how to adapt any bread recipe to be whole wheat

As much as I love Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, I’ve only made a few recipes from the book. Instead, I’ve been busy using his techniques to adapt my old favorite bread recipes to whole wheat versions. While you can, in general, simply substitute up to half of the flour in a bread recipe with whole wheat, I guarantee that you’ll have better results if you use Reinhart’s trick.

Reinhart uses the same method for most of the breads in his book – about half of the whole wheat flour is combined with salt and liquid and the other half is combined with yeast and liquid. Both mixtures sit overnight before they’re mixed and kneaded into the dough. The resting time breaks down the long bran molecules, making the bread smoother, lighter, and sweeter – in short, more like a white bread.

The 100% whole wheat breads that I’ve tried from Reinhart’s book are truly exceptional. However, I guess I’m sort of a wimp about whole grains. I do like the flavor and texture of white bread, but of course I prefer the health factor of whole grain bread. Plus, I’m still interested in bread recipes outside of Reinhart’s book.

(the pre-dough before resting)

The solution is to mix up just one of Reinhart’s mixtures with whole wheat flour and let that rest overnight (or for around 8 hours), then continue with the recipe as written, mixing in the pre-dough. I’ve done this with all sorts of bread recipes – English muffins, pain ordinaire, light brioche buns, country crust bread, pizza crust.

(the pre-dough after resting and a bit of kneading)

In all cases, I take half of the flour in the recipe and mix it with ¼ teaspoon salt for every 4 ounces of flour. Then I mix in enough liquid – whatever liquid the recipe calls for – to moisten the flour until it forms a dough. Most bread recipes call for about 16 ounces flour total, so the pre-dough is simply 8 ounces of whole wheat flour, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ¾ cup of water (or whatever liquid the recipe calls for).  When the final dough is mixed, those ingredients are subtracted from the original recipe.

And every time, the result is essentially identical to an all-white version – the dough is smooth, elastic, and easy to work with. The bread is light and flavorful. And, I still get to play with an entire world of bread recipes. Win win win!

One year ago: Roasted Kale
Two years ago: Banana Walnut Pancakes

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Whole Wheat Light Brioche Burger Buns (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Makes 8 buns

Pre-dough:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup water

1. Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

Dough:
8 ounces (about 1⅔ cups) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2½ tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
pre-dough
¼ cup warm water
3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2½ tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
extra flour or water for adjustments
egg wash: 1 tablespoon milk or 1 egg white or whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds

1. If mixing with a stand mixer: Add the flour and salt to mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on low just to combine. Add the butter and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture resembles crumbs. Cut the pre-dough into about 12 pieces and add them to the flour mixture, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together). Replace the paddle attachment with the hook. Add the water, milk, yeast, sugar, and egg to the mixer bowl and mix on medium-low until combined, then continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes. The dough should be just a bit loose and sticky; add flour if necessary.

If mixing by hand: In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Cut the pre-dough into about 12 pieces and add them to the flour mixture, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together). Add the water, milk, yeast, sugar, and egg and stir with a rubber spatula until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, well-floured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. The dough will be on the sticky side so it can be a bit messy, but keep in mind that the more flour you knead in, the tougher the buns will get. Try to leave them tackier than you would a round loaf.

2. Spray a bowl with nonstick spray; shape dough into a ball and place it in bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, one to two hours.

3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide dough into 8 equal parts. To shape each portion into an even round, gently pull the edges toward a pucker and pinch them together. Gently roll each into a ball and arrange them two to three inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap lightly coated in nonstick spray (or a damp towel) and let buns rise in a warm place for about one hour.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Brush egg wash on buns and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown and an instant-read thermometer reads at least 185 degrees, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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Whole Wheat Pain Ordinaire (adapted from Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno’s Ultimate Bread and Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Makes 1 loaf

Pre-dough:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup water

1. Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

Dough:
1¾ cups (9½ ounces) all-purpose or bread flour
pre-dough
2 teaspoons instant yeast
⅔ cup water, room temperature
¾ teaspoon salt

1. Add the flour to a mixer bowl fitted with hook attachment (or a large bowl if mixing by hand). Cut the pre-dough into about 12 pieces and add them to the flour, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together). Add the water, yeast, and salt to the mixer bowl and mix on medium-low until combined (or stir with a rubber spatula), then continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes (8-10 minutes if by hand). The dough should be soft but not sticky; add flour if necessary.

2. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1½ to 2 hours.

3. Gently pat the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the bottom third of dough, letter style, up to the center and press to seal, creasing surface tension on the outer edge. Fold the remaining dough over the top and use the edge of your hand to seal the seam closed and to increase the surface tension all over. Press evenly with the palms of both hands and roll the dough backward and forward until it is 10 inches in length. Line a pizza peel baking parchment. Place the loaf on the peel and lightly dust with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel.

4. Proof at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until the loaf has grown to about twice its original size. About half an hour into the second rise, place a baking stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

5. Using a very sharp knife or a serrated bread knife, cut 5 diagonal slashes, each about ¼ to ½-inch deep, across the top of the loaf. (Alternatively, cut one long slash that extends for the length of the loaf.)

6. Transfer the dough on the parchment to the baking stone. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until golden brown and the temperature is at least 200 degrees at the center. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.

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Whole Wheat Country Crust Bread (adapted from Betty Crocker and Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

Makes 1 sandwich loaf

Pre-dough:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup water

1. Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough.

2. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. (If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.)

Dough:
1¾ cups (9½ ounces) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon table salt
¼ cup water, warm (110 degrees)
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast

1. Add the flour to mixer bowl fitted with hook attachment (or a large bowl if mixing by hand). Cut the pre-dough into about 12 pieces and add them to the flour, tossing the pieces to coat (to keep them from immediately sticking back together). Add the salt, water, egg, oil, sugar, and yeast to the mixer bowl and mix on medium-low until combined (or stir with a rubber spatula), then continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 6-8 minutes (8-10 minutes if by hand). The dough should be soft but not sticky; add flour if necessary.

2. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1½ to 2 hours.

3. Form dough into loaf by gently pressing the dough into a rectangle, one inch thick and no wider than the length of the loaf pan. Next, roll the dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn the dough seam side up and pinch it closed. Finally, place dough in greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and press it gently so it touches all four sides of the pan.

4. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel; set aside in warm spot until dough almost doubles in size, about 45 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Remove plastic wrap from loaf pan; place pan in oven. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted at angle from short end just above pan rim into center of loaf reads 195 degrees, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove bread from pan, transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.

thumbprints for us big guys

I don’t how I managed to go this long without complaining about the grocery store situation in my new little town. There are three grocery stores here – a Walmart, a food thrift store, and a regular store. I know some Walmarts have a good selection, but this one certainly does not. I had high hopes for the regular grocery store at first, but it seems that the longer I shop there, the more frustrated I get.

Today was the last straw. Brisket – I have to buy the whole brisket. What am I going to do with 15 pounds of brisket?! (I know, I’m going to freeze most of it. Still.)

My days of rack of lamb are over. Wheat berries? Fresh fish? Currants? Loose-leaf tea? Please. I couldn’t even find hazelnuts.

Fortunately, these cookies are just as delicious with walnuts instead of hazelnuts. And I guess that’s what it all comes down to – adapting to my new situation and making the best of it. And being grateful for all of the great salsa and green chile that’s available to me now.

Mike from Ugly Food Dude chose these cookies for Tuesdays with Dorie. I added 1 teaspoon of salt to the dough, and with that small change, I’d say that these are one of my favorite recipes from Dorie’s book. They were so soft and tender with wonderful contrasting nut and tart jam flavors.  I loved them.

One year ago: Chocolate Whiskey Cake (another TWD favorite!)

bacon-wrapped goat-cheese-and-almond-stuffed dates

Stuffed dates are part of one my favorite days recently – one of those that, for whatever reason, just ended up being particularly awesome. Some great friends visited us in Philadelphia shortly before we moved. After walking around the famous historical sites and before seeing one of my favorite musicians play; before walking up the famous steps to the art museum and much before eating cheesesteaks at 2am, we ate dinner at Alma de Cuba.

While we all loved our entrees, our drinks, and the ceviche, the star of the show was the bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed dates. Is transcendent too over-the-top a description? It seems appropriate for something that caused each of us to close our eyes and exclaim with every bite.

