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BREAD ANYONE CAN MAKE

BREAD ANYONE CAN MAKE

It’s been five months since I last posted here, and I am duly ashamed. It isn’t that I stopped cooking, it’s that I got slovenly about writing about it. I shall strive to do better.

Now, then. My husband found a recipe in The Northcoast Journal for bread that seemed too easy to be true, called Suzie Owsley’s No-Knead Bread. I saved the link. And then I found the same recipe in The New York Times, just called No-Knead Bread. The recipe was developed by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and has become popular via the internet, and for good reason: this is really good bread with very little effort.

The downside: it takes 12 to 24 hours (or more, if you choose). The upside: you only do about 5 minutes of work. You don’t need to have any bread-making experience. Just follow the directions.

A few notes:

Flour: use all-purpose or unbleached or bread flour. Use all white or part white/part whole wheat.

Yeast: use instant or regular. There is a scant tablespoon of yeast in each packet; this recipe uses about 1/3 to 1/2 of that, so you’ll get 2 or 3 loaves from each packet.

Water: you may need more or less than 2 cups. Bread flour absorbs significantly more water than all-purpose or unbleached.

NO-KNEAD NO-FAIL BREAD

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • heaping 1/4 teaspoon yeast
  • 2 cups room-temperature water, more or less

Dump dry ingredients in a large bowl.

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Add 1 1/2 cups water (or more; see note above) and mix with a wooden spoon to make a pudding-y mix.

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Cover with plastic wrap and let sponge – that’s what this is called, a sponge – sit for 12 to 24 hours. A warmish-but-not-hot place is ideal – the top of the refrigerator or near but not on the stove. If your house is on the cool side, put the sponge in the oven and turn the oven on for 20 seconds every few hours, then turn it OFF again. If the sponge gets too hot, the yeast will die, and once that happens you’re out of luck.

When the sponge is ready, it will have a lot of little bubbles on top. It should smell yeasty and beer-y and sour (the longer it sits, the more sour it will smell).

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Heavily flour a dish towel (not terry-cloth) and scrape the sponge onto it. Turn it over on itself a couple of times (a rubber spatula or metal dough scraper is very useful here), cover with plastic wrap, and let rest about 15 minutes.

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Remove the wrap and sprinkle with more flour, and cover with another not-terry-cloth towel. Put the whole package back in the bowl (which you thoughtfully washed and dried) and let sit another two hours.

After 1 1/2 hours, turn the oven to 450F, and put a 5- to 8- quart covered baking dish in the oven to heat. The dish needs to be able to withstand a shitload of heat, so use cast iron, enamel, ceramic – something like that. Let it heat at least 30 minutes. I know this seems wrong, but do it anyway.

By the end of 2 hours, the dough should be puffed and doubled in size.

Remove the preheated baking dish from the oven and scrape/dump the sponge into it.

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Some of the dough will go willingly and some won’t. Lay the towel down on the counter and use a metal scraper to remove the straggling parts, and dump into the dish. It will look like a hot mess, but have faith.

Cover the dish and put in the oven.

After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the baking dish and bake for 20 more minutes.

Remove dish from oven and turn bread out to cool.

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Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.

If all that dish cloth stuff seems like too much work, you can also turn the deflated-and-rested dough into an oiled and heavily floured bowl and let rise the same way. The crust will be a little softer because of the oil. Mine turned out like this:

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A couple of variations:

Add 1/2 cup (or more) chopped Kalamata olives to the dough before the 2-hour rise.

Saute one small onion, finely chopped, and 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary in 2 teaspoons olive oil. Mix into the dough before the 2-hour rise.

Lots of other variations possible:  substitute some light beer for part of the water in the original sponge mixture.  Add garlic, cooked crisp bacon, various herb mixtures, chopped nuts, cheese, green onions…  have fun.

