April 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I had a horrible experience, an embarrassing experience, a humility-inducing experience with homemade bread about 20 years ago. It was a “loaf” of rye bread that more accurately could be called an anvil. It defied some law of physics in how something so small could become so dense.
I swore off baking yeast breads for … oh, I’d say 15 years. And then, I let the embarrassment go. I’m a different person, I said. I can make different bread. I can make bread and be successful at it.
I’ve made a bunch of different bread overs the last five years or so. Various takes on wheat, white, whole grain, pizza, focaccia, sourdough—made with my very own sourdough starter! And it’s all turned out pretty tasty, too. I admit I need to work on my loaf shaping, but that will come with practice.
There’s one recipe for which I don’t need to shape up my boule-making skills, and that’s for pita bread. It’s flat and round, slightly puffy in the middle. I thought I could handle that pretty well. And it turns out it’s as easy as it seems. Why everyone everywhere isn’t making pita bread everyday, I have no idea. Get after it, people.
Pita Bread, adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
1 cup wrist-temp water (about 95-100F)
1.5 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tbs. sugar or honey (I used raw sugar)
1 tsp. salt
3 to 3.5 cups flour (1 cup can be whole wheat)
a bit of oil
1. Combine yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer and let it get foamy over the next 5 minutes.
2. Add sugar/honey and salt and stir until dissolved.
3. Put bowl onto mixer with a dough hook attachment, add one cup of flour and start to combine on low speed. Slowly add in two more cups of flour and continue to let the dough need in the bowl over the next 3-5 minutes. If it seems wettish, add in a sprinkling of flour as it mixes. You’re looking for a smooth dough.
4. Put dough in an oiled bowl and roll it around in there until the dough surface is oiled, too. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap, set in a warmish place (75F is good) for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in bulk. It could take up to 1.5 hrs.
5. Punch down dough and set it onto a clean and floured surface. Kneed it by hand for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into equal-sized pieces, anywhere from 6 to 12 segments. I made 8 because it was simple, and the pitas turned out just the size I wanted. . Knead each little dough ball for a minute or so (I turned each 30 times and figured that was about right). With a rolling pin, roll out each dough piece into a VERY THIN circle (or near circle, it doesn’t matter exactly). You WILL need to throw down extra flour. DO make sure the dough is no more than 1/8 inch thick—otherwise you end up with a pizza crust, no kidding. Let the dough circles rest for 30 minutes. After I rolled out each circle I placed it on a half sheet-sized piece of parchment, four per sheet overlapping slightly. It’s ok, don’t worry.
NOTE: This circle-making process takes some time. By the time you are done rolling out the whole batch, the first circles have already been resting about 15 minutes. So at this point set the timer for 15 minutes, get your oven ready and start moving toward the next step.
6. Preheat oven to 500F. OR, if you have a silly oven like mine that will not go above 450F (Ggrrrrr…), set it to 450F and work with it. Place a sheet pan in the oven to warm up a bit then brush it with oil or cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking. OR, place the dough circles on parchment and slide them onto the baking sheet, fitting as many dough circles in the oven as you can without them touching. Due to the craziness of my oven I am able to fit just two dough circles, which were placed on the parchment.
7. Let the circles bake for 6-8 minutes or until the circles puff up and are lightly browned and, more importantly, look like pita! At 450F, 8 minutes was the perfect amount of time. As soon as one batch is done, remove from the oven and wrap the pitas in a clean but damp tea towel and place them in a brown paper bag. Close the bag for 15 minutes. This keeps them soft(ish) for a day or so. After a day I would transfer them to a plastic bag.
As an experiment, roll out one dough circle a little thicker than 1/8 inch and bake. Whereas the thinner circles puff up like you’ve filled them with helium, you’ll notice the thicker circle doesn’t puff up much at all—if at all. It’s ends up more like a pizza crust. Which tells me why not have this same recipe handy for when you want to make pizza?
Give pita a try and let me know what you think!
November 27, 2012 § 2 Comments
Indecision can be crippling. Seriously crippling. Should I wear the green coat or the black leather? Should I dodge this person on the left or right? Should I sit here or there? Soon enough you find yourself standing in the produce aisle for 15 minutes, not sure which head of broccoli is the one destined for your dinner table.