I had kind of assumed that my bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed date days were behind me when we moved from Philadelphia. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that I could make them myself. I certainly never thought it would be so easy.

And just as good! I mean, it’s missing the friends-visiting, concert-going, downtown-exploring mystique, but it retains other important things – salty bacon, sweet dates, tangy goat cheese, crunchy almonds. And now it isn’t a once in a lifetime treat, like those standout days are.

One year ago: Honey Yogurt Dip
Two years ago: Salmon Cakes with Hashed Brussels Sprouts and Flaky Biscuits

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Bacon-Wrapped Goat-Cheese-and-Almond-Stuffed Dates (rewritten from Beantown Baker)

Makes 32 appetizers

32 dates, pitted
4 ounces goat cheese
32 almonds (about ⅓ cup)
16 slices (about 1 pound) bacon, halved lengthwise

1. With a paring knife, cut through one long edge of each date; unfold the dates to open them up. Use your fingers to stuff both sides of the date with goat cheese. Push an almond into the goat cheese; close up the dates. Wrap each stuffed date with a piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick or skewer.

2. If you’re broiling the dates, put them on a rimmed baking sheet. Grill the dates over medium-hot coals or broil them 5 inches from the heating unit until the bacon is cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

jalapeno-baked fish with roasted tomatoes and potatoes

I need every weekday meal to be exactly like this one.

First, it took only 20 minutes of actual effort. Sliced potatoes are softened in the microwave right in the baking dish. Meanwhile, I pureed a few other ingredients, mostly straight from cans, with my immersion blender. Then I laid some fish filets over the potatoes and poured the pureed sauce on top.

Second, it only bakes for 20 minutes. This was the perfect amount of time for me to empty the dishwasher, clean up the kitchen and unpack groceries.

Third, it’s nice and light, with lean white fish, vegetables, and just a small amount of oil to help the potatoes cook.

Fourth, and of course the only point that really matters, it was just so good. The fish, potatoes, and sauce were balanced nicely and the spice level was just right.

My favorite meals have all the ingredients jumbled together like this, protein and starch and vegetables. It’s especially nice on a weeknight so I don’t have to make side dishes as well. I haven’t found many fish recipes like that, so this is perfect – in every way, really.

One year ago: Red Velvet Cake comparison
Two years ago: Olive Oil Bread

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Jalapeno-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
(from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday via Dinner and Dessert)

Serves 4

4 medium (1 pound total) red-skin boiling or Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
Salt
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 large garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
⅓ cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
About ¼ cup sliced canned pickled jalapenos
1 tablespoon jalapeno pickling juice
Four 4- to 5-ounce (1 to 1¼ pounds total) skinless fish fillets, preferably ¾ to 1 inch thick

1. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees. Scoop the sliced potatoes into a microwaveable 8×8-inch baking dish. Drizzle on the oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, then spread the potatoes in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in the top. Microwave on high until the potatoes are nearly tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, combine the tomatoes with their juice, garlic, cilantro, jalapenos, and pickling juice. Process to a puree, leaving just a little texture.

3. Lay the fish fillets in a single layer over the potatoes. Pour the tomato mixture evenly over the fish and potatoes.

4. Slide the baking dish into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the fish flakes when pressed firmly.

5. Scoop a portion of the fish-potato-sauce onto each dinner plate, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve right away.

baked ziti

I am officially out of recipes to share. I am now raiding my “Probably Not” folder – the rejects that either didn’t taste good or didn’t photograph well. I’ll spare you that ones that didn’t taste good.

It seems like I could just make something new and blog about it, right? The thing is though, nothing is working quite right for me lately. My delicious banana cream pies keep coming out with a layer of candy armor over the crust; the southwestern pasta salad recipe I patched together was too similar to and probably not quite as good as this one; I never got the ratios right in my cocktail last weekend (despite many attempts), and I forgot to take final photos of my pesto.

I’m just lucky that the photos of the baked ziti aren’t as ugly as I’d remembered. For this is not in the “didn’t taste good” category. With a mixture of pasta, tomatoes, cheese, and herbs, how could it not be delicious?

