Hummus {FFwD}

Part of what I enjoy about French Fridays with Dorie is making something completely new and unfamiliar to me, like last week’s Endive, Apples, and Grapes. It’s fun exploring new flavors, trying new ingredients, and learning new techniques.

But there’s also something enjoyable about a trying a recipe that’s a new version of an old favorite. And that’s what this week’s offering was for me.

I love hummus, and I never go to a Middle Eastern restaurant without trying the house version. And I’ve made lots of hummus over the years. One of my favorite recipes is from the Moosewood Cookbook, but I’m always game to try a new one.

This was a good, solid hummus. Not remarkable in any way. But quite tasty. And it was especially good served on flatbread that I made with this recipe from King Arthur Flour.

I don’t know if I’ll make Dorie’s version of hummus again, but I’ll definitely make the KAF flatbread to use as a base for hummus and other dips and spreads.

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Oasis Naan {TWD-BWJ}

I am so pleased to be hosting this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie – Baking with Julia recipe! This was a particularly good pick for me, as I love naan but had never made it myself. I’ve had several recipes bookmarked to try at some point, but never quite got as far at making them. So hosting this week finally gave me the push I needed to try my hand at baking naan. And, boy, am I glad it did!

This recipe begins with a batch of Persian Naan dough (recipe below), which was a breeze to throw together. I began by measuring tepid water into my mixing bowl, then sprinkling yeast on top.

The recipe calls for active dry yeast. Since I always use instant yeast, I turned to my handy yeast conversion table and saw that I would need 0.75 teaspoon of instant yeast for every teaspoon of active dry yeast in the recipe. Since the recipe calls for 2 teaspoons active dry yeast, I used 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast. I stirred the yeast into the water, then added 3 cups of flour, one at a time, using my dough whisk.

At this point, I put the bowl on the stand mixer and began using the dough hook to mix in the salt and remaining flour.

After mixing in 6 cups of flour, the dough was still quite sticky, so I added more flour, a tablespoon at a time, until it stopped clinging to the sides of the bowl.

It took an additional 7 tablespoons of flour to get the dough to the point where it was tacky but not sticky. The recipe said to knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes. I mixed it on medium-low speed with my stand mixer for about 7 minutes.

I put the dough in a well-oiled bowl, turned it to coat both sides with oil, then set it aside to rise for 2 hours.

After 2 hours the dough had more than doubled in size, which I expected given the amount of yeast in the recipe.

About 15 minutes before the dough reached the 2 hour mark, I put my unglazed clay tiles on the oven rack and began preheating the oven to 500°F. It takes both the oven and the tiles longer than you might think to reach such a high temperature (don’t trust the “oven ready” beeper), and I wanted my tiles to be smoking hot by the time I was ready to begin baking.

While the oven was preheating and the dough finishing its rise, I chopped 2 scallions and got out some coarse sea salt and cumin seeds.

To shape the naan, I divide the dough into 8 pieces. Normally, I scale dough when dividing it. But naan is a rustic bread, so I didn’t really care if the pieces weren’t exactly the same size.

I preshaped each piece of dough into a ball and flattened slightly. Then, working with one dough ball at a time, I rolled the dough into a 6-inch circle, which I sprinkled with water and docked with a fork.

I moved the dough to a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal, then rolled out a second dough ball. Once I had two naan on the peel, I sprinkled them with salt, green onion, and cumin seeds.

I loaded the dough into the oven and began preparing the next two dough balls. I baked the naan for about 8 minutes, until they were well puffed and the scallions began to take on some color.

The naan baked up puffier than what I’m used to getting at an Indian restaurant. But it was delicious — better than any restaurant or store-bought naan I’ve ever tried. The bread was soft and chewy, and the cumin and scallions gave it a deep, subtle flavor that definitely reminded me of the best Indian dishes I’ve had.

And speaking of Indian food, I served the naan with homemade butter chicken — a perfect pairing.

If you love naan but have never made it yourself, give this recipe a try. It’s easy, quick, and delicious. You may never buy naan again.

