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Game Night Snacks: Pepperoni and Cheese Swirl Rolls

17 May

I had some pizza dough in the fridge recently that I needed to use and it got me thinking about creating a savory version of the Cinnamon Rosettes on this blog. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are also going on and the Pens are in the Eastern Conference Finals, so I’ve also got stadium snacks, bar food, and Pittsburgh on the brain. That led me to one natural conclusion. Let’s flip the script for…

Pepperoni and Cheese Swirl Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. pizza dough, homemade or store-bought. Recipe here!
  • 12-15 slices pepperoni
  • 4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 oz. pecorino romano cheese
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp. dried basil
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • Optional: ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

Method

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

Roll out the pizza dough into a rectangle about 12 x 15 in.

Melt the butter with the herbs and spices, and then brush onto the pizza dough, leaving a small seam at the bottom.

Layer on the mozzarella cheese and most of the pecorino romano cheese (reserve some for the tops of the rolls).

Add a layer of pepperoni.

Roll the pizza dough toward you slowly, jellyroll style, and pinch the edges together to seal.

Place the roll seam side down on a cutting board and slice into 12 equal pieces.

Put each roll into a muffin tin cup and then sprinkle additional pecorino romano cheese on top.

Bake 25-27 minutes or until golden brown on top. Move the rolls to a wire cooling rack and serve warm with marinara sauce for dipping.

These are really delicious the day they are made, but they also reheat well. Just put them back in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes.

Ciao for now (and let’s go Pens!),

Neen

Crispy, Chewy Thin Crust Pizza

20 Sep

I love all kinds of pizza. Thick squares covered in crushed tomatoes and romano cheese, thin floppy slices oozing with mozzarella, deep dish pieces, and yes, the slightly charred crispy Neapolitan-style pies.

My better half like his pizzas thin and crispy. I’ve spent YEARS cooking thin crust pizzas in my slightly under-powered oven and for a long time just wasn’t getting the result I wanted. Okay, sure, you can preheat a pizza stone in your oven for a while and probably get a pie that’s crisp and chewy, but let’s be realistic: Who has time to do that?

No, the real secret to a perfect crust, even for bread, is airflow. Yes, I defy all of you pizza stone experts, because unless you’ve got my dad’s fires-from-hell brick oven, there is a better, easier way to get the perfect pizza or bread crust at home.

First let’s deal with the dough itself. This recipe is an amalgamation of at least four other people’s recipes, but it is velvety, easy to work with dough with a beautiful flavor.

Perfect Pizza Dough (for one 16 in. pizza or two smaller pizzas)

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. salt dissolved in 2 tbsp. warm water
  • 2 ¼ tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (about 110-115 degrees)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the water, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and let it sit until the mixture is very foamy, about 5 minutes.

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Add the flour to the yeast mixture, and then add the salt water. Finally, gently stream in the olive oil.

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Switch the paddle for a dough hook and knead until the dough is soft, smooth and pliable. I prefer to do this by hand and it takes about 10 minutes. Once you have a smooth dough, roll it into a tight ball.

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Oil a clean bowl and toss the dough ball to coat. Then cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap, leave it in a warm spot, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

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After it has risen, gently punch the dough down and it is ready to use. Or store it in the refrigerator covered for up to a few days.

To bake, preheat an oven to 450 degrees F.

NOW, remember what I said earlier about airflow? You do not need an expensive pizza stone or a bunch of bricks on your oven rack, you need this:

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This is a 16 in. pizza screen, but they come in all sizes. It cost about $10. This is how we achieve a golden brown and crisp bottom with a nice, chewy interior.

Lightly oil the pan and then oil your hands. Stretch the pizza dough across the screen until it is even, then brush the surface with olive oil and top as desired. This is a classic marinara and whole milk mozzarella pie.

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Place the screen on the bottom rack of your oven and bake for about 12-13 minutes. Check it at 12, because the bottom can start to char quickly!

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Give the pizza a minute or two to cool, and then easily slide it off of the screen and on to your cutting board for slicing.


