Hamburger Buns, My Favorite Way to Eat a Burger, and J&J Grassfed Beef

burger

About a month ago, a hankering for homemade hamburger buns led me to a wonderful discovery: Belles Hamburger Buns. You see, I wanted to find the perfect vehicle to hold the burgers I have been savoring every week since stocking up on J&J grass-fed ground beef at Delaney’s 100-Mile Market in Temecula back in August. Oh if I only lived closer to this store! I would never be without Jordan Stone’s legendary homemade pastas, or cans of American Tuna, or wonderful local produce, chickens and eggs, and as I already mentioned, this tasty grass-fed beef.

Alas, back to the buns. Belles Hamburger Buns happened to be the first recipe to turn up on my google search. I have made the recipe three times now and have had success with every batch. The dough is simple to make and forgiving, too — yesterday, for example, I mixed the dough before work, let it rise in the fridge during the day, punched it down when I returned and proceeded with the recipe as if I had never stepped out of the kitchen. I have frozen the portioned dough, too, let it thaw in the fridge overnight and proceeded with the recipe the following evening. Simps.

Now, I know it’s not really burger season, but Liza, my mother, has turned me onto a burger recipe  — a preparation, really — that has become a weekly staple. It’s simple: Roast green peppers, chop them up, and mix them into hamburger meat with a little kosher salt and pepper. Then, form patties and cook them in a cast iron pan for about four minutes a side for delectable medium-rare burgers. Not sure what it is, but the roasted green peppers — and it’s important to use green not red though I can’t give you a scientific reason why — add just the subtlest bit of flavor, enough to keep the burgers juicy and tender but not so much as to mask the flavor of the meat.

And while any skillet will likely work, the cast iron skillet has produced consistent results every time: Four minutes a side for patties about  an inch thick weighing five to six ounces each has become my magic formula for producing medium-rare burgers. I don’t care what anybody says, cooking a burger to a desired temperature is damn hard, and I attribute the success I have had thus far to the cast iron pan’s ability to retain heat so well. I might add, too, that it is a cinch to clean — mine, a gift from Liza, is seasoned such that I rarely have to do anything but wipe it out with a paper towel. If bits do stick, I clean the pan the same way I clean this pan, by heating some kosher salt in it, then wiping it out with a paper towel. Simps.

Like many of my mother’s suggestions, this one took a few months to consider.  Why haven’t I learned? Liza doesn’t mess around, especially when it comes to food. I should just  immediately make and do everything she tells me to. Anway, try this burger-cooking method! I know you’ll find success. And if you have the time to make homemade buns and locate some yummy grass-fed beef, you have quite a memorable meal in store. Thanks, mama, for another wonderful recipe, and thank you, Belles, whoever and wherever you are for a fantastic bun recipe.

I hate to bore any of you who have already heard my thoughts on grass-fed beef, so here are a few links to past posts and articles if you are interested in reading up on this matter:

Grass-fed Beef
Pasture-Perfect Patties
Anxious to Purchase a Steer
Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Beef
Grass-Farming in Lancaster
Small Farm Productivity
When Searching for Solutions, Don’t Forget the Farm

hamburger bun

Making these buns couldn’t be simpler: Combine yeast and flour in a stand mixer. Heat milk, water, sugar, salt and butter together until warm to the touch. Add the warmed milk mixture to flour and let the stand mixer do its thing for 8 minutes. Ta-da! The dough is ready to go.

hamburger buns

Cooking these burgers couldn’t be simpler either. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast-iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins swirling in the pan, add the patties and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes. Flip. Add cheese, if desired, and cook for about 4 minutes longer for medium rare. Yum.

patties in pan

The wonderful J&J grass-fed beef:
J&J Grass-fed Beef

burger

Are these not the cutest little buns you have ever seen? You can make them, too! Promise. It’s easy and fun and delicious.

hamburger bun

Update 5/4/2012: If you’re looking for a brioche burger bun, try this recipe. It’s my new favorite burger bun recipe. I love love love Belles Hamburger Buns, but there’s something about a brioche bun and a burger, you know? They’re just a perfect match.

Belles Hamburger Buns
Yield = 12

1 cup milk
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups (about 23.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds (optional)

1. Combine the milk, 1 cup of water, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat until warm to the touch and until the butter has melted — this only takes a minute or two. Remove from the heat. If you have heated the mixture longer than you had intended, let it stand till room temperature. Warning: if the mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

2. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), stir together the flour and yeast. Pour in wet ingredients and stir until the dough starts to pull together. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough hook to mix for about 8 minutes. If not, knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Punch down the dough and divide into 12 portions. Make tight balls out of the dough by pulling the dough tightly around and pinching it at the bottom. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Note: I would only bake 6 buns at a time on one sheet and place only one pan in the oven at a time to ensure even baking. Set rolls aside until they double in size, about 20 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Mix together the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water in a cup or small bowl. Brush onto the tops of the rolls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if using.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned on the top and bottom. Let cool before slicing and serving.

Note: I have served these warm, which I love, and also sliced and toasted, which I think is even better for burgers — the toasted buns don’t get soggy.

