Homemade Pizza, Take Two!

I have been dragging my heels on blog posts lately, mostly because I have been making so many different things that I am overwhelmed at the idea of writing about all of them. But this one is easy. If you want to take your pizza to the next level, use pizza flour! Seriously, this “00” flour is amazing. I have started making pasta from scratch with it (that’s for another post), and decided to try using it for pizza crust. Wow. Just wow.

This dough is so very easy to work with. My other favorite pizza dough recipe is yummy, but not so easy to stretch.  I was recently having a discussion with another baking friend about how it is difficult to get the pizza dough thin enough by hand, so we have to resort to using a rolling pin. Now, I don’t mind using a rolling pin, but this new recipe is like satin draping over your hands, silky smooth and pliable, just begging to be hand-stretched and shaped.

And the end result? A light, tender, crispy bubbly crust that you would only expect to find at an upscale pizzeria. This recipe came to me from my friend Joe, who loves biscotti. He emailed the recipe to me a while ago, but since I already had a recipe I loved, I didn’t pay too much attention. Until I had extra “00” flour sitting around. This is based on Roberta’s Pizza Dough Recipe from NYT cooking. I only changed it a little bit. And it is so very good. It is worth your time and effort to make this… to go to the store and get the special flour… just do it. Also, take a look at the original recipe (link included above). I found it super helpful to watch the video of the guy shaping the pizza dough. He makes it look so easy. I remember thinking to myself that it wouldn’t work that way for me. But it does.

Oh, here’s the rub. You have to plan ahead for this. You can either make the dough and let it rest for three to four hours, which is about all I can stand to do, since I’m not the plan ahead type. Or, you can make the dough and let it rest in the fridge overnight for enhanced flavor. I will do this someday. I know I will. But for now, I’m enjoying the three to four hour dough.

Pizza Dough

(Adapted ever so slightly from Roberta’s Pizza Dough Recipe)

This recipe will make two larger pizzas, or four individual sized pizzas.

  • 230 grams “00” flour
  • 230 grams all purpose flour
  • 12 grams fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons dried herbs of choice (optional)
  • 300 grams warm water (90°)
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Combine all dry ingredients in large bowl (I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer)
  2. Add warm water and olive oil.
  3. With dough hook, mix for about 3 minutes. Dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl, but will stick to the bottom. If doing by hand, mix until well combined (for about 3 minutes).
  4. Cover the dough and let rest for 15 minutes. Don’t even think about skipping this.
  5. Turn rested dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead the dough for about 3 minutes, until smooth and springy.
  6. Cut into two pieces for two larger pizzas, or four pieces for individual pizzas. Shape into balls. Place balls on floured surface and cover with slightly damp towel and let dough rest for three to four hours. Honestly, three hours is about all I can stand. One hour before you plan to shape and bake your pizzas, place a rack on the upper third of your oven with a pizza stone on it, and preheat your oven to 550°. Yes, that’s right. You want to preheat your oven for an entire hour. I got lazy last time and only preheated for half an hour, and I could tell the difference.
  7. While your oven is preheating, get all of your sauces and toppings ready.
  8. After oven has been preheated for about an hour, shape and stretch the pizza dough by hand, placing it on parchment paper for easy transferring to the oven. Top with favorite sauce, cheese, and toppings. Don’t overdo it with the toppings, or it will weigh down your crust.
  9. Using a rimless baking sheet, slide the pizza and the parchment paper onto the preheated baking stone in your oven. After about four minutes or so (check to see that the bottom of your pizza is looking browned), remove the parchment paper, and switch the heat to “broil”. Now watch that pizza like a hawk. You want the topping to get nice and bubbly, and even get a little char on it for the ultimate pizza experience. When it is done to your liking, remove the pizza and place it on a cooling rack .
  10. Switch the heat back to “bake”, and wait a minute or two before placing your next pizza into the oven. Repeat the bake/broil process for each pizza.
  11. Marvel at what you have just accomplished, and enjoy!