 

 

 

 

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PIE ON THE BARBIE

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PIE ON THE BARBIE

It’s one of those unfair life situations: just when the best, sweetest, juiciest fruit is ripe, it’s too damn hot to turn the oven on to bake a pie. I mean, it was over 122 F/50C in parts of Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona yesterday and they’re not expecting that to change soon. You just go into survival mode when it’s that hot. Pie doesn’t even cross your mind. You are just trying to not cook to death.

I almost never turn the oven on from June through mid-September. But summer pies are legendary. Jesse Colin Young sang about them in “Ridgetop.”

I’ve got hundred foot pine trees
That just love to dance in the wind

And a yard full of bushes
That turn into pie in July

So what’s a piemaker to do when the summer fruit is plentiful but you don’t dare heat the house up any more than it already is? Turn to the barbecue. Instead of making a two-crust fruit pie, make one giant crust and use it like a hobo pack to envelope all the filling.

This is called a gallette in French – a flat, round(ish) pastry filled with fruit.

PIE ON THE BARBECUE

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons very cold butter
  • ice water

Directions for making pie crust are here.

When you’ve made the crust, wrap it in waxed paper and store in the fridge for at least 20 minutes – an hour or two is better –  until very cold.

Filling:

  • 2-4 cups fresh summer fruit (slice fruit like peaches or apricots thinly as well as oversized berries; leave small berries whole)
  • sugar to taste (I use two or three tablespoons, depending on how sweet the fruit is)
  • tapioca

Combine fruit, sugar, and tapioca, and let sit until ready to make the pie. If you use the larger BB-sized tapioca like I do here, let the mixture sit an hour or two to allow the tapioca to soften and start absorbing moisture.

(If you really feel you can’t bear to make a crust, buy one of those refrigerated pie crusts in a box and roll it out really thin on a floured board.)

Roll out the crust on a floured board. Do not worry if the crust isn’t perfectly round. It’s fine if it looks like a map of France.  Roll it thinly to get a very large crust.

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Patch any holes with dough from the edges and a dab of water.

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Using a dough scraper or spatula if necessary, fold the crust in half and then in quarters, and transfer it to an aluminum pie plate. Unfold and let the edges flop over the sides.

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Spoon the filling into the center. Here I used plums and peaches.

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Then flop the edges over the filling.

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If not baking right away, refrigerate the pie. Do not set the pie near the barbecue because you want the crust to stay cold and not allow the butter bits in it to soften.

When ready to bake, preheat gas grill to 350 (charcoal BBQ, use this guide to determine temperature.)

Invert an empty aluminum pie plate or other aluminum pan on the grill.

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Set the pie on top on that, and close the lid.

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Monitor the temperature to keep it between 350 to 375.

A smaller pie with about 2 cups filling will take about 25 minutes. This larger pie with four cups filling took about 40 minutes. It’s done when the filling is bubbling and the crust feels crisp instead of soft.

At this point you can remove the pie, or you can set it directly on the grill for about five minutes to let the bottom crust brown. Watch it carefully (lift a section of the pie up gently with a spatula) because it can go from golden brown to burned fast.

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Cut into fat wedges to serve. Makes about four servings.

 

 

 

 

 

GUINNESS CAKE (WITHOUT CHOCOLATE)

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GUINNESS CAKE (WITHOUT CHOCOLATE)

My great-great grandfather was born in Ireland, but that was only because that was where the boat happened to be docked when his Danish parents were on their way to America and Mama Davison went into labor. From there he made his way to California, where he enlisted in the Union Army at a very small town called Volcano and later became the first mayor of Chico.

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I think he may be the gentleman in the second row standing behind the severe-looking woman with the white cap. Or maybe not.

 

At least, that was the story I grew up with.

It turned out to be only partly true, as I discovered recently when I did a little online research and found he had his own Wikipedia page and was also given space in an 1891 volume called  A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure. He certainly set the bar high for his family, and I think I can safely say without fear of contradiction that most of his descendants never bothered to try to equal his accomplishments and good works. Underachievers R Us.

Anyway. Ireland. Guinness.