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Give this method a try on your next pie. You won’t be disappointed!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Stop for Science (again!): Gluten-Free Soft Pretzels

6 Nov

Regular readers of this blog will recall my Home Alone style dash through the Frankfurt airport, induced by the scent of warm soft pretzels (laugenbrezel!), and the subsequent foray into the chemistry that gives us this glorious bread. Ah yes, we donned our gloves and surgical masks together, avoided recreating any particularly cringe-worthy scenes from Fight Club, and discovered that sometimes you have to be a little brave to make the magic happen.

It appears that suddenly the rest of the world has discovered that pretzels are that good, because it seems like every restaurant is offering sandwiches on pretzel buns now. The nerve! Yes, restaurant industry, thanks for waiting until I went gluten-free to shove advertisements for pretzel rolls in my face at every turn. But it’s like they say: Don’t get mad, get even.

And I found the perfect opportunity on a chilly Sunday over the weekend to do just that. With leftover mornay sauce from the previous night’s macaroni and cheese just begging to be reheated as cheese dip, clearly, it was time to take back the pretzel.

The process for making gluten-free pretzels is pretty similar to making traditional pretzels. There are some differences in the dry ingredients in order to add more acid and give the dough that chewy tenderness, but the main difference I found is purely tactile. The gluten-free dough feels much less stiff, so it took more care and a lighter touch to roll it out. I’d recommend keeping a little bowl of sweet rice flour nearby to flour your hands with, because it’s pretty likely that the warmth from your hands will make the dough stick to them otherwise. The other main difference is kind of awesome: only one rise! So basically, you get your pretzels twice as fast. Hallelujah!

Gluten Free Soft Pretzels

  • 3 1/4 cups gluten-free flour blend (here’s mine!), plus ¼ – ½ cup extra
  • 1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
  • ½ cup dry buttermilk powder
  • 1 package rapid-rise or instant yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tbsp. dark brown sugar or barley malt syrup
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. rice vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 ½ cups warm water, about 110 degrees
  • 1 oz. food grade lye
  • Coarse salt or pretzel salt
  • Plastic gloves, safety goggles, vinegar, and nonreactive pans and utensils.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.

Combine the flour blend, xanthan gum, buttermilk powder, yeast, cream of tartar, baking soda, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix well.

20131103_074135Add the vinegar, butter, and egg whites to the dry ingredients and mix well, then add the water in a slow steady stream. Once all of the water has been added, turn the mixer to a high speed and mix for 2-3 minutes. The dough will be loose and wet.

20131103_075122Turn the mixer speed down to low and add flour 1 tbsp. at a time just until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. It will still be quite tacky. Use a dough scraper to turn the dough out onto a silpat or lightly floured board, then knead lightly until smooth. Divide it into 12-16 equal pieces, depending on how large you would like the rolls to be. From here, you can either roll the dough into balls OR roll out into thin ropes and form into the traditional pretzel shape.

20131103_08033420131103_08041120131103_080414Set the rolls onto the prepared baking sheet, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and allow them to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes. They will puff up, but will not quite double in size.

Now it’s time for the lye bath. Put on your gloves and safety goggles, and wipe down the surface of your workstation with plain white vinegar. Keep a small glass of vinegar nearby to neutralize any spills of the lye solution.

20130807_115440Measure one quart of cool water into a nonreactive saucepan. Slowly add one ounce of food grade lye and stir gently to dissolve. ALWAYS add the lye to the water and not the water to the lye. Doing it the other way around may cause the lye to react and combust.

20130807_131512Dip each pretzel in the lye solution for 30 seconds and then place back on the parchment-lined baking sheet using a slotted spoon. When finished, wipe down any surfaces that may have come into contact with lye with a vinegar soaked rag, and then with warm soap and water.

Sprinkle the pretzels with coarse salt and then let them rest while the oven is preheating.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the pretzels for 20-30 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown.

20131103_09294320131103_09295220131103_093145 Cool completely on a wire rack prior to storing.