Liza’s Burgers with Roasted Green Peppers
Yield = As many as you wish

Note: This is more of a method than a recipe.

hamburger meat (I usually use about a pound)
green peppers (I usually roast about 2 peppers per pound of beef, but don’t end up needing all of them for the patties.)
Parchment paper, for easy cleaning
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper

Homemade buns (optional), recipe above
Burger accoutrements: cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, Dijon, ketchup, mayo, etc.

1. Roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and stem. Place peppers cut-side down on the prepared pan and place in the oven. Roast until the skins are browned and blistery, about 20 minutes. This may take longer or shorter, depending on your oven. Just keep an eye on them towards the end — you don’t want them to be totally charred. Remove the peppers from the oven. Place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside. When peppers are cool enough to handle, remove skins and discard. Chop peppers into small pieces. Set aside.

Note: This can be done days in advance. Also, you might not need all of the peppers. Save any remaining to add to an omelet. Yum.

2. Prepare the patties: Spread the meat into a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle as many of the diced peppers over the meat as you like. Gently begin forming your patties. I portion mine into either 5- or 6-ounce patties depending on the day. Season each side of the burgers with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins to gently swirl, add the patties and turn the heat down to medium or medium-high. Cook for 4 minutes. Flip. Top with a thin slice of cheese, if desired, and cook for about four minutes longer for medium-rare. Serve on a toasted bun with all the fixins.

The Best Bread Pudding, So Much Love for Tartine

bread pudding

I never expected to receive a return phone call. I had been agonizing over how I was going to make my bread pudding … with fruit baked in it or without? Did Tartine really not add any fruit to the bread pudding while it baked? Their cookbook says without, but I thought I remembered bits of warm peaches dotting the pudding throughout. I needed affirmation before proceeding, and so I placed a call to Tartine itself. 

I called about 10 times before leaving a message. I explained that I had read the preface to the brioche bread pudding recipe in the cookbook, which explains that Tartine serves their bread pudding with seasonal fruit lightly sautéed in butter and then heated in a caramel sauce. Was this accurate, I asked? Or did Tartine sometimes bake the fruit right in with the custard and brioche? I left my number, hung up the phone, accepting I would likely have to make the decision on my own.

Not so. Later that day, I turned on my phone to find a message from Suzanne, a lovely Tartine employee. She confirmed exactly what the cookbook says, that Tartine indeed bakes the bread pudding without any fruit in it. They do also warm a seasonal fruit of choice — peaches, berries, apples, pears — in a caramel sauce, the recipe for which I have included below though have yet to test. Moreover, when the busy bees in the bakery remove the pans of bread pudding from the oven, they poke holes in it to let steam out and to create space, and then they pour the warm fruit in caramel sauce over top. Brilliant! Thank you, Suzanne.

I have been meaning to post this for months now, and I am afraid peach season is long over. So, while my picture below is a little dated, I write this with even more confidence in this recipe. You see, I have just returned from a  most wonderful wedding of two most wonderful people in San Francisco, where I was able to sneak in a visit to Tartine with five friends. Together we ate two bowls of bread pudding, one slice of quiche, one croque monsieur, one croissant and one chocolate croissant. As anticipated, the bread pudding triumphed as the table’s favorite. With my new knowledge, too, I was able to discern a caramel flavor permeating the pudding. I must note, too, that the Tartine caramel sauce is as light as a caramel sauce can be. It adds a subtle yet critical flavor, and I most definitely will make it the next time I prepare this bread pudding.

Hooray for apple season! I imagine apples warmed in caramel sauce will make a lovely topping for this most delicious bread pudding.

Just some quick notes here about the recipe:

• I decided to make the brioche from scratch, which was well worth the effort, but also a two-day affair. If you have a good source for brioche, by all means, buy it! The recipe for the bread pudding itself is quite simple and so long as the brioche you purchase is baked in a standard loaf pan and you can slice it into one-inch pieces, you should be able to add an accurate amount of bread to your pudding. 

• Really follow the instructions about the ratio of bread to custard. I was shocked by how much more custard there was in my pan than bread, but I trusted the recipe and went with it. That is the key! The bread soaks up all the custard. The key to producing a moist bread pudding is to not crowd the pan with bread. This is by far the best bread pudding I have ever made and I attribute that mostly to sticking to the proportions prescribed in the cookbook.

• The cookbook suggests using a 9X5-inch glass loaf pan. When I made this, I hadn’t yet purchased this size pan but had success with an 8X8-inch pyrex pan I happened to have on hand. I am looking forward to using the real deal next time around.

bread pudding with sautéed peaches

Tartine's brioche

bread pudding in pan

Below are some invaluable notes from the Tartine cookbook. I took their suggestion for what to do with remaining custard. Delectable!

• Never crowd the bread slices in the mold — when a bread pudding is dry, crowding is usually the cause.

• If you use a shallower mold (than a loaf pan), reduce the baking time.

• If you end up with more custard than you need, transform it into a simple dessert: pour it into ramekins, place them in a hot-water bath, and bake in a 350ºF oven until set, about 40 minutes.

• If you have left over bread pudding, chill it, slice it, and fry it as you would French toast.

• This recipe works equally well with croissants, chocolate-filled croissants, challah or panettone

Brioche Bread Pudding

Yield = one 9×5-inch pudding, 6 to 8 servings
Source: Tartine

6 brioche slices*, cut 1-inch thick, see recipe below
8 large eggs
3/4 cup + 2 T. sugar
4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

* I did in fact make the brioche for this recipe, and it is a great recipe. Just a warning, it is quite a process … it takes literally about 2 days to make. If you have a source for good brioche, by all means, use it — buy the brioche … your bread-pudding-making experience will be all the more enjoyable. 

