Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Amazing 40 Minute Homemade Pizza

I suffered for many years through takeout and frozen pizzas before learning to make my own.  My early crust recipes were spectacular failures: yeast doughs that refused to rise, wonderbread like "quick bread" creations, and an interim period where I pretended that store bought crusts didn't taste that bad.  But finally the curse ended and I found a yeast based recipe with no rise time.  Nearly every Friday night, I come home from work and 40 minutes later, I'm pulling a fresh hot pizza out of the oven.

Ingredients for one 14" pizza
  • Crust
    • 1 tablespoon (or packet) yeast
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • ¼ cup warm water, 95°-105°
    • 2 cups flour.  Suggest a mixture of 1½ cups all purpose flour, 6 tablespoons corn meal, and 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour.
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • approx ½ cup additional water
    • oil spray (I use olive oil in a Misto sprayer
  • Sauce, 8 oz can tomato sauce, any brand
  • Toppings
    • 4-6 oz cheese (I use a mix of mozzarella and muenster)
    • vegetables and meat as desired
    • red pepper flakes and dried oregano, optional

Proof yeast.  Heat ¼ cup water to 95°-105° (15-20 seconds in the microwave, and yes, that's a thermometer in the picture).  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in the water and stir together.  Let sit for 5 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients.

 Put 2 cups flour in the food processor with ½ teaspoon salt.  I use 1½ cups all purpose flour, 6 tablespoons corn meal, and 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour.  Pulse together.

Within 5 minutes, the yeast will get nice n'bubbly.  Just as a quick commentary on yeast shelf life, according to the label on the container, my yeast was packed on September 25, 2006.  It's now April 2011.  As long as you store it in the fridge, yeast will keep indefinitely.  If yours doesn't bubble up, either the water was too hot or the yeast is bad.  Do not proceed until fixed.

Add one tablespoon oil to the flour mixture (don't try to cut back on the amount) and pulse together.  Then add the yeast mixture and pulse again.  With the motor running, drizzle in up to ½ cup water.  I wish I could give you an exact amount, but it varies.  Sometimes I use as little as 6 tablespoons, but with my current batch of flour I need a bit more than the ½ cup.  When it's right, the dough will come together and will "clean" the sides of the processor bowl.  It will be a little sticky to the touch. If you get too much water, just add a dusting of flour.  Once it all comes together, let it spin 25 times in the processor.

Dust your hands with flour and take dough out of processor.  Give it a few hand kneads and spray lightly with oil.  Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.  At this point, start the oven to 425°.

While waiting for the dough, start the toppings.  In my case, that means rinsing mushrooms, draining canned sliced olives, and chopping a few cloves of garlic.

Spread the dough out in a 14" pizza pan.  You will be able to spread it out quite a bit just by hand.  I don't have a rolling pin small enough to fit the pan, so I use the tomato sauce can for an assist if I need to roll it.

Shape the edges and lightly spray with oil.  Bake for 10 minutes.

While waiting for the crust, assemble all of the toppings and prepare the sauce.  Open the can of tomato sauce and taste.  If needed, add a little salt, a little sugar, a little Italian seasoning, a little garlic, etc.  Mostly I don't add anything to the sauce.

Pull the crust out of the oven.  Smush down any bubbles that have formed.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spread the sauce over the crust.  Usually I don't use the entire can.

Add toppings.  In my case, that's slivered garlic, mushrooms, and black olives...

...and wall-to-wall pepperoni.  This is as good a time as any to gripe about frozen pizza.  I swear, I've seen just 5-6 pieces of pepperoni on the entire pizza.  And those were the expensive brands.

Now let's add some cheese!  I'm currently in love with ½ mozzarella and ½ muenster.  Mozzie-provolone-parmesan is another favorite.  As long as you don't use all mozzarella or "Italian blend" shredded cheese, you're going to be happy with the results.

And now the question is, how much cheese do you use?  As hard as it is to believe, less is really more.  4 ounces is plenty, 6 ounces is extravagant.  Once you've got the cheese on, bake it for 10-15 minutes, until it reaches desired brownness.  Clean up the kitchen while you're waiting.

Oh yeah, that looks good.

Sprinkle with oregano and red pepper flakes, if you're into that sort of thing...which I am.  And then sit back for about 20 minutes.  Because even though the pizza is ready in 40 minutes, it's too hot to eat right now.  Sorry, there's always a catch!

  • If you happen to plan ahead, you can make the dough the night or morning before and leave covered in the fridge until you're ready to bake.
  • If you happen to have a pizza stone handy, feel free to use it.  The combination of morning before dough and pizza stone baking takes this from really good to magical.
  • I came up with the sauce and toppings combination from many years of experiments.  But where does the dough recipe come from?  I tried many before finding the one...on page 310 of this book

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mocca Cheesecake

Love cheesecake?  Love chocolate?  Love coffee?  Hate leftovers?  This cheesecake will take care of all your needs.  The last time I made it, certain nameless coworkers demolished it before I could get a piece.

Plus. this is a diet recipe!  The lady who gave it to me loved to bake but didn't want the extra calories.  Her solution was to add coffee flavoring to all of her recipes because she hated coffee.  Whatever.  For me, the coffee flavor is an extra treat and the extra calories can be put to good use while I'm running.

  • Crust
    • 1 cup chocolate wafers cookies or chocolate graham crackers
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • Cheesecake filling
    • 16 oz cream cheese (2 eight ounce packages)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 4 eggs
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 6 oz semi sweet chocolate
    • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
    • ¾ mini semi sweet chocolate chips

The closest grocery store doesn't carry chocolate wafer cookies, so I made an adorable substitution.

