Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pizza w. Figs, Caramelized Onions & Feta (Daring Bakers)

October's Daring Bakers Challenge was one that I couldn't refuse --- PIZZA!!! It has never dawned on me to make my own pizza dough, given the availability and convenience of using ready made refrigerated pizza dough (I'm partial to the dough available at Trader Joes).

As it's still summer weather in SoCal, I decided to skip the oven and grill the pizzas on the BBQ. This dough is definitely stickier that your typical bread dough, so I had a challenge getting the rolled (sorry, pizza tossing wasn't in the cards for me this time around) dough on to the grill in one piece and retaining its shape. I started with pretty pizza dough I struggled to get them on the grill, they ended up looked like giant amoebas.

I ended up making two types of pizzas. The first was topped with dried figs (couldn't rationalize spending $5.99 at Whole Paycheck ---opps, I meant Whole Foods for a basket of fresh figs), carmelized onions, feta and fresh mozzarella cheese, and topped with basil (I prefer arugula, but I went with what I had in the fridge):
The second was a pizza margherita, made with fresh mozzarella, small heirloom tomatoes, and topped with fresh basil and cracked black pepper:

Both pizzas turned out delicious, despite their homely looking shapes. The pizza crust was definitely a differentiator, as it was nice and crispy, and wasn't too heavy and bread-y. It definitely blew the TJ's dough out of the water!! With a little planning on the front end, making homemade pizza dough is definitely worth the effort.

This was definitely a fun challenge--- Thanks very much to our hostess Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums! To see more delicious and creative pizzas, check out the Daring Bakers blogroll.

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter)

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled -
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with)
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.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, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee 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.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, 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 delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm 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.

9. 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 (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.

In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes (TWD)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! I'm still on vacation, but couldn't resist getting this post done before I left town.

This week's Tuesday's With Dorie is hosted by Clara of I Heart Food 4 Thought. For those of you who aren't familiar with Clara's other very cute blog, I Heart Cuppycakes, she is a total cupcake maven, and you guessed it, she selected Chocolate-Chocolate Cupcakes for this week's recipe.

Clara encouraged everyone to decorate their cupcakes with a Halloween theme. Okay, I was totally running out of time before I left for vacation, so I cheated and purchased these cute sugar toppings:BTW, I love this time of year, as it gives me an excuse to go out and buy my annual allotment of candy corn: I also experimented with some larger baking cups. These cups are taller but they have the same diameter at the base, so these will fit perfectly into the regular muffin pans...thank God, as I need another baking pan like I need a hole in my head! :P I used the same amount of batter for both cup sizes, and here's how they turned out:
The chocolate cake is pretty simple and straightforward, and I love the fact that the recipe makes exactly one dozen cupcakes. The chocolate glaze was easy to make and set beautifully.
What terrific treat! Hands down, I would prefer one of these perfect treats over a giant bag of Halloween candy (okay with the exception of M&Ms --- my chocolate kryptonite) For the recipe, check out Clara's site. To see the creative cupcake creations of my fellow TWD bakers, check out the blogroll.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pumpkin Muffins (TWD)

I'm going to keep this post sweet and simple...As you are reading this, my DH and I are well into our vacation.... first we're getting back to nature by spending time in Yosemite and then indulging in a lot of great food and wine in San Francisco and wine country (and the bonus of driving down the gorgeous California coast).

In the meantime, I won't be able to visit and comment on everyone's blogs, so it looks like I'll have alot of catch up to do when I get back home! :)

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, Pumpkin Muffins, was selected by Kelly of Sounding My Barbaric Gulp.
This is a pretty easy and straightforward recipe (as muffins should be). I didn't have any sunflower seeds to top the muffins, so instead topped the muffins with a streusel mix ( made with brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, pecans). I enjoyed the pumpkin flavor and the light fluffy texture of the muffins. My only complaint ---I didn't think that the raisins did much for this recipe. The next time I make this, out with the raisins and in with chocolate chunks/chips.
I thought this muffin was tasty, satisfying and not overly sweet... a perfect accompaniment to a morning cup of coffee. I'll definitely repeat this recipe as it's super easy to assemble and bake.
If you're interested in making this at home, check out Kelly's site. To see the amazing handiwork of the other TWD bakers, check out the blogroll.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cappucino Chiffon Cake (TCS)

I recently stumbled up a new baking group called The Cake Slice. The Cake Slice is about discovering a great baking cookbook and using it all year long. The goal is to bake one recipe every month from a single book.

