Dough for Thick-Crusted Pizza & for Focaccia {ModBak}

The next recipe in The Modern Baker isn’t actually one of the assigned recipes in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge. The Pizza/Focaccia Dough on page 114 is used as the base for the next four recipes in the book:  Sfincione; Focaccia alla Barese; Nonna’s Pizza; and Filled Ham & Cheese Focaccia. For this reason, no one was assigned to post about this recipe, as each of the official bloggers for the four other recipes would be making it and could write about it.

That said, having made this dough several times, I decided to write a post about it. It is by far the easiest focaccia dough I’ve ever made, and the results are consistently terrific.

The dough is simplicity itself, consisting of flour, salt, yeast, water, and olive oil. The flour and salt are mixed in a bowl, and the remaining ingredients are stirred together in another bowl. I made a well in the center of the flour mixture, poured the liquid into the well, then began stirring with a rubber spatula. I stirred from the center, incorporating a bit more flour as I went, until all the flour was moistened and the dough was soft and shaggy.

I covered the dough with plastic wrap and let it ferment for two hours, until it had doubled. Then I pressed the dough into an oiled pan, covered it again, and let it rest for another hour while I prepared the topping ingredients.

And that’s all there is to it. No long mixing. No kneading. Just a couple ingredients, a few quick folds with a rubber spatula, and some time. That’s all it takes to create one of the simplest, most consistent, and delicious focaccia or pizza doughs you’ve ever tasted.

Roast Chicken for Les Paresseux (FFwD)

This week’s entry for French Fridays with Dorie is a new favorite around my house. Who doesn’t love a delicious roast chicken? And this one comes with a few special treats for the chef.

The recipe says to start with a thick slice of bread. Because I was so looking forward to this, I used really big slice of bread.

After rubbing the inside of the pot with oil, I put the slice of bread in the bottom of the pan.

I rubbed the chicken inside and out with oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper, then stuffed the chicken with fresh herbs, garlic, half an onion, and the chicken liver.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: chicken liver? Why would you put that in there? Well, reader, because it’s one of the chef’s treats. You may think you don’t like chicken liver, but until you’ve tried it roasted this way, you really don’t know.

I placed the chicken in the pan on top of the bread (the other treat for the cook), then placed additional herbs, garlic, and onion around the chicken in the pot.

I roasted the chicken in a 450°F oven for 90 minutes, until the skin was browned and crisp.

The chicken was sizzling and smelled amazing when it came out of the oven. I let it rest in the pan for about 10 minutes, then removed it from the pot to a cutting board. I discarded the herbs, onion, and garlic, then went for the bread.

I think I added a bit too much oil to the pan, as the bread was very greasy on the top, while the bottom was crisp and stuck to the bottom of the pan. I scraped the bread from the pan with a spatula, then tentatively tried a bite. Oh, me. Oh, my. How do I describe this bread? It was toasty, crisp, spongy, greasy. And tasted like a little bit of heaven. I ate several more bites of the bread, then I remembered the liver.

Now, I’m not squeamish when it comes to eating animal parts. I get a taste for beef liver about once a year, and giblet gravy is a regular feature on our Thanksgiving table. Oh, and did I mention that I love pâté? So, eating the chicken liver was not a stretch for me, although I would never have thought of roasting it in the bird and then smearing it on bread. I spread a healthy layer on a chunk of the roasted bread and took a bite. It was so good, I thought I might cry. I quickly ate the rest of the bread and liver before anyone caught me and asked for a bite.

After my selfish bread and liver indulgence, I sliced the chicken and served it for dinner with fresh bread and green beans. We all agreed that it was among the best roast chicken we had ever had.

This recipe is one that I will make again, especially as long as I can keep the bread and liver to myself.

One-Step Croissants {ModBak}

I have been looking forward to the next recipe in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of The Modern Baker for some time. I love croissants and have made them the traditional way a number of times. All the folding, rolling, refrigerating, and turning. And time. Lots of time.