To save pretzels for later enjoyment, wrap individual pretzels in plastic wrap and then put them in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator or freezer. These reheat beautifully in the toaster or toaster oven, so you don’t have to worry about the leftovers going to waste. Perfect for slider-style sandwiches, cheese dip, mustard, or just alongside a cup of coffee, they are a hit out of the park.

So the next time some chain restaurant’s advertisement comes blaring through your television or radio praising their “artisan,” “hand-crafted,” or “revolutionary” pretzel buns… remember that you’ve totally got the power to make them even better.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Recipe Megapost: My Old Kentucky Home

6 May

Roger, our native Kentuckian, invited Joe and I over for Derby Day this year. He and Lynn always loved celebrating the Kentucky Derby. I imagine that it was particularly special for her, having grown up so close to Churchill Downs.

While I pawned mint julep duty off on the men-folk, I took charge of the food. Roger’s only “must-have” request was derby pie, an amazing chocolate-nut pie that’s possibly sweeter than actually winning the race itself. Other than that, I was free to do as I pleased.

It got me thinking a lot about Lynn. She liked to get me cookbooks, especially Southern ones. Last summer she gave me an edition of Seasoned Cooking of Kentucky, and several years ago an edition of Charleston Receipts. But the foods that make me think of her are the ones that she talked about the way that I talk about food from Pittsburgh, and those that she eventually wrote down for me the on cards I received at the bridal shower last year.

20130503_142327One of the things I remember her always loving was ham biscuits. Exactly what they sound like; cured, country ham (not the sweet, smoked style of Virginia), thin sliced and piled on top of fresh, fluffy biscuits. Roger mentioned in one of his recent emails to me that they were indeed her favorite, so I searched high and low—the wonderful butcher at Union Meat finally came through with beautiful, red slices of country ham, and I went on a search for a sturdy, slider-style biscuit recipe. The next item on the menu was from one of the books she’d given me.  Pickled shrimp are a popular picnic food in the summer that sounded just refreshing enough to cut some of the richness in the menu (oh believe me, we haven’t even started). Steamed, chilled shrimp, mixed with some vegetables, herbs, and a sweet/sour pickling liquid, all layered into a jar to marinate overnight. Along with the ham biscuits, and pickled shrimp, I figured a vegetable had to enter into the picture somewhere, so I roasted some beautiful spring Brussels sprouts with herbs de provence,  red onion, and bacon and served them at room temperature. They were an amazing contrast to the shrimp.

But the Hot Brown was what intrigued me the most. Not only was it an iconic dish, but I’d never made it before, and had only seen prepared briefly on a Food Network segment done at the Brown Hotel. On one of the recipe cards she shared with me, Lynn wrote down the Brown Hotel’s recipe for their signature dish. What is this incredible food item, you might ask? It is an open faced turkey sandwich on thick slices of Texas toast, covered by creamiest, richest pecorino romano mornay sauce I have ever made, broiled until golden, and then finished with sliced bacon, fresh parsley, and paprika.

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And yes, this whole ordeal ended with pie. Because you should always save room for pie.

Pickled Shrimp

  • 1 lb. peeled, jumbo cooked shrimp with tails
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup peanut oil
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper

20130503_170453Layer the shrimp, onion, bell pepper, and bay leaf in a quart-sized mason jar.

20130503_170919Whisk the remaining ingredients together, and then pour over the shrimp and vegetables. Seal and allow the shrimp to marinate for 1 day, shaking and turning the jar every few hours or so.

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Ham Biscuits

These biscuits needed to be sturdier, and a little taller than normal to accommodate being made into sandwiches. Three leavening agents keep them light and fluffy, while giving you some freedom with manipulating the dough.

  • 1/2 envelope active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. warm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, cut into pieces and chilled
  • 2 oz. unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chilled
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
  • Slices of country ham
  • Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, or other condiments

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine yeast and warm water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes or until foamy.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, then cut cream cheese and cold butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender or fork until crumbly.

Combine yeast mixture and buttermilk, and then add to the flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead lightly 6 to 8 times.

20130504_073019Roll or pat the dough to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut with a round cutter or slice into squares.

