Tag Archives: baking

Make pizza night extra special | Make it!

5 May

My first day of outdoor Boot Camp yesterday morning and….PIZZA for DINNER! Sounds totally ridiculous, I know. But the best way to control what’s on your pizza is to make it yourself.

(SHHHH…don’t tell the kids…it’s also less expensive than ordering out!)

We’ve made our own crust in the past but opted for the next best thing last night — freshly made dough from our favorite local pizza shop. Truth be told, it’s much tastier than store bought dough…and cheaper. Most pizza shops only charge a dollar or so for a “dough ball”. We like our crust thin so 1 dough ball is plenty. Also, did you know the the “fresh” dough you buy in your local grocery store is often made, frozen & THEN put in the refrigerated section to thaw? Yuck!

Tips for handling dough

Make sure the dough is at room temp before you attempt to roll or toss it. Coat it with a little bit of flour or cornmeal (I like the crunch cornmeal adds after it’s baked) so it’s easy to form & doesn’t stick to your hands.

Patting it into a flat disk before rolling or tossing makes it easier to get an even shape. If tossing or stretching by hand (I prefer this method), use the tops of your hands/knuckles (vs. finger tips) and pull your hands outward, gently stretching the dough. This will help you avoid making any holes or tears.

Other tips

We loaded the pizza up with our favorite sauce and thinly sliced veggies (mushrooms, onions, red pepper & tomatoes). Tomatoes aren’t really tasty yet but Jess got 2 pints of cherry tomatoes on a crazy sale at the grocery store.  We roasted them in the oven before adding to them to the pizza (just toss a little bit of olive oil, salt & pepper with the tomatoes then spread them on a baking sheet & roast for about 15-20 minutes in a 400 degree oven). Roasting is a great trick for making tomatoes that aren’t in season super delicious.

Okay, consider the truth officially out. In high school (and summers in college), I worked at a pizza shop (affectionately knick named the “Pizza Shanty”) on Cape Cod, so I know a few secrets.

Cheese :: We generally use low fat cheese or regular cheese (just less of it). Jess recently bought some blocks of cheese that we’ve been shredding & slicing. It’s much more economical (thrifty!). I’ll admit, I’d gotten used to the convenience of buying shredded cheese but my parents always bought the blocks & shredded or sliced it. You could also buy local cheese at the farmer’s market or artisanal shop & make your pizza a little extra special! We like to use a variety of cheeses on our pizza. Last night: white cheddar & monterey jack.

Toppings :: Sauce & lightly cheese your dough then layer toppings, meat first, (if you’re just doing veggies, mushrooms count as “meat” so put those down first) then veggies. I like to put onions on last so they get a little caramelized. If you’re using fresh herbs layer them between toppings or sprinkle them on before adding any toppings so they don’t burn in the oven. Last step: sprinkle another light layer of cheese on top before tossing into the oven.

Cooking :: We had amazing pizza last summer that was cooked right on the grill. We don’t have a grill but we do have the next best thing…a pizza stone! It’s not just any pizza stone…please read on. We’ve had mixed results with pizza stones in the past. It’s one of those things that never seemed to work quite as promised and often ended up in the back of the cabinet & then for sale at our next yard sale. We’ve also tried cookie sheets, weird pizza pans with holes, etc. Our favorite tool by far is our Emile Henry Pizza Stone. It’s more versatile than your average pizza stone (it can be used on the grill & as a cook top for a variety of other items) and makes the crust super crispy. Preheating the oven is key! And whether you use a stone or cookie sheet, the trick is making sure you preheat it a bit before plopping the raw pizza dough on it. If you’re using a cookie sheet, brush it with a little oil before preheating. The oven temp should be about 425-450 degrees.

Cutting :: You don’t need any fancy cutting tools. A longer, sharp chef’s knife will do just fine. If you use a stone, you can cut the pizza right on it. If you use a cookie sheet, transfer pizza to a large wooden cutting board for easier cutting.

So…what are your favorite pizza toppings? Do you have any secret tips for making pizza at home?

Ingredient predicament | Hey, where’s the…?