I have to say I was somewhat skeptical about a croissant recipe that didn’t include all those steps. But having successfully made Nick’s Instant Puff Pastry, which is also a simplified version of what is usually a complex process, I was encouraged to try the croissants.

The dough is quite simple to mix in the food processor. I put flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of the food pro and pulsed it to mix everything together. I added four tablespoons of cold butter and pulsed the mixer until the butter was cut in. I then added the rest of the butter (two sticks!) and pulsed the food processor twice. Finally, I added cold milk and pulsed the mixer three times.

The dough didn’t come together in the food processor, but the recipe said it wouldn’t, so I knew it was OK.

I pressed the dough into a ball, rolled it out into a rectangle, then folded it in thirds. Then, as in the puffed pastry recipe, I rolled the dough into a cylinder.

I flattened the dough into a square, put it in a plastic bag, and allowed it to rise for 1 1/2 hours. Then I flattened the dough by smacking it with the flat of my hand, and put the bag in the refrigerator.

After the dough had chilled for about six hours, I got it out of the refrigerator to roll out the croissants. I had a bit of trouble rolling the dough, but the longer it was out of the fridge, the easier it became to roll. I rolled the dough into a 12 x 15-inch rectangle, which I cut in half lengthwise. I then cut each strip of dough into six triangles.

I rolled the triangles from the wide end, pulling the tip slightly as I rolled up the croissants. I made six regular croissants, and decided to make almond croissants with the other half of the dough. I had some leftover almond paste in the fridge, which I shaped into logs and then rolled into the croissants.

I put the croissants on a baking sheet and set them aside to rise for about an hour and a haf, until they had almost doubled.

I brushed the croissants with egg wash and sprinkled the almond ones with slivered almonds. I baked them in a 350°F oven for about 25 minutes. I was surprised by how dark the croissants got, but they looked a lot like the ones Andrea made, so I figured that’s how they were supposed to come out.

I let the croissants cool, then cut into them. The plain one had a nice crumb, like you would expect to see in a croissant.

I have to say, the flavor was a disappointment. The texture was not at all typical of a croissant. The outside was dry and too crisp. And despite its appearance, the crumb was not light and flaky, but rather dense and greasy. I tried it plain and with jam, but either way, one was enough.

The almond ones were better and reminded me just slightly of the almond croissants I used to get at a chain bakery.

In the end, I only ate two of them, and I’m pretty sure I won’t make them again. But they did make me think I would like to make almond croissants from one of my other recipes. So although these croissants weren’t a big success, they did give me an idea for a future baking project.

Long and Slow Apples {AMFT}

I love Autumn. I love the changing leaves, the cooling temperatures, the golden light in the late afternoon. But above all, I love the food. Squash, pumpkin, pears, grapes, root vegetables, and, most of all, apples. I love apples, both for eating out of hand and for cooking and baking.

Of course, in this day and age, you can get apples year ’round. But in the Fall, we have access to a greater variety of apples, locally grown and fresh from the trees. Throughout Autumn, you will always find apples in my house, and at any given time, I have four to six varieties to choose from.

Having recently made Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake for French Fridays with Dorie and a rustic apple tart, I hadn’t yet had my fill of apple dishes. When I got my copy of Around My French Table, one of the first recipes that caught my eye was this recipe for long and slow apples. I thought it might show up as one of our October or November FFwD recipes, and when it didn’t, I knew I had to make this dish anyway.

This is a simple dish in which time and gentle heat do most of the work. I made the apples in buttered ramekins by layering thinly sliced apples with melted butter, spiced sugar, and grated orange zest.

I wrapped the ramekins in plastic wrap (which Dorie assures us will not melt) and covered the plastic wrap with foil.

After poking through the foil and plastic wrap several times, I put custard cups filled with pie weights on top of the dishes.

I baked the apples at 300°F for two hours. The whole house smelled like Fall while the apples baked, and I couldn’t wait to try them.