20130504_073652Arrange biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brush with an egg wash or melted butter, and bake for 15 minutes or until deep golden-brown.

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Split biscuits and top with thin slices of country ham and condiments as desired.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, washed, outer leaves removed, and cut in half.
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 slices bacon (cooked), and 1 tbsp. bacon drippings
  • 1/2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. herbs de provence
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl and taste for seasoning. Then spread the sprouts on a baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees F until lightly browned, but not soft. It will take anywhere for 15-30 minutes depending on the size of your sprouts.

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Kentucky Hot Brown

I used the Brown Hotel’s original recipe and followed it to a T. The only exception being that I was able to make three sandwiches, rather than two. Honestly, I think that the amount of sauce this yields could easily be spread across four. The recipe can be found here, but here’s a photo sequence and my description of the process…

Gather your ingredients and preheat a broiler.

20130504_171142Lay one piece of crustless Texas toast in an oven-safe dish, and cut the other into triangles, putting them on either side of the whole piece.

20130504_170551Layer turkey on top, and put a slice of Roma tomato on two sides of the Texas toast.

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Make a roux and cook it until smooth, then add the cream and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to simmer lightly and gets very thick.

20130504_17251920130504_172656Add the pecorino cheese and whisk until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

20130504_17353620130504_173625Ladle the hot mornay sauce on top of the turkey, and then place the sandwich under the broiler until lightly browned on top.

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Top with two slices of bacon and finish with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and paprika.

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Dark Bay Pie

The Derby Pie originated at the Melrose Inn, but the name is trademarked  by the Kern family and the owners are not shy about suing to protect it. Although numerous variations and recipes for this type of pie exist, to refer to anything that is not Kern’s recipe (which is again, heavily guarded by the owners) as Derby Pie is breaking the law. Hence, why my truly delicious AND SHAREABLE recipe has its own moniker, given for the final product’s similarity in color to that particular horse coat color.

  • 1 1/4 cups toasted, roughly chopped nuts – I used a mixture of pecans and walnuts
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • Pastry for one 9 in. crust

First, prepare your pastry. I use my super-no-fail pate brisee, of course! You can find that recipe right here, in the butter tart tutorial. After making the dough, patting into a disc, and refrigerating it, roll it out into a circle a bit larger than your pie pan, and then fit into the pan and crimp the edges. Return the crust to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

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Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until thoroughly blended and slightly foamy. Add the brown sugar, white, sugar, light corn syrup, dark corn syrup, flour, and salt and whisk until smooth.  Add the melted butter, bourbon, and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.

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Fold the nuts and chocolate chips into the mixture, brush the inside of the pie crust with a little bit of egg wash, and then pour the filling into the prepared pie crust.

20130504_10154920130504_101333(0)20130504_101745Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is just set and the edges are golden brown. It will deflate slightly as it cools.

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An hour after finishing everything up, I was putting my recipe cards safely back into the book when I noticed another one from Lynn that contained three simple ingredients: An orange, a cup of sugar, and two cups of pecans. Well shoot, I already had everything…so why not? Roger and I have since decided that these are far too habit forming. If you make them, not eating the entire batch will truly be a challenge.

Orange Pecans (and Walnuts)

Lynn’s recipe called for 2 cups of pecans, but I had a mixture of pecans and walnuts leftover from the Dark Bay pie, so I went with that.

20130504_113957Zest and juice the orange into a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar and mix well. Put the pan over medium high heat.

20130504_114512Once the sugar has begun to dissolve, add the nuts to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring vigorously throughout, and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed (5-6 minutes).

20130504_114629Spread the nuts out onto a baking sheet and separate using a fork. Once completely cool, store in a well-sealed container at room temperature. And again, this is if you actually have any to store.

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20130504_125706So that was what we enjoyed with frosty mint juleps as Orb made his valiant gallop from almost the back of the pack, to a massive garland of roses.

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Dioji found all of this very exhausting.

Dioji found all of this very exhausting.

