sweet tooth. These days, “Does someone need some chocolate pudding?” is the response when either my wife or I are strung out, stressed, and in need of solace. We like eating it warm, in which state it resembles European hot chocolate. I like it as much as mousse, maybe better. There are only a few tricks to the recipe below–the first is to use good ingredients–high quality cocoa, chocolate, and turbinado sugar. The second is to mix the ingredients in a blender before cooking, which pre-empts lumps. The recipe makes about two cups–to serve 2-4, depending on your level of stress.

3 Tbs. good cocoa powder (I like alkaline treated, i.e. Dutch process)

3 Tbs. turbinado sugar (you could substitute brown sugar, but turbinado is worth the trouble)

2 Tbs. cornstarch

1 3/4 cups whole milk plus 1/4 cup heavy cream (you can change the proportions if you want it richer, to total 2 cups)

1/4 tsp. salt

3 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate (I use our “house” brand, Trader Joe’s 72% Belgian pound plus) in smallish pieces

1 tsp. vanilla extract (added after cooking to prevent evaporation)

Whir everything except the chocolate and vanilla in a blender. Dump into a heavy saucepan, and cook at medium heat until thickened, 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly. Off the heat, whisk in the chocolate to melt it, and then the vanilla extract. Voila! If you want to serve this chilled and don’t like the “skin,” place plastic or wax paper on it.