St. Patrick’s Day came by about a week ago. I made the standard American tribute to Irish food, corned beef and cabbage (which I believe is unknown in Ireland, but never mind). We had guests for dinner and I had planned to make Nigella Lawson’s Guinness Cake until I read the recipe and realized it was basically a chocolate cake: one of our guests is not a chocolate fan. I figured that someone out there on the internet had devised a recipe for a Guinness cake sans chocolate, and sure enough, I found one on A Beautiful Plate.

This was fun and interesting to make, and it was delicious to eat. Despite a cup of molasses and a cup of mixed sugars, it was not very sweet; it was more like a deeply mysterious velvety spice cake with only the suggestion of sweetness. I can’t imagine it appealing much to children or anyone who loves those ghastly Crisco-frosted bakery cakes from supermarkets. It looks fiddly, but the three parts (Guinness-molasses, egg-sugar-oil, flour-spices) are all easy to assemble separately and at your own pace. Just be sure you have them all completed before mixing the final batter. A couple of caveats:

  • Use a REALLY big pan to boil the Guinness and molasses together because when you add the baking soda, you will create your very own Hiroshima in the kitchen and trust me, you do not want to have to clean that up.
  • I used a microplane to grate the fresh ginger, and it takes a rather large piece of ginger to yield 1 tablespoon grated ginger. Don’t omit it: it really oomphs up the cake flavor.
  • Spray the inside of the measuring cup with nonstick spray before measuring the molasses: it will pour out much more easily.
  • I can’t think of anything that replicates the blackness, dark mineral taste, and satiny texture of Guinness. I suppose if you really had to, you could substitute very, very dark espresso coffee, but then you couldn’t really call it Guinness Cake, could you?

Slightly adapted from the original. This is best the day it’s made, but will keep for one or two more days.

GUINNESS CAKE

  • 1 cup Guinness
  • 1 cup  dark molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3  eggs
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup  firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup  vegetable oil
  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger root

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Grease  two 9″ cake pans (or spray with cooking/baking spray or a product like Baker’s Joy) . Line them with parchment paper and grease or spray them again.

Here I pieced parchment paper together to fit the pans, which works just fine.

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Pop open your Guinness. Measure out one cup and either drink the rest or recap with a cork. For God’s sake, don’t waste it.

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Combine the Guinness and the molasses in that really big pan, whisk together, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  It will start to foam up. This is not the time to walk away to answer the phone.

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Remove from the stove and whisk in the baking soda. It will foam way, way up. This is why you need a large pan.

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Let it sit and cool for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile:

Beat together the eggs with the granulated sugar and brown sugar, being careful to either dissolve or remove any teeny hard lumps of brown sugar. Then whisk in the oil, which will try to resist being incorporated with the eggs.

In a large-ish bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and all the ground spices, plus the grated ginger.016

Here is the only slightly tricky part:

Slowly pour the Guinness-molasses mixture into the egg-sugar-oil mixture. You do not want to pour it all at once: slowly pour in about 1/3 cup and then whisk it into the eggs thoroughly.  Again, slowly add about 1/3 cup more and whisk again. Keep adding and whisking until all liquids are combined. This is so you do not heat the eggs too fast and risk scrambling them – they need to be heated (“tempered”) slowly.

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Once that’s all done,  pour half of the liquid into the flour mixture and combine with a spoon.

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Then pour in the other half and mix until just combined and there are no pockets of flour in the batter.

Scrape half of the batter into each prepared cake pan. Bake  about 28 to 35 minutes. Do not open the oven door until 28 minutes has passed; this cake has a tendency to fall in the middle. Close the oven door carefully. When the cake is done, it will spring back when touched lightly.

Remove cakes to cooling rack for about 15 minutes.

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Remove cakes from pan. Invert each one carefully onto your hand or a plate and peel off the parchment paper. Re-invert and let cool completely on the rack.