7 Apr

We recently made these brownies to bring to a “Jaws” movie party. We topped them each with smattering of vanilla buttercream icing and a Swedish fish candy & affectionately named them “minnow brownies”. They were a hit. But I digress…

We always have baking essentials on hand (butter, eggs, flour, sugar, baking chocolate, etc.) so I don’t often think twice about ingredients until I pull down a baking book & start to gather them up by the armful. 

Here are two pantry substitutions (plus a bonus!) we used successfully in the above recipe.

  1. Unsweetened baker’s chocolate: We had 4 ounces and the recipe called for 6. For each ounce of baker’s chocolate, we substituted 3 TBS of unsweetened cocoa power & 1 TBS of oil. We used canola but any vegetable oil will do (except for olive oil!).
  2. Butter: We only had enough for the buttercream icing so in the brownie recipe, for the butter, we substituted 1 cup of shortening and 2 TBS of water for 1 cup of butter.

Another helpful substitution/DIY ingredient we’ve made in the past is buttermilk. Make your own buttermilk by adding 1 TBS of apple cider vinegar, white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of milk. This can also be successfully done with soy milk as Jess did her Vegan Irish Soda Bread recipe last month. 

What’s your favorite baking or cooking ingredient substitution?

Breakfast for Dinner | Banana Bread French Toast

29 Mar

When life hands you dry banana bread…then make Banana Bread French Toast!

The banana bread recipe had great flavor, but baked really dense and quite dry. To fix the dryness in the recipe below add an additional banana and an additional 2 TBS of melted butter.

The inspiration for the banana bread french toast came from a breakfast I had with Kate during one of our trips to Austin, TX. The South Congress Café serves up an amazing Carrot Cake French Toast. It has been highlighted on the Food Network and was worth every calorie. I just remember eating that on our last day in Austin trying to think of how I could take the left overs with me, but we were heading to the airport, ha!

(Adapted from Baking Illustrated)

Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf (preferably 3” inches deep)

Ingredients:

2 c King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour

1 c walnuts, coarse chopped

¼ c sugar

½ c light brown sugar

¾ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg

2 very ripe large bananas, mashed well **(see note above for change)

1 – 5.3oz container Nonfat Plain Greek Yogurt

2 large eggs, beaten lightly

4 TBS unsalted butter, melted and cooled **(see note above for change)

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ TBS orange zest

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease your 9×5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.
  2. Spread the walnuts on a small baking sheet and bake 5-10 minutes until fragrant.
  3. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  4. Mix the wet ingredients including the zest in a medium bowl.
  5. Gently fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, with a silicone spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  6. Bake until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Total baking time is 55 – 60 minutes. Rotate the loaf at the 30-minute mark of the baking time. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Banana Bread French Toast Time:

Makes 2 full servings or 4 side servings


Egg Wash:

In a shallow vessel whisk:

2 Eggs

¾ c milk

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp cinnamon

½ TBS sugar

pinch of salt

  1. Soak 4 slices of Banana Bread in the egg wash while you are making the topping

Topping:
Combine the following 3 ingredients in a small bowl:

3 heaping TBS of Greek Yogurt (I used Sophia’s Greek Yogurt of Belmont, MA)

½ TBS freshly grated orange zest

½ TBS honey

¼ c Pure Maple Syrup (heated) for drizzling… yum!

Cooking Directions:

  1. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Melt 1 TBS of butter in the skillet. Place the egg wash soaked banana bread slices in the skillet and cook for 3 minutes on each side.
  2. Remove cooked slices from heat and cut in half.
  3. Place 4 halves of the slices on each plate.
  4. Top with a heaping TBS of greek yogurt topping.
  5. Grate orange zest over the top for garnish.
  6. In a small microwave safe bowl pour ¼ c of pure maple syrup.
  7. Heat in microwave for 20 seconds.
  8. Drizzle over the French Toast and enjoy!

Zucchini Bread…it’s healthy, right?

23 Mar

My friend’s birthday is this weekend and I love an excuse to bake! Sometimes it is a occasion that warrants it, other times a holiday, but more often it really is just an excuse to bake and experiment. (The “experimenting” part drives Kate nuts! Heh.)