Don’t think it hasn’t happened to me. It has.
Today I avoided a near calamity in the kitchen—the calamity of not knowing for sure what to have for lunch. At breakfast time (and by breakfast I mean my two helpings of coffee), I was thinking I’d have a salad for lunch. And yes, I do consider lunch that early in the morning.
Then at 10am, I spied that last ball of pizza dough in the fridge. Pizza for lunch. My fave. But … there’s the salad. And gosh darn it, that pizza dough is sitting there, asking me to redeem myself for a not-so-great pizza making session last night.
Salad … on a pizza? Salad pizza! Why not, right? Why not, indeed.
I’ve had arugula pizzas at fun, fancy pizza joints before. So I felt comfortable enough throwing something together despite my lack of arugula. Here’s what I eventually made, using 1/2 of one ball of pizza dough.
Since my new convection oven tops off at just 450F (a minimum of 480F is what I prefer for pizza), I baked the dough naked for 8 minutes, knowing I’d want my salad topping in the oven for just a minute. After 8 minutes, I took out the base and applied:
-baby spinach/young greens with thinly sliced red onion and red pepper, lightly dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette
-leftover sauteed shrimp (pre-heated while the naked dough cooked)
Sneak it back into the oven for just a minute more. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper.
Delicious. It was so good, it’s gone.
I’m always looking for not-your-typical pizza topping suggestions. What are some of yours? Leave a comment and let me know.
June 26, 2012 § 2 Comments
Hey, hi. Remember me?
Nope, haven’t forgotten about Dainty Dot. Truly have not. It’s been a bit of a busy month. And I’ve had other things on my mind. Dainty took a backseat for a bit.
A backseat to what, you ask? I’ll review in photos …
Boo – she’s growing too fast. My iPhone can barely hold all the photos I take of her.
June has so many Instagram opportunities. I can’t keep up. Pretty, huh?
I’m slightly obsessed with yoga. Just slightly, but in a good way. Maybe I’ll talk to you about it someday. But for now, know that this mat has become a good friend of mine. And it’s fashionably orange.
So, I’m a potato farmer’s daughter. And an avid gardener. And for the first time this spring, it dawned on me: Why not grow some potatoes? And it shall be so. Technically once the flowers bloom, there should be potatoes under the ground. But I want them bigger than peas, so I’ll await awhile.
Oh, yeah, and by the way … we’re buying a brand-spankin’-new unit in a brand-spankin’-new building. New as in, this was a vacant lot last July. And it’s highly energy efficient and will have solar panels and is built like a German tank – and that’s with good reason. Obviously, more on this later.
But just because I haven’t been writing here doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’ve been taking a spin at fiction. More of a poetry-short fiction hybrid type of writing. And the cool thing is it’s fiction inspired by photos. The images are all iPhone Instagram pics taken by a friend who has a knack for knowing there’s a story behind a scene. Take this one, for instance. Who left the phone? Why? Who was on the other end? I took a stab at it—and a bunch of other photos, too—and am publishing them at The Skinny Fedora. The one above is “Hope Asked.”
So, give The Skinny Fedora a quick read and let me and the other skinny girl know what you think. Leave comments here or at www.theskinnyfedora.com.
August 14, 2011 § 5 Comments
I’m telling you, some gardening years are better than others. A string of spectacular harvest sseasons from my small urban plot have made this summer a “meh” – that’s on a scale from “it sucks” to “this is freakin’ amazing.”
My cherry tomatoes—I’m not thrilled with them. They’re growing okay. I just don’t like the fruit. Too big. Too thick-skinned. And the flavor fell flat. Cherries are supposed to poppable, add a brightness to a salad. These? Meh.
When life gives you lemons, right?
So, these cherry tomatoes went straight into sauce. Roasting brings out the sweetness they lack when just sitting on your salad.
Step 1: Put about 2-3 lbs. cherry tomatoes in a cast iron skillet. Add a couple of tablespoons evoo, sprinkle with kosher salt and give it a couple of turns of fresh ground pepper.
Pop it into a 425F oven for about 40 min. or until the tomato skins start bursting and the liquid starts bubbling. Let it bubble along for a total time of about 1 hour.