It was a really wonderful way to spend a Saturday, tasting and seeing things that reminded me of my mother-in-law. Sometimes it hurts to think about Lynn, because the fact that she is gone is still so raw. But Saturday was one of the first times that the cheerfulness I remember overshadowed those pangs of sadness. I am grateful that she shared so much of her home with me, and hope that I have done her proud sharing it with you.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Completely Counter-intuitive

18 Mar

Guess what we’re going to do today? We’re going to make BISCUITS! And we’re probably going to make a few people cry or write me angry letters.

I make biscuits and bacon for Joe almost single weekend, and use a pretty basic method. Always by hand, never in the food processor. Always all-butter (a cube or two of lard if I have it), never shortening. Always patted gently, never rolled out, and cut only once. Dough scraps are mashed together to make a mutant (but still delicious) biscuit, but the dough is NEVER re-rolled. And if it gets remotely warm while being handled, to the freezer with it!

The point here is that I’ve been threatened by enough Southern cooks in my life to know that YOU DO NOT OVER HANDLE THE BISCUIT DOUGH. Want them tender, crispy, and flaky? The less you touch it, the better. Otherwise: Bricks. Buttery, delicious bricks, but heavy and flat all the same.

There was an incident. I blame the bad reality television I leave on in the background when I’m in the kitchen. I was probably momentarily horrified by seeing an individual take a piece of raw chicken out of a marinade to cook, and then proceed to begin reducing the remaining marinade into a sauce. Mmm, salmonella! Anyway, an incident. I tossed my flour, salt, and baking powder together and then added the cubed, cold butter. As I worked my hands through it, quickly breaking and smearing the butter into small fragments, I thought “This is taking longer than usual…”

After adding the milk, the dough came together as usual…but the texture was different. It wasn’t sticky or too dry to come together, it just felt different. I chalked it up to paranoia and tossed the dough in the fridge. As I began to close the door to the refrigerator, I noticed that the 16 oz. tub of butter I’d bought earlier was nearly empty. “How did I go through this much butter this week? I didn’t even bake anything for work…”

(Censored expletive.)

"Why does this feel so light?"

“Why does this feel so light?”

A synapse clearly fired wrong, because the normal ratio of butter to milk is 1:2 in my biscuit dough recipe. Normally it’s 3 oz. butter and 6 oz. milk. And yet somehow that morning I was convinced that they were equal 6 oz. portions. “Now what?”

It occurred to me that the proportion of butter:flour made the ratio slightly closer to a croissant dough or pate brisee than a biscuit, but croissants use yeast, so it’s not abnormal there to handle the dough a lot. And pate brisee doesn’t need to rise, and has practically no liquid at all. At this point I figured that while I was already going off into left field, that I might as well just go all the way and see what resulted.

Something wonderful happened.

Flaky Layer Biscuits

The second time I made these, I made a few improvements to the methodology, and a 1 oz. reduction in the amount of butter. This was because the most inner layers in the first batch were over-saturated and a little greasy for my taste.

  • 9 oz. flour (about 2 cups, lightly scooped)
  • 5 oz. butter, cubed and chilled
  • 6 oz. whole milk or buttermilk
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

In a medium sized mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder.

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Add the cubed butter. Smear and break up the pieces until the mixture is pebbly. The largest pieces of butter should be pea-sized.

Add the milk / buttermilk and stir the mixture with a fork until a rough dough forms.

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Transfer the dough to the counter and pat it into a small rectangle.

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Wrap this in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a half-hour or until it is firm enough to roll.

Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and roll into a 9 x 17 in. rectangle.

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Letter-fold (as in my croissant recipe) into thirds, and then rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the process.

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Wrap the folded dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half-hour.

Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and roll into a 9 x 17 in. rectangle, and again letter fold into thirds, rotate, and fold again. This time, cut the rectangle in half, and stack the two squares on top of one another, making sure that the folded sides of each square are at opposite ends. Press down, and then wrap the folded dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half-hour.

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Remove the dough from the plastic wrap for the final time, and repeat the previous three-step process. Then roll or press it out to 1/2 in. thickness.