Persian Naan Dough (from Baking with Julia; recipe by Jeffery Alford & Naomi Duguid). Reprinted by permission.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups tepid water (80°F to 90°F)
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast [or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast]
  • 5 to 6 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon [Kosher] salt

Directions

  1. Put the water and yeast in a large bowl and stir to blend. Add 3 cups of the flour, about a cup at a time, stirring in one direction with a wooden spoon [or dough whisk]. Beat for 1 minute, or about 100 strokes, to develop the gluten.
  2. Sprinkle the salt over the mixture and start adding the remaining flour, again about a cup at a time, stirring after each addition and then stirring until the dough is too stiff for you to work. You may not need to use it all.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it vigorously, adding more flour as necessary, until it is smooth and easy to handle, about 10 minutes. [Or mix with stand mixer on medium-low speed with dough hook for about 7 minutes, adding flour as necessary until dough does not cling to sides or bottom of bowl.]
  4. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning to cover the entire surface with oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature until it has more than doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. Don’t worry if it goes longer — it will be just fine. If it’s more convenient, you can put the bowl in the refrigerator and let the dough rise overnight; bring the dough to room temperature before continuing.

Oasis Naan (from Baking with Julia; recipe by Jeffery Alford & Naomi Duguid). Reprinted by permission.

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe Persian Naan dough, fully risen
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and chopped (white and tender green parts only)
  • 1 teaspoon (approximately) cumin or caraway seeds

Directions

  1. Center a rack in the oven and line with quarry tiles or a baking stone, leaving a 1-inch air space all around. (If you do not have tiles or a stone, place an inverted baking sheet on the oven rack.) Preheat the oven to 500°F. Set aside a baker’s peel or dust a baking sheet with flour.
  2. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball; flatten each ball with lightly floured palms. Roll out the dough into circles about 1/4 inch thick and 5 to 6 inches across and sprinkle with water.
  3. Each circle needs to be well pricked all over, with the exception of a 1- to 2-inch border. Traditionally, this is done with a dough stamp, a round utensil with concentric circles of thin spikes. Alternatively, you can use a roller pricker (also known as a pastry docker), the tines of a fork, or the pointy metal loop at the bottom of a whisk. Whatever you choose, you want to prick the dough with determination, flattening the center of each circle.
  4. Sprinkle each center with coarse salt, chopped scallions, and a pinch of cumin or caraway seeds.
  5. Slide the breads onto the hot quarry tiles using the baker’s peel (or slide onto the baking sheet), and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the tops start to color.
  6. Remove the breads and cool on a rack for about 5 minutes before wrapping them in a cotton towel. These are best served warm.
  7. The breads are best eaten shortly after they’re baked, but they’ll keep, wrapped in a towel, for a day. For longer storage, wrap the [fully cooled] breads airtight and freeze for up to a month. Keep the breads in their wrappers while they thaw at room temperature, and then warm them for a few minutes in a 400°F oven before serving.

The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri {Review}

“If you have an oven, you need The Modern Baker.”  ~ Maida Heatter

First published in 2008, Nick Malgieri‘s cookbook, The Modern Baker: Time-saving Techniques for Breads, Tarts, Pies, Cakes, and Cookies, has just been reissued in paperback.

Like most home cooks, I own a lot of cookbooks. Some I turn to all the time; others I rarely touch. The Modern Baker never leaves my kitchen.

This book contains over 150 recipes, both sweet and savory, with everything from quick breads to savory tarts to cookies, cakes, and pies. I have been baking from it for about a year and a half, and even started the Modern Baker Challenge to encourage others to bake with me. In that time, I’ve made — and blogged about — almost 100 recipes. (If you want to read any of the blog posts, use the search box on this page to search for {ModBak}, the tag I use in all my Modern Baker posts.)

I have really come to appreciate the clarity with which the recipes are written, how easy they are to follow, and the consistent results I get when making them. But what really sets this book apart from other cookbooks is the way Nick takes the mystery and intimidation out of baking. Through his helpful, step-by-step instructions and photos, he shows how to make perfect pie crusts, “instant” puff pastry, bakery-quality cakes and pies, and company-worth tarts.

I originally picked up The Modern Baker in hopes that I could finally overcome my mental block when it comes to pie crusts. As comfortable as I am in the kitchen, both with cooking and baking, I had never been able to make a decent pastry crust. It wasn’t that I didn’t try; I just could never seem to get it right. My dough would be gooey or too dry, and when I baked it, it would turn out tough or dry and crumbly. So I was delighted when I made Nick’s quick pastry crust and it turned out perfect the first time. And the second. And the third. And every time since.