Posted in Fun in the kitchen!, Yeasty Things | 4 Comments

Extra Flaky Pie Crust (rough puff pastry)

I know I keep talking about pie crust. The thing is, once you can make a flaky tender pie crust (if you are like me), then you become rather obsessed over it. So yeah, I’m a little obsessed. As my daughters would say, I really am a nerd for baking, and it seems that has always been the case.

That’s me in the middle, with my sisters Jane (left) and Linda (right) making “crunchies”.

I examine every detail of every pie crust I make, and then try to retrace my steps to figure out cause and effect.

So many layers of flakiness!

So here is something I have noticed for years. When I roll out pie dough, I always save the scraps. I usually stack or roll them and wrap them in plastic wrap, then shape into a mini disc. That mini disc goes into the fridge, and often times one of my kids gets to roll it out and make a mini pie. I am always surprised when their crusts come out flaky and tender, and often flakier than the mother dough! I usually chalk it up to some sort of weird kid magic: because they are not worried about flakiness, their crusts come out perfectly!

Does she look worried to you? (Millie, Thanksgiving 2015)

Just last week, there was a disc of dough scraps sitting in the fridge starting to look ancient, so I figured I better do something with it. I wasn’t hopeful, just didn’t want to waste it. So I threw together an apple galette, and it was SO GOOD!! The crust was extra flaky and tender. How could that be? What with all the rolling out and cutting and smooshing and rolling out again?

This dough rolls out like a dream!!!

So now I’m on a mission. My goal? I would like to achieve that level of flakiness the first time around. Don’t get me wrong; I really really really do love my current favorite pie dough recipe. But if I want to add some more layers of flakiness, I can just take that dough, and add one more step to the process. So here is what I am doing. I make the dough as usual, and then, before shaping it into a disc and wrapping it, I place it on a large piece of parchment paper. I shape the dough into a rectangle, using the parchment paper so that I am not touching it with my warm hands. (I actually use my knuckles to press the dough down… knuckles aren’t as warm as the palms of your hands.) I then cut the rectangle in half with my bench scraper, stack the two pieces of dough, and then once again flatten and shape into a rectangle using the parchment paper. I repeat that as many times as I want, maybe three or four times. All of this happens quickly, so the butter doesn’t melt.

You can already see several layers in each half.

When I’m ready, I divide the dough in two, cut and stack each half one last time, and place the dough onto plastic wrap. (I usually make a full recipe, so I will be making two discs.)

Then moosh it down using the sides of the plastic wrap folded over the top so as to not touch the dough with my hands.

Then wrap and shape!

Marbled butter for thin layers.

I can still see the butter swirls throughout the dough, so I am not worried about having over-worked the dough. If you think this is a whole lotta fuss, don’t worry. This extra step only takes an additional minute or five, and your returns will be tenfold. Speaking of folds, you could also roll out and fold your dough a couple of times to the same effect. This cutting and stacking technique is just a different way. You are basically making a puff pastry. I say it’s worth it. Now you try and let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Vegetable Cannellini Bean Soup

Last month, my dear friend Lisa came to visit. Lisa and I grew up together in St. Louis. We have been friends for a very long time.

At Kubota Garden with Lisa

Lisa and gluten don’t get along very well, so one night I was going to make minestrone, and I told her I would make it with rice noodles, or even rice. She suggested I just leave out the starch altogether. What an idea! I had been looking around the internet for an easy recipe for minestrone, and found this one. I was going for something quick and easy that I could make with what I had on hand. And this fit the bill.

Basic ingredients.

Why am I writing about a soup that is so simple? I mean, everyone knows how to make soup, right? Well, I was so happy that the soup came out nicely without the noodles. In fact, I discovered that I like the soup better without the noodles. The soup is rich and delicious as is, and no worries about gluten, if that is an issue for you. And I just really like this soup. There are a few things that I did that made it extra yummy. Like using San Marzano tomatoes. The flavor is so very good. I was out of regular cans of diced tomatoes, and I had some leftover San Marzano tomatoes that I just crushed up a bit with my hands and put into the soup. And another addition is the crust from parmigiano cheese. We keep the cheese on hand for grating on pasta, and always end up with the edges. Save those! Throw them into your soups as they simmer! I leave the cheese edge in the soup pot when serving so that nobody ends up with a chewy piece of cheese in their bowl… I save that for me… shhhhhhh… it’s so good ;-).

