Thursday, December 11, 2014

Traditional German Pretzels

Pretzels, what joyous treat.     
      
I used to make pretzels the easy way. It is delicious, I can assure you. But it lacks character. Something that makes pretzels pretzels. The traditional German pretzels require a dip in lye water. I understand that lye, or chemically known as Sodium hydroxide, lies in grey area. While it is safe in small amount to be digested by human, unless I am German and I own a pretzel geschaft, I do not find the need to go to the store and purchase lye solution.

But in my pursue of authentic pretzels, I read that baked baking soda is a good replacement for lye. You see, lye is alkaline and it affects the Maillard reaction, the  chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that gives browned foods--as a result of baking and searing-- a certain flavor. Lye bath gives pretzels deep brown crust, crunchy arms and distinctive taste. But remember, not all lye is food grade. You can’t just use lye that is meant or used for soap making. So this is where baking soda comes in. Lower in alkaline, baking soda can act as lye substitute. Not 100%, but near. Near is good than eating soap ingredients.

You can use baking soda, plainly. But if you wanna go further in altering the chemical properties of baking soda to make it very near to the effects lye gives, bake the baking soda in the oven for an hour in 120C. You can bake the baking soda in huge amount and keep it in an air tight canister. It has no expiration date. But I know better than to waste energy for the sake of color.

In short, this is what you get if you use..
-Lye bath: Very deep mahogany, like the color of a bark, superb texture.
-Baked baking soda bath: Deep mahogany, almost like a bark in color, superb texture.
-Baking soda bath: Beautiful dark brown color, superb texture.
-No bath at all: Are you kidding me?

Now that we set the rules straight for the matter of color and texture, we should get to the recipe. You will find many online that do not use beer, like my Hot Buttered Soft Pretzels recipe if you choose to omit beer and in a hurry. But this one, the one with the beer, trust me on this, it is a definite keeper.

Recipe adapted from Pretzel Making at Home
Ingredients
Pretzel dough:
2 1/4tsp instant yeast
120 ml  water
120 ml cold pilsner beer*
1tbs barley malt syrup/dark brown sugar
320gr bread flour
100gr dark rye flour**
5-10gr wheat bran***
2 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp salt
For the bath:
1/4 cup (baked) baking soda
2 Liter water
--------
Coarse sea salt, for topping***
Note:
*You can use all water should you avoid beer
**You can use all bread flour should you not have dark rye flour
***Optional

Instructions:
-Mix all dry ingredients together, pour water and beer. Knead until the dough is smooth. 
-Refrigerate the dough for at least 8 hours.
-Divide the dough into 8 equal portions


-Shape into pretzels and let them proof around 20 minutes.


-Prepare the baking soda bath by boiling the water and baking soda. When the baking soda already dissolves, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
-Dip each side of the pretzel dough for 10 seconds.


-If the pretzel hands fall off, worry not. You can always rearrange it again after the bath.
-Scatter some coarse sea salt on the pretzel if you like.
-Bake in a preheated oven on 260C for 8-12 minutes. If your oven cannot go that high, 250C will also be fine.
Note:
If you divide the dough into ten and bake for 15 minutes, you will get smaller pretzels with thin hands and very crispy hands those are.


I am not that big of a beer fan but I wouldn’t turn down a free beer, especially when it’s hot outside.. or when it’s cold outside or.. you know.. whatever the weather is. But I am also not a lass who would spend money on beer, unless I am making pretzels. You cannot taste the beer here, that is why you should keep some beer at hand. To help you gulp the pretzels down.


Oh.. Don't forget some mustard.

Not that yellow English mustard though.. 
Choose something bolder, Dijon I recommend.


Do try this at home. You won't regret it. But if you're too lazy to make it at home, you are always welcome at mine. Bring the beer,though.

Prost!
Amy

Submitted to YeastSpotting
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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chocolate Cinnamon Babka

I have been sleep deprived for the last 5 weeks. My works piled up high, which is good because it means people trust me to handle their scripts. Now that I finished them, I have to reward myself with something before I crawl to my cave and stay there like a hermit to study for the finals at November. Dang! So little time so many friggin text books. Not to mention I have to help Amiko with her school works. She's homeschooled, but that means lots and lots of subjects must be taught by her teacher at home, which is me, so her grades would be good, if not stellar. I do think 24 hours a day is not enough. That is why I have zero tolerance for bad coffee.