As an aside, when I peeled the foil and plastic wrap off the ramekins, the plastic wrap fell apart, and some of it stuck on top of the apples. I took great care to pick it off, but I think when I make these again, I won’t use plastic wrap. Perhaps a disk of parchment would work better.

I let the apples cool and served them, still slightly warm, with fresh whipped cream. Everyone in my family loves apples like I do, and we all enjoyed this dish immensely. It reminded me of other baked apples I have tasted, but the thin slices of apple changed the texture a bit, putting me in mind of applesauce, but with a bit of tooth.

This was another delicious and easy recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s new book. If you have an interest in French cuisine, or just want to expand your culinary horizons with a great book chock full of amazing recipes, you won’t be disappointed if you add Around My French Table to your cookshelf.

Grissini: Classic Italian Breadsticks (ModBak)

This week’s entry for the Modern Baker Challenge is Grissini, or Italian Breadsticks. These breadsticks are very simple to make, containing only flour, water, salt, olive oil, and active dry yeast. The recipe calls for both warm and cold water — warm to activate the yeast; cold to cool the dough in the food processor.

Because I was using instant yeast, I didn’t have to dissolve it in water first, so I mixed the yeast with the flour, salt, and olive oil in the food processor, then added all cold water. The recipe makes 24 breadsticks, but I didn’t want that many, so I halved the recipe. After mixing the dough, I put it in an oiled container to ferment.

I let the dough proof for about an hour, until it had doubled in volume.

After the dough had fermented, I put it in the refrigerator to chill. The recipe says to refrigerate the dough from one to 24 hours. I wanted to bake the Grissini with dinner the next day, so I left the dough in the fridge for about 22 hours. The next day, I took the dough out of the fridge, pressed it into a rectangle, and cut it into 12 pieces.

I rolled each piece of dough into a roughly 15-inch cylinder and put them on a baking sheet.

I baked the breadsticks in a 325°F oven for about 25 minutes, until they were golden and crispy. I let the Grissini cool on the pan, then put them in a tall glass for serving.

I served the Grissini with Dorie Greenspan’s Potato Gratin. The breadsticks were crisp and light and paired perfectly with a meal. They could easily be spiced up by adding herbs to the dough or by topping them with sesame seeds or cracked pepper. But I liked them the way the were — crisp, crunchy, and delicious.

Potato Gratin (Pommes Dauphinois) {FFwD}

My selection this week for French Fridays with Dorie was Potato Gratin. These aren’t your mother’s scalloped potatoes. No ham. No cheddar cheese sauce. No flour (I never understood why one would add starch to starchy potatoes). No, sir. These are simple, creamy, delicious potatoes. They’re easy to make and impossible to resist.

There aren’t many ingredients: potatoes, heavy cream, garlic, salt, pepper, Gruyère, and, if you’d like, a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary (I used both).

The cream is heated with the garlic until it simmers gently. The smell of garlic-infused cream was enough to convince me that this dish was worth making. After slicing the potatoes paper thin with the smallest blade on my mandoline slicer, I layered the potatoes with cream, salt, and pepper until all the potatoes and cream were used up and the dish was filled almost to the top.

Then I sprinkled the potatoes with thyme and rosemary and layered on the Gruyère.

After 45 interminable minutes in the oven, the potatoes were tender and the cheese well-browned. I let the dish set up in the oven with the door open and the oven turned off for about 10 minutes.

I served the potato gratin for dinner with turkey sausage, Modern Baker grissini, and Cabernet Sauvignon. As easy as this dish was to make, it was out of this world delicious. We all agreed that this is a recipe to keep close at hand and to make often for a simple, perfect supper.

Pecan Stickiest Buns {ModBak}

The next recipe in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is Pecan Stickiest Buns. Yes, stickiest. Not sticky. Not stickier. Stickiest. The name alone gives these buns a lot to live up to. And they had some stiff competition. Having recently acquired Artisan Breads Every Day; and having tasted sticky buns baked by Peter Reinhart himself; and having baked Reinhart’s sticky buns, twice; and having grown up in Lancaster County, PA, where sticky buns are standard breakfast fare, well, let’s just say I know sticky buns.