And although it’s hard to believe, you can make it halfway healthy without sacrificing much in the way of flavor or creaminess. In my experience, good whole wheat pasta (I like Bionaturae) is hardly different from refined versions. I’m perfectly happy with 1% cottage cheese and skim mozzarella. That just leaves the heavy cream to worry about, and with a slight increase in the cornstarch, you can get away with using milk instead.

And you can make it ahead, and it freezes well, and it reheats well, and heck, it isn’t half bad cold if you’re too impatient to bother heating it up. This is certainly worth pulling out of the reject file.

One year ago: Herbed Lima Bean Hummus
Two years ago: Country Crust Bread

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Baked Ziti (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8-10

Healthy tricks: Use 1% cottage cheese, whole wheat pasta, part-skim mozzarella, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch plus 1 cup milk instead of ¾ teaspoon cornstarch with 1 cup heavy cream.

1 pound whole milk or 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 ounces parmesan cheese (about 1½ cups), grated
table salt
1 pound ziti pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 5 teaspoons)
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
black pepper
¾ teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼ inch pieces (about 1½ cups)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil and garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in ½ cup basil and sugar, then season with salt and pepper.

3. Stir cornstarch into heavy cream in small bowl, transfer mixture to Dutch oven set over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce and ¾ cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce.

4. Transfer pasta mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle with remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining ½ cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

5. Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons basil and serve.

brussels sprouts braised in cream

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You know what I hate? Those “hide the vegetables in brownies” cookbooks. I admit that I don’t have kids, so maybe I just have no clue and that really is the only way to get them to eat something healthy. But, for now, my theory is that if you prepare vegetables well, there will be no need to hide them.

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By “preparing them well,” I don’t necessarily mean braising them in cream, of course, but if you can afford the caloric expense, these are certainly worth showcasing instead of hiding. Because these are absolutely just so freaking ridiculously good. Is that enough adverbs? Probably not. They’re worth more.

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They’re easy too, and you can clean and trim the sprouts early in the day and put them right in the saucepan with the cream and seasonings. About 15 minutes before dinner, put the pot on a hot burner and give it a quick shake every so often. If you have a few extra minutes to make these even more rich and delicious, remove the cooked sprouts from the pot and continue simmering the cream until it’s luscious and thick, then pour it over the sprouts. It’s just…I don’t even…you just can’t describe something that good.

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Because they’re so easy, so good, and most of the work can be done in advance, these are perfect for guests. And just a piece of advice: your guests will probably enjoy them even more if you don’t mention the whole “braised in cream” part.

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One year ago: Sausage Apple Hash
Two years ago: Risotto with Peas

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Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

1 pound small Brussels sprouts, stem ends trimmed with a knife and discolored leaves removed
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
ground black pepper

1. Bring the sprouts, cream, and salt to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover and simmer, shaking the pan once of twice to redistribute the sprouts, until a knife tip inserted into the center of a sprout meets no resistance, 10-12 minutes. Season with nutmeg and pepper to taste.

2. (Optional) Heat the oven to 200ºF. With a slotted spoon, remove the sprouts from the saucepan and transfer them in a heatproof serving dish. Place the sprouts in the oven to keep warm. Meanwhile, simmer the remaining cream in the saucepan over medium-high heat until thick, about 5 minutes. Pour the cream sauce over the sprouts and serve immediately.

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Suggested menu: Steak au Poivre, Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream, Twice-Baked Potatoes

steak au poivre

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The importance of the Go-To Thing was hammered into me recently. I was sitting at home doing basically nothing, unshowered and unchanged from my recent workout, when Dave called me from a bar half an hour away. “Everyone wants you to come hang out!” Uh…will they still want to hang out in an hour or so, when I might actually show up?

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I didn’t have time to mull over my clothes, so I just chose the same outfit I’ve worn every time I’ve gone out recently. It’s easy, comfortable, cute, warm, and spans a wide range of situations. (Although my silky teal scarf was a little out of place at the Rob Zombie concert we ended up at.)

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Having a go-to meal for guests has also come in handy.  On December 23rd last year, Dave and I decided to skip the party we’d planned to go to on Christmas Eve so we could hang out with his parents instead. We offered to make them dinner, which meant I needed to come up with something I could make in my mother-in-law’s kitchen that would be quick enough to put together after a 7-hour drive, special enough for a holiday, and accessible enough that my picky father-in-law would enjoy it.