Step 2: Your gonna get lots of juice from the tomatoes, and you want to let it cook off. And you also want the flavor of the tomatoes come through more and get the sauce a bit thicker. So, take the skillet out of the oven and put it on the stove top over a low flame. Add 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic. Add some herbage; whatever you like. Fresh thyme or basil. Will it top a pizza? Add some chopped fresh oregano. 2Tbs is about right. Taste it for seasoning and add salt/pepper if you need to. And cook loooow and sloooooow. How long? Until enough liquid has cooked out to get the sauce to the thickness you like. In my case, 2 hours.
How easy was that? You might find it still a bit too chunky to spread on a pizza or spoon onto layers of lasagna. Whir it up in a blender or use an immersion blender if you like.
And how sweet is this, uh? You may never go back to plum tomatoes for sauce again.
June 1, 2011 § 5 Comments
Pizza is one of our fallback meals in the Dainty domicile. And it’s not delivery; not even DiGiorno. It’s made with good ol’ homemade, hand-thrown dough. With a special addition. Let’s call it Dainty Dough.
There are two things that make the Dainty Dough a bit different. First, it’s made with biga, one of many types of dough starters. It’s a yeast-based starter, not a natural sourdough starter—meaning it contains commercial yeast and not yeast found naturally in the environment (have I lost you yet? Hang on for a minute.). The biga ferments—i.e. sits on your counter bubbling away—for 8 to 24 hours or so, all the while developing a richer, chewier flavor. Pizza crust with flavor, not just used as a platform for toppings, imagine that.
The second thing I do is add a dollop or two of my Sourdough Starter, aka Milo the Baby Dough, during the dough-making process. A few months back you may recall I was experimenting with natural yeast and tried creating a real sourdough. Well, after a month or so, Milo is alive and well. I feel like I created a golem, it’s so incredibly cool. It’s totally not necessary to add this sourdough starter, but I’ll explain in a minute why I do it.
Dainty Dough: Step 1
Biga Recipe (from my Basic Baking class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts)
- 1/4 oz. yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (warm=dip in a finger and it should feel the same temp as your body)
- pinch of sugar
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 3 3/4 cups flour (I suggest all-purpose flour here. If you want wheat dough you can add wheat flour later)
-Add yeast and 1/4 cup warm water with sugar in a bowl and stir together. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Add remaining water and the flour and mix thoroughly. You’ll end up with a creamy mixture. Cover and either let sit on the counter 8 hours or place in the fridge for 24 hours. It will become creamy and bubbly. The biga will remain
-At this point you can proceed with the next step and make the pizza dough. Or, I suggest weighing out your biga into 4 oz. pieces, reserving one piece for your current pizza and placing the remaining into individual freezer baggies and popping them in the freezer. Label and date your baggies! Otherwise a year from now you’ll excavate your freezer and wonder what the heck that thing is. From this one batch of biga you will get up to 8 4 oz. pieces. And each 4 oz. biga gives you four pizza stone-sized pizzas. Do the math—that’s a lot of pizza!
Dainty Dough: Step 2
Pizza Dough Recipe
- 4 oz. biga
- 1/4 tsp. salt (kosher preferred)
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- A dollop or two of Milo the Baby Dough sourdough starter (optional)
- 4 1/2 cup flour (for wheat dough use 2 1/2 cups all-purpose and 2 cups whole wheat)
- 1 1/2 cup water
-Add biga, salt, oil, sourdough starter and flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn on slow speed, let it mix together for up to a minute then add water slowly. Because I’ve added a bit of the sourdough starter, there is more moisture in the dough and depending on your weather conditions, you may not need all of that water. Yes, baking depends on weather conditions, believe it or not.
-If you’ve added all the water and the dough seems wet and watery, add a tablespoon of all-purpose flour and let it mix in. Keep adding flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough is no longer wet but not bone dry! You’ll likely need no more than four or five tablespoons of flour.
-Keep mixing on medium speed for about five minutes. The dough has a tendency to ride up the dough hook. Stop the mixer when the dough makes it above the hook’s collar and push the dough back down into the bowl. Keep mixing until the dough feels smooth and it’s started to relax a bit; i.e., it shouldn’t feel like a hard tight wad of flour.
