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Easy Bread for Two Weeks

It's a rainy and gross day today in Brooklyn, so I decided that it would be a good day to bake some bread. Sitting in a warm kitchen with the smell of baking bread is a great way to spend this sort of day. It also helps to have a good assistant.

Hillary doesn't really go in for baking, but I love it. I enjoy cooking in general, but the exactness of baking appeals to the analytical part of my mind, and I find carefully measuring and mixing ingredients to be soothing.

Knowing this about me, Hillary's mom bought me Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which the recipe in this post is adapted from. While all baking is pretty great, bread has a particular resonance. Homemade bread is far and away better than anything bought in a supermarket (supermarkets with bakeries excluded), and bread just seems important. Staff of life and all that. Baking bread at home is something that almost everyone did everyday for hundreds (thousands?) of years, and now it is considered a very ambitious undertaking. Strange how the world changes.

This bread averse attitude isn't without reason though. While bread is simple, it is very time consuming. Even though the book claims five minute bread, this number doesn't include initial time investment, and time that you aren't actively working with the bread. Resting and baking time included, for bread you're looking at seventy minutes that you'll be waiting. Not that this time isn't worth it, but the point is that bread takes time.

The concept behind this bread is that you can mix up about five loaves worth and allow the dough to rest in your fridge for up to two weeks, cutting off and baking a piece every few days. Instead of getting good gluten formation from kneading, the bread gets its flavor from a long, slow, rise. This is very similar to the no-knead bread mentioned several posts ago.

The day after initial mixing, we cut off a piece, form it into a loaf and let it rest for 40 minutes. This loaf was the last in my first batch of dough, so it ended up a little runty. This is less of a loaf and more of a kaiser roll size. This baking also requires a special setup. A pizza stone near the top of the oven, and a tray on the bottom. This gets water poured into it so that steam helps cook the outer crust of the bread.

After about 30-40 minutes in the oven at 450°, the bread is ready. Once it is cool, cut and enjoy.

 

Five Loaves of Bread

3 cups of warm water

2 packets of yeast

1 1/2 tbsp salt

6 1/2 cups all purpose flour

In a five quart container with a non-airtight lid, mix the water, yeast and salt. Add flour and mix until all the flour is hydrated. Allow to rest at room temp for two hours. Place in the refrigerator and keep for up to two weeks. When bread is desired, cut off a grapefruit piece with a serrated knife. Allow to rise for 40 minutes on a floured pizza peel. Place baking stone toward top of oven and baking pan in the bottom. Preheating the oven to 450 after 15 minutes of dough resting. After resting, score the top of the loave, slide dough into oven and pour one cup hot water into the baking pan on the bottom of the oven. Allow to bake 30 minutes or until crust is browned. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

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It's a Peach

When life hands you peaches...you know what they say. Make peach pie. Peach pie is one of my absolute favorites, though we have never tried to make one before. We made an apple pie last fall after a particularly fruitful (feel free to roll your eyes) apple picking adventure. Though it was successful, the labor intensive pie-making process was enough to discourage us to put it off for almost a year before giving it another go.

We used the classic pie dough recipe from the excellent America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which I suggest that everyone run out and buy. Immediately. Seriously, it is the best. We had great luck with this dough recipe when we made our apple pie. Why mess with perfection, right? My mom is an excellent cook and baker, and when I asked if she had any additional advice on making a great pie crust, it was simply keep everything very VERY cold. That, and use lard but don't tell your friends who are vegetarians. We skipped out on the lard, but used ice water and gave our butter and shortening plenty of time to chill in the freezer. We have a teeny tiny food processor (are you reading this Santa?) that was not large enough to cut the butter and shortening into the dough as the cookbook recommends. We went at it the old fashioned way with a fork and knife. Though it was a bit more labor intensive, we still got an excellent result. The crust came out golden, flakey, and delicious. Even without the lard.

As for the filling, we were a bit nervous about peeling the peaches. We again followed the instructions in the Test Kitchen, and blanched the peaches before trying to peel them. This made the skins come off much easier. After I removed the peaches from the ice bath, I could immediately tell which sides had been submerged deeper into the boiling water. Those parts of the skin zipped right off. I guess I didn't stir the peaches as well as I thought I did. I'll remember for next time!