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The answer is steak, of course. Steak that has one side coated in black pepper and is dowsed in brandy cream sauce. Served along with twice-baked potatoes and Brussels sprouts braised in cream. Yes, cream sauce, sour cream, braised in cream – it’s a holiday, okay?

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It’s also delicious. And easy, and most of it can be prepared in advance. The evidence: 1) I finished it at my mother-in-law’s, and her sharpest knife is essentially a butter knife, and 2) my father-in-law not only ate his entire meal, including the Brussels sprouts, but offered something vaguely complimentary. This meal is a success even under the toughest circumstances.

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One year ago: Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

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Steak au Poivre with Brandied Cream Sauce
(from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

Sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup brandy + 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1 teaspoon champagne vinegar
table salt

Steaks:
4 strip steaks (8 to 10 ounces each), ¾ to 1 inch thick, trimmed of exterior gristle
table salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed

1. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat; when foaming subsides, add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add beef and chicken broths, increase heat to high, and boil until reduced to about ½ cup, about 8 minutes. Set reduced broth mixture aside. Rinse and wipe out skillet.

2. Meanwhile, sprinkle both sides of steaks with salt; rub one side of each steak with 1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns, and, using fingers, press peppercorns into steaks to make them adhere.

3. Place now-empty skillet over medium heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Lay steaks unpeppered-side down in hot skillet, increase heat to medium-high, firmly press down on steaks with bottom of cake pan (see illustration below), and cook steaks without moving them until well-browned, about 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip steaks, firmly press down on steaks with bottom of cake pan, and cook on peppered side, about 3 minutes longer for rare, about 4 minutes longer for medium-rare, or about 5 minutes longer for medium. Transfer steaks to large plate and tent loosely with foil to keep warm.

4. Pour reduced broth, cream, and ¼ cup brandy into now-empty skillet; increase heat to high and bring to boil, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Simmer until deep golden brown and thick enough to heavily coat back of metal tablespoon or soup spoon, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in remaining 3 tablespoons butter, remaining 1 tablespoon brandy, lemon juice or vinegar, and any accumulated meat juices. Adjust seasonings with salt.

5. Set steaks on individual dinner plates, spoon portion of sauce over steaks, and serve immediately.

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Suggested menu: Steak au Poivre, Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream, Twice-Baked Potatoes

bourbon pound cake

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Sometimes it’s the recipes that seem the simplest that can give us the most trouble. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people lamenting about their chocolate chip cookies. We think that because the recipe is ubiquitous that we should all do it well, but truthfully, many cookies are finicky – if your butter is too warm, or your flour measurements are off slightly, or your oven temperature isn’t stable, your cookies can end up flat or greasy or burned.

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Pound cake, with only a few ingredients, is often even more fussy. Those ingredients need to be combined just right to produce a light, moist, buttery cake. In fact, I think pound cake is the perfect recipe to teach yourself the particulars of baking, because every detail counts – the eggs should be room temperature, the butter needs to be soft but not too soft, the sugar and eggs have to be gradually added to the butter mixture, the flour must be sifted and gently folded into the batter. These steps can make or break a traditional pound cake, and following them carefully will also improve your cookies and layer cakes.

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Fortunately, this recipe makes it easy on you by separating the eggs, beating the whites until they’re fluffy and light, and folding the meringue mixture into the dough at the end. The light egg whites provide insurance against a dense cake without making it dry.

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Also, bourbon. Is good.  I suppose you can leave it out if you’re not into alcohol or you just want a great classic pound cake, but the bourbon is great in this because the flavor really stands out. Primarily because the bourbon’s mild smokiness compliments the other flavors, but also because that’s just a heck of a lot of bourbon to add to a cake.

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I used to think this other recipe was my favorite pound cake, but not anymore. This one is not only more dependable, it’s just better. It rises higher, plus? It tastes like bourbon.

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If you’ve been directed here from the Intelligencer and would like to see the cookies also discussed in the article, click here.