The puff pastry is another breakthrough in this book. It mixes up in minutes and doesn’t require rolling in butter in “turns” as in most puff pastry recipes. After mixing the ingredients in the food processor, you pat it out, fold it over itself envelope style, roll it up, and pop it in the fridge. And the resulting puff pastry surpasses anything you can buy. Since I discovered Nick’s technique, I always have homemade puff pastry in the freezer. And the book has taught me countless ways to use it.

If you fancy yourself a cook, but have always been intimidated by baking, you need to own this book. And if you are a seasoned baker and want to find some new, streamlined techniques for the recipes you love to make, you’ll find them here. Even if you’ve never tried your hand at homemade bread or layer cakes, you will feel like a real baker after trying just a few recipes.

In fact, whatever your level of baking experience, you will learn amazing tips, techniques, and tricks from Nick Malgieri and The Modern Baker.

Pissaladière {FFwD}

I almost skipped this week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe, as I knew no one else in the house would eat it. But it sounded good to me, so I decided to make a mini version for myself.

Although this recipe comes from the Nice region of France, it’s very similar to Focaccia alla Barese, an Apulian specialty from Southern Italy. Both feature onions, anchovies, and olives baked on a yeast-risen dough. I’ll let the French and Italians fight over who first came up with this recipe. What I can tell you is that I enjoyed them both.

The recipe features caramelized onions. This must be the week for it, since I made a Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Tart for Modern Baker Mondays, too. Unlike the Modern Baker version, which “enhances” the onions with sugar and balsamic vinegar, the pissaladière recipe calls for caramelizing the onions the old-fashioned way — with nothing but olive oil, salt, a few herbs, and lots and lots of time.

After almost an hour over low heat, the onions were beautifully caramelized. I stirred in anchovy paste (the recipe called for anchovies, but all I had was paste; more on that later) and freshly ground black pepper. I tasted the onions and decided they didn’t need any additional salt, as the anchovy paste was plenty salty.

I set the onions aside to cool while I prepared the crust. The recipe has instructions for making a yeast-risen dough, but Dorie also notes that it can be made with puff pastry. Since I had some puff pastry in the refrigerator, I decided to use it. I rolled it out nice and thin, trying to get it into a roughly rectangular shape but not worrying too much about perfection in that regard.

I spread the dough with the onion mixture, then slid it into the oven, which I had preheated to 425˚F.

I baked the pissaladière for 20 minutes, then took it out of the oven and added black olives and sundried tomato strips (in place of the anchovies called for in the recipe). I returned the pissaladière to the oven for about 5 minutes, just to warm the new toppings.

It has been almost a year since I made Focaccia alla Barese, but the pissaladière tasted just as I remembered the focaccia tasting, which is to say, delicious. The focaccia had a much thicker crust, but otherwise the two were very similar. The sweet tang of the onions played nicely off the saltiness of the anchovies and slight bite of the olives.

This is not a dish that I will make often around here, as I’m the only anchovy eater in the house. But I could see making it as an appetizer for a dinner party, or even a light lunch for my fish-loving friends.

Filled Ham & Cheese Focaccia {ModBak}

The final recipe in the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is another focaccia. What differentiates this recipe from the other focaccia recipes in this section (besides a distinct lack of anchovies) is that this focaccia is filled, rather than topped.

As with the other focaccia and pizza recipes, this one starts with Dough for Thick-Crusted Pizza and Focaccia. However, rather than pressing the dough into the pan after it ferments, you dump the dough out onto a floured board and press it into a rectangle. Ham and cheese are then layered on half the dough. The recipe calls for prosciutto, but I had deli sliced ham on hand, so that’s what I used, along with Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I sprinkled on a little black pepper, then folded the dough over the topping and pressed to seal it.

I gently lifted the dough onto the pan, then pressed it out to fill the pan. I covered the pan and allowed the dough to rise for an hour. Then I uncovered the dough and dimpled it with the tips of my fingers. I drizzled a little olive oil on the top of the dough, then sprinkled on a little fleur de sel to finish it off.

I baked the focaccia in a 400°F oven for about 30 minutes, until the dough was dry and beginning to brown. I cooled the focaccia on the pan for about 10 minutes, then removed it to a cutting board. I cut and served it directly from the board, which gave it a nice, rustic appearance.

You may have noticed a lack of pictures on this post, as well as the absence of a description of the flavor of the finished product. I made this focaccia on the day of my daughter’s birthday party, while I was preparing half-a-dozen other dishes, so the thought of snapping photos never even crossed my mind.

