Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October Daring Bakers: My New Favorite Pizza Dough

Another month of the Daring Bakers, another savory recipe - no frills, no 2-day decorating marathons, no butter. That's right - a Daring Bakers challenge with no butter.

Now, I've made pizza dough before. In fact, I've made it many times before, and pizza is one of those things that never ceases to be an exciting kitchen activity. So many toppings, so much flour all over the kitchen, so likely that I'll set off the smoke alarm because the oven is so may be high-stress, but I love making pizza.

To be honest, though, I don't usually put too much thought into my pizza dough. I generally make whole-wheat crusts with the usual suspects: flour, water, salt, yeast, sugar, and a splash of olive oil or two. And even though my homemade crust is generally not as good as the specimens found at good pizza joints (think New Haven) or trendy Italian restaurants, I have always chalked that up to equipment deficiencies (I'm just not crazy enough to clip the self-cleaning lock on my oven to get it up to 800 degrees). I've read in a variety of places, too, that homemade crust, especially without the use of special pizza dough starters, just will never be as good as the stuff that the pizza masters use.

And then there was this Daring Bakers dough. Now, I'm not saying that this recipe will yield Pepe's-quality pizza, but it gave me new faith in the art of homemade pizza. The dough requires an overnight rest in the refrigerator before the 2-hour, room-temperature proof, and seriously, it makes a big difference. By the time I shaped this dough, it was supple, soft, and completely pliable, making for a deliciously thin-crusted pizza the likes of which I've never been able to achieve before.

[whole wheat crust]

Obviously, I wanted to make a whole wheat version of this dough, but I was also curious as to how the regular old white version would turn out. So, I made a batch using mostly bread flour (and some white whole wheat because I ran out of bread flour!) and a half-batch using 100% white whole wheat, with about 2 tablespoons of gluten thrown in for extra body and stretch.

[white and whole wheat doughs]
I expected the mostly-white dough to be pliable and soft, which it was, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the whole wheat dough to be almost as pliable. Both doughs made for lovely, thin crusts that crisped up nicely on my pizza stone. The crust itself had those big, gaping holes that you see in pizzeria crust or ciabatta, which I loved.

Since I made so much dough, I stuck most of it in the freezer for a rainy day, and made two pizzas the day after mixing the dough: one plain cheese and sauce variety, and another one with paper-thin slices of potatoes, garlic, olive oil, and a hefty sprinkling of rosemary.

Both came out beautifully, although I've decided I'm not the biggest fan of carb-on-carb pizzas, and will probably come up with something more vegetable-y the next time around (caramelized onions with goat cheese, perhaps? lemony broccoli with cheddar? something with apples?). I'm definitely filing this recipe away, though, and look forward to more crazy and exciting pizza nights in the future.

For now, check out the other Daring Bakers to see the marvelous pizza creations they've come up with, and check the blog of this month's wonderful host, Rosa, for the complete recipe. I'm not sure I'd consider this recipe particularly challenging (it even uses instant yeast!) but it sure is a winner.

[ready for the oven]

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Apple (Cake) a Day...

Oh gee, well I guess I've got sweets on the brain. And yes, well, I suppose I've got apples on the brain, too. Yet another sweet treat, this one just as apple-y and delicious as an apple crisp, and as undeniably brunch-able as those pumpkin sticky buns.

But let's cut to the chase: cake. Yes, sometimes a good, old-fashioned cake is really the only way to go when it comes to satisfying a sweet tooth. I was tasked with doing dessert for a small dinner gathering the other night, and a few less-than-perfect apples were simply screaming for inclusion in something baked.

I'm a very enthusiastic fan of anything with warm spices, so I decided to make an apple cake based loosely on the premise of pain d'epice, a French spice loaf. I added some molasses to get a deep brown hue, and wasn't shy with the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ground ginger. Good and spicy, just the way I like it. Oh, and the bourbon. Seems I can't make anything sweet without a little bourbon to give it that kick of flavor.

Even though I only put a few tablespoons of the stuff in my cake batter, the flavor came through beautifully. Not too strong, but definitely there, permeating the cake with a faintly caramel-y, deep, warm sweetness. It works really well with the chunks of apple that are laced throughout the batter (yes, I prefer abundant chunks to dainty slices of apple in my cakes).

Funny story about this cake, though. The first time I made it, it was a smashing success but I was focused more on getting it to the table than on taking photographs. This, of course, was the perfect excuse for making it again. This cake is really quite simple, and I mixed up all the ingredients, popped it in the oven, and, just as I finished setting the timer, I realized I had forgotten an ingredient. We're not talking nutmeg or vanilla extract, here - I had forgotten the sugar. And cakes without sugar, in addition to not rising properly or maintaining a soft crumb, tend to disappoint in the taste department.

I didn't have much of a choice but to bake the non-cake, though, and I figured that since this recipe calls for a touch of honey and molasses, perhaps not all was lost. Although I wasn't about to serve the sugar-less version for dessert, it wasn't half bad as a not-to-sweet snack. Definitely not a cake, but not trash either.

Of course, I wanted to really get it right for blogging purposes, so I whipped up the batter a THIRD time (in one week, I might add), this time in muffin form. Perfection. Full of apples, full of spicy flavor, and kissed with the brass of bourbon, this apple cake can do anything from dinner party dessert (I served mine with bourbon-caramel sauce and some ice cream), to weekend brunch, to afternoon tea. Just don't forget the sugar!

Spiced Apple Bourbon Cake

1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. each nutmeg and ground cloves
1/2 c. dark brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1/2 c. unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 tbs. molasses
2 tbs. honey
2 tbs. bourbon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 small-medium apples, peeled and diced
handful chopped, toasted pecans (optional)


In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Mix in the brown sugar, stirring to distribute evenly. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, apple sauce, oil, honey, molasses, vanilla, and bourbon. Add wet ingredients to dry, and mix just until combined. Add diced apples and pecans, and mix to incorporate. Pour batter into a greased 8-inch round cake pan or into 12 greased muffin cups, and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes (muffins) or 30 minutes (cake).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Happy Blogday to Me!

Ok, so I'm a little late in the posting department again, and this time it's serious: Saturday was my official blogday (blog birthday, blogoversary, or what have you)! I guess time flies when you're making sourdough starter, chilling puff pastry, and rolling stuffed grape leaves, because I can hardly believe that Red Ramekin is already a year old.

I know I should have posted something special on the big day - a birthday cake or something of the sort, but I ran out of time. However, I certainly didn't forget about the big day, and took full advantage of the momentous occasion to whip up a truly delicious, only-my-blogday-can-justify-this kind of treat.

Last week I was contemplating a good blogday dessert, but inspiration didn't strike until Saturday morning, when I sprang awake with the burning desire to make pumpkin cinnamon sticky buns. Oh yeah. That's what I'm talking about. I'm vaguely familiar with the cinnamon roll process through my pesto pinwheels, which are, essentially, a cinnamon roll's sophisticated older cousin. Blogdays require sweet treats, though (just take my word for it on this one), and autumn, of course, requires that everything I bake contain pumpkin. So pumpkin sticky buns it was.

I started with a pumpkiny yeasted dough (enriched and whole wheat), and finished with a melty, gooey, mixture of butter, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, and pecans (calm down, I didn't say to make these every day!). Some of the buns I left goo-free (plain old cinnamon buns), but the gooey ones - oh baby. Even though I had intended them to be part of a decadent brunch, they served me well for dessert on Saturday night (and for a guilty Sunday morning snack).

I'm already looking forward to the next time I happen to be entertaining for brunch. These sticky buns would be a real show-stopper (and frankly, I'm not going to wait until my next blogday to make them again). I'd like to share the recipe, but it was really just a mish-mash of other recipes that I found in various places around the internet. First I came up with a recipe for yeasted pumpkin rolls (not too sweet, not too buttery), and then I followed some basic sticky-bun procedure to make filling and the gooey topping. Really, you can't mess up when the main ingredients are butter, sugar, and honey. Trust me.

So, when you get tired of the standard Sunday muffins or coffee cake, or want a new and delicious sweet treat, or happen to find yourself hungry on your own blogday, give these a try. Yum!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Mutsu for You

I swear I had every intention of blogging this weekend (twice, even!) but then it was gloriously sunny, and we took a field trip to Walden Pond, and stopped at Wilson Farms on the way back, and I needed a little yoga to perk up my new working life...and you get the idea.

But don't think I haven't been cooking, or that I haven't been gobbling up the wealth of autumn produce that's making the farmers market just about the coolest place to be, ever. You probably know that I love apples. I mean LOVE apples. Yes, the humble apple is my favorite fruit, and this is the time of year where I stock them by the dozen. My favorite apple is the Macoun, with its white, crisp flesh and apple-y tartness. But, unlike with fresh berries or stone fruits, I love baking with apples, in addition to just eating them straight from farmers market tote. Ah, the apple - so tasty, so versatile, so cheap. Cheap enough that I don't feel bad about using a few pounds of them to make an apple cake or crisp.

Speaking of which, on about Thursday of last week, I had a real craving to make an apple crisp. I was thinking about using my precious Macouns, but really, I just can't bear it - they are so good plain. I asked around in search of a good baking apple, perhaps one I hadn't tried before, and was strongly advised to consider the Mutsu.

I've eaten Mutsus before: they are green and taste like what I think you would get if you crossed a granny smith with a golden delicious with a MacIntosh. Oh, and they're huge. They are the king of apples, and dwarf any other apple that dares to sit itself close by. It didn't take much convincing to use them for my crisp; in addition to coming highly recommended, I reasoned that the surface area to volume ratio of these bad boys would significantly decrease the amount of peeling required, and would thus expedite the whole eating process.

It took 3 big Mutsus (and a rogue Empire that I had lying around) to make an ample crisp. And it was tasty, especially with a guilty dollop of ice cream (guilty for being storebought, not for being ice cream). Indeed, an apple crisp might be the perfect ending to a fall meal, and our fall meal on Sunday night, when I finally got around to making the crisp, was a squash- and yam-laden take on chili. And did I mention breakfast? Leftover crisp makes a pretty good breakfast, too.

So I guess this is the part of the post where I post pictures and a recipe of my creation, but alas, sometimes you just want to eat the darn thing, and really, who measures when making an apple crisp, anyway?

Here's a rough idea, but honestly, I didn't even take out the measuring cups for this one (you really can't go wrong with apples, cinnamon, and brown sugar, can you?)

Can't-Go-Wrong Apple Crisp

Peel and slice enough apples to fill your baking dish (I like glass for this). Place apples in a large bowl and sprinkle with a good shake or three of cinnamon, about a tablespoon of flour, and a bit of sugar. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the apples, and then stir everything gently to combine. Pour apples into baking dish, adding just enough water or apple cider to cover the bottom of the dish. In the same big bowl, mix a couple handfuls of oats, about half that volume of flour, a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and handful of brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Add some wheat germ, if you have it. To the dry ingredients, add a splash of apple cider and a couple tablespoons of melted butter. Mix until crumbly, and then pat on top of apples. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, checking after 20 minutes and covering with foil if top is browning too quickly. Apples should be very tender, but should still hold their shape.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Savoring Sundays

I feel that I owe you all an apology. Posting has been pretty slow around here lately, mostly because I'm still adjusting to this whole "working" thing. I've still been cooking, but it's been a lot of dishes that I can make in quantity and that will work well in little lunch-ready tupperwares. Oh, and also, I was in charge of the dessert for my dad's 50th birthday bash, which took place this past weekend and which monopolized most of my kitchen time for the past two weeks. Brownies, pumpkin cheesecake bars, two jam crostatas, a grand birthday cake, and some cookies...and for dinner? Let's just say dinner took the back seat last week.

Last night, though, Jonathan and I were both in the mood for a homey, season-appropriate Sunday dinner, perhaps because of the chill in the air, or maybe just because we were both pretty tired from the weekend's festivities and wanted to eat something that didn't involve chocolate, cheesecake, or meat on sticks.

Oddly enough, though, I was craving something non-vegetarian, and suggested what I think has officially become part of our weekly dinner lineup: herb-roasted turkey breast. We bought a de-boned breast, the preparation of which required only a splash of olive oil and a hefty sprinkling of dried herbs. In addition to the turkey, I also threw some vegetables into the dish. Carrots, potatoes, onions, and a few garlic cloves, all flavored with a splash of apple cider, made for a deliciously caramelized accompaniment to the meat.

That part of the meal doesn't really deserve a real recipe, even though I highly recommend that you try it for yourself. The recipe-worthy part of the meal was my makeshift stuffing, which was both a lighter alternative to traditional, bready stuffing and a perfectly flavored foil for the meat and vegetables.

Instead of bread, I used quinoa for my stuffing, although I tried to preserve the other elements of my favorite classic stuffing: carrots, celery, sage, and mushrooms. And even though I considered making the stuffing in the oven, in the end I made it as I would any other quinoa pilaf - on the stove, and with minimal effort.

The quinoa was hearty and flavorful enough to be a main course, but I think I'll try to pair it with turkey as often as I can. This may have been the quintessential Sunday night meal, but honestly, aside from the time required for the turkey to do its thing in the oven, this meal is simple and quick enough even for a post-work weeknight.

This recipe hardly needs explanation, but I do have a few notes: I used water to cook the quinoa, although I would most certainly have used chicken stock if I'd had any on hand. I also would have added some dried cranberries or even some diced apple, if a certain dinner companion happened to like fruit in savory dishes as much as I do. Oh, and the herb measurements here are pretty loose (ok, well, non-existent). Just add whatever and however much you like.

Autumn Quinoa Stuffing

1 tbs. olive oil
1 c. dry quinoa
2 carrots, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
~10 cremini mushrooms, sliced
splash red wine
1 3/4 c. water or stock
salt, pepper, and assorted dried herbs, to taste


Heat oil in a saucepan or dutch oven. Add carrots, onion, celery, and garlic, and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs. Add mushrooms and a splash of red wine, and cook until wilted, a few minutes more. Add dry quinoa, and stir to combine. Add water or stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until quinoa is cooked, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for a few minutes, then fluff and serve, preferably with herb-roasted turkey breast.