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Bourbon Pound Cake

12-16 slices

It’s easier to separate eggs when they’re cold, but they behave better in baking when they’re at room temperature. I suggest separating them when you take the butter out of the fridge to warm, then leaving them at room temperature for about an hour, until you’re ready to bake.

The easiest way to sift ingredients if you don’t have a sifter is to put them in a fine-mesh strainer and shake and tap the pan over the bowl that you’re sifting into.

You can also double this recipe and bake it in a tube pan for about 90 minutes.

4 eggs, separated
1¼ cup (8¾ ounces) sugar, divided
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cup (6 ounces) cake flour

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour (or spray with baking spray) a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a medium-sized mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until they form soft mounds. With the mixer on medium-high speed, gradually add ½ cup (3.5 ounces) of sugar. Increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture is glossy and holds stiff peaks. If you’re using a stand mixer and only have one bowl, transfer the egg white mixture to another bowl and rinse and dry the mixer bowl.

3. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and add the butter to the mixer bowl (or a large mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until the butter is soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the salt, then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the remaining ¾ cup (5.25 ounces) sugar. Continue mixing on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the bourbon and vanilla extract in a small measuring cup. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the egg yolk mixture. Once the eggs are in, stop and scrape the sides of the bowl, then continue beating for another 2-3 minutes.

4. Sift one-third of the flour over the butter/egg mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour until it’s evenly dispersed but not completely mixed in (as shown in the fourth photo). Add half of the beaten egg whites and continue folding until evenly dispersed. Repeat with another third of the flour, then the rest of the egg whites. Sift the remaining flour into the batter and fold until it’s completely mixed in and there are no pockets of dry flour.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. If the top of the cake is getting too dark before the center is baked, lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the cake. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then use a thin knife or spatula to loosen the cake from the edges of the pan. Invert the pan onto the wire rack, then turn it right-side up to continue cooling. Serve the cake at room temperature.

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I compared this cake made with cake flour (left) and all-purpose flour (right).  The version made with cake flour rose higher and was lighter and fluffier, but the cake made with all-purpose flour was still very good.

thai-style chicken soup (tom kha gai)

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Cooking and eating, I think I manage to do ambitiously. I just really like food, and I want to enjoy it as much as absolutely possible. That means I need to eat whatever is offered to me with an open mind. My desire to try new foods is driven by curiosity, but my desire to cook new recipes is about challenging myself. How much can I learn? How good can I be?

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But I have a weakness when it comes to food, and that is in the shopping. I go to the store with a plan and a list. Occasionally the store will have some seasonal item – long beans, meyer lemons, kaffir lime leaves – but I never buy it. Because what would I make with it? What other ingredients would I need to use it? I never know, and I’m not willing to make more grocery store trips than necessary, so I miss a lot of opportunities to try new ingredients.

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Finally I decided there was at least one produce item that there was no excuse not to try, and that is galangal. It’s often compared to ginger. Ginger has a long shelf life, so I assumed that galangal did too. I could buy it one of those rare times when it was available and ignore it for a week or two until I found a recipe to use it in.

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In the end, I used it in a recipe that doesn’t even require galangal. Cooks Illustrated’s Thai-style chicken soup (their version of tom kha gai) bypasses the need for ingredients that are difficult to find – like galangal – by designing the recipe around readily available prepared red curry paste.

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The curry paste already has galangal in it, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to sweat fresh galangal with the lemongrass, cilantro, shallots and fish sauce. Coconut milk and chicken broth are steeped in the vegetables, and then they’re strained out, leaving you with a sweet, deeply flavored coconut broth, in which thinly sliced mushrooms and chicken are briefly cooked.

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I’ve made this soup for years, and it is good. Really, exceptionally good. The kind of good where I spend the whole meal saying “oh my gosh this is so good!” (which I’m sure is just as annoying as you’d expect). I don’t think adding fresh galangal made a significant difference in the end product, but that’s okay – I got to play around with a new ingredient, and that makes me almost as happy as this soup does.

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Thai-Style Chicken Soup (from Cooks Illustrated)

6-8 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course

I like to skip the serrano chile garnish (and a rarely bother with the scallion and lime garnishes) and add just one chile to the vegetables in step 1. It makes the soup a bit spicy.