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Cut into 12 squares with a sharp knife or pizza wheel. Place the biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate while the oven preheats.

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the tops of the biscuits with a beaten egg or a little bit of cream or milk.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes or until fluffy and golden brown.

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Then you can enjoy slowly peeling apart all of the buttery layers and eating a delicious biscuit. Perfectly soft and flaky in the middle, a touch salty, and crisp on the outside. Voila!

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I was convinced these were going to be masonry equipment, but the result was opposite in nearly every way. The texture was just incredible, and they needed absolutely nothing spread on them (although fresh jam would be fantastic I’m sure). If, like me, you wish to gamble with your cholesterol numbers…they’re kind of amazing alongside a fried egg that’s still slightly runny.

It’s not the quickest biscuit recipe, but it’s hands-down my new favorite. I doubt I’ll have the patience to make it my every-weekend recipe. Even so, it was truly the happiest of accidents.

So go ahead. Handle the dough, roll the dough, and go nuts. Follow what I’ve written and you too will wonder why everyone has been lying to you. Maybe it’s a conspiracy among southern cooks to never reveal this secret. If I disappear, I wish you to assume that I’ve been kidnapped by someone’s grandma and locked in a basement for my crimes. Happy baking!

Ciao for now,

Neen

A New York State of Mind: Bagels

23 Jan

A lot comes to mind when I think of New York City. Growing up it was this mysterious place that people talked about as the center of the universe. It wasn’t until my seventeenth birthday that my first trip there was even planned. My parents, knowing my grand lifelong obsession with Billy Joel, decided to take me to New York during the opening weekend of the musical based on his songs called “Movin’ Out.” I was star struck from the minute we arrived: Times Square was a mob scene, impossible for tour buses to navigate due to the crowd’s determination to catch a glimpse of Eminem waving out the window at Total Request Live. When I sat down in the theatre to see “Movin’ Out,” I realized that James Gandolfini was directly in front of me. Less than 24 hours after that I was taking a picture with Billy Zane (who, aside from Hugh Jackman was the most gracious, kind celebrity I have ever met).

Inevitably at some point in my blogging career I was going to use Billy Joel’s most famous song as a post title. One does not see him in concert 6 times in three different cities without having that song permanently embedded into a part of the brain. Trips to New York always remind me of going to his concerts because he sings so much about NYC and the surrounding areas.

There are a lot of iconic things about New York: The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, vast amounts of museums, enormous flagship stores, the Yankees, Broadway, and probably the best people-watching around. And the food scene? Pretty much everything imaginable. The little neighborhoods throughout all seem to have little clumps of ethnic groups that have brought their dishes to the States throughout the country’s history. And if I learned one thing in New York it is that they are serious about bagels. Polish-Jew immigrants brought the bagel to America, and sadly by the 1960s their delicious, handmade creations had been industrialized by Harry Lender, who engineered the automatic production and…pre-slicing of them (face, meet desk). I mourn for these bagels.

But New York has a host of bakeries that still make them from scratch. Even if you feel most sure of it, do NOT insist to a New Yorker that you can buy a decent bagel anywhere but there. This is an argument that you will not win. The theory is that it’s all about the water (much like the lime content of Kentucky water giving bourbon its distinctive characteristics).

Oh, but I am defiant and stubborn. And skeptical of anyone who tells me that I can’t do something. Maybe I didn’t ask my brother to ship me some of his water, nor did I bring a bucket on Amtrak during my recent trip to NYC, but I did my research. I wanted to know what makes bagel baking different from other bread baking and how I could achieve the closest possible analog to the breakfast king of the Big Apple.

New Yorkers, I believe that I have done you proud. Perhaps they are not made with the “right” water, but I guarantee you that they are dense, slightly spongy, and chewy. They are not “doughnut bagels” or bread shaped like a bagel. They are truly, wholeheartedly bagels.

These ones are of the cinnamon-raisin variety, but they aren’t sweet. I really wanted to shy away from making these resemble pastry or sweet bread in any way. The process takes two days, so make sure you give yourself adequate time before beginning.