This soup is even better the next day.

Also, the original recipe calls for simmering for about a half hour once all the ingredients have been added. I like simmering my soups for longer so the flavors intensify and the broth thickens. This soup is comforting on a chilly day, and it is so easy to whip up. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Vegetable Cannelini Bean Soup

(adapted from Maria Lichty’s recipe)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 carrots peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 1 zucchini diced
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green beans, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes (San Marzano if possible)
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 (14 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • crust (or small piece) of parmigiano cheese*
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat olive oil on medium heat in a heavy bottomed soup pot or dutch oven.
  2. Saute onion, carrots, and celery until softened – about 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in all the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour or longer. Longer = better flavor and thicker soup. (If simmering for longer, make sure it is a very slow simmer.)
  4. Serve with crusty bread and salad for an easy and delicious meal!

*Note – For a vegan soup, leave out the parmigiano cheese and substitute vegetable broth for chicken broth.

 

Posted in Busy-day meals, Comfort Food, Soups | 3 Comments

Roast Chicken and Cabbage

My friend Kelly sent me a link to a Seattle Times article a couple of weeks ago. She sent me the article because it had a review for five different recipes, focaccia being one of them. I wanted to make the focaccia, but I got distracted by a recipe for roast chicken – the idea dreamed up by The New Yorker’s foodwriter Helen Rosner. I don’t keep up with twitter or instagram, so I never see these things when they are trending. But the roast chicken looked so easy and amazing, I just had to try it.

All you need is a head of cabbage, a chicken, a lemon, some olive oil (I used olive oil instead of butter), salt and pepper. Fresh herbs like rosemary are a bonus. You don’t have to baste the chicken, you don’t have to do much of anything at all! The first time I made it, I was in a hurry, so I didn’t even really read the recipe correctly. I should have chopped the cabbage into wedges, but instead I just chopped it up into pieces and put it into an oiled cast iron skillet. It all still came out really so so good. I texted my friend Kelly to tell her that I had made the chicken instead of the focaccia, and she texted me back that she had made the chicken just the night before. Hehe. Great minds.

Kelly’s roast chicken – with potatoes and cabbage

The second time I made it, I did cut the cabbage into thick slices, and placed them on the bottom of the skillet, fitting them like puzzle pieces, and I was able to fit more cabbage, basically the entire thing, into the skillet that way, which is great, because the more cabbage you can squeeze into the pan, the better. The cabbage becomes caramelized and oh so yummy; it is really the star performer here. And I made thin spaghetti noodles to go with the chicken and cabbage. The leftovers were divine.

Kind of like the best chow mein ever.

Roasted Chicken with Cabbage

(Helen Rosner’s recipe)

  • 1 whole roaster chicken
  • 1 head green cabbage
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat oven** to 450°
  2. Lightly oil the inside of a cast iron skillet***
  3. Cut the cabbage into thick slices and place in the skillet, tightly fitting in as much as you can.
  4. Pat chicken dry with paper towels, and place the lemon halves and herbs in the cavity of the chicken. Rub outside of chicken with olive oil (or butter), then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with more rosemary if desired. Place chicken on top of the bed of cabbage.
  5. Put chicken/cabbage/skillet in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes per pound (a five pound chicken will take about 75 minutes to bake). When baking time is up, turn oven down to 425° and bake for ten minutes more.
  6. Remove from oven and let chicken rest for about fifteen minutes before serving. This gives you enough time to boil some pasta to go with!

**An oven thermometer is a great thing to have so that you know your oven is heating properly to the correct temperature.

***If you are using a cast iron skillet, you may want to skip the lemon, as the acidity in the lemon juice might damage your pan’s seasoning. You can put an onion in your chicken instead, or use a different type of roasting pan.