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×5-inch glass loaf dish. Arrange the brioche slices on a baking sheet. Place in the oven until lightly toasted, 4 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve.

3. Place the toasted bread slices in the prepared loaf pan, cutting the slices to fit as needed. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, filling the dish to the top. You may not be able to add all of the custard at this point. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, so that the bread can absorb the custard.

4. Just before baking, top off the dish with more of the custard if the previous addition has been completely absorbed. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and bake the pudding for about 1 hour. To test for doneness, uncover the dish, slip a knife into the center, and push the bread aside. If the custard is still very liquid, re-cover the dish and return the pudding to the oven for another 10 minutes. If only a little liquid remains, the pudding is ready to come out of the oven. The custard will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven and it will set up as it cools.

5. Let the pudding cool for about 10 minutes before serving. You can serve the bread pudding by slicing it and removing each slice with an offset spatula, or by scooping it out with a serving spoon.

Serve with fresh or sautéed fruit.

Brioche

Yield = Three 1¼-pound loaves
Source: Tartine

Preferment
¾ cup nonfat milk
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 ¾ cups bread flour = 8 ¾ oz.

Dough
2 T. + 1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 large eggs
1 ¼ cups whole milk
3 ½ cups bread flour
¼ cup sugar
1 T. salt
1 cup + 2 T. unsalted butter, chilled but pliable

Egg Wash
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch of salt

1. To make the preferment, in a small saucepan, warm the milk only enough to take the chill off. The milk should not be warm or cold to the touch but in between the two (80º to 90ºF). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with the spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and place in a cool, draft-free area for 1 hour and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 3 hours to cool down. The mixture will rise until doubled in volume and not yet collapsing.

2. Meanwhile, measure all the ingredients for the dough. Once you measure the butter, cut into cubes and return the eggs, milk and butter to the refrigerator to chill.

3. To make the dough, transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, begin to add the eggs one by one, increasing the mixer speed to medium or medium-high to incorporate the eggs and stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

4. Once all the eggs are incorporated, reduce the mixer speed to low and begin slowly to add 1 cup of the milk. When the milk is fully incorporated, stop the mixer and add the flour, sugar and salt. Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until you see a dough forming and it starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Turn off the mixer and let dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. While the dough is resting, place the chilled butter cubes into a separate mixer bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix the butter on medium speed until the cubes are pliable but not soft and are still chilled.

6. Remove the bowl holding the butter from the mixer and replace it with the bowl holding the now-rested first-stage dough. Refit the mixer with the dough hook and begin mixing on medium speed. When the dough again starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium-high. At this stage the dough will appear very silky and elastic. With the mixing speed still on medium-high, add small amounts of the butter, squeezing the cubes through your fingers so that they become ribbons as they drop into the bowl. Stop the mixer to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed with the spatula. Make sure that you don’t add too much butter too quickly and also make sure that you don’t mix the butter too long after each addition or you will heat up the dough. When all the butter has been added, allow the mixer to run for another 2 minutes to make sure the butter is fully incorporated. The dough should still be coming away cleanly from the sides of the bowl at this point.

7. Now, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup milk in increments of 1 tablespoon and increase the mixer speed to high. Mix until the dough is very smooth and silky and continues to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. This should take another 2 minutes.

8. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Spread the dough evenly on the prepared pan. Dust the top lightly with flour and cover with cheesecloth. Put the pan in the freezer for at least 3 hours and then transfer to the refrigerator overnight.

9. Brush three 9X5 loaf pans with melted butter. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface in a cool kitchen. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Press each portion into a rectangle the length of a loaf pan and slightly wider than the pan. Starting from a narrow end, roll up the rectangle tightly, pinch the ends and seam to seal, and place seam side down in a prepared pan. The pan should be no more than one-third full. The dough increases substantially during rising, and if you fill the pan any fuller, the brioche will bake up too large for the pan. When the pans are filled, place them in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity. Let rise for 2 to 3 hours. During this final rising, the brioche should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy but still be resilient to the touch.

10. Preheat the oven to 425ºF for at least 20 minutes before you want to begin baking. About 10 minutes before you want to begin baking, make the egg wash: whisk together the yolks, cream and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, brush the wash on tops of the loaves. Let the wash dry for about 10 minutes before baking.

11. Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and bake until the loaves are a uniformly dark golden brown on the bottom, sides and top, about 45 minutes longer. Remove the pans from the oven, immediately rap the bottoms on a tabletop to release the loaves, and then turn the loaves out onto wire racks to cool. The loaves can be eaten warm from the oven or allowed to cool and eaten within the day at room temperature or toasted. If you keep them longer than a day, wrap them in plastic wrap or parchment paper and freeze them indefinitely.

Caramel Sauce

Yield = 1 1/2 cups
Source: Tartine

2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 of one vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 T. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp lemon juice
4 T. unsalted butter

Kitchen Notes:
• Use a good-sized pan when preparing this caramel. When the hot cream is added, the caramel will boil furiously at first, increasing dramatically in volume. Have ice water nearby in case of burns.

1. Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the cream. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.

2. In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

4. Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.

The caramel will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

breadstackIs there anything better than homemade bread? I mean seriously. I’ve asked this question before. The answer is always no, there is nothing better than homemade bread. The smell and taste of this buttermilk, cinnamon-raisin bread has confirmed this assertion once again.

I mixed together this batch of dough before bed one night about five minutes after reading an email from a friend raving about the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The following morning I baked off two loaves of bread. One, I sliced and froze. The other, I sliced and ate and ate and ate and ate. And then I tucked the remaining heel in a ziplock back and stowed it in my cabinet. And then several hours later, I opened the cabinet and the bag and ate the heel for dinner. It was a quite a day.

Anyway, thank you, Darcy, for inspiring me to venture into the “enriched breads and pastries” chapter of Artisan Bread In Five. Readers, if you still haven’t taken a stab at bread making, pick up this book. Bread making has never been so easy and fun. And while you’re at it, order an 8-quart Cambro and lid (odd that the two aren’t sold together) for easy mixing and storing. And, if you happen to be ordering flours and other baking staples for the upcoming holidays, order a bulk bag of yeast. I store mine in a cylindrical, plastic tupperware-type vessel in the fridge.

Also, I must confess, I didn’t have raisins on hand when I set out to make this bread and so should have titled this post “Cinnamon Bread,” but that just sounds wrong. All I’m saying is that with or without raisins, this recipe is a winner. 

Also, I am very excited to report that I won an autographed copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day simply by leaving a comment on the blog Baking and Books. You, too, have a chance to win a cookbook every month. Stop by Baking and Books for more details.

loafandstack

Cinnamon-Raisin Buttermilk Bread
Yield = Three 1½-lb. loaves (these are smallish loaves) or Two loaves (which I prefer)

2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup buttermilk
1½ T. yeast
1½ T. kosher salt
1½ T. sugar
6½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
butter for greasing the pan
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon (I tripled the amount of cinnamon the second time around, so make your cinnamon-sugar mix according to taste.)
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup raisins (if you are using them)
egg wash (I egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)

1. Mixing and storing the dough: Mix the yeast, salt and sugar with the water and buttermilk in a 5-quart mixing bowl or a lidded (not airtight) food container.

2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment) or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook. If you’re not using a machine, you may have to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.

3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses or flattens on top, approximately 2 hours.

4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 7 days.

5. On baking day, lightly grease a 9x4x3-inch nonstick loaf pan. Set aside. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1½-pound (cantaloupe-size) piece. (Note: the original recipe yields 3 loaves. I prefer dividing the total amount of dough in half and making two larger loaves as opposed to three smallish loaves.) Dust with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

6. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to an 18×16-inch rectangle (or about an 11×18-inch rectangle — just wider than the loaf pan) about ¼-inch thick, dusting the board and rolling pin with flour as needed. You may need to use a metal dough scraper to loosen rolled dough from the board as you are working with it.

7. Using a pastry brush, cover the surface of the dough lightly with egg wash. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dough. Distribute the raisins, if using.

8. Starting from the short side, roll it up jelly-roll style. Pinch the edges and ends together, tucking the ends under. Place the loaf seam-side down in the prepared pan. Allow to rest 1 hour and 40 minutes (or just 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough.)

9. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool before slicing.

breadstack

Honey-Buttermilk Dinner Rolls, Poached Pears & Aunt Vicki’s Salad Dressing

rolls

Oh my. I cannot believe Thanksgiving is almost here. I know everyone is very busy preparing, so let’s keep this short and sweet, k?

If you get anything out of this post, I hope it is this:

1. A yummy recipe for buttermilk dinner rolls, perfect for the holiday table and a great way to use up a left-over buttermilk.

2. A delectable salad dressing made with reduced orange juice and white balsamic vinegar. This dressing is particularly nice with wintery salads — endive, shaved fennel, apple, pear, oranges, etc.

3. And a simple method to poach pears. Ready? Combine equal parts white wine and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add peeled, halved and cored pears. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Check with a paring knife — pears should be tender but not mushy. Turn off the heat, remove pears and let cool to room temperature. Save the poaching liquid for another use. Slice pears further if desired. (Note: I used ½ cup of wine and sugar for about 4 pears. Nice additions to the poaching liquid include orange zest, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean.)

OK, let’s get started.

First, these rolls. Looking for a way to use up a half-quart of buttermilk, I stumbled upon this recipe for honey buttermilk bread. I simplified the recipe a little bit, divided the dough into two big portions and made dinner rolls with half the batch and a regular-sized loaf with the other. The dinner rolls I devoured in about a day-and-a-half. The loaf, I sliced and froze and have been toasting every morning, spreading with apple butter, cinnamon and sugar, and sometimes just butter and salt. So yummy.

Here’s the recipe:

Honey-Buttermilk Dinner Rolls
Adapted from the blog, The Baking Sheet
Yield = Two Dozen 2-oz. rolls or one large loaf

2½ teaspoons active dry yeast (rapid rise is fine, too)
2 cups buttermilk, room temperature is ideal — bread will take longer to rise if you use cold buttermilk
2 T. honey
4½ cups flour, plus more while kneading or mixing
2 tsp. kosher salt

1. Combine yeast, buttermilk and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer or, if kneading by hand, in a large bowl. Whisk until combined. It’s OK if a few lumps of yeast remain.