The original recipe suggested a Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting, and you can do that if you want, but I personally can’t see whatever it is people seem to like about Bailey’s. It’s just a big bleah nondescript sweet creamy liqueur to me. I made a Jack Daniel’s frosting instead; cognac, rum, or other booze would work too. Or just flavor frosting with vanilla or almond extract.

Whiskey Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 4 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons whiskey of your choice

Combine softened butter and cream cheese, then mash in the powdered sugar (this takes patience and it looks like it won’t work, but go slowly and keep mashing the sugar into the cream cheese & butter) . Then add salt, vanilla, and whiskey; stir until combined. Taste and add more sugar or whiskey as you prefer. If this seems a little liquid-y, store in the refrigerator until ready to frost the cake.

This makes enough to frost tops of each layer. You can, of course, make more frosting to cover the entire cake, but I loved the look of the nearly-black cake with the white frosting.

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Let sit, covered, a couple of hours before slicing and serving. A few strawberries and perhaps a big pillow of sweetened whipped cream would go well with this.

 

 

 

LESS SUGAR PUMPKIN BREAD

If you buy a small (16 ounces) can of pumpkin, that is just enough to make one pumpkin pie. But if you buy the big can of pumpkin because it’s cheaper, you might still only make one pie, and then you have half a can of pumpkin left over. You will put it in a dish in the fridge and intend to make it into muffins or pancakes, or you might put it in the freezer and intend to make a pie out of it, and we all know how that winds up, right?   Recently I threw out an unmarked frozen glob in the freezer which I realized about a week later was frozen pumpkin puree from God knows when.

I have been making pumpkin puddings – which is pumpkin pie filling baked without a crust – because it’s way easier than pie, and far fewer calories and less fat, and that works out very well, except when there’s half a can of pumpkin left over.  To that end, I thought pumpkin bread would be a good solution.

I found a Bobby Flay recipe at Epicurious for Pumpkin Bread, and I adapted it a little bit, primarily by cutting the sugar way down, but this is still plenty sweet. If you have leftover baked sweet potato or winter squash like Acorn or Butternut, use those in place of the pumpkin. This would be an excellent bread to serve thinly sliced with coffee or tea. It also toasts very well the next day.

LESS SUGAR PUMPKIN BREAD

  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 – 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your bread)
  • 1 16-ounce can pumpkin puree or half of one 29-ounce can (NOT canned “pumpkin pie filling”)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup unbleached white flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 F. Generously grease (I use vegetable oil) and flour a glass loaf pan.*

[To grease and flour a pan: take about 1 tablespoon oil, Crisco, or other fat, and smear it around the inside of your pan, being sure to get up on the sides and in the corners. {I don’t recommend butter for this because butter is not entirely fat, and the fat-less portions will not coat a pan – leaving places where batter will stick.} Then toss in a generous tablespoon of flour and tilt the pan around to get all of the greased areas covered with flour. You might need a little more flour. Pour out any big excess of flour.)

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan and add the raisins and dates. Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes, then drain thoroughly and set aside. This will remove any sulfur (used to keep dried fruit soft; it can cause allergic reactions and is unbelievably nasty if it seeps into the rest of the bread) and also soften and plump the dried fruit. (if you have more time, steep the rinsed fruit in hot tea or hot orange juice.)

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Combine softened butter, oil, and sugar, and cream with a wooden spoon until sugar is fully incorporated. Stir in the pumpkin, then add eggs, one at a time, until combined.

Add the flour, salt, and spices.

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Mix to completely incorporate dry ingredients. Mix in dates and raisins.

Scrape into greased and floured loaf pan. It will be a little soft and gooey and pudding-like, but don’t worry.

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Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool 15 minutes. Loosen around the loaf with a knife. Place a cooling rack on top of the bread, hold the pan and the rack, and flip it upside down to release the bread.

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While it is tempting to slice it right away, it will crumble if you do so. Let it cool at least 15 minutes and it will slice much more evenly.

Serve as is, or with softened butter or cream cheese. Let cool completely before wrapping for longer storage. A brown paper bag is really better than plastic wrap – the bread won’t sweat and get ugly and moldy.