Process chocolate cookies, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 3 tablespoons melted butter in food processor.
Press into bottom of ungreased 8" springform pan

Cube cream cheese.  I used neufchatel because I like the tangier taste, not because I had illusions about saving calories.

Melt 6 oz semi sweet chocolate in microwave, being careful not to overcook.  Process cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, espresso, and melted chocolate in food processor

Pour filling into crust

Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips.  Bake 70 minutes @ 325°, until cheesecake passes the toothpick test

 Run knife along edge as soon as cheesecake comes out of oven.  Set cheesecake on wire rack and allow to cool a few hours.  Run knife along edge again before removing collar.

The cheesecake will sink noticeably as it cools.

But still looks good enough to eat....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hungarian Apple Pie

During the Christmas season, I saw a picture of an apple pie that took my breath away.  I was determined to bring it home to my kitchen, but let's face it, this was during the Christmas season.  I poured another glass of eggnog, dipped my hand back into the nearest two gallon tin of three-flavored popcorn, and forgot about the pie.

Fast forward to the lean, mean days of January.  Fully detoxed from the holidays, it was time to bring the pie to life.

Hungarian Apple Pie
(Recipe adapted from Filmcraft)
  • Single crust for 9" pie (I used my favorite pie crust recipe, and you should use yours)
  • Pie Filling:
    • 2 lbs apples, peeled and cored
    • ¼ cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pie Topping
    • ¾ cup flour
    • 6 tablespoons sugar
    • 3 tablespoons butter

Start with a 9" unbaked pie crust

Add a few apples!  Wait, we must be missing a step...

Peel and core 2 lbs apples.  I used a mix of Granny Smith and MacIntosh.
Slice thin.  Whew, that was a lot of work.

Now the project becomes fun again.  Arrange the apple slices in the pie shell.

Mix ¼ cup sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on top.

Add crumb topping (¾ cup flour, 6 tablespoons sugar, and 3 tablespoons butter cut together).  At this point you will notice that the topping, which is made of white sugar and white flour, is really white.  Which means that your whole pie is now really white.  The first time I made this, I was tempted to add cinnamon or brown sugar to get some kind of color in there.  But don't.  It's gonna be OK.

Bake 60 minutes @ 350° (or 325° if you're using the mini oven like me).  Cover the pie edges with foil for the first 30 minutes and uncover for the last part of the baking.

Let your perfect little pie cool for a few hours and it's ready to eat.  And your house now smells heavenly.  You're welcome!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Welcome! Let's make pie!

Here at the Birchwood Pie Project, we'll be making a lot more than pie.  But let's get started with one of the most rewarding cooking projects, homemade pie crust.  Today we'll mix and roll out the perfect pastry dough.

In spite of its reputation, pastry making is actually a very easy, flexible project that requires only short amounts of hands on attention at any given time. 

Ingredients for a single 9" pie crust
(Recipe adapted from Jeanne Lemlin's excellent Vegetarian Classics)
  • Ice water
  • 1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons very cold butter, cut in to small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons acid, such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (since I’ll be using this for an apple pie, I used apple cider vinegar)

 Fill a glass full of ice water

Mix flour and sugar in a large bowl

Add butter pieces and press into the flour, leaving pea sized chunks.  A pastry blender is ideal, forks and knives also work.

 In a separate bowl, mix 3 tablespoons of the ice water, 2 tablespoons canola oil, and 1 ½ teaspoons of apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)

Mix the water/oil/acid mixture into the flour mixture.  If dough is too dry, sprinkle in small amounts of additional ice water until it holds together

Time to get hands on!  Press the remaining crumbs into the dough and form into a ball

 Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes...up to a few days, depending on when your pie making schedule picks up again.  I prefer to make the dough the day before I roll it out.

Take dough out of the fridge and let rest at room temperature for a few minutes.  Flour the rolling surface...with a lot of flour, at least as much as shown in the picture.  Place dough on the surface and flour the top of the dough. 

Gently, taking many passes, roll the dough out from the center, a little at a time.  Periodically lift it up in sections to make sure it's not sticking to the rolling surface--and add more flour as needed to keep from sticking.  Guide the dough into a circle, but don't worry about getting the edges exactly right.  If the dough cracks, just press it back together.  Keep going until the diameter of the dough is a few inches larger than the pie plate.  For the next few steps, the dough will go through an ugly duckling stage--don't worry, just keep going very gently and lovingly.

Gently lift dough and fold in half...

...and then in quarters.  Brush off excess flour as you go.

Unfold dough into pie plate

And now you very ugly looking pie crust.  But don't despair, the ugly duckling is about to become a swan.

Fold the outer edge under, gradually evening out to a uniform thickness all around the pie.  If any rips or cracks form, just press them together.

Now make it look pretty.  Keep circling the pie while you press the edge lightly between your fingers.  It will take more than one pass around--keep going until it looks lovely.

 Next time we'll pick up the project at this point and turn it into a delicious apple pie.

  • If the dough becomes too soft to handle at any point in the rolling process, it's because the butter is melting.  Just put in back in the fridge for a few minutes.
  • The original recipe calls for pre-baking the crust with pie weights.  In my experience, no good comes of pre-baking, so I skip it.  If you like shrinkage and excess browning, be my guest.
  • To avoid excess browning, cover the edges with aluminum foil.  Remove foil in the last 15 minutes of baking.