So, said birthday friend, dropped a not-so-subtle hint that zucchini bread is his favorite baked good. (He’d actually mentioned this before and THEN at least 2 more times after that.)  Happy birthday, Shaun! (Sometime today, I’m sure you’re going to be tearing into this bad boy at work…)


(Adapted from NY Times published September 9, 2008)

Makes 2 8″x4″ loaves

Ingredients

2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour

3 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 TBS unsulphured molasses

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp King Arthur Espresso Powder

2 cups grated zucchini

2 oz. package of Taza Chocolate Cocoa Nibs (chopped)

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Steps

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans with non-stick spray, set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat eggs until light and foamy, 3 minutes. Add granulated sugar, brown sugar, melted butter, baking soda, vanilla, molasses, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, espresso powder and remaining flour. Mix just until blended. Stir in zucchini, nibs, and walnuts.

3. Divide batter between pans. Rotate pans 180 degrees after 30 minutes of the total 1 hour baking time. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

4. Let cool on wire rack in pans for 15 minutes. Turn bread out of pans and let cool on rack or enjoy warm!

The result: A yummy sweet-but-not-too-sweet bread that even your cutest little veggie hater will love!  There’s something about cacao nibs in baked goods that’s insanely delicious. They add a little bit of crunchy texture like the walnuts in this recipe. Speaking of…

A fun note: I used nibs from Taza Chocolate — a local organic, gluten-free, dairy free, & soy free mexican style small batch dark chocolate made in Somerville, MA (yay!). Their rustic chocolate is a robust dark chocolate with floral notes (Kate thinks the notes are very fruity) that appeals to bakers and purist chocolate lovers alike.

 

Sunday Scones | Fresh Cranberry Orange Cream Scones

18 Mar

Last weekend, we needed to come up with a sweet baked brunch treat to bring to our friends’ house for a long awaited get together. Little did we know, whatever we brought had to compliment yummy savory quiches (2 types!), a fresh fruit salad & perfectly slow brewed coffee (Stumptown in a Chemex…more on that in a future post). We made scones & it was, after all, a delicious & adorable visit (complete with a baby AND a pup!).

I don’t make scones often but know that they’re best when baked & enjoyed the same day. That said, I couldn’t imagine getting up at 5:00 AM on a Sunday to bake two batches of scones. Yes, that’s right, TWO batches. (We couldn’t decide on which recipe to bake so I took a quick poll at work one afternoon. The response was split down the middle. That was it, my mind was made up — I’d definitely make both.)

I searched the interwebs & our library of baking/cook books for information about making the dough in advance and found tips for freezing unbaked scones but very little information about refrigeration. Now that I’m thinking of it – I should have consulted our dear friend, Cobrina – pastry chef extraordinaire. Silly me! Note to self for next time…

Ok, so here are a couple of helpful tips I found in my scone research:

  • As with most pastry recipes, very very cold butter yields the best results
  • Brown sugar is a nice substitute for granulated
  • The brand of all purpose flour matters (really! some are higher in protein than others which can affect the end consistency of the scones)

What did we do?

Well, since we’ve had good luck refrigerating similar types of dough, we figured that refrigerating the cut & prepared scones overnight couldn’t hurt.  So…we made the dough for the two recipes, cut the scones & put them on cookie sheets, covered them & popped them in the refrigerator (precariously balanced on containers of milk and pickles and stacked Chobani yogurt). We tossed them in a preheated oven the next morning. They took a little bit longer to bake (just a few minutes) but it worked out perfectly in the end.

Today, I’ll share our favorite of the two recipes with you.

(Adapted from Joy the Baker’s Fresh Cranberry Cream Scones with Candied Ginger)

Recipe makes 6 scones

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup light brown sugar

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold & cut into cubes (I froze it for a couple of hours first)

1 large egg

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

½ cup heavy cream, cold

1 heaping cup coarsely chopped fresh cranberries (I had some in the freezer from our late fall trip to Cape Cod to visit my dad – I defrosted them & then cut them each in half)

1 tsp orange zest

1-2 TBS cream (for brushing scones)

For the glaze

1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (approximately 1 medium orange)

1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar

1 TBS honey

Steps

1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & set aside.

