Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daring Bakers -- Bake like a real Pizzaiolo!

Before I start this post, I want to apologize for the photography on my page.  :(  What's worse is that I am the daughter of a pretty talented photographer (if you ask me), and the wife of a photography college graduate.  You would think I should have picked up some skills somewhere along the way.  Part of my problem is my camera.  The other part of my problem is that I tend to bake at night, and with the winter fast approaching, it's getting dark so early.  Therefore, I have no natural light to assist with ridding my photos of the blur.  Arrrrrrgh, I'm a perfectionist, and these pics just aren't cutting it.  Anyway -- on with the show.

This month the Daring Bakers challenge was to bake a pizza "like a real Pizzaiolo" which included tossing the dough into the air like a professional.  I wish it were just that easy.  Actually, the tossing part wasn't so bad.  I struggled when it came time to transfer the pizza dough and toppings into the oven.  My dough wouldn't budge.  I had to pretty much slop the whole thing down onto the pizza stone and just hope that some of the dough made it under the toppings.  I learned my lesson from the first pizza, and prepared the second pizza directly on the preheated pizza stone (quickly, mind you).  I guess a better solution would have been to properly oil and flour the area I was topping the dough on.  Oh well, I still have 4 more dough balls in the freezer to experiment with.

The pizza was very good.  The dough was thin in the middle, and chewy with a hint of crunch around the outside.  I topped our dough with homemade marinara from this Cooking Light recipe (it's wonderful and simple).  I precooked some turkey bacon that I crumbled on top of the sauce along with some caramelized onions.  Then I topped that with fresh mozzarella, turkey pepperoni and a sprinkling of oregano.  This pizza had delicious flavor!  I can't wait to make it again!  I wasn't very "daring" with my toppings, but I just love pizza, and I love the more traditional (American traditional) flavorings.

Check out what the other daring bakers did with their challenges here.

And, make sure you try it for yourself by following this recipe:

Basic Pizza Dough
(Original recipe taken from "The Break Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart)

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches in diameter)

4 1/2 cups (20 1/4 ounces) unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it's better with)
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40 F)
1 T sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1.  Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2.  Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough.  On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed.  If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too try add 1 or 2 teaspoons of extra water.

NOTE:  If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.  The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl.  If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour so that it clears the sides.  If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.  The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50-55 F.

3.  Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment.  Lightly oil the paper.
4.  With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE:  To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5.  Sprinkle some flour over the dough.  Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball. 

NOTE:  If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6.  Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil.  Slip the pan into a plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7.  Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

NOTE:  You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some dough for any future baking.  In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil.  Then put each ball into a separate bag.  Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months.  The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8.  On the day you plan to eat the pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator.  Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil.  Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour.  Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter.  Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil.  Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9.  At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500 F).

NOTE:  If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan.  Do not preheat the pan.

10.  Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal.  Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles).  Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper.  Lay the dough across your fists in a vary delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce.  Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
11.  When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches in diameter for a 6 oz piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12.  Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE:  Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously.  No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13.  Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan.  Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE:  After 2 minutes baking, take a peek.  For an even baking, rotate 180 degrees.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pan to a lower shelf before the next round.  On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14.  Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer to a cutting board or your plate.  In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Bento Birthdays!

A month ago I stumbled across a blog featuring mostly bento box lunches.  I was instantly amused by the concept.  The first thing I thought of when I read about this Japanese trend was how much my mom would LOVE it.  My mom has always been one to snack, scavenge, and pick rather than feast or dine.  She loves little portions or samplings of food.  Her lunch bag consists of multiple little tupperware containers of snacky foods.  BINGO!  I had her birthday present -- I ordered it off of this website.  Once she got it, I decided that I should probably get myself a bento box.  However, seeing as though my birthday is only a little less than a month after my mom's, I didn't have to wait long.  My mother-in-law bought me a bento box set identical to the one I bought my mom, which was great, because I really liked the one I purchased for my mom.  So, without further ado, here are some photos from my first assembled bento box.  I didn't get fancy or clever.  I just appreciate the bento box for forcing me to pack small portioned lunches.  I had some Craisins, chili-lime cashews, turkey pepperoni, chocolate covered dried berries, mini salad with cucumbers and a molded hard-boiled egg.  It was surprisingly satisfying and filling!  I am learning to savor . . . maybe!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Birthday Cookies and Cupcakes!

