Thursday, August 8, 2013

Homemade Pizza

DISCLAIMER: You do NOT need a Kitchen Aid stand mixer to make this dough so keep reading!  I have made this dough with just a sturdy spatula, a pyrex and my hands and really couldn't tell any difference!

Don't run out and spend $200 on a kitchen aid just to make pizza, but DO spend $10 on a kitchen scale! 

Pizza is by far my favorite food and has been since I can remember.  I'm totally like my Dad.  Call it nature or nurture, I remember his love for pizza, ice cream and popcorn, and I have loved them unwaveringly since childhood as well.

The main difference between me and my Dad is that I have become more of a connoisseur of pizza (read: judgmental) and the perfect crust is always the baseline for a pizza to receive a decent rating from me.

A few years ago, my husband was stationed in rural Texas, and when the kids and I got there we immediately, to no avail, sought a good local pizza place.  Sorry folks, Pizza Hut doesn't cut it for me.

This adventure in the badlands inspired me to learn how to make my own from scratch.  I was very intimidated since I had never worked with yeast before.  However, over the past 4 years I have realized that bread making isn't difficult. It just takes practice.

There is an inexplicable value that comes with just working with dough that I can't fully explain here--it's a kinetic experience.  You have to become accustomed to the feel, texture and smell.  Don't be intimidated.

 The best way to approach baking is to follow the directions the first several times with a perfectionist's attention to details---get that kitchen scale (if you haven't already) and weigh your flour.  As time goes on you will learn, almost absorb without trying, what to do and how your crust will come out just from the feel of the dough.


33.5 ounces of regular, white flour (approx. 7.5 cups)
1 TBL Instant yeast
1/2 TSP sugar
2 2/3 cups water, divided into 1 cup and 1 2/3 cups
2 TBL Olive Oil
1 TBL Salt


First proof the yeast.  This involves dissolving the yeast and sugar into water.  Heat 1 cup of water to about 110 degrees (get an instant-read candy thermometer for accuracy, better to err a little hotter than colder in this step).  Stir until well combined and let sit for about 8 minutes.

Add the rest of the water (1 2/3 cup) also heated to 110 degrees and 9.5 ounces of the flour (approximately 2 1/14 cup).  Beat vigorously with a whisk, scrapping the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all is dissolved and combined.  Let sit for 15 minutes.

Add the salt and olive oil and about a 1/3 of the remaining flour, and either turn on the mixer with a dough hook attachment or mix to combine with a sturdy spatula.

Continue to add flour, a cup at a time, until the dough takes form.  The biggest mistake you can make with bread is to add too much flour.  Your dough should be sticky but have form and not be soupy.

Whether you are using a mixer or a spatula, mix and combine the dough for about 8 minutes, then scrape out onto a floured surface and let it rest for a few minutes.  Lightly oil the bowl that it will rise in.

Rub your hands in olive oil then hand knead the dough for another 5-8 minutes, folding and pushing the dough into itself.  It will be sticky!  It will stick to you hands! Add only small palm full amount of flour to help reduce this, but if you flour it until it is firm then you have added too much.  The dough should remain on the sticky side and very soft, like an earlobe.

When you are done, roll it around the oiled bowl to lightly coat it, then cover it with a wet dishtowel and allow to rise for about 45 minutes.  Preheat oven to 450.

This batch will make three medium pizzas.  Divide the dough and lay out on your pan.  Brush with butter or olive oil and sprinkle with garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, etc.

Bake the crust for 8 minutes.  Top with sauce, cheese, any desired toppings and return to oven for another 8 minutes (you may need to broil it a minute or two to get it golden looking but it will be fully cooked).


Friday, August 2, 2013

Stracciatella Semifreddo

And the angel choir sings: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh....

Two words.
Dinner parties at my house may never be the same.
The word "semifreddo" is Italian for "half-frozen." To make a semifreddo, start with a classic custard. Then fold in fresh whipped cream, pour the whole mixture into a loaf pan, and freeze.
The result is a rich, creamy dessert, more velvety than ice cream, that starts to melt into a great big pile of divine mouthfeel a as soon as you take it from the freezer.
If you've never made a custard before, it's not hard. Ish. Make sure your heat's on high enough, and make sure to whisk constantly. Whisking for fifteen minutes or more is tiring, but keep at it. Channel Tina Turner's backup dancers.
A word about the crust: this recipe calls for a cookie crust made from almond biscotti, but the only kind I could find, weirdly, was chocolate. I'd say the crust was fine, okay, nothing really wrong with it, but since the semifreddo does contain such a high volume of chocolate already (see next paragraph), I think I'd prefer a different flavor, maybe plain or almond biscotti, maybe graham cracker. Furthermore, I'm not sure that the butter-to-cookie-crumb ratio came out exactly right, as my cooked crust was still very greasy-looking. The chocolate coating on my biscotti may have had something to do with this, or my measurements may not have been accurate. Next time I make semifreddo I'll be extra careful to make sure that the crust mixture isn't too liquidy.

Be sure you have a really big, sharp knife for cutting slices, because that crust, it does not give in easily.
 Next, a word about nut butters: I've made this twice. The first time I used Nutella, and the second I used chocolate peanut butter. While both were good, I preferred the Nutella. Peanut butter, as much as I love it, is a bit too loud for this sophisticated, grown-up dessert. I couldn't quite bring myself to spring for expensive chocolate hazelnut butter, but I suspect that a really high-quality ingredient like that could take this semifreddo to ineffable heights of culinary glory. Let me note, too-- and I can hardly believe I'm saying this-- for me the highlight of this dessert is not the chocolate. Hey, the chocolate is great. But what really makes this dessert worth writing home about, and writing Congress about, and trumpeting through the streets with a megaphone and a sandwich board about, is the sweet delicious creaminess of the custard. The chocolate's just there to throw the custard into relief. Frankly, I think you could reduce the amount of hazelnut butter and not miss it.
Don't tell anyone I said that, okay? I mean, I have a reputation to uphold.


Recipe: Stracciatella Semifreddo

Adapted (barely) from Giada De Laurentis




 Cooking spray
4 ounces biscotti
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts (I subbed almonds)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted


 8 egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup chocolate hazelnut spread at room temperature (You could go down to half a cup, I think)


For the crust: Put an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x5x3 nonstick loaf pan with cooking spray. using 2 pieces of parchment paper, line the pan, allowing the excess to hang over the ends and sides.
In a food processor, blend biscotti and nuts together until finely ground. Add the meted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Using a flexible spatula, press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepare pan. Bake or 8 to 10 minute until the edges of the crust are golden. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, salt.

For the filling: in a medium stainless steel or glass bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla extract, and salt until smooth. Put the bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Whisk until the egg mixture is pale, thick, and creamy, and an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees F, about 10-15 minutes.
Keep whisking...
You're done.

 Put the bowl into a large bowl of iced water to cool completely.
In another medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until thick. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until the cream holds stiff peaks. Mix 1/4 of the cream into the cooled custard. using a spatula, gently old the remaining cream into the custard. Drop spoonfuls of the chocolate hazelnut spread over the custard mixture and gently fold until just incorporated but still chunky. Spoon the mixture onto the prepared crust. Fold the overhanging parchment paper over the custard and freeze for at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.