My embarrassing lack of knife skills really started to show themselves once I began trying to cut the peaches into 1/3 inch slices. How the heck are you supposed to cut up a peach? I tried googling, and the results I found said to cut down the middle right through the pit, and then separate the flesh from the stone. We have a pretty sharp knife, but even with all my arm strength, that was just not going to happen. I'm sure a thousand southern grandmas were crying watching my pathetic attempts. BUUT, I was able to hack at the peaches until they resembled semi-even slices. And I can assure you that what it lacked in beauty, it made up for in taste!

After slicing, the peaches macerate in sugar for about an hour until they release their juices. Then you just drain, mix with a little corn starch, and lemon juice, and voila!

The pie gets assembled, and then bakes. Then comes the hardest part, letting it cool for an hour before you can eat it.

The county fair better watch out. Now we have 2 pies under our belts, there's no stopping us!

 

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Asparagus Pizza

It's a bit surprising to me that we haven’t previously written about making pizza. Pizza is, after all, one of the things we make most often. That is because it is delicious and awesome.

I guess I’m a bit hesitant to write about it because even though it seems like a pretty straightforward operation, it can get complicated. For example, when we make it, we actually use some fairly specific equipment. Namely: a pizza stone, a pizza peel and a sheet of reusable parchment.




All these things are available at you local restaurant supply store. Or, if you are so inclined, there are alternatives that you can use. Quarry tiles from your local hardware store in place of a pizza stone (you want unglazed - glazed tiles can have lead in them), the back of a baking sheet in place of the peel, and regular parchment paper or even flour (some people like semolina flour) in lieu of the reusable sheet. For a lot of people, just putting the pizza on a baking sheet and throwing that in the oven in sufficient. Those people obviously didn’t grow up in the vicinity of New York City, but that’s forgivable.

The reality is that, like every recipe, people develop their own preferred version. I’ve spent a pretty good amount of time reading how other people make pizza in their homes, and this is what has made the cut so far.

Ok, so now that we’ve blathered on a bit about equipment, we should talk about ingredients. The pizza we’re making involves only a few - dough, asparagus and mozzarella cheese (and olive oil, pepper, salt and some Italian seasoning, but those don’t count). Pizza really is at it’s best when simplest. For the dough, you can certainly make your own - good dough is important for good pizza, and making your own is very satisfying. We often do, using either this recipe from the paupered chef, or this one from the pioneer woman.

However, in a pinch, or when we’re lazy, we’ll use some store bought dough. Surprisingly, it is usually as good as the homemade stuff. We’ve been enjoying this whole wheat dough from Whole Foods a lot lately. Just make sure your dough comes up to room temp before using. This makes it much easier to work with. One “portion” of dough is usually enough for two good sized pizzas.

Once you know what you’re doing about dough, adjust the racks in your oven and put your pizza stone as near the top as you can while still having some clearance to work with, and crank it to the highest heat, letting it warm up at least half an hour.

Often, the advice is to put the pizza stone on the bottom of the oven, but I’ve found the top of the pizza doesn’t cook as well when you do this. By putting it up top, warm air gets trapped between the stone and the roof of your oven, cooking things nicely.

Next up, we prep the asparagus - using a vegetable peeler, peel the upper, non woody part of a bunch of asparagus into long thing ribbons. Then toss these ribbons with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. We also use some Italian seasoning if we have it.



Next, put your parchment onto your pizza peel and begin stretching it out into a circle. The technique that I use is flattening the dough, then holding it like a steering wheel, slowly turning. This lets the weight of the dough stretch itself out. Keep going until it is about a half inch thick in the center. You can also adjust the shape a bit once you place the dough onto the parchment.


Next, brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Finally, top with shredded mozzarella and your asparagus mixture. Optionally, you can put an egg on as well.


Slide the pizza and parchment onto your pizza stone and set a timer for one minute.

When the minute is up, get your peel underneath the pizza, and using your kitchen tongs, pull the parchment out from underneath the pie. If the parchment doesn’t want to come out, you may need to give the pizza another 30 seconds or so to firm up.

Once your parchment is clear, give the pizza another 3 minutes or so to set up. If your oven is hot enough, five minutes is probably the longest it will take, unless you like your pizza very crispy.


 

Asparagus Pizza (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

One Bunch Asparagus

One Recipe Pizza Dough

Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Place your pizza stone on the top rack of your oven and pre-heat as high as it will go for half an hour. At least 450°. Then peel asparagus into strips and toss with salt, pepper, olive oil and italian seasoning. Strech pizza dough into a pizza shape, and put on parchment on a pizza peel. Top with mozzarella and shaved asparagus. Optionally put an egg. Bake for one minute and slide parchment out from underneath. Bake another 3-5 minutes or until done.

 

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