2. Add the flour and salt to the mixer and with the dough hook attachment (or your hands), knead for about 10 minutes or until dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl and forming a mass around the hook. I probably added an additional cup of flour.

3. After 10 minutes, transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for about two hours (may take as long as four) or until doubled in bulk. Longer is fine, too. Punch down dough, and decide what you are going to make — rolls, loaves, boules, etc. 

If making rolls, begin portioning the bread into about 2-ounce pieces — if you don’t have a digital scale, just use your eye to judge. It is best to cut with a dough scraper or a sharp knife. (Alternatively, cut the dough in half, then divide each half into about 12 equal portions. Err on keeping the rolls smallish.) Round each portion of dough into a ball and place on a parchment-lined (or oiled) baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Let rolls rise for about 40 minutes. Bake rolls for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown — check the bottoms of the rolls because they will brown first.)  

If making a loaf, place dough in a greased loaf pan. Let rise until almost doubled, about 40 minutes. Bake 45 minutes, until loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing.

endive-salad

I first tasted this salad dressing when Aunt Vicki made a Greek salad for a dinner party this summer. I love its versatility — it is delicious with romaine, endive, baby spinach, arugula, etc. I think it is a perfect dressing for this Thanksgiving salad.

Aunt Vicki’s Salad Dressing
Yield = 1¾ cups

2 cups orange juice
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar, (regular is fine, too)
kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped scallions, green part only, cut on the diagonal (optional — I don’t add the scallions because I like to keep a jar of this in my fridge for a long time)

1. In a small saucepan, bring the orange juice to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until it has reduced to ½ cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer to a medium-sized bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, whisk in the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Transfer to a jar and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before using.

Pizza Pizza

I am resolved. I am resolved never to make another recipe for pizza dough. Seriously. This is it. My family has been making this recipe for years and it is incredibly delicious. Tried and True. Foolproof. No tweaking necessary. Caramelized onions, grapes (or figs), gorgonzola and mascapone (or some other creamy cheese like ricotta) is one of our favorite combinations.

These strong feelings stem partly from several recent failed experiments but also because I am realizing now truly wonderful homemade pizza is. Really, for me, the idea of a perfect dinner is this: several of these thin-crust pizzas (each topped differently), a salad (a homemade Caesar salad sounds nice at the moment) and a glass of wine.

I can think of only one thing that might — MIGHT — improve this recipe: A wood-burning oven. Which I intend to build soon. Or, let’s say within the next six months. Seriously. It only takes a day-and-a-half to build. It’s just a matter of getting organized. I saw the construction of a wood-burning, adobe oven in San Francisco at Slow Food Nation last month, and I have been wanting my very own ever since. There are two pics at the bottom of this post of the oven I plan to build and there are several other pictures of the adobe-oven-making process here.

This recipe yields enough dough to serve about 6 to 8 people. I am submitting this recipe to the World Food Day blog event. Created by Val of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste, this event seeks to raise awareness about world hunger: Around the globe there are 862 million undernourished people. Since 1945, October 16 marks World Food Day, an event created by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. To participate in the blog event, follow these instructions.

Want to build your own adobe oven, too? Buy this book: Build Your Own Earth Oven. I met the authors at SFN and they were pretty awesome. I also just found this article on Sunset.com — it might be interesting to compare the two methods: Sunset’s Classic Adobe Oven

These pizzas take about 10 minutes at 500ºF. When they emerge from the oven, all they need is a sprinkling of fresh herbs and perhaps, but not critically, a drizzling of olive oil.


One key to making a good pizza is this: keep toppings to a minimum. A thin layer of yummy ingredients is all this is needed. It helps keep the crust crisp and allows you to taste the dough. (I may have over done it a bit here. Refraining from overloading the dough is a true skill.)

This adobe oven was made in one-and-a-half days. Supplies, if I recall correctly, cost under $50. I am dying to make one.


Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes 4 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Or knead by hand. I have not had luck making this in the food processor — the engine starts smoking after about five minutes.) Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, under 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin (or continue using floured hands if you are skilled at making pizzas) and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion.

Note: This dough freezes beautifully. After the initial rise, punch down the dough, wrap it in plastic and place in a Ziplock bag. Freeze for several months. When ready to use, let sit at room temperature for about an hour, then proceed with rolling/topping/baking.

Baking:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Place rolled out dough onto parchment paper. Drizzle dough with a little olive oil and with your hand, rub it over the surface to coat evenly.

2. Top with a thin layer of your choice toppings. Here I used caramelized onions, grapes, gorgonzola and mascapone cheese. (The mascapone is really wonderful). Place in your very hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is slightly brown and the cheese is melting.

3. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh basil. A drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil is nice. I used a little bit of truffle oil, which would be wonderful over a mushroom pizza.

Trying To Understand The Food Crisis and Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day: Corn Bread

In a May 19th New Yorker article, Bee Wilson wrote: “As of 2006, there were 800 million people on the planet who were hungry, but they were outnumbered by the billion who were overweight. Our current food predicament resembles a scenario largely created by overproduction rather than underproduction. Our ability to produce vastly too many calories for our basic needs has skewed the concept of demand and generated a wildly dysfunctional market.”