Now about my reward, I have the house all by myself today to concentrate on baking something so sinfully delicious; Babka. Babka is a very popular Ukrainian dessert bread. It is very rich and commonly appears around Easter. I guess each country in Europe has their own Easter bread; British Hot Cross Buns, Bulgarian Kozunak, Italian Pane di Pasqua, Russian Kulich,Croatian Sirnica, Spanish Hornazo, and many more. The word Babka derives from the word Grandmother, or Babka. Perhaps in the old times, grandmothers were the ones usually baked Babka.

Now, even though I am far from being a grandmother myself and this is not easter, I crave for something indulging because I am celebrating. What am I celebrating? I could say because I survived that monstrous creature called deadline. But no, I am celebrating the act of celebration, by baking a bread worthy enough to be celebrated. Chocolate Cinnamon Babka.

The recipe I always use is from the book Artisan Bread Everyday by Peter Reinhart. I have tried many recipes in that book because it was one of my first baking books. This particular one is a gem. I have tried many Babka recipes but if you have ever heard a term 'lesser Babka', most of other ones I tried are indeed lesser Babka. They're not yeasty enough and somehow lack of character. Anyhow, I cut down some butter and yolk and also incorporate whole wheat flour and wheat bran to make me feel less guilty. But if you carefully read the recipe, I am still guilty. Just not THAT guilty.

Ingredients
DOUGH
2 tbs instant yeast*
200gr lukewarm milk**
70 gr unsalted butter, room temperature
85 gr sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
200 gr all-purpose flour
225 gr wheat flour***
3 tbs wheat bran, optional****
1 tsp salt

Note:
*This will taste very yeasty, if you do not like the yeasty taste, do reduce it to  only 1/2tbs-1 tbs instant yeast.
**Use only 170 gr of water if you're using only all-purpose flour
***You can substitute the wheat flour with all-purpose flour, vice versa
****Adding wheat bran means you need to incorporate more liquid into the dough

FILLING
250 gr dark chocolate
1 tsp ground cinnamon

50 gr unsalted butter

Directions            
MAKE THE DOUGH              
-Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth.
-Add the vanilla to the egg yolks and whisk lightly to break up the yolks, then add the yolks to the sugar mixture. Keep whisking until it's creamy.
-Add the mixture of flour, yeast, salt, then pour in the milk mixture.
-Transfer the dough onto a work surface and knead, adding more water/flour needed to make the dough pliable. The dough should be a beautiful golden color and feel soft and supple. Form the dough into a ball.
-Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for about 1 1/2hours. If it rises significantly in less time, you can move to the shaping step or place it in the refrigerator overnight if you plan to bake it the next day.

MAKE THE FILLING
-Using the bain marie, melt the chocolate and the butter. You do not need to melt it until silky smooth. Barely is enough.
-After you melt it, take it off the stove, then stir the cinnamon in.
-Spread the barely-melted mixture on a sheet of parchment paper or silicone baking mat, then refrigerate it until firm.


ASSEMBLING THE BABKA
-Roll the dough into a rectangle  and cover the rolled out dough with the chocolate. 


-Roll the dough into a log. You will need to hit it until it cracks into pieces so it will be easy to roll.
-Using a metal pastry blade, cut the log down the middle lengthwise.


-Cross one piece over the other, then continue to crisscross the pieces in both directions to form a braid. Sprinkle with more cinnamon if you wish.


-Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or less, depending on how warm yor kitchen is, until the dough size has increased to about 1 1/2 times from its original size.
-Preheat the oven to 175C and bake for 35-45 minutes.
-The babka will begin to brown quickly because of the sugar content but it won’t burn.


Don't forget to let it cool for at least 90 minutes before serving (yeah RIGHT)

This recipe made a HUGE bread. It's not a problem though because this is out of this world delicious.


Let's see the crumb shot, shall we?


Omygodomygodomygod..

It's yeasty, chocolatey, soft, there's a hint of butter, of cinnamon, but subtle. This is the ultimate comfort bread, must I say. I mean, I've made brioche filled with chocolate, it's wonderful. But in brioche, the star is the butter. Here, every ingredient goes harmoniously together. Of course the chocolate stands out more than the other ingredients, but just a bit. It does not overpower though it looks dominant. 