Variations:

  • Add powdered or diced candied ginger.
  • Add up to 1 cup toasted chopped nuts.
  • Substitute brown sugar or turbinado sugar for all or part of the sugar.
  • Use all unbleached flour, OR all whole wheat flour.
  • * To use a metal loaf pan: preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake as above.
  • If you don’t want to use the raisins and dates, increase sugar to 1 cup. But you will find that if you soften the fruit in hot water as above, that it simply seems to melt into the bread rather than stay intact like odd little lumps. Also, golden raisins (sometimes called white raisins) are much more tender than black raisins.

 

 

HOMEMADE CINNAMON ROLLS: EASIER THAN YOU THINK

HOMEMADE CINNAMON ROLLS: EASIER THAN YOU THINK

My husband was badgering me to make cinnamon rolls and actually, that sounded like a pretty good idea. But I have tried recipes that did not turn out well before, so I was reluctant to put the time and effort in for nothing. Finally I put my trust in  Jane and Michael Stern’s Coast-to-Coast Cookbook: Real American Food and tried Mary’s Cafe Cinnamon Rolls recipe (Mary’s Cafe in Casey, Iowa). They were sublime. I substituted butter for lard, but otherwise I pretty much followed the recipe.

MARY’S CAFE CINNAMON ROLLS

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Scald the milk with the butter, salt, and sugar. (That means heat them together until bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. Stir occasionally so the sugar dissolves and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. ) Let cool to tepid, then mix in the egg and vanilla.

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  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup 110-degree water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Proof the yeast in the water and sugar.

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Measure three cups flour into a bowl. (I used half unbleached and half whole wheat, but use all unbleached if you like.) Pour in the yeast mixture, then the milk mixture, and stir to form a soft, sticky dough.

Scrape dough out onto a floured board and knead about ten minutes, adding flour as necessary. A dough scraper could be helpful here.

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Wash the bowl, dry it, and oil it with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil all over the inside. Plop the kneaded dough into the bowl, turn it over so it is coated with oil, and cover with a double layer of plastic wrap.

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Put the bowl in a warm-not-hot place for about an hour. It should be doubled.

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Punch the dough down and turn out onto a floured board. Roll it into a rectangle about 1/4″ thick. If it looks more like a map of Minnesota than a rectangle, that’s okay. Do the best you can.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and distribute over the rectangle. Then sprinkle with 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your cinnamon rolls) and about 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon. If you like raisins, nuts, dates, etc., feel free to add them before rolling the dough up.

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Now, starting from the side away from you, roll up the dough. You will need to work on one place, then another, rather than try to roll the whole thing up like a rug.

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Using a sharp knife, cut the roll in half, then each half in half, and those halves in half again until you have cinnamon rolls.

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You can oil a cookie sheet, though I like to line the sheet with parchment paper (cleanup is easier). Carefully transfer the rolls to the cookie sheet.

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At this point you can cover them with a towel and let rise, or you can cover them with plastic wrap and a towel, and put them in the refrigerator to bake later. If you put them in the fridge, take them out about two hours before you want to bake them. Let them rise until puffy.

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Preheat oven to 325. Bake rolls about 20 to 25 minutes. Check the bottoms to make sure they don’t burn.

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Combine 2 cups powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons softened butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 3 to 4 tablespoons milk to make a frosting.(It may look hopeless at first, but trust me, this will all work out – just keep mixing.) Frost rolls while they are still warm.

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Remove from cookie sheet. Eat right away or let cool and freeze.

IT’S GOOD TO BE KIND

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PENZEYS

We have this neighbor who has been bringing us Meyer lemons from the tree of another neighbor. Huge fat juicy lemons, more than could be used. I grated the zest from all the lemons, dried it, put some in a jar by itself, mixed the rest with black pepper to make lemon-pepper. I froze the juice in ice cube trays and put the cubes in a freezer bag.