This confused me. How could so many people in the world — 100 million people currently are at risk of joining the one billion people on the planet living on $1 a day — be hungry if there is no overall shortage of food? The answer, I learned, is complicated.

China, India, Europe and the United States are all to blame. Trade officials in these nations (and other wealthy nations), of course, design policies that will protect their farmers. What’s so bad about that? Well, when governments intervene in markets by imposing import tariffs and subsidies, for example, markets do not operate as they should and false equilibriums are reached. This, in turn, leads to market failures — such as food shortages — and the consequences can be dire: misery, malnutrition, starvation.

I’ve been trying to understand this food crisis for the past few months now, and I have summarized below what I have learned. Links to all of the articles I have read regarding this matter can be found at the end of the post (before the recipe.)

The issues:

• Usually food crises are localized, but for the first time in 30 years, food protests are erupting in many places at once: 33 countries (including Haiti, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Egypt, the Philippines, El Salvador and Pakistan) are at risk of social upheaval because of the high food prices.

• Human suffering is vast. Food inflation could push 100 million people into poverty, wiping out all the gains the poorest billion have made during almost a decade of economic growth.

• The era of cheap food is over.

What is causing the high food prices?

1. The growing middle-class in China and India: A half-billion consumers in these countries are increasingly emulating rich Western diets. (They are eating more meat.)

2. High oil costs have sent diesel fuel, fertilizers and farm chemical prices sky-high. Industrial agriculture has become so dependent on fossil fuel — for fertilizer, for pesticide, for processing and transportation. Today it takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce one calorie of food energy.

3. Western biofuel programs converting cereals into fuel. This year, one-fifth of the American corn crop will be devoted to Ethanol. High corn prices have led farmers to plant more corn and less soy and wheat, leading to the surge in the price for all grains.

4. Arable acreage is continually being cut back due to environmental regulations, water scarcities and urban development.

5. Government interference in markets. In a perfect world: the response to higher prices is higher output; with farming, however, this isn’t the case. For one, it always takes a season to grow more food (unlike a toy factory, which can respond immediately). And second, by imposing export quotas, price controls, consumer subsidies, export restrictions and lower tariffs, governments muffle signals to farmers and further delay their reaction to price signals. In a free market, imbalances get smoothed out naturally.

What is the solution?

First: Get food and help to the famine-ravaged places. In the short-term, humanitarian aid, social protection programs and and open trade policies will alleviate the suffering. To achieve this, the World Food Program (the world’s largest distributor of food aid) needs an extra $700 million. Though the importation of American and European surplus harvests could damage domestic markets in poor nations, given the widespread food shortages, this is the short-term solution.

Second: Open up trade. Governments need to liberalize markets not intervene. Victor Davis Hanson writes: “The best thing  that the United States could now do is to stop interfering with its own farmers, let markets and need determine what they grow and how they farm — and then by such a principled American example, persuade the rest of the world to do the same.”

Long-term solutions:

• Reduce modern agriculture’s dependence on oil. Michael Pollan writes that “agriculture is the original solar technology, and sustainable farmers have shown us how we might put our food system back on a foundation of sunlight. For example, when you take cattle off their typical feedlot diet of grain and allow them to eat grass, those hamburgers put less pressure on the prices of both oil and grain.”

• Pollan continues: “Most of the world’s grain goes to feed animals, not people, and meat is a very inefficient use for that grain — it takes 10 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. There would be plenty of grain for everyone if we actually ate it as food and didn’t use it to make meat. Reducing world meat consumption — or feeding our food animals differently — would leave more grain for the world’s hungry.

The Economist asserts that the way to feed the world is not to bring more land under cultivation, but to increase yields, and science, thus, is crucial. (The Economist: The quickest way to increase your crop is to plant more, but in the short run, there is only a limited amount of fallow land. Food increases thus need to come from higher yields.)

Sources: “The Silent Tsunami” and “The New Face of Hunger,” both printed in the April 19th Economist, “Harvesting Money In a Hungry World” by Victor Davis Hanson printed in the August 1st New York Times; “How To Feed The World” by Michael Pollan printed in the May 19th Newsweek, and “The Last Bite: Is the World’s Food System Collapsing?” by Bee Wilson printed in the May 19th New Yorker.

Oh and P.S.: This bread, like all of the other loaves produced from recipes printed in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, is delicious. As the pictures show, this isn’t the typical, sweet, cake-like creation most often associated with the word “cornbread.”


Broa (Portuguese Corn Bread)
From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François

Yield = four 1-lb. loaves

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ T. granulated yeasts (1½ packets)
1½ T. kosher or other coarse salt
1½ cups stone-ground or standard cornmeal
5 cups (22.5 oz.) unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Mixing and Storing the Dough

1. Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a five-quart bowl, or preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. (I added the yeast, then the flour and then the salt on top of the flour to avoid killing any of the yeast, but apparently this is unnecessary.)

2. Mix in the cornmeal and flour. Mix with a wooden spoon. If necessary, reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary.

3. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) and allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.

On Baking Day:

4. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece, using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.

5. Place the shaped ball on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel. (If you aren’t planning on baking the bread on a pizza stone, just let the dough rest on a cornmeal covered cutting board. Allow the loaf (uncovered) to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes.

6. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450ºF, with a baking stone placed on the lowest rack. (If you don’t have a stone, don’t worry.) Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread. (This helps to make the crust crispy, but you’re bread will still be delicious if you omit this step.)

7. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Make several ¼-inch-deep slashes across the bread. (Again, an uncritical step.)

8. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated stone. (Alternatively, butter a Pyrex dish or baking pan and place the bread in the pan.) Quickly but carefully pour about one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack.

Pizzeria Mozza — So Yum

Last night at 10:30 p.m., Ben and I finally dined at Pizzeria Mozza, the Nancy Silverton-Mario Batali-Joseph Bastianich pizza joint in Hollywood.

To start, we shared one order of fried squash blossoms — one order of delicately battered, ricotta-filled, piping-hot blossoms. Unbelievably tasty. For pizzas, we ordered the Ipswich clam (clams, oregano, pecorino and Parmigiano) and the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella and basil.) These wood-fired pizzas, I hate to admit, rival Bar’s, my absolute favorite spot on earth to eat pizza. (I’ve never been to Italy.) Two Amy’s in northwest Washington D.C. is a close second. Pizzeria Mozza, if I lived closer and if I didn’t need to make a reservation a month in advance, would surely be third. I loved everything about this place.

Well, nearly everything. Last year, shortly after Pizzeria Mozza opened, NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni gave it rave reviews, lauding in particular the butterscotch budino. The Times even provided the recipe. Ben took one bite and put his spoon down, declaring it cloyingly sweet. I agreed and then polished off the rest. No seriously, this dessert does not deserve the hype it has received. The little rosemary-pine nut short bread cookies provided on the side would have been the perfect finale to this long-anticipated dinner.

Artisan Bread Round II, Partially Whole Wheat and Cooked in A Pot

So, I thought I’d give a brief update on my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day escapades. This batch is my third, and I experimented with using nearly 50-percent whole-wheat flour. The dough rose just as beautifully as the 100-percent all-purpose flour batches, and held up just the same in the fridge during the week in which it was stored.

And, on a whim, I decided to use the Jim Lahey-Mark Bittman No-Knead Bread method of cooking — in a pre-heated, covered ceramic pot. Success! After 30 minutes in my Emile Henry dutch oven, the bread emerged with a crispy, golden crust. Since I don’t have a pizza stone, cooking in a pot is my best bet if I want to achieve the steam-injected-oven effect, which produces that professional-bakery crust. I have to say, however, that the bread tastes just as delicious when baked in a buttered Pyrex bowl — it doesn’t have the same crust, but the flavor is just the same, and the method is truly no-fuss.

Also, last time I neglected to include the Artisan Bread book’s official blog/Web site, which offers some great tips and additional recipes. Check out this grilled fruit pizza.

For the recipe for this bread, click here. For the baking method, follow the method described in this Mark Bittman NY Times article: The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do The Work

A loaf of 50-percent whole-wheat artisan bread in five minutes a day baked in a pot:

View of the 50-percent whole-wheat dough after rising overnight in the fridge.

Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day, Seriously

Last week, NPR aired a brief program about rising food prices and how people are changing their behavior as a result. Listeners called in sharing their money-saving secrets: Some people had begun fishing and hunting, others had begun walking or riding their bikes to market, and others had begun learning to make dishes from scratch. One man resolved to learn how to bake bread.

I thought this last idea sounded a little odd. With bread often being one of the least expensive items at the market, surely, I thought, their are better ways to save money.

I decided to investigate. Over the weekend, I made a visit to Henry’s Market (to purchase goat’s milk for a rosemary-gelato round two attempt) where I recorded some prices. A one-pound loaf of La Brea bread (the gourmet bread created by Nancy Silverton sold at grocery stores nationwide) costs on average $5.35. (To give you a range, the least expensive La Brea Country White Sourdough loaf cost $3.99 a pound and the most expensive Olive loaf cost $6.99 for 14.5 ounces.) Now, La Brea bread is one of the more expensive varieties of bakery-style bread found at grocery stores, but it’s also one of the best, and I’ve chosen to use it as the measure in this experiment for that reason.

Now, on to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I’ve been meaning to open this book since receiving it at Christmas from my father-in-law, who had read about it in this November 2007 NYTimes article: “Soon The Bread Will Be Making Itself”. Seriously, after I made the initial batch of starter, the bread took no more than five minutes of active time to prepare. (Plan on a 40 minute rise plus a 30 minute bake). And the result? Five stars. Ben and I ate almost an entire one-pound loaf in one sitting.

Preparing the loaves is so simple that I made bread on both Saturday and Sunday nights of this weekend, and I still have enough starter to prepare two more loaves this week. The starter keeps for at least two weeks in the refrigerator. This method, created by Jeff Hertzberg, a physician from Minneapolis, entails no kneading and can be prepared by the most novice of bread makers. If you have any inkling to learn to make bread or if you are a pro and desire a simpler method, buy this book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking.

So, what does one of these loaves cost to prepare? Using the price of flour given by the American Farm Bureau — a 5-lb. bag of flour costs on average $2.39 — and prices for yeast and salt listed at Henry’s Market — a 3-lb. pound box of kosher salt costs $3.49 and a three-pack of yeast costs $2.39 — a one-pound loaf of homemade artisan bread costs about 60 cents to prepare from scratch. (Flour costs about 3 cents per ounce; yeast, 35 cents per teaspoon; and salt, 1 cent per teaspoon.) Using Henry’s Market prices, too, this estimate of 60 cents is likely on the high side.