 

 

Posted in Busy-day meals, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Apple Galette

Today is the first day of fall, so it is time to think about apples. And yes, apple pie. Lately, I have been whipping up apple galettes when I don’t have enough time to make an apple pie. Last time I did, the whole family was sitting at the table, and Matthew took a bite of the galette and said, “I think I might like this more than your apple pie”.  Allow for a pause as I take in the information. Just so you know, apple galettes are so much easier to make than apple pies. What’s to love about an apple galette, aside from how quick and easy they are to make? First of all, the crust is pretty much guaranteed to be crispy, both top and bottom. Secondly, for those of us that love crust, I do believe there is more crust in the crust-to-fruit ratio. Thirdly, it bakes up so much faster, and you don’t have to wait as long to cut into it! And the rustic beauty of it will sweep you off your feet. And you only have to roll out one crust, not two. And you can use different fruit, like peaches or blueberries or whatever you have on hand. I’ve stopped counting.

This one is a peach galette.

Sure, you won’t have a lot of leftovers, since it serves 6, but that’s okay. Just make another one!

Apple Galette

  • 1/2 recipe of your favorite pie crust dough* (For best results, make your own crust! This galette is so much about the crust, so you want it to be top notch.)
  • 3 medium sized apples, whatever you have on hand
  • Fresh lemon juice, a Tablespoon or two
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • Milk for brushing the crust and sugar for sprinkling the crust
  1. Preheat oven to 425°
  2. Take your disc of pie dough out of the fridge and let it sit on your counter while you prepare your apples: about fifteen minutes. It will be easier to roll out if it is not straight out of the fridge.
  3. Peel and core your apples, and slice 1/4″ thick, then cut slices in half.
  4. Toss apple pieces with lemon juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt.
  5. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  6. Roll out your pie dough on a lightly floured surface (don’t worry about jagged edges; they add to the charm) and transfer to parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  7. Put apples in center of rolled out dough, leaving a 2 to 3 inch border of crust all the way around.
  8. Fold in the sides of the crust. Brush crust lightly with milk (or you can use a beaten egg white if you want sheen) and sprinkle with a bit of granulated sugar.
  9. Bake on center rack of oven for 10 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375° and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown, and the apple filling starts to bubble.
  10. Remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheet. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.  It is lovely served as is, or with vanilla ice cream.

Note: *If you can, make your pie crust dough one day to several days in advance, then wrap the discs and put them in your fridge. That way you can whip up this apple galette at a moment’s notice.

Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 6 Comments

Plum Torte

It is that time of year when plum trees (Italian prune plums) are all of a sudden exploding with ripe plums – too many to know what to do with! I don’t have a plum tree, but I have friends with plum trees, which is kind of perfect. My friend Sonja gave me a big bag loaded with these small, egg shaped fruit.

That’s a lot of plums!

I was a bit overwhelmed, and didn’t have a recipe, so I set the plums in their bag in a corner of the kitchen, and proceeded to forget about them. Several days later, when our kitchen was afloat with fruit flies, I discovered the source… I rooted through the bag and got rid of the few plums that had gone bad. I then decided that I would not be daunted; I would figure out a way to use these plums! Sonja gave me a recipe (in German!) for a plum kuchen… she included a translation.

It was a lot of work – yeasted dough, crumb topping, etc. It was good, but I was imagining a softer cake, kind of like a crumb cake. What I got was a type of yeast “crust”. Later Sonja told me that it was like a fruit pizza, so I guess I did it right, but just not what I was hoping for. During this time, there was (and still is) a lot of excitement over a New York Times recipe for a plum torte that was going around. It was fast and easy to make, with ordinary ingredients. Since I still had plenty of plums, I decided to give it a try. And OH MY.

Rustic beauty.

In all of its simplicity, this torte is perfection. Soft and moist, with homey flavors that will have you feeling summer’s last whispers on your tongue. Sweet, but with a wonderful tartness here and there from the plums that were just freshly picked. And the best surprise? The outside of the torte is crispy! So you not only have the wonderful contrast of sweet and tart, but you also have the delight of crispy on the outside, and soft cake-y fruity-ness on the inside. And bonus, this is so easy to make. I have started asking other friends for plums, while telling them about this amazing recipe. You may have already heard about it, but if not, here it is for you, along with a couple of tips that make it work better for me.