2. In a food processor, add flour, sugar, baking powder & salt. Give a quick pulse to mix the dry ingredients. Add the cold butter & process until the butter is well incorporated in the flour mixture. Some butter bits will be the size of peas & some will be as small as oat flakes. Don’t panic, this is exactly how it should be. 

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, vanilla extract and heavy cream. Add the cream mixture all at once to the flour mixture in the food processor and process until everything comes together & forms a ball. Do not over mix! It will be very obvious when it happens — the ingredients suddenly combine to form a ball – it’s a little magical & less messy (no kneading required…yay!).

4. On a floured work surface, divide the dough in half and press each into a roundish disk.

5. In a small bowl, toss the cranberries with orange zest. 

6. Press the zesty cranberries onto one half of the dough & then place the other half of dough on top. Congrats! You’ve made a zesty cranberry filled dough sandwich…mmm!  Fold the stacked cranberry dough in half a couple of times to combine the cranberries. It will seem like there are a lot of cranberries poking out. It’s okay. You don’t want to over knead the dough.

7. Pat the dough into a 1 ½ inch thick disk.

8. Cut the disk into 6 wedges.

9. Place the wedges 2 inches apart on a baking sheet and brush tops with a little cream. (If you aren’t going to bake them until the next day, skip the cream for now, cover with plastic wrap & toss them in the refrigerator. Brush the tops with cream right before putting them in the oven & note that they might have to bake a few minutes longer because they’ll be really cold.)

10. Bake for 15 minutes until just cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool on a cooling rack.

11. As the scones are cooling, in a small bowl, combine the O.J., confectioner’s sugar and honey with a fork or whisk.

12. Once the scones are cool, place a baking sheet under the cooling rack (for easy clean up!). Use a tablespoon to drizzle a little glaze on top of each scone. Let the glaze set before placing the scones on a plate or wrapping them up (this will take about 10-15 minutes).

 Serve at room temperature or warm them slightly in the oven before serving. Scones are best when served the day they are made, but these will last well wrapped at room temperature for up to 3 days.

 The result: A tasty scone with really great texture (not too dry & not fluffy or biscuit-like). The tart cranberries & bright orange zest perfectly balance the sweetness of the sugary glaze. We only wish the recipe made more! 

St. Patrick’s Day Baking Challenge | Vegan Dutch Oven Irish Soda Bread

17 Mar

If you aren’t vegan, you might have the same reaction to vegan Irish soda bread that Jess’s gram had when she told her we were making our St. Patrick’s day “boiled” dinner in the crockpot.

“What?! That’s not how you do it! You boil it all together in a pot on the stove & change the water 1/2 way through. THAT’S how you make a boiled dinner.”

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Skillet Irish Soda Bread)

Makes one (delicious) loaf

Ingredients

¼ cup Earth Balance Buttery Sticks, melted

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour

2/3 cup vegan sugar

1 TBS baking powder

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 ¾ cups soy milk

1 ½ TBS apple cider vinegar

6 TBS Nayonaise (vegan mayo)

1 ½ cups raisins

Steps

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a dutch oven or ovenproof skillet with nonstick spray, line with parchment paper, and spray lined dutch oven again. (I used a Le Creuset 3.5 quart oval dutch oven)

2. Combine soy milk and apple cider vinegar and let sit for 15 minutes. This will curdle and turn into vegan “buttermilk”.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl, combine “buttermilk”, Nayonaise, and 2 TBS of melted Earth Balance.

4. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Don’t over mix. Stir in raisins.

5. Pour batter into the dutch oven. Brush the top with the remaining Earth Balance.

6. Bake until golden and firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Cool in dutch oven on wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove bread from dutch oven & set on wire rack to finish cooling.

The result: A yummy bread that seems a little more moist than other Irish soda breads I’ve tried (this is a good thing!). It tastes so much like the traditional recipe, even your gram will be none the wiser.

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