The average price of a loaf of La Brea bread is almost nine times more expensive. Even the cheapest loaf of bakery-style bread, priced at $1.29 a pound, costs over twice as much as a loaf of homemade bread. Upon closer analysis it seems the man who called into the radio program actually might be on to something.

Even if saving money is not your goal, however, give this recipe a stab purely to experience how truly simple bread making at home can be. I’m dying to try other recipes in this book such as roasted red pepper fougasse, Italian semolina, and sun-dried tomato parmesan but for now, I’m extremely happy with the results of this master boule: It’s perfectly salty, moist and airy and delectable all around.

We ate three-quarters of this loaf in one sitting. It’s so yummy!

The Master Recipe: Boule
Adapted From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Yield = Four 1-pound loaves. Recipe can be doubled or halved

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ T. granulated yeasts (1½ packets)
1½ T. kosher or other coarse salt
6½ cups (29.25 oz.) unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour,
measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Mixing and Storing the Dough

1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100ºF.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a five-quart bowl, or preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. (I added the yeast, then the flour and then the salt on top of the flour to avoid killing any of the yeast, but apparently this is unnecessary.)

3. Mix in the flour: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon. If necessary, reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. Dough should be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.

4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you’re using. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.


On Baking Day:

5. Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size), using a serrated knife. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.

6. Place the shaped ball on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel. (If you aren’t planning on baking the bread on a pizza stone, just let the dough rest on a cornmeal-covered cutting board. Allow the loaf (uncovered) to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes.


7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450ºF, with a baking stone placed on the lowest rack. (If you don’t have a stone, don’t worry.) Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won’t interfere with the rising bread. (This helps to make the crust crispy, but your bread will still be delicious if you omit this step.)

8. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking. Make several ¼-inch-deep slashes across the bread. (Again, if you omit this step, your bread will taste the same.)

9. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated stone. (Alternatively, butter a Pyrex dish or baking pan and place the bread in the pan.) Quickly but carefully pour about one cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack.

If you bake frequently, purchase yeast in bulk bags and store in your refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container. You’ll save a ton of money:

Here are two shots of an unslashed loaf baked in a buttered one-quart Pyrex dish. The difference in crust texture, in my opinion, is indetectable. If you don’t have a pizza stone and don’t feel like going through the trouble of a steam tray, this method, outlined in the recipe, works just fine.

Breakfast Pizza For Dinner

Oh, how I wish I could take credit for this ingenious creation. Alas, I cannot. A very good friend of mine, after observing my egg obsession, kindly directed me to this Apartment Therapy site, offering me yet another way to enjoy my beloved eggs. (Thanks, Amanda!) The eggs, cracked atop the pizza during the last few minutes of baking, retain a runny yolk, which, when cracked, ooze into the crust and toppings — sautéed Swiss chard and cheese, in this case — making each bite unbelievably tasty. This combination was particularly yummy, but I suspect these eggs would enhance various topping combinations, from sausage and peppers to tomato and basil to ricotta and spinach — oh, the possibilities are endless.

Not too long ago, I made a flatbread with brie, prosciutto and watercress — a recipe I spotted in a recently published cookbook Blue Eggs, Yellow Tomatoes. Well, I must confess that the dough recipe I have enclosed below is far superior. Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table, this wet dough — admittedly a little difficult to work with — yields a thin and crispy crust. I’m not sure why I bother experimenting with any other recipe — my family (my mother) has been making the Figs’ pizza dough for years with great success.

One note: Unless you have a very powerful food processor, don’t use one. I burned out the engine on mine making this recipe and had to finish the kneading by hand. Use a stand mixer if you have one or knead by hand from the beginning.

This recipe makes a very wet pizza dough. Once baked, however, the dough becomes a light, thin, crisp crust. My family has been using this recipe for years, and one of our favorite topping combinations includes caramelized onions, grapes, blue cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh basil. This dough freezes well, too: After the two-hour rise, punch it down, wrap it in plastic and throw in the freezer. When ready to use it, let the dough sit at room temperature for a few hours prior to cooking.

Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes 4 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, about 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil or lightly coat with cooking spray, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion.

Breakfast Pizza: Sorry for these undetailed instructions, but I really just threw this together.
Serves 2

cornmeal

olive oil
Swiss chard, washed, stems diced, leaves roughly chopped
garlic, minced
kosher salt
crushed red pepper flakes
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano and cheddar and crumbled goat cheese (use any grated cheese you have on hand)
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Follow the instructions above for rolling out the dough. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet and transfer the dough to the baking sheet.

2. Meanwhile, sauté the Swiss chard stems in the oil until slightly tender. Increase the heat to high, add the greens, season with salt, red pepper flakes and garlic. Rearrange the greens with tongs until nicely wilted. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Top pizza with a thin layer of greens and cover with the grated cheese. Place in the oven for about eight minutes, or until about three minutes away from being done. Remove from the oven and crack the eggs over the pizza. Return to the oven, cooking just until the whites are set and the yolks are slightly runny.

4. Serve immediately.