This is great as a first course with pad Thai served afterward, or as a simple main dish served over rice.

Cooks Illustrated recommends Chaokoh coconut milk, which is what I’ve always used. For a lighter option, they like A Taste of Thai’s Lite Coconut Milk, but I’ve never been able to find it.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 stalks lemon grass, tough outer leaves removed, bottom 5 inches halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise
3 large shallots, chopped
8 sprigs fresh cilantro leaves, chopped coarse
3 tablespoons fish sauce
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 (14-ounce) cans coconut milk, well-shaken
1 tablespoon sugar
½ pound white mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise and sliced on bias into ⅛-inch-thick pieces
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice from 2 to 3 limes
2 teaspoons red curry paste (Thai)

Garnish:
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 serrano chiles, sliced thin
2 scallions, sliced thin on bias
1 lime, cut into wedges

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until just shimmering. Add the lemon grass, shallots, cilantro, and 1 tablespoon fish sauce; cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just softened, 2 to 5 minutes (vegetables should not brown). Stir in the chicken broth and 1 can of the coconut milk; bring to a simmer over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have blended, 10 minutes. Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids in the strainer. Rinse the saucepan and return the broth mixture to the pan.

2. Return the pan to medium-high heat. Stir the remaining can of coconut milk and sugar into the broth mixture and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium, add mushrooms, and cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until no longer pink, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove soup from heat.

3. Combine lime juice, curry paste, and remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce in small bowl; stir into soup. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro, chiles, and scallions. Serve immediately with lime wedges.

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traditional pizza

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When it comes to cooking, I definitely have weaknesses. I’ve never cooked a perfect roast chicken. I can’t cook a steak with any sort of precision in doneness; if it’s somewhere between ‘moo’ and black, I consider it a success. And grilling? I’ve really never done it. Clearly there are holes in my culinary knowledge.

But pizza? Pizza, I know.

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I make pizza almost every week. I’ve tried all sorts of crusts, sauces, cheeses, and toppings. I’ve taken notes. And now, finally, I can make my perfect pizza. I’m not saying that my favorite will be your favorite; but it might give you somewhere to start and something new to try.

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Toppings – I’m going to attack this from top to bottom, which has the advantage of progressing from the simplest decisions to the more complicated. I’m going to focus on traditional pizza – tomato sauce, Italian cheeses, toppings. Most any topping will work here. Use whatever toppings you want in whatever quantities you prefer. I vary it quite a bit, with my favorite combinations being ham and mushroom, as well as ham and pineapple.

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Cheeses – I like a ratio of 5 parts mozzarella to 1 part parmesan. If you have other cheeses around, cheddar or gouda or fontina, it can be fun to replace a portion of the mozzarella with those. I actually prefer part-skim mozzarella on pizza; it seems to melt more smoothly and it tastes just as good as whole milk cheese.

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Sauce – My sauce is very (very very) simple, but you have to trust me that it’s just right. All I do is puree a drained can of diced tomatoes, strain them until they’re thick, then stir in salt and pepper. It’s easier than cooking a sauce, and I love the fresh flavor. It does complicate the addition of garlic and spices, but I get around that by adding the garlic as a topping and the herbs to the crust. (I don’t like raw garlic, so I toast the whole unpeeled cloves on the hot pizza stone for a few minutes.)

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Crust – I want a crust that is light and tender and flavorful, but, even more importantly, easy to work with. No one wants to fight with their pizza dough. This crust started with Cooks Illustrated’s popular pizza dough recipe, and then I started substituting white wine for a portion of the water, and after I made Peter Reinhart’s pizza dough, I became more committed to a cold overnight rise.

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Another important aspect of pizza crust is how you work with it. Be gentle with your dough. I need to stress that you really don’t want to use a rolling pin. Pull and stretch the dough. Pick it up, hanging the edges on your knuckles, and let gravity do the work. If it’s tearing or thinning unevenly, put it back down and just pull at the thicker parts. If it’s fighting you, walk away for five minutes to let it relax. (I use this technique when I fight with Dave too – ha!)

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I’m sorry to be so braggy, but this pizza really is just great. Most of it comes down to the crust, which is thin, crisp, and light. I love the sauce