Malgieri’s recipe starts with the sweet dough used in the previous recipe, Bakery Crumb Buns. After mixing the dough and letting it ferment for a few hours, I patted it out, then rolled it into a rectangle. I spread the dough with a filling made of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, then sprinkled on chopped pecans.

I rolled the dough into a cylinder and cut it into 15 rolls. Then I put the rolls into a pan that I had spread with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and pecan halves.

I covered the pan with greased plastic wrap and allowed the dough to proof for two hours.

After the dough had proofed, I baked the rolls at 375°F for 25 minutes, until the rolls were golden brown and firm and the sticky mixture was bubbling up between the rolls.

I let the buns cool for about five minutes in the pan, then turned them out onto a baking sheet.

So, how did these sticky buns stack up? I can safely say they were every bit as good as any I ate growing up in New Holland. As I was eating them, I thought they tasted a lot like the PR sticky buns. I recall at least one of Peter’s recipes having orange flavoring, which Nick’s did not. My wife and I agreed that we would have to taste them side by side to determine which one we liked the best.

As it turns out, Nick wasn’t just bragging when he called these “Stickiest Buns”. And he could have called them “most delicious”, too.

Bakery Crumb Buns {ModBak}

The seventh recipe in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is Bakery Crumb Buns. This recipe begins with a sweet yeast dough (the same dough used for the next recipe, Pecan Stickiest Buns), which is shaped into buns, then smothered with sweet, buttery crumbs.

I made these buns on my daughter’s birthday. They weren’t for that evening, however. We were having a lot of delicious treats for her party, but the crumb buns were for me to take to work the next day. In all the hustle and bustle of getting ready for her party and the arrival of guests, I left the buns in the oven a few minutes too long. And I’m sure I took some pictures during the process; but they aren’t on the camera. So I either didn’t take any, or I managed to erase them.

The crumb buns were really tasty. There was more crumb than bun, so they were sweet, crumbly, and delicious. Mine were a bit dry since I overbaked them. But that didn’t seem to matter to my coworkers. Even with all the other breakfast sweets we had at our carry-in that day, the crumb buns were a big hit and many people came back for seconds.

When I tasted the crumb buns, I liked them but wasn’t sure I would make them again. They were good, but I have a lot of really great breakfast bread recipes. But my colleagues are already asking when I’m going to bring them in again, so I may be repeating this recipe after all.

Ginger-Scented Panettone {ModBak}

My second assigned blog post for the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is Ginger-Scented Panettone. I’m not sure why I picked this recipe, as I don’t have much experience with panettone. In fact, until I made Peter Reinhart’s Panettone recipe for the BBA Challenge, I had never even tasted panettone. But I really liked PR’s recipe, and since we would be baking from this section during the holiday season, Ginger-Scented Panettone seemed like a festive choice.

In the introduction to this recipe, Nick Malgieri notes that in Italy panettone is generally made with sourdough starter, although his recipe calls for a yeast-based sponge. One advantage to using sourdough is that the bread stays fresh longer and won’t get moldy as quickly. Since I keep two sourdough starters in the refrigerator and it was time to get them out to feed them anyway, I decided to make my panettone with a mixed method, using sourdough starter and some yeast.

Using baker’s math, I calculated the hydration of the sponge and fed my sourdough starter accordingly. I let the sponge ferment for about eight hours, until it was nice and bubbly. Rather than using yeast in the sponge, I added it to the dough. Since I was using instant yeast instead of active dry yeast, I added the yeast along with the flour.

After the sponge was ready, I gathered my ingredients. I was feeling a bit lazy, so I cheated on the minced ginger.