This week Carol brought us grapefruit – the best ruby red grapefruit ever, so sweet they needed no sugar, incredibly juicy, and enormous. My husband suggested I make her a pie.

I had made this pie for her last summer with a blueberry topping, and she really liked it. This week I bought the most fabulous strawberries from a roadside vendor, so I thought that would make a good topping. Made the pie, sliced the strawberries, took it to her. She was very grateful and she said she would take at least half of the pie to the woman whose lemons and grapefruit she had picked and given to us.

A couple of hours later Carol knocked on the door. She had taken 3/4 of the pie to the 92 year old woman who owned the fruit trees. The woman started to cry. In all the years she had given away the fruit from her trees, no one had ever given her a gift in return.

Recipe by David Zafferelli from The Open Hand Cookbook. I have slightly adapted it. This is similar to my other Lemon-Buttermilk Pie recipe, but I think I prefer this one.

This pie is for Angie.

LEMON BUTTERMILK PIE

  • 3 eggs
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon flour
    zest of 2 lemons
    4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    1 cup buttermilk
    4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
    1 9-inch pie crust, pre-baked and cooled

Have all your ingredients at room temperature before you begin to keep the filling from curdling or separating.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Beat eggs by hand until light; slowly add the sugar while beating until you reach the ribbon stage (mixture falls from the spoon in a ribbon-like shape when lifted out). Do not be tempted to use an electric mixer here; it will make the filling too frothy,

Add in this order, beating after each addition: salt, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Then carefully stir in the buttermilk, then the melted and cooled butter.

Pour into the pre-baked pie crust. Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 and bake another 15-25 minutes. The center of the filling should still be a little jiggly when you take the pie out of the oven; it will continue to cook as it cools.

When pie is cool, top with sliced strawberries. To make a pretty concentric design, start arranging berries in the center of the pie and work in a circle toward the edge. If you wish, warm 1/2 cup apricot jam and brush over the berries as a glaze.

NEAPOLITAN PIZZA

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NEAPOLITAN PIZZA

Most pizza in the USA is Godawful. You don’t have to agree with me, but it’s still true. What you get at Round Table or Godfather’s or almost any other American pizzeria is horrible. Worse than the pizza itself is the indoctrination: people actually believe that a extra-large combination with pineapple and ham is what you get in Italy.

Excuse me while I go take a shower. I feel dirty just typing that.

The closest you can get to actual pizza in America is either a place in an Italian neighborhood that sells by the slice (proper etiquette: fold the slice in half lengthwise to allow the oil to run down onto your shirt, then walk like hell while eating it) or a place with a wood-burning oven, but even then you’ve got a 50-50 chance of getting decent pizza. But! You can approximate decent pizza in your own kitchen. If all you’ve ever had is franchise pizza, it will be strange and unfamiliar in many ways, but you might experience an epiphany and begin to cry over all the bad pizza you’ve eaten all your life.

Sadly, this isn’t fast. It takes 2 1/2 days before you can have pizza, but that’s how it rolls sometimes with good food. The dough can be frozen after two days in the refrigerator, then completely defrosted and allowed to stand at least two hours at room temperature before using, though it will be much stretchier and difficult to work with.

Because this pizza is much smaller and lighter than American pizza, it doesn’t fill you up in the same way, so it’s easy to use all four pieces of dough in one meal for two people.  But because they go together so fast and take only a few minutes to bake, it’s no big thing to eat one pizza and then make the next so you can eat them fresh out of the oven.

This recipe is by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab on Facebook and Serious Eats. His recipe is exacting and I am not an exacting type, so I made a few slight adaptations. However, there are a few points that are very important and I have tried to note those in the recipe.

Also:

  • Parchment paper is required here. Do not use wax paper or aluminum foil. Just don’t.
  • A pizza stone is not required but it will make the pizza much better; you can also use it for baking bread. You can often find them in discount grocery stores or places like Big Lots. If you use one, be very careful to not bang it around or subject it to sudden temperature changes (i.e. straight from the oven onto a cool surface) because it will break.
  • Semolina acts like a bed of little marbles under the pizza – it will allow the baked pizza to release easily. Nice but not required.
  • Use good-quality toppings. This is not the place for Kraft cheese.