As for not describing the taste, that’s because I didn’t try it. Not that it didn’t look and smell delicious. It’s just that I don’t eat pork. But everyone else enjoyed it and compared it to a really good hot ham and cheese sandwich. When it came time to pack up the leftovers (and there were plenty), there was no focaccia to be found. But I was asked to bring it to our next family gathering.

Nonna’s Pizza {ModBak}

Here’s another recipe from The Modern Baker that starts with Nick Malgieri’s recipe for Focaccia and Thick-Crusted Pizza Dough. This is a simple and delicious pizza that will please just about everyone.

While the crust was on its final rise, I prepared the toppings. The recipe calls for fresh or canned whole tomatoes. All I had on hand was Red Pack chopped tomatoes, so I drained them well and used them. I dimpled the top of the dough with my fingers and spread on the tomatoes. Then I added mozzarella and Pecorino Romano cheeses, sliced garlic, and fresh oregano. Finally, I drizzled a little olive oil on the top.

I baked the pizza at 425°F for about 30 minutes, until the cheese was melted and the topping had begun to brown.

This pizza was delicious — very flavorful, not too spicy. It’s not as cheesy as American pizza, which allows the other flavors to come through.

This is another versatile recipe. Once you learn how to make the dough for the crust, the topping possibilities are endless. And once you taste it, you’ll want to try them all.

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.

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.

Crisp Cornmeal Flatbread {ModBak}

The fifth recipe in the Breads section of The Modern Baker, and the last in a series of flatbreads, is Crisp Cornmeal Flatbread. This bread is actually what I would consider a cracker rather than a flatbread. When I think of flatbread, I think of pita bread, naan, tortillas, and the like. But that was OK with me, because I was a little flatbreaded out at this point.

I was looking forward to these crackers, as they had some interesting ingredients that I thought would lead to great flavor. One of the ingredients was cornmeal. As it happened, I had just visited the farmer’s market and picked up some red cornmeal, so I decided to use it in this recipe.

The other ingredient that we haven’t seen thus far in the book was cayenne pepper. And even though the recipe only called for 1/4 teaspoon, I knew a little would go a long way, especially in crackers.

I began by mixing the ingredients in the food processor, then setting the dough aside to rise.

After the dough had risen, I divided it into two piece, which I then rolled out to make the crackers. The directions say to roll the dough to the size of the pan on the work surface, then transfer it to the pan. I decided to bake my crackers on Silpat, so I rolled each half on the Silpat, then lifted it onto the pan.

I rolled the dough out to the edges of the Silpat, then trimmed the overlapping bits.

I was left with a very thin dough that almost completely covered the baking surface.

I baked the flatbreads in a 350° F oven for about 20 minutes, until they were golden brown and crisp.

They came out beautifully. The cornmeal gave a nice color and nutty flavor, and the crackers were crunchy with just a bit of heat from the cayenne. And talk about flat….

I broke the bread into irregular pieces and put them in a bowl. It looked great; unfortunately, we ate them all before I had a chance to take a picture.

This recipe is right up there with the pita bread as my favorite of the flatbreads. Definitely one to make again.

Fougasse {ModBak}

The fourth recipe in the Breads section of the Modern Baker Challenge is Fougasse, or pierced French flatbread. As with the other flatbreads in this section, this recipe contains yeast; so even though it is a flatbread, it still rises fairly well. This bread is shaped into a triangle, or leaf shape, and slashed through in several places. This has the effect of increasing the amount of crust, making this a great bread to serve with a stew or other saucy meal.

Like most of the other flatbreads in this section, the ingredients list for Fougasse is fairly short — flour, salt, yeast, water, and olive oil. The ingredients are mixed briefly, allowed to rest, then folded a few times, before being set aside to ferment for an hour or two.

After the bulk ferment, the dough is divided, and each piece is shaped into a triangle. The recipe says to shape the dough on your work surface, then move it to the pan. I shaped mine directly on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

After shaping the dough, I slit it with a pizza wheel.

I let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then stretched it a few inches in each direction to elongate the slits.

I then oiled the dough and set it aside to proof for an hour.

While the dough was proofing, I preheated the oven to 450° F. The Fougasse only took about 20 minutes to bake and came out puffy and golden.

This bread was crusty and delicious, and, contrary to what Nick says, wonderful with a smear of butter.

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