As you might guess from the name, I picked this jar of ginger up at an Indian grocery. I really like this stuff and use it just about anytime a recipe calls for freshly-grated ginger. It comes in a two-pound jar, so it lasts forever, and it stays fresh in the fridge. And speaking of ginger, I found this candied ginger at World Market. It’s fresh and chewy, not all hard and dried out like the stuff you get in the grocery store. And it’s a lot less expensive, too.

I mixed up the dough, which, in addition to the ginger, is flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. Unlike a traditional panettone, this dough isn’t loaded with fruit, containing only golden raisins and no candied fruit or peel. After the dough was mixed up, I put it into a buttered bowl and let it ferment.

The dough rose for about two hours, until it had doubled in volume.

By using a combination of sourdough starter and commercial yeast, I got the advantages of each. The starter enabled me to achieve a longer lasting, more flavorful dough, while the commercial yeast made the dough rise on a more predictable schedule.

After the dough had fermented, I put it in my panettone mold. Based on my previous panettone misadventure, I decided to put the dough into two molds. However, as soon as I had shaped and panned the dough, I could tell that two molds were too many, so I took the dough from one mold and plopped it on top of the dough in the other mold.

I was a bit concerned that the dough might outgrow the paper mold, but I decided to try it anyway, as I didn’t want squat little boules like I had the first time I made panettone. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, as the dough didn’t quite fill the mold when it proofed, and it baked up perfectly.

Before I baked the loaf, I brushed the top with a little egg wash and sprinkled it with finishing sugar. I liked the way it looked, and it gave the bread just a hint of extra sweetness, along with a nice crunch.

This was a really nice bread. The ginger flavor was definitely in the forefront, but it wasn’t overwhelming. And I liked the fact that it had the golden raisins in it but wasn’t overloaded with candied citrus peel or unnaturally-colored fruit.

Anyone who grew up eating panettone during the holiday season will probably find this a nice diversion from the standard loaf. And if you’ve never been a panettone fan, or perhaps have never even tried it, this would be a nice introduction to this Italian holiday tradition.

Buon Natale!

Lemon Crumb Bars {Bake!}

The third recipe I made from Nick Malgieri‘s new book, Bake!, was chosen by Kayte for our Twitterbake. As she is a fan of all things lemony, I wasn’t surprised when she chose the Lemon Crumb Bars on page 196.

These bars consist of three parts — dough, custard, and crumb topping — but each one is simple to make, and the whole thing comes together quickly. I started by making the Sweet Pastry Dough on page 14, which is the same dough we used for the Old-fashioned Sweet Potato Tart recipe last week. After mixing up the dough in the food processor, I wrapped it and put it in the refrigerator until baking day.

When it came time to bake, I prepared the pastry dough. I kneaded the dough on a floured board to soften it a bit, then rolled it out to a rectangle slightly larger than the size of the pan. I folded the dough, transferred it to the pan, unfolded it, and pressed it into the pan. Then I put the dough in the refrigerator to chill while I made the crumb topping.

The crumb topping came together very quickly. It consisted of flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter, which were mixed together, then broken into small crumbs.

I baked the crust and crumb mixture until the crust was set and slightly browned and the crumbs were a deeper, golden brown. While they were cooling, I mixed up the lemon custard, which contained eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar. I poured the lemon custard into the baked crust, then put it in the oven. After 15 minutes, I took the pan out of the oven and added the crumbs. Then I put it back in the oven to finish baking for five minutes.

After the bars cooled, I removed them from the pan. Unlike most lemon bars, they appeared to be mostly crust and crumb, with very little custard. Once I cut them, I could see the lemon custard layer, but it still appeared much thinner than other lemon bars.

As simple as these bars were to put together, they were absolutely delicious. The pastry layer was slightly sweet and crunchy. The lemon custard was tart and sweet, but not overpowering. And the crumb topping could almost have been a dessert in itself. I would have liked a little more lemon custard, and I think the next time I make them I will double the custard layer.

And, oh yes, I will definitely make them again.

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