My friend Julie had a baby shower recently and requested that I bring cookies.  So, I took the opportunity to continue my goal to make every single cookie in this cookbook!

I pretty much followed the recipe, however, I added baby-related embellishments using colored white chocolate.

Shortly after the baby shower, we celebrated my mom's birthday.  I wanted to make her fall cupcakes.  So, I used a recipe I found in the Cupcake Doctor cookbook for pear-ginger cupcakes with a lemon frosting.  They were pretty good.  I also made some more cookies from Martha Stewart's Cookie Book, I believe they are called "Umbrella Cookies" in the book, because she uses an umbrella cookie cutter.  They were absolutely delicious.  Very caky and moist with a good flavor as well.  Her recipe for royal icing worked out extremely well also.  The only thing I would do differently next time, would be to add some vanilla or other extract to improve the taste.  I had never used royal icing before to ice cookies, and I felt it was really successful.  I am eager to try it out again, and I already have a great plan!  Stay tuned . . . 

Last, but not least, I made Martha Stewart's snickerdoodle recipe from the same book I used for the previous two cookie recipes.  I embellished her recipe slightly, by adding Alton Brown's Caramel sauce as topping!  These cookies got rave reviews at our friend Paul's birthday party.  Snickerdoodles aren't my favorite cookie, but there were plenty of people at the party who said that Snickerdoodles were there favorite, and that these were the best they'd ever had!  Way to go Martha, as I am just a pawn in your game of delivering delicious cookies!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Iron Cupcake: Cheese!

Well, it doesn't seem like that long ago that I was racking my brains about how to incorporate basil into a cupcake.  This month, I had to ponder cheese.  The first combo that came to mind was a brie and fig cupcake.  However, and it's a little embarrassing since I consider myself somewhat of a "foodie", I don't like brie very much.  I wanted to make a cupcake that I would enjoy eating and that was clever as well.  I must admit, the cheeses I chose aren't the most daring cheeses, but I'd say that the combination I created is unique.  So, without further delay, this month I created a walnut spice cupcake with a caramel mascarpone filling, a pumpkin spice cream cheese frosting, finished off with a wedge of walnut brittle.

Just like last month, this is a competition, and you can vote for me, or other Iron Cupcakers if you must ;)  starting October 26th  at 12 noon central standard time by following this link.

These are the prize up for grabs:
-Cupcake earrings from Lots of Sprinkles
-T-shirt from Bakelove Bakewear
-Head Chefs by Fiesta Products
-Hello Cupcake by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson
Sponsored in part by 1-800-Flowers

You can make these cupcakes too, by following my recipe:

(An adaptation of Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake)
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place 24 cupcake liners into cupcake tins.
2.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
3.  Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
4.  Put the sugar in a mixer with butter and mix with paddle attachment, or with hand mixer, at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light and fluffy.
5.  Beat in the vanilla extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
6.  Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.  Add the rest of the milk-egg mixture, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
7.  Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
8.  Distribute batter evenly into cupcake liners and bake for 18-20 minutes.

For filling:

1 container mascarpone cheese
1/2 tsp salt

1.  Mix all ingredients together until smooth.
2.  Using the coning method, fill cooled cupcakes.

For frosting:

8 oz cream cheese
1-2 cups powdered sugar (depending on your personal taste in sweetness level)
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg

1.  Mix all ingredients together, refrigerate, pipe or spread onto cupcakes.

For Brittle:

I used this recipe to the "t".

SPECIAL THANKS to hubby for always taking the photographs and making me look good!