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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Pizza!

The Daring Bakers Challenge this month was pizza. I've made pizza in the past using Alton Brown's recipe, but that was at least a year ago, so I was excited to try another recipe. This one was taken from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and yielded 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches in diameter). I froze 2 to use later, but we had fun experimenting with the others. The dough turned out as promised...to be a thin, crispy yet chewy crust. And, it was super easy since I used my stand mixer to do the kneading work for me. I did not, however, get into the tossing of the dough. (I'm not coordinated enough for that!) So, I used Alton's pinch & turn method, which worked well for me. There's only one problem: my husband has declared that he can't go out for pizza any more since these were so good.

We did savory and sweet variations:

Sauteed Mushrooms, Wilted Spinach, & Goat Cheese Crumbles
Same as above, but with a spicy marinara sauce
Dessert: Pear Slices & Feta Crumbles with a Local Honey (would have been better with blue cheese but we didn't have any)

We'll definitely be making pizza at home again since it's so easy. I think I'll try substituting part of the bread flour with whole wheat flour next time. Mmmm.

Basic Pizza Dough

4 1/2 cups unbleached bread
1 3/4 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp Instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups ice cold water (~40 degrees F)
1 Tbsp sugar
Cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE: Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a big bowl). Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes - until the ingredients are distributed. 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.

Line a sheet pan with a silpat, then flour a work surface or counter. Turn out the dough on the counter and cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas). Sprinkle some flour over the dough, then with floured hands, gently round each piece into a ball. Transfer the dough balls to the lined sheet pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Cover the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or up to 3 days).

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons 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.

DAY TWO: Exactly 2 hours before you want to make the pizzas, 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 gently 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.

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 (~500F). Note: If you don't have a pizza stone, use the back of a sheet pan, but don't preheat it. Sprinkle cornmeal onto a flexible cutting mat. With floured hands, gently pinch the edge of the dough as you turn it; gravity will help you stretch out the dough. If the dough springs back instead of expanding, let it rest for ~5-10 minutes in order for the gluten to relax & try again. When the dough is the desired shape/thickness, place it on the cornmeal-coated cutting mat, making sure there is enough cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick. Brush the dough with olive oil and lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice, slide it onto the pizza stone, and bake for about 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and delicious.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Well, it's a rainy day here...not good for much of anything other than making soup and curling up on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a good book. However, I did manage to mail my BBM package today. And, I received my BBM package, too! Great timing!

My package was from July Bug in New York. She sent all sorts of goodies:

Let's see....where do I begin? How about that HUGE cookie on the left. I am SO excited about this cookie, it's not even funny. It's a Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie from the Levain Bakery in NYC. I've been admiring these cookies ever since I first saw them. Yes, they're HUGE! As in 6-ounces huge! (Yes, I'm a dork, but I wanted to show the size of this thing! Oh, and please ignore the brightness of my hand...I don't see the sun much.)

True, I'm not a big fan of chocolate, but I did eat part of this cookie. It's got a nice blend of flavors, and the walnuts (halves!) are delicious. Moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Yum.

Ok, enough about the cookie. On to the rest of the goodies. Behind the cookie is a festive halloween cup since July Bug loves the holiday. Continuing to the right, we have White Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread from Peanut Butter & Co, where she & her boyfriend had their first date. Next is Nutella, which will be great in my Nutella Bundt Cake or sandwiched between two chocolate wafer cookies for Christmas gifts. On top of the Nutella is the Lemony Snicket's book Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid which she says is hilarious. The colorful card is July Bug's handwritten note explaining everything in the package. The image on the card is a double exposure of 5th Ave in Manhattan and 5th Ave in Brooklyn. The two computer printouts are a description of Levain Bakery and the secret to the perfect chocolate chip cookie (a 24-36 hour "hydration time" to allow the flour and other dry goods to absorb moisture and bake more evenly). Lastly, since she knew I like white chocolate, July Bug also included a Ghiradelli White Chocolate Baking Bar. Yum. This will be awesome for shaving down over desserts.

So, many thanks to July Bug for the awesome goodies. You definitely brightened my rainy day!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Apple Date Crunch Bars

My grandmother sent a large amount of apples from her orchard to us, and I decided to adapt one of my go-to recipes for the fall fruit instead of making a traditional apple pie or apple cake. So, I tweaked my Cranberry Crunch Bars recipe and came up with Apple Date Crunch Bars! They're quite reminiscent of apple pie but don't require a fork and can be eaten for breakfast since they contain oatmeal! :) These disappeared too quickly for me to get any pictures.

Also, I'm not sure what kind of apples I used, but a Red Delicious or Macintosh would probably work well. Or, you could use a mixture of sweet and tart apples and adjust the sugar to taste.

Apple Date Crunch Bars

1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup water
3/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 to 3 cups sliced apples (don't have to peel)
3/4 cup chopped pitted dates
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, water, vanilla, apples, and dates in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in spices. Let cool slightly.

Crumb Topping:

1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted

Mix oats, brown sugar, flour, and melted butter until combined. Sprinkle ~half of the crumbs into the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan. Spread apple filling over the crumbs and top with remaining crumbs. Bake at 350F for ~45 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown and caramelized.