Plum Torte

(Marian Burro’s recipe from the New York Times)

  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (NOT melted)
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour*, sifted (measure first, then sift)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 goodly pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 dash cardamom (optional; not in original recipe)
  • 2 eggs
  • 24 to 26 halves pitted purple Italian plums (super easy to halve and pit!)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon for sprinkling
  • lemon juice for sprinkling (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 350°
  2. Butter a 9″ springform pan, place a 9″ round of parchment paper on bottom of pan, and butter that too. Sprinkle a little bit of granulated sugar on the bottom and swoosh it around. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter until light (in color) and fluffy.
  4. Add flour (you can sift it directly into the bowl if you like), baking powder, salt and eggs and beat until all ingredients are incorporated. Do not overmix. Batter will be thick.
  5. Spoon batter into prepared pan and spread it to edges with a spatula.
  6. Place plum halves skin side up on top of batter. A pretty design is fun, but it will get covered by rising cake batter, so keep that in mind. A nice even covering is good so that each piece will have plenty of plum in it. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of sugar, then about a teaspoon of cinnamon. I don’t use the lemon juice, since I find the plums to be quite tart, but if you like, sprinkle with lemon juice.
  7. Bake 1 hour. Remove and cool; a light dusting of powdered sugar just before serving is a nice touch, but not necessary. I think this dessert is best served at room temperature, although we have enjoyed it still warm, and also cold out of the fridge.

*I have had the best luck using King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose flour for this torte. the second time I made this torte I tried a lower protein flour and found the cake to be a bit mushy. The higher protein flour gives the cake more structure.

**I plan on making a few of these and freezing them, but if that doesn’t happen, I have frozen some halved and pitted plums so that I can make this summer sensation in the middle of winter. To serve a torte that has been frozen, defrost and reheat it briefly at 300°.

Getting ready for the fun part!

Pretty!

I may have been a bit heavy-handed with the sugar.

Yes, I like lots of cinnamon! But the cake doesn’t taste overly cinnamon-y.

Looks like it came from a European bakery.

One of summer’s last gifts.

Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Blueberry Crumb Muffins

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The other day, Millie decided she wanted to bake with me. She looked online and found a recipe for blueberry muffins that looked good, and off we went. (I have to chuckle to myself, because if it had been me, I would have researched for days before finding just the right recipe.) So we made the recipe exactly as written, and the muffins were fantastic! But because I am me, I imagined something a bit more dense and buttery for the cake part, and I wanted a crumb topping. The crumb topping was easy, since I already have a nice crumb topping go-to recipe from my German Style Crumb Cake post. As for the texture of the cake, I decided to use a little bit of almond flour to create the dense but moist texture I was after. Success! If you don’t have the almond flour, and/or don’t want a crumb topping, you can make the original recipe just as is, and you will still love it.

Now, this recipe might seem a bit fussy, because it calls for things like Greek-style yogurt, buttermilk, and now almond flour. But it’s worth it.

Blueberry Crumb Muffins

(Adapted from Broma Bakery’s recipe)

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons Greek-style yogurt (plain)
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

Crumb Topping

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (Gold Medal if you have it**)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted, cold butter, cut into cubes
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  1. To make the crumb topping, put sugar, flour, cold cubed butter, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla into the bowl of your stand mixer.
  2. Using the paddle attachment, beat on low speed until topping resembles sand or crumbs, with some larger clumps. Clumps should come together when pinched with your fingers. Do not cream!!! If you prefer to do this by hand, use a pastry blender to blend the ingredients. If you see some chunks of butter that have not blended in, use your fingers to blend it in.
  3. Put crumb topping into a different bowl and place in fridge. Now wash your stand mixer bowl (sorry!) because you’ll need it.
  4. Preheat oven to 425°.
  5. Grease 12 muffin tins, including a bit of the top of the pan around the individual tins, and line with cupcake liners and set aside.
  6. In your stand mixer bowl, combine the melted butter and granulated sugar, beating until combined. Add the eggs in one at a time. Add the buttermilk, greek yogurt, and vanilla extract. Mix until combined.
  7. Add flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed just until batter begins to come together (not fully incorporated). Toss the blueberries with the additional one Tablespoon of flour. Fold the blueberries into the batter, mixing only until combined – don’t over mix!!! Batter will be thick.
  8. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins. I like to use a large cookie scoop for this; my cookie scoop measure just under 1/4 cup. Level the batter in the scoop by pressing along side of the bowl before putting in muffin tins so that there is plenty of room for the crumb topping. If you end up with extra batter, just distribute it equally among the 12 muffins.
  9. Sprinkle tops with crumb topping. Really pile it on there. If you have extra you can save it in an airtight container in your fridge for the next time you need crumb topping***.
  10. Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F, then turn oven down to 375°F and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until muffins are golden brown and spring back to the touch. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating!