Now off I go make coffee. Lovely Indonesian coffee. 

Cheers,
Amy

PS: This is a cure from Haruki Murakami's aftertaste.

Submitted to YeastSpotting

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Szechuan Chili Oil

If there is one condiment I would never share with anyone, it is chili oil.

Perhaps it is the reason why we love to go to Duck King so much, simply because the chili oil is great, if not wonderful. The best one I've had so far was at a small restaurant I used to go to when I was still doing office work. Heck it was a long time ago I already forget the name of the place and sadly it was replaced by Starbucks. Anyhow, I would refuse to go to a Chinese restaurant with average chili oil even when the dish is so stellar compared to Duck King. Chili oil makes a simple dish heavenly, I think.

I actually never bother to make my own chili oil because Duck King is only 10 minutes away from home. Not until yesterday.

My friend sent me a bunch of Szechuan peppercorn. It is quite hard to find it where I live. I have never cooked with it before, but I love the dishes that incorporate those particular peppercorns in. Having so much in my disposal, I immediately think of Mapo Tofu, Bon Bon Chicken, vegetable stir-fries, and many other Szechuan inspired dishes. But no, they have to wait far in line because Baby I am gonna make you sweat! With chili oil.


Adapted from bonappetit.com
Ingredients
Infused Oil:
1 litre vegetable oil
2-3 cinnamon sticks
1 whole garlic
3 inch ginger, the fatter the better
3 tbs coriander seeds
6 star anise
2 tbs green cardamom

Ground Chili:
225 gr dried chili
1/4-1/2 cup Szechuan peppercorns
---
3 tsp salt
3 tbs soy sauce

Directions:
-Bruise all the spices for the infused oil
-In a heavy bottomed pot, pour the oil, put the bruised ingredients in, then simmer on low heat for at least two hours.
**You want the garlic and the ginger just to fizz, not burn, not even brown.

Meanwhile...
-Place the dried chili on a pan and bake it in the oven for around 10 minutes on 150C. 


**This step is actually optional but definitely sane. If you buy your dried chili in a traditional market, chances are they do not keep it in tight container. So you wanna get rid of any ants or whatever living being lives there. It adds extra smokiness as well.
-Grind the chili and peppercorns. You don't want it to be too coarse or too fine it turns into powder.


-Place your ground chili in a big bowl, use either glass or stainless bowl, Mix the salt and soy sauce in.

After two hours.....
-Prepare a sieve
-Crank the heat up and let the ginger and the garlic furiously fizz.
-Pour the infused oil through the sieve. Be careful, it sizzles. 


Stir and let cool..


I am out of words.

It looks.. Demonic.. and judging from the time it took me to infuse the oil with that amount of spices, I'm not surprised that it is tantalizingly addictive. It is chili oil not like the one I've ever had. It has depth and character. It can even turn a humble instant noodle to a five star noodle dish. Toss it on your dumplings, on dim sum, on meat, on veggies, oh the endless possibilities!



If you're feeling crafty for the next holiday season, buy small mason jars and fill them with your own homemade Szechuan Chili Oil. Lovely gifts they would make. 

Okay, off I go now tossing some oil on poached eggs.

Have fun making it,
Amy

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Flax & Oat Sourdough

Passion? Obsession?

There is a very thin line separating the two. For people who have an OCD tendency, the line is often blurred and it is so easy to cross over to the other –not so pretty- side. My family thinks that my passion for bread has become an obsession. They do not mind though. At least we do not starve ;)

Whenever I see another sourdough recipe, if I can’t make it soon, I would think of it until it ingrains in my unconscious mind. Sometimes I even have a lucid dream where I ponder the recipe in my dream and then wake up only to think about that recipe. This unrealistic behavior would stop if the bread in mind is already kneaded and baked. Although when the result is not as imagined, the whole pondering process will start again. Devious, devious cycle!

But let’s not bore you with me "Lecter-ing" myself.

Lol! I can't help it. I'm a hard core Hannibal fan.