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

adapted from Peter Reinhardt, recipes from Jewish friends, and the great city of New York.

Sponge

  • 4 cups bread flour (or high-gluten flour)
  • 2 1/2 cups room temperature water
  • 1 tsp. rapid-rise yeast

Dough

  • 3 ½ cups bread flour (or high-gluten flour)
  • 4 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. malt syrup or honey
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. rapid-rise yeast
  • 2 cups raisins, rinsed under warm water and patted dry
  • 1 tbsp. baking soda for water bath
  • Cornmeal for baking pans

To make the sponge, mix the flour and yeast together and then stir in the water until you have a thick batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in a non-drafty, warm place for 2-3 hours or until it has doubled in size and is very foamy on top. It should deflate slightly when the bowl is tapped on a hard surface.

1 - sponge

Add the second teaspoon of yeast and mix it thoroughly into the sponge. Mix in 3 cups of the flour, sugar, cinnamon, malt syrup, and salt. Add the remaining flour only as needed to form a stiff bread dough. Mix in the raisins.

2 - sponge with yeast and flour

3 - adding the dry ingredients

4 - mixing

5 - raisins addedTransfer the dough to a counter and knead for ten minutes or until it is smooth and pliable. The dough should not be tacky, but should be hydrated enough that it does not rip while being kneaded. At this point, check the temperature with an instant read thermometer. It should be somewhere in the mid 70s F.

6 - kneaded dough

Immediately divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and shape into rolls. These were 3 oz. each. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow them to rest for a half hour.

7 - formed rolls

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and form the bagels. The easiest way to do this by hand is to poke the hole in the center using your thumb and then rotate the bagel around it until the hole is about one inch in diameter. Make them as even as possible to avoid timing problems during the baking process. Place the bagels on the prepared sheet pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. This room temperature rest is crucial before moving them to the refrigerator for final retarding as it provides some time for the gasses to build up that will make the bagels float during the pre-bake boil.

8 - shaped bagels

After the 20 minute rest do a test by dropping a bagel into a bowl of room temperature water. If it floats within 10 seconds, the bagels are ready for final retarding. Pat the test bagel dry and return it to the sheet pan. If the tester doesn’t float, leave the pans at room temperature and re-test every 10 minutes until it floats. Once this is achieved, move the bagels to the refrigerator and allow them to retard for 12 hours. They can stay like this for up to 2 days.

9 - float test

The following day, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove and then add the baking soda.

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper, lightly oil the paper, and sprinkle a layer of cornmeal on it.

Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the boiling water a few at a time. They should float within 10 seconds. Boil for 1 minute, flip them over, and then boil for 1 more minute.

10 - boil bagels

Place the boiled bagels on the prepared sheet pan about 2 inches apart. Once you’ve finished boiling all of them, move the pans to the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees, rotate the pans, and bake for 5 more minutes or until lightly golden brown. As with most bread, you can generally tell that they are cooked through once they reach an internal temperature of 190 degrees.

Cool the bagels on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes prior to cutting them. You wouldn’t want to smoosh all of the chewy goodness you worked to achieve, so be patient! I actually found that the texture improved greatly after several hours.

11 - boiled bagels12 - finished bagels 113 - finished bagels 2

But now you might be thinking “What do I do with two dozen bagels and only one stomach?” Well, I suppose you could share, but the good news is that these hold up well in the freezer as long as they’re tightly wrapped. Revive for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven or just toast them. Not as good as fresh, but infinitely better than store-bought.

Although I may never convince a New Yorker that these are the real deal, I have had many a bagel in my time and this is honestly the closest I’ve ever come to that distinct bagel-ness. Have fun, be patient, and enjoy. Other flavors? Omit the cinnamon and raisins and top your bagels with coarse salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds prior to baking. Purists might get mad at you, but dried blueberries are really tasty in place of the raisins. And besides, who cares what anyone thinks of you if you’re happy with them.

For now I think I’ll just enjoy my bagel and think about “taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line…”

Ciao for now,

Neen