I had to pause and ask myself "do I really need to participate in another baking group?". That question was quickly answered with an emphatic YES when I discovered that the group is baking its way thru Sky High: Irresitable Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Along with some really wonderful cake recipes, the pictures in this book are totally gorgeous!

I've seen many beautiful cake creations made from the recipes in this book. I need to take a second and give props to Mary of The Food Librarian, as she's made some spectacular cakes from this book here and here and here...after admiring her creations I couldn't resist trying my hand at these recipes!
Our first recipe is Cappucino Chiffon Cake. As a I read through the recipe, one word came to mind --- tiramisu. The cake consists of 3 espresso-flavored chiffon cake layers that are soaked with a booze an espresso syrup. All of this goodness is frosted with a simple vanilla whipped cream.
As our liquor cabinet was depleted of dark rum (damn those mai tais), I used coffee liqueur to flavor the espresso syrup:
I didn't have the 8" cake pans the recipe called for, so I used the 9" pans I had on hand. As a result, the cake layers turned out a bit thinner than I would have liked. As the cookbook calls for 8" pans for many of the recipes, it looks like I'll be making another investment in baking equipment (I know, twist my arm :) ) I need to work on my cake layer technique, as I would have liked the layers to be more even.
Aside from my nitpicking at the appearance, I would have to say that the flavor of this cake is heavenly! The espresso syrup-soaked cake along with the whipped cream was delicious, and the texture was very light and not overly sweet (two pluses in my book).
To see other fantastic versions of this cake, check out The Cake Slice blogroll.

Makes an 8-inch triple layer cake

Cake Layers
1/4 cup of neutral oil, ie. vegetable, canola, or soybean
6 eggs separated
6 tablespoons of freshly brewed espresso, room temperature (I used strong brewed coffee)
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 and 1/3 cups of cake flour*
1 and 1/2 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar
Cocoa powder or cinnamon for dusting

(*The recipe calls for cake flour and if you only have all-purpose flour on hand, you can substitute 3/4 cup (105 grams) all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch.)

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line the bottom s of three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper but do not grease.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, espresso, and vanilla; whisk lightly to blend. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, 1 cup of sugar, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-low speed until frothy. Raise the mixer to medium high and gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form. Do not whip to stiff peaks or the cake will shrink upon cooling.

4. Add the espresso-egg mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together just until combined. Add one fourth of the egg whites and fold them gently into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites just until no streaks remain. Divide the batter among the pans.

5. Bake the cakes for 18 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans. Once cooled run a knife around the edge of the pans to release the cakes. Invert onto a wire rack and remove the parchment papers.

Espresso Syrup
makes 1 cup

1/3 cup hot freshly brewed espresso (I used strong brewed coffee)
1/3 cup of sugar
1/3 cup dark rum, such as Meyers*
(I used coffee liqueur)

(*if you want to leave out the rum you can use molasses thinned with pineapple juice and flavored with almond extract to equal 1/3 cup. Or use 1 to 2 teaspoons of rum extract flavoring but you'll have less syrup.)

In a bowl, stir together the espresso and sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rum and let cool to room temperature.

Vanilla Whipped Cream
makes 6 cups

3 cups of heavy cream
1/3 cup of sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla

Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in large chilled mixing bowl with chilled beaters. With the whip attachment, beat the cream until stiff peaks form.

To Assemble The Cake
1. Place one cake layer flat side up on a cake stand or platter. Soak the cake with 1/3 cup of the espresso syrup. Spread 1 and 1/3 cups of whipped cream evenly over the top of the cake. Repeat with the next layer the same steps. Finally top with the third layer. Soak with syrup and frost the top and sides of the cake with the whipped cream.

2. To decorate the cake smooth out the whipped cream as much as possible on top. Lay a paper doily on top and sift cocoa powder or cinnamon over the doily to reveal a lacy detail.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Berry Orange Muffins (TWD rewind)

Since I had muffins on the brain while making this week's Tuesdays With Dorie pick of pumpkin muffins, I also went ahead and made a rewind recipe, Berry Orange Muffins, which I've been meaning to try since joining the group.
What makes this muffin special is the delicious flavor combination of blueberries and orange. I followed the recipe as written, and used Trader Joe's frozen wild blueberries (LOVE these, as the berries are smaller and more flavorful than the other frozen options IMHO). I also topped the muffins with decorating sugar crystals, and thought the crunch of the sugar was a nice contrast to the tender muffin.
This muffin is super flavorful, moist and delicious, and this is going to definitely get put into my morning baking rotation.
Berry Orange Muffins
from Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 12 muffins


grated zest and juice of 1 orange
about 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries - fresh, preferably, or frozen (not thawed)
Decorating sugar, for topping (optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F

Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pan, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Pour the orange juice into a large glass measuring cup or a bowl and pour in enough buttermilk to make 1 cup. Whisk in the eggs, honey and melted butter.