Anyhow, let’s talk about this sourdough that contains oats and flax seeds. This bread had been haunting me for some time. When I first saw the title, I was smitten and saved it right away. Sadly, I was so busy at that time I couldn’t make it as soon as I had hoped. So fast forward to several weeks later, I exorcised that demon.

Adapted from houseofbakes.com
Ingredients:
Levain
2 tbs unfed sourdough culture 
140 gr water
140gr bread flour

Dough
280 gr bread flour
112 gr whole wheat flour
130gr water
All of the levain
2 tsp salt

Soaker
¼ cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons flaxseeds
1 tbs poppy seeds, optional
Enough water to cover the oat/flax/poppy mixture

Direction:
Levain
Approximately 7 hours before making the dough, mix the sourdough culture and water until fully dispersed then add the flour. Cover with plastic and let rest.

Soaker
Mix the oats, flax, and water. Cover with plastic and let rest.

Make the Dough
-Mix the Levain with water, add flour and mix just until the flour is wet. It should look like a shaggy mess. Cover with plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
-Add salt and Soaker then mix just until the salt and soaker is incorporated into the dough. Do not over mix here. It should not be a tight ball of dough yet.
-Stretch and fold every 30-45 minutes for 6 intervals. Cover with plastic while it rests.
-Shape however you want it and proof at room temperature for 1½-2 hours. 



-Preheat oven to 230C 
-Carefully plop your bread on the pan and make a slash.
-Bake for 40-45 minutes until a dark crust has formed.
-Let cool at room temperature for approximately one hour>> THIS, is the hardest part.


That is the picture of the loaf right after I took it out. 

Lo! 

This is the close up of the crust several minutes after it sat on room temperature.


The crust cracked slowly but sure because the temperature dropped from extremely high to just room temperature. The crumb was still 'cooking' on the inside because of the heat it retained and the crust was experiencing the gradual coolness from the outside. Being able to witness this process is a very rewarding experience. Bakers call it "Sing". Yes, you can hear the bread sing. The multiple crackling sound is very audible and it is the song this type of bread sings. 

About the excess flour on the crust, I tried substituting all purpose flour with rice flour for my couche. It worked WONDERS! The dough did not stick at all. Of course as you can also see, I put too much rice flour. But no problemo. It's a matter of aesthetic preference.

Let's check the crumbs..
--I failed to refrain myself from cutting it before it was completely cool. Sinner!


Creamy, delicate, delicious

It is a loaf you would want to bring on a picnic with your family and friends. Accompanied by some butter and a bottle of wine, if possible, it would make your day picture perfect. 

This recipe does take longer to make but it really is easier to handle because the dough is not that wet. The resulting bread is also seed packed, healthy, and very delicious it pays off all you hard work. Though next time I would add another 10 grams of so of water just like in the original recipe to have bigger holes in the crumbs. 

See? See?

That is why I love bread. Always, there is a room for improvement. 

But that is another project for another day, another glorious self-torturing day. Now let's just enjoy the bread with what we have in the pantry, in this case, Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette. Amiko's favorite.


Happy Baking,
Amy

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heavenly Panzanella

Every home bread baker will always have days when they bake more than they could eat.

Well, freezing is an option.

But what if you’re not in the mood to freeze your baked goods? Surely you’d feel guilty for throwing those wonderfully made bread. You can dice them, season them, and turn them into beautiful croutons for your soups and salads. You can also grate them, dry them, season them,  and make homemade bread crumbs that you can use to coat your choice of protein, or sprinkle on top of a bed of creamy mac’n’cheese. So many options, so many delicious ideas to turn days old bread into something special. But here’s my favorite, Panzanella.

"Panzanella...Summer salad of central Italy consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Also pan molle (soft bread) and panbagnato (soaked bread). From the Latin panis (bread)."

---Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink, John Mariani [Broadway Books:New York] 1997 (p. 178)

The first time I tried Panzanella, I was absolutely not impressed. The vinaigrette was too much it turned the bread into a mush and the tomatoes were not ripe enough. Under ripe tomatoes are best for making sambal, methinks. So I did not care about Panzanella for a long, long time. That is, until I start baking my own bread. With the abundance of bread I have at home, I have to have perfect Panzanella. Two key ingredients in making perfect Panzanella are very ripe tomatoes and bread with open crumbs that would gladly soak the lovely vinaigrette. 