NEAPOLITAN PIZZA

  • 4 cups bread flour or unbleached white flour or Italian style 00 flour (measure by spooning flour into measuring cup and sweeping off excess)
  • 4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 13 ounces of water (1 1/2 cups plus one tablespoon)

Combine flour, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl and stir or whisk until salt and yeast are distributed. Pour the water in and incorporate it into the flour using your hands until no dry flour remains on the bottom of the bowl. This will take patience to continually work the dough. If you absolutely cannot get all the flour mixed in, add another teaspoon – that’s teaspoon – of water and mix again. The dough is going to be more on the dry side than on the damp side. Do not expect this to be like bread dough.

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Put plastic wrap over the bowl – you might be tempted to oil the bowl like you do for bread dough, but don’t – and let it sit overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours. On top of the refrigerator is a good place.

Have a look in the morning. It will have risen slightly.

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Divide the dough up into four even parts. You may need to flour your hands and a surface to do this. Place each one in a zip-lock plastic bag or a plastic bag that you then tie tightly.

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Place bags in refrigerator for two days and up to five days.

After two days, the dough is ready to use. Remove from the refrigerator and allow to rest at room temperature for at least two hours before baking.

To make pizza:

If you have a pizza stone, put it on a rack in the oven and turn the oven up as high as it will go. Most American stoves only go to 500F or 550F. Let it preheat at least 15 minutes.

Put a piece of parchment paper on a regular metal pizza pan. (Dampen the pan to keep the paper from sliding around.) If you have semolina, sprinkle the paper with a couple of tablespoons and spread it around.

Take the dough from one of the plastic bags. (Turn the bag inside out to get it out easily.) It will be stretchy and a bit gummy, so you may need to flour your hands. Gradually work dough into a disc shape, holding it by one side and letting its own weight stretch it down. This is not an exact science so take your time.  When you have a vague circle of dough about 9″ in diameter, place it on the parchment paper.

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Patch any holes with dough from the edges.

Spread a little sauce of your choice on the pizza, going close to the edges. Do not drown the pizza. Less is more.

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Top with best-quality cheese, and not too much of that. Here we used three different cheeses to test them out. Top, aged Gouda. Right, fat-free feta. Bottom left, smoked Gouda from the Czech Republic. We sprinkled a few chopped green onions on too.

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Do not overload the pizza with toppings. I can’t stress this enough. The dough will not get done in the center and the toppings will just steam instead of bake.

To bake pizza, open the oven door. Pull the oven rack with the stone out a little bit. Bring the pizza close to the stone; using the parchment paper, pull the pizza onto the stone. Close the door quickly to maintain high oven temperature. If you are not using a pizza stone, place the pizza on its metal pan in the oven.

Watch the time carefully. It might take as little as seven minutes to bake. Look for large bubbles to appear around the edges, for the cheese to melt, and the crust to lightly brown. A blackened spot or two is okay as well.

Pull the pizza by the now-blackened parchment paper from the stone back onto the pizza pan. If using metal pizza pan, just remove it to a cooling rack.

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This is a good time to drizzle pizza with olive oil and toss on some fresh basil leaves.P1000691

Our consensus on the cheese: quality matters. The Czech smoked Gouda never really melted, but just kind of softened reluctantly and tasted artificial. The feta didn’t melt either, but it isn’t a melting-type cheese. Best of all was the 1000-day aged Gouda, which simply gave up and became part of the pizza, salty, sharp, and smooth. Fresh mozzarella would be swoony.

The crust was light and airy. We cut it with scissors but it was easy to tear apart too. While I can’t honestly say this is an exact replica of the best pizza I ever ate, it’s far better than anything from a chain pizzaria.

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