-Oil a medium bowl. Roll the dough around in the oil so it’s slightly oily all over. Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for an hour. The dough won’t have risen all that much—it’s not rising like bread, we just want it to become elastic.
-Cut the dough into four equally sized pieces—they’ll likely have a triangular shape. Want an oddly shaped pizza? Then place these dough pieces as they are on a baking sheet or on the counter and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Want a perfectly round pizza? Then do this: Holding the dough piece in your hands, pull all the dough from around the piece into a central point. Go around the outside a couple times pulling it all into the center. Now, do your best to pinch that central point closed, then place the dough with that point facing downward. What you will have is a little ball with a perfectly round top, no seams showing anywhere except on the bottom. Cover these with oiled plastic wrap and let sit for about 20 minutes.
So, about adding that dollop or two of sourdough starter to the dough … here’s why I did it. I did, in fact, excavate my freezer recently and found two baggies of 13 month-old biga. Doing a little research I found that the recommended time for biga in the freezer is a max of four months. Oops. I added the sourdough starter as a way to give the dough a kick of fresh yeast. I think it worked. Plus, I noticed the crust did have telltale sourdough bread-like air bubbles. Tasty!
Hmm … turns out I have absolutely no photos of any of this. Bummer. Guess I’ll have to make some biga and dough later today.
By the way, biga can be used for more than just pizza dough. So instead of making 4 oz. balls of biga for the freezer, you can use what you have left for bread baking.
Wait, what? Am I leaving you without actually making a pizza? You bet. That’s for another day, when Jennifer can chime in on her favorite toppings. I make the dough, but she’s the pizza master.
January 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
“Half off bar menu tonight at Sel de la Terre.”
That tweet convinced me get out of my sweats and into some real clothes after a snow day that shut down the City of Boston. I love the French-inspired menu – absolutely. But put a deal on it like 50% off and I’ll push old ladies over to … well, yeah, I guess I’m a bit of a frugal person.
Boots on, Jennifer and I trudged through the gloppy banks of slush in the South End to SDLT’s Back Bay location.
In My Glass:
Fig Manhattan: fig-infused bourbon and sweet vermouth. I’m a big Manhattan fan but drink them sparingly (can’t have as much of the hard stuff as I used to …). I made an exception for this savory-sweet version of the classic leather-chairs-and-wood-paneled cocktail.
A half-dozen moon shoal oysters served with a garnish of red onion and … couldn’t really tell you. Maybe some champagne vinegar in there? Jennifer thought the oysters were terrific. Me? “Meh,” I think is the latest fashionable grunt for “not that impressed.” Maybe the tiny bits of oyster shell left in my mouth had something to do with it. I could have used another accompaniment option.
On Our Plates:
Grilled flatbread pizza with smoked chicken, feta, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and sage. That’s A LOT to put on a pizza that’s about 5 inches in diameter—and that’s only okay when the result is as AWESOME as this. One of the best flatbread restaurant pizzas we’ve had in quite some time. Was it lightly touched with balsamic vinegar? There was a sweet tang to the flavor that went nicely with the feta. Mmmmm feta …. love it on pizza. Big thumbs up on this plate.
Panko crusted yellowfin tuna with citrus salad, honey and chili sauce. If you order this, bypass the chili sauce: 1) it’s way too hot and 2) it covers the natural flavor of a wonderful hunk of tuna and the nice touch of the somewhat spicy panko covering. Tuna was cooked perfectly – meaning barely at all. Panko played the perfect second fiddle. And the citrus salad – there were a couple of tiny hunks of red grapefruit I think but the real stars were the spattering of dried fruits. Love dried fruit in my salad. Lightly dressed with something – not sure what – again, it let the flavors of the salad and fruit come out big rather than weigh it down with oiliness.
Bread basket and butter: An assortment of breads – all done well – came with a sweetened butter. Was that honey? There were little flecks of something in there – not sure what. If you know, please give me a shout out in the comments section and let me know. To me, sweetened butter belongs with brunch. On pancakes.
Just realized, I need to eat breakfast …
Dainty Rates Sel de la Terre: 4 Dots
(Dainty Rates perfect score is 5 dots)