There are many ways to make Panzanella. Some of the Florentine traditionalists actually just soak the bread in water and add some very ripe tomatoes, salt, and olive oil. They disapprove additional ingredients such as olives, mozzarella, white wine, capers, celery, red wine, red onion, cucumber, bell, anchovies, peppers, lemon juice, and garlic. But hey, with all due respect to the Fiorentino, I beg to differ. So let’s jump on my not mushy, simple, vegan, unbelievably delicious Panzanella band wagon!

Ingredients:
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 red or white  onion, thinly sliced
A handful of basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3-5 black olives, drained and thinly sliced
1 tbs capers, drained and shred to pieces
French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (4-5 cups)
a pinch of salt
2-3 tbs vegetable oil, for pan frying

For the vinaigrette:
1 finely minced garlic
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbs red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.
Important note: DO NOT put too much salt in your vinaigrette!
Once the vinaigrette is poured on the salad and mixed well with the other ingredients, you will have additional saltiness from the capers and the olives. 

For the bread, you can cut the crust if it is already too hard. Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and a pinch of salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. You are doing this to prevent the bread from turning into an unappetizing mush.

In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, onion, basil, olives, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to marry.


Mamma Mia!
Stale bread+ripe tomatoes+vinaigrette= MANNA.

I use my sourdough bread here and if you happen to have sourdough bread at your disposal, all the better. It will take your Panzanella to the next level. If you want to add cucumber, fine. It will provide an extra crunch. Just make sure you take the seeds out first , otherwise it would make the bread too soggy and that's something you wanna avoid.

If you have never had Panzanella before, then I advise you to intentionally leave your bread to stale. Don't you dare touch it. Get some of the ripest tomatoes possible and by God! Make yourself some Panzanella and get lost in all its glory.

Bisous,
Amy

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chocolate Coated Coffee Beans

When I come across good quality coffee beans, I wouldn’t think twice to buy it. Even if it’s just for 100gr, I have to bring those babies home. So there is this new coffee kiosk in the traditional market near my house. It’s probably just a 3x4m kiosk but boy, does it have plenty of coffee varieties. I usually stop by to place my order then off to buy some veggies or whatever I come to the market for and get back there to retrieve that excellently made cup of coffee. It takes quite sometimes to make because the barista brews the coffee manually.


So last week, they offered me some beans from Vietnam. One sniff of the jar full of those perfectly roasted coffee beans will make you think you’re in Shangrila. That’s the thing with coffee I think. It contains caffeine. Caffeine is a drug. Just like its illegal cousins, it makes you more alert, focused, and happy. I like that. I really, really like that. So by the time I got home, I decided to half the beans to be ground later and some to be covered in chocolate. That way, you’ll get high faster, easier, and still not breaking the law.

“Sir, I need to report my neighbor. There is this crazy cat lady who never sleeps and I think she just might consume something illegal.” Said my neighbor.

I say.. Oh, neighbor.. I pity your existence.

Anyhow, let’s appreciate good beans by eating them. That way, you shall waste nothing.

Ingredients:
150gr good quality milk/dark chocolate
75gr freshly roasted coffee beans

Directions:

-Melt the chocolate in a bain marie.
-Once the chocolate has begun to melt, take the bowl off the water.
-Start tempering the chocolate by stirring. You need to let the heat dissipate so you can use your chocolate. This will take a while. You just need to keep on stirring to get it tempered. 

~~How do I know whether it’s tempered or not? 
Dip the back of a spoon into the chocolate and place in the fridge for 2-3 minutes. If the chocolate is completely set up, smooth and slightly shiny, then the chocolate is tempered.


-Once your chocolate is tempered, dump the beans in.



-Stir until all the beans are coated. Then using a small fork, take each coated beans and place it on a baking sheet.


-Put the coated chocolate in the fridge to speed up the setting up process.
-Peel the cocoa beans off the sheet and store in a glass jar (mason or Ball jar) in the fridge.


What a sophisticated snack!

I'm glad I am patient enough to individually separate the beans. You can, of course, make it in a cluster of two or three beans. But it was such a zen moment for me. No TV, no cell phone, just me, the repetitive action, and the sound of chirping bird in a distance.