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough - the batter will be lumpy and bubbly, and that’s just the way it should be. Stir in the blueberries. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. If you want to top the muffins with decorating sugar, sprinkle on the sugar after the muffins have baked for 10 minutes. When fully baked, the tops of the muffins will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lenox Almond Biscotti w. Dried Blueberries (TWD)

It's that time of the week again, so you know it's time for a Tuesdays With Dorie sweet treat. This week's hostess is Gretchen at Canela & Comino , and she selected Lenox Almond Biscotti for this week's baking exercise. BTW, Gretchen writes often about Peruvian food on her blog, and it's really fun and interesting to read about Peru's cuisine and culture...check it out!

I've been curious to try Dorie Greenspan's biscotti recipes since I purchased the book, and now I have an opportunity to try them out! I think biscotti is the perfect cookie to bake and share, as it:

1.) has a pretty decent shelf life (a week +)
2.) is sturdy and holds its shape
3.) is the perfect vehicle for a variety of flavors and ingredients.

For these reasons, it's the perfect "pack & ship" cookie for family and friends who don't live close by.

I've tried a wide variety of biscotti recipes, and have now narrowed my favorites down to two (which are both from cranberry & pistachio and double chocolate walnut. I love both of these recipes as they are not overly sweet, crispy/crunchy in texture, easy and unfussy to bake, and loved by everyone who tries them! :)

"Lenox" in the recipe title refers to the NYC restaurant from where Dorie obtained this recipe. The recipe looks like your typical biscotti recipe, except for the unusual addition of cornmeal. I decided to make the recipe as written, and folded in 1/2 cup of dried wild blueberries (from Trader Joes) along with the almonds.
So, what are my thoughts on the recipe? On the positive side, I liked the use of sliced almonds and I was pleasantly surprised by the crunchy texture that the cornmeal provided.

Speaking of slicing, I have a great tip to ensure pretty biscotti slices: when you take the cookie logs out after the first bake, spray the tops with H2O (or you can apply with a pastry brush) right before you slice them. This softens the top just enough, so the crust will not crumble when you cut into them, and you won't have jaggedy looking slices. Once they are baked a second time, the cookies will come out looking perfect and crunchy!

On the negative side, I had a couple of problems with the flavor and baking instructions. The cookies were too sweet for my taste (perhaps reducing the sugar to 2/3 cup would help) and the almond flavor was overwheming (next time, going to reduce the almond extract to 1/2 tsp). The baking times were also way off... the first baking time should have been much longer. The recipe calls for 15 minutes, but it took 30 minutes for my logs to bake through.

I'm going to try this recipe again, making the above adjustments. I don't think this will replace my go-to recipes, but I did find that the cornmeal provided and unexpected but enjoyable crunch and texture.
For the recipe, Gretchen has it on her site. To see how the other TWD bakers did, check out the blogroll.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Caramel PECAN-Topped Brownie Cake (TWD)

Tammy from Wee Treats By Tammy made this terrific selection for this week's TWD baking exercise. Previously, I've made this cake on many occasions with great success during my PB (pre blogging) days, so I'm excited to finally have an opportunity to take pictures and write a post about this delicious cake. There is something so seductive about having a warm, gooey caramel sauce studded with nuts enveloping a moist, dense chocolate cake...oh my!!! You can't go wrong with this recipe!

My only variations from the original recipe:

1.) Individual servings: I wondered how this recipe would hold up if there were made into individual cakes (I worry that the cake would come out too dry). For the individual servings I used 6 flat bottom baking cups (they look like mini panetone liners), and adjusted the baking time (325F for ~25 minutes):

2.) Pecans: I usually go for the toasted chopped pecans instead of the peanuts. I prefer the taste and texture of pecans: 3.) Caramel sauce recipe quantity: As the caramel sauce recipe makes WAY more that you would need for a single cake, I cut that recipe in half.

I loved these little cakes!!! The cake itself was very moist (whew!), and they were a perfectly sized individual portions. This caramel sauce is wonderfully gooey and it makes for a terrific presentation if you pour the sauce over the cake as you serve it to your guests. The bonus on the the caramel --- it doesn't turn to a hard brittle when it cools.
If you'd like to make this yourself, Tammy has the recipe on her site. If you're lovin' this cake, check out more delicious versions of this recipe at the Tuesdays With Dorie blogroll.

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