Notes:

*Here is a quick way to get your eggs to room temperature: place eggs in bowl of tepid water and let sit for 5 minutes. You just want to take the chill off of the eggs. Done!

**Your crumb topping will be more tender if you use a low protein flour, such as Gold Medal. But whatever all-purpose you have will be fine.

***You might want to make a larger quantity of crumb topping (that’s what I do), and then store it in your fridge in an airtight container for future use. It will last for about a month.

P.s. Sorry I don’t have more pictures. These are so good that I just wanted to post right away.

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Zucchini Brownies

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It is August in Seattle, and there is a fall feeling in the air. It’s the time I need to be really creative to figure out ways to use all of the zucchini from just one plant.

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My daughter Mara has been wanting to make brownies, and I noticed a zucchini brownie recipe from King Arthur Baking Company that looked interesting. The perfect opportunity for some mother/daughter time. Here is Mara in the kitchen.

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Gaucamole is one of her specialties.

So yesterday, when I had a few other things going on, and needed to get dinner on the table, and needed to be at a school meeting, I called out to Mara to see if she wanted to make brownies with me. She appeared in an instant. Let me tell you something about Mara: she is fast. She is like a whirlwind in the kitchen. I told her to look at the recipe, which I had pulled up on my phone, and tell me what to do. She put me on zucchini duty, while she started pulling out all other necessary items.

She told me I needed to cut the zucchini into chunks, and tamp them down. What? I had not read the entire recipe, but I made assumptions about it. Well, okay, so I got on it. We both furrowed our brows at the idea of tamped down chunks of zucchini in brownies, but anyway… then I asked her to read the actual steps of the recipe, and it turns out the recipe calls for a food processor, which we don’t have! So I switched gears and set aside the chunks of zucchini; those ended up in our dinner. I got out more zucchini (not a problem) and started grating.

We just started putting all the ingredients into a large bowl and mixing with a wooden spoon. It then occurred to me that King Arthur recipes usually have “Bakers Tips” near the end of their recipes, so I scrolled down, and sure enough, they suggest that if you don’t have a food processor, you can use a blender. I imagined the mess of the blender, and Mara agreed that we should just stay the course and mix everything in a big bowl. So we did. Right at the end, we added chocolate chips. I at first grabbed “mini” chips, but then decided against it, and just used regular chips. We dumped them in and stirred. I then looked at the recipe and noticed that it said to add the chocolate chips and pulse a few times to break the chips into small bits. Oops. Keep in mind that all of this is happening at an alarmingly fast pace.

The recipe called for a 9″ x 9″ pan, which we don’t have! So we went with an 8″ x 8″. We both agreed that the brownies would be thicker, so not a problem, right? We baked them for 20 minutes and checked at that point. The batter was still too wet, so we set the timer for 5 more minutes while we hustled and bustled around the kitchen cleaning up and getting dinner ready. Suddenly I looked at Mara and asked her if the timer had gone off. She didn’t know. Well, it had, and neither of us heard it! So I’m not sure how much longer the brownies went, but they were slightly puffed up (the kiss of death for brownies). I pulled them out of the oven to cool, threw dinner onto a platter, and sent my family onto the deck to eat while I sat in front of my computer for a Zoom school meeting.

Why am I telling you all of this??? Because it seemed that we royally screwed up with these brownies. But when the meeting was over, and dinner was done, and the brownies had cooled, we all sat down together for some dessert. The brownies were dark, fudge-y, gooey perfection. And I got to have some fun in the kitchen with Mara. Oh yeah, the recipe called for frosting. Nope. We opted for vanilla ice cream. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Zucchini Brownies

(Adapted from King Arthur Baking Company’s recipe)

  • 1 1/2 cups (182 to 225 grams) grated zucchini*
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, Dutch-process or natural (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (57 grams) all-purpose flour (King Arthur, if you please)
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Grease an 8″ x 8″ brownie pan
  3. In a large mixing bowl, add ingredients in the order as listed above, mixing with a wooden spoon with each addition. When you get to the flour, mix it only until incorporated.  Then stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth it out with spatula.
  5. Bake brownies for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. You shouldn’t see any sign of wet batter. Remove the brownies from the oven, and allow them to cool before enjoying.

Notes:

*If your zucchini is watery, place grated zucchini between sheets of paper towels or tea towels to absorb some of the moisture before using.

**Hats off to King Arthur Baking Company to come up with a recipe that even when you screw up royally, the results are royally delicious.

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Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Perfect Every Time Pie Crust

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I know I already wrote about an all-butter pie crust, and that one is pretty good, although a bit fussy. But since that time, I have found the perfect pie crust. I mean, it is perfect. When I say perfect (shall I say that word again?), in my world of pie crusts, that means that the crust is easy to make, doesn’t require fancy ingredients, uses only butter, is fork-shatteringly flaky, and is consistently amazing every time I make it.

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Flaky perfection.

Even though I was pretty happy with my other pie crust recipe, this new one knocks it out of the ballpark every time. Every time. This recipe comes from Kenji López-Alt; it is his Easy Pie Dough Recipe. The name sounds so modest, you’d never know how fantastic it really is. And I’ve tried a gazillion different pie crust recipes, including all the fads, and none compare to this one. I can’t even believe I’m letting you in on this secret. But trust me, this is the one.

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Once I discovered this crust, I couldn’t stop making pies. All kinds of pies.

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Hand pies.

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Even meat pies.

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The moment I love is when someone bites into one of my pies, and they get this look of disbelief on their face, and say, “Did you make this??”. Yeah, that’s the moment. Even better is when my husband Matthew says it, because he eats everything I make, so taking him by surprise is a sweet moment indeed.

Okay, now that you are thoroughly convinced, let’s get to the recipe. When I first came across this recipe, I ignored it, because it called for a food processor [sigh]. I don’t have one, and they are a pain to clean, so I don’t want one. If you can convince me otherwise, that’s great. My birthday is two days after Christmas. Yeah, not the best day for a birthday, but let me not get sidetracked. I read all the reviews, which were all great, so I was bummed about the food processor thing. So I decided to experiment and use my stand mixer. It seemed like a stand mixer would not work… just could not do the same things that a food processor with a sharp blade could do. But understanding what the technique actually does – create a butter/flour paste, then break up the chunks of paste and coat them with flour to create flakiness, that seemed like it could maybe work. And it does. I have been making this crust ever since and have not looked back.

Perfect All-Butter Pie Crust

(Adapted from Kenji’s recipe)

Makes enough for two 9 inch pie crusts.

  • 2 1/2 cups (11 ounces, or 312 grams) all-purpose flour (divided) – I recommend King Arthur All-Purpose Flour.
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar (optional, for sweet pies)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ pats
  • 6 Tablespoons ice water
  1. Combine 2/3 of the flour (7.4 ounces, or 208 grams, or 1 3/4 cups – see note**) with the sugar and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer.
  2. Cut the butter into 1/4 inch pats and toss the butter in with the flour to coat.
  3. With the paddle attachment, mix at low to medium speed in little bursts. Watch carefully and stop as soon as all the flour is incorporated and it starts to look like a crumbly paste. (I know, I know, it goes against everything you thought you knew about a flaky crust. Stay with me.)
  4. Spread the dough evenly around the bowl using a rubber spatula.
  5. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 of the flour (3.6 ounces, or 104 grams, or 3/4 cup), and mix at medium speed in a few little short bursts, just until you have lots of little crumbles coated in flour. Do not over mix!
  6. Add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork as you go, until dough starts to come together. You might not need all 6 tablespoons.
  7. Press down on dough with a rubber spatula to bring it into a ball. Do not stir!!!
  8. Dump out onto a work surface and divide dough in half.
  9. Place each half in plastic wrap, then quickly bring together into a 4 inch disc, using the plastic wrap, and not touching the dough with your hands (that will make the butter melt). Place discs in refrigerator to chill for at least two hours. For best results, leave in fridge overnight. (For directions on rolling out your dough, refer to my other post on pie dough.)

**Note – I am exact about flour measurements, because these are what work best for me. When I went back to Kenji’s recipe and made it using his weight measurements, I found the dough had too much flour. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, stir your flour well before measuring to aerate it, sprinkle the flour into your measuring cup using a spoon, and level it with a knife. Too much flour will kill this pie crust.

I’m including pictures below. I think having pictures to see what the process actually looks like is important, since it’s an unusual technique!

Combine 2/3 of the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer. Cut butter into 1/4″ pats and place into the bowl with the flour mixture.

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Yes, there is flour under there.

Toss the butter and flour together, then mix on low to medium speed in short little bursts just until the mixture starts to look like a crumbly paste.

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Yep, this is what it looks like!

Spread the crumbly paste evenly in the bowl with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle dough with remaining 1/3 of the flour.

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Mix at medium speed in a few little short bursts, just until you have lots of little crumbles coated in flour. Do not over mix!

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Add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork as you go, until dough starts to come together. Press down on dough with a rubber spatula to bring it together.

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Do this until until it comes into a rough ball.

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This shouldn’t take long. Just press it all together.

Dump out onto work space.

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See how it is still crumbly? That’s ok!

Divide dough in half.

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I love my bench scraper.

Place each half in plastic wrap, then quickly bring dough together using the plastic wrap, and not touching the dough with your hands.

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Make a 4 inch (or wider) disc and wrap well.

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Look at that marbleized butter!

One last thing I want to say: It is important to add the flour in two stages!!!! On a couple of occasions, I have forgotten to divide the flour in the beginning (GASP), which means that I went ahead and added the salt and sugar to all of the flour, only to realize afterwards my mistake. Not a big deal, since I hadn’t added the butter yet. At this point you can still divide the flour into 2/3 and 1/3. I’m not suggesting you do that, but just letting you know that it’s not the end of the world. What is important is adding the flour in two stages. That part is an absolute must. Now get ready to amaze your friends and family, and yourself!

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Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Sourdough Clean Up Tips

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I have two words for you: cold water.

I’m serious. The sooner you get stuff into cold water, the better. The cold water turns that floury sticky gluey crusty stuff into something watery and easy to clean off in no time. Of course, try to get as much stuff into the compost bin as possible. You don’t really want a lot of that stuff going down your drain.

I usually keep a bowl or glass filled with cold water in the sink, so I can toss stuff in there as I go. Then clean up is a breeze.

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But now let’s talk about the proofing towel.

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Crusty stuff. This one is not too bad.

This is a moderate mess. After I am done proofing my dough, often the towel I use is coated with floury crust. I take it outside and shake out all the loose flour into the compost bin, and I shake it like a maniac (no, I don’t have a picture of that). But I am still left with crusty stuff. What I have been doing is letting it dry really well, then scraping off the crust by hand. Tedious at best. So I talked to my friend Sarah, you know, my Buy Nothing friend that got this whole thing started, and she says she has three towels that she uses on a rotation, and that she just puts them in the wash! Well, I had a bad experience one time doing that. So now here is what works for me.

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Soak in cold water first!

After shaking the towel out, I just put it in a bowl of cold water, crusty stuff and all… the bowl I use to make the bread in the first place. It’s in there anyway. And just rinse a couple of times with cold water, rubbing the fabric together if necessary. All the stuff comes right off. If you think I am silly for telling you this, and of course everyone already knows this, then well, you are one step ahead of me. Or maybe two. I just didn’t know. Now my towel has no crusty stuff, and I can throw it in the wash.

So that’s it! Those are my tips. The other idea is that you can have your kids do the clean up for you, and then you don’t have to worry about it at all. Good luck with that.

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Posted in Musings, Yeasty Things | 1 Comment