A little note:
-Know your beans and find the right chocolate that matches the beans.
-If you use milk chocolate, you don't need to add any powdered sugar to the chocolate when you temper it.
-I use dark but added about almost a table spoon of powdered sugar to give a hint of sweetness in the chocolate because I want to be able to taste the chocolate before the bitterness of the coffee beans kicks in.
-This is not popcorn. You will turn into an energizer bunny if you eat too much at the same time.

Anyhow, if you're an adult and you love coffee, do make this. I promise it is worthy of your precious time. 

Cheers,
Amy


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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Cheddar Brioche Buns

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion

Ah.. I love Annie Lennox, I love 80s music, I love the cool air, and the smell of the rain!

I am not allergic to sun, it is just that my energy dissipates and my brain goes on hibernate mode when the sun is up in full blast. I am not a lizard, mind you, so there is no need for me to bask in the golden ray of sunshine and soak that vitamin D. Now that I am rejuvenated, I need to celebrate with something indulging, preferably sinfully.

When it comes to French pastry for breakfast, Brioche and Croissant are two of everyone’s top of the list. You can be a brioche person or you can be a croissant person. Though taking sides is the act of a person who has never tried both made from REAL butter. Yep, don’t say you like brioche or croissant better than the other if you have never tried tasting the one made with REAL butter and the dough is rested OVERNIGHT. Truly, they have the ability to transport you to cloud no.9. 

Both are yeasted, both use lots of butter, but one is far easier to be made and won't stain your shirt with flakes.


Now that.. is my golden sun to go with my coffee.

Shall we make it?

Adapted from Savory Simple.
Ingredients:
340gr all purpose flour
1/4 cup dry milk
3 tbs granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbs instant yeast 
3 eggs
1/4 cup lukewarm water minus 1 tbs
140 gr unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated (or more as needed)
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, whisked (for egg wash)
coarse sea salt

Instructions:
-Mix the flour, dry milk, sugar, salt and instant yeast together. 
-Add the 3 eggs and butter. Mix everything and add the water little by little.

~~If you’re kneading by hands then you really need to pay the attention to the water and adding it little by little because enriched dough is a naughty boy. You’ve gotta spank it but treat it gently to really get him to do what you want. But if you have the luxury of owning a mixer, by all means, work that dough hook on a low speed! Whichever vessel you use, knead for 20-30 minutes.

-Place the dough in a bowl, cover with cling film, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour. 
-After 1 hour, place the covered bowl into the refrigerator and chill overnight (or 3 hours minimum).
-Set the dough on the counter for 45 minutes to soften the butter slightly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
-Roll the dough into a rectangle and spread your shredded cheddar cheese.
-Divide into 8 to make 8 buns.
-Place the buns on the prepared sheet, cover loosely with clingfilm and allow to rise for another 3 hours. 
-Brush the buns with egg wash liberally and sprinkle some coarse sea salt.
-Bake the buns in a 180C oven for 25 minutes or until they're a deep golden brown.


Baked to perfection!
Yes.. Yes.. I am a bread snob and I can snobbishly say you won't find brioche as good as these unless you make it by yourself using the ingredients stated or get on a jet plane and go to France. Because I can vouch that the bakeries around town do not use 100% pure butter and they sure don't have the time to let the dough rise overnight.

I did say something about making something sinful, right? Well, the addition of cheese in the dough just hits the bulls eye. These keep well frozen so you can wrap it individually and pop it in the microwave for breakfast. Of course you can invite Beelzebub over by putting some dark chocolate in the center. Cheese and chocolate? Perfect mate.


Or if you feel like inviting Lucifer over, slice the brioche and put some bacon and cheese in the middle. It's a thought. A completely sane thought.

Go ahead, indulge!

Amy

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thin Crust Pizza, No Proofing Required

The most iconic Italian food is pizza.

But it doesn’t necessarily come from Italy. If you have the time to read about pizza’s origin, you will be presented by a massive amount of stories that consist of dates and names which go back as far as 990 AD. Babylonians, Israelites, Egyptians, Armenians, Greeks, and Romans, and other ancient cultures ate flat, unleavened bread cooked in hearth or mud ovens. Almost every culture has its own version of flat bread. But Italy's version of the dish, especially from Naples, is the one we are familiar with and widely known later as pizza.  Although back in 16th century its name was not pizza and it was commonly known as the dish for poor people. It was sold in the street and was not considered a kitchen recipe.

A fun fact about pizza; In 1843, Alexandre Dumas described the diversity of pizza toppings in Le Corricolo. There is a chapter about his impressions on Naples. You can read it at www.dumaspere.com. Wow, to think that the writer of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers actually walked around the market and tasted the flat bread that we also love to eat nowadays is pretty amazing.

Anyway, just as Alexandre Dumas described, there are many toppings, there are many sizes, and there are many ingredients people use to make a pizza. It hasn’t changed much for centuries. I have had my share of pizza baking and have tried so many variation of crust from thick to thin and from sourdough to no knead. They are all delicious and I say it is impossible for someone just to have a single preference of crust. There is no “I’m a thick crust pizza person” or “I’m a thin crust pizza person”.  That statement is not legit. Because once you take side and one day you’re served with a pizza so good and it’s not on your spectrum of crust, you’d be questioning your believe.

Thick or thin, as long as you use good quality ingredients, you follow the recipe well, your oven is hot, then your pizza will be delicious.

One thing in common in most pizza is that it requires proofing time in the making even in the thin crust pizza. But what if you’re so hungry and you’re craving for pizza as in —I have to eat some goddamn pizza or I’m gonna punch somebody in the face—kind of craving? The solution is to make the no proofing required pizza. If you have a favorite fancy pizzeria that serves really, I mean really, thin pizza which flaunts the minimalist yet delicious toppings, then it is time to stop paying for their pizza and make it by yourself.

Here’s how...

Adapted from fearlesshomemaker.com
Crust:
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat flour*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp dried herbs of your choice
1 clove of garlic, very finely minced
1 cup of warm almost hot water**
Note:
*You can substitute it with all purpose flour but use only 3/4 cup of water
**Test the water by submerging your finger in the cup. It has to be hot but not too hot you can't put your finger in.

Toppings:
Whatever you want.
Of course the basic ones you ought to have is the marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and olive oil.

First,
Put your baking stone on the oven floor. If you don't have a baking stone then just skip this step. Turn your oven on, crank it up to 250C. If your oven can't go that high, 240C is okay, just add the baking time.


Then,
-Mix all the dry ingredients, add the water, and knead until it is supple and smooth. Not sticky. 
-Divide into two balls. 
-Get one ball. Using a rolling pin, roll it until thin. 
-Get your pizza peel, put a baking sheet or parchment paper on it, then transfer your rolled dough on it. If you are not using a baking stone, just place a baking sheet or a parchment paper on a baking tray.
-To get your dough as thin as possible, after you roll it, pick it up and stretch it with your hands. Let the gravity and the weight of the dough help you. Just don't do it if you have long nails. The nails will poke holes on the flimsy dough.


Afterwards,
Spread only the sauce. 1/4 cup of sauce is enough for one pizza. Trust me, a little goes a long way. A soggy thin crust pizza is not appealing on the palate and on the eyes.

Finally,
-Bake it for 4-5 minutes 
-Take it out, put the cheese and other toppings on, drizzle with olive oil.
-Bake again for 2-3 minutes
-If you can wait, let it cool on the wire rack for 2-3 minutes before cutting it


Here's the picture of the bottom of the pizza, perfectly charred in some spots ensuring you that it is crispy yet still pliable in case you choose to fold it.


Hubba hubba..

The beauty of thin crust pizza is that the crust lets the topping shines, no matter how simple it is, yet still shines on its own.

Oh the cheeesse..


This pizza will feed 3 polite people or two hungry people. 

Or one savage known as a husband. 

So, remember that we still have one ball of dough left? You can bake it right after you bake the first pizza or you can keep it refrigerated in a container. It will keep well for around 3-4 days. That means when the hunger strikes, you'll have no need to knead and you can have delicious pizza in less than 30 minutes. How convenient is that?



That's the one I baked with two days old dough. Taste even better. I had some blanched broccoli in the ziplock bag so off they go as the topping. If you use your cold half cooked veggies for your pizza topping, just toss them on the tomato sauce that you spread on the dough. You definitely do not want hot pizza together with icy cold veggies. After that, proceed in the same fashion.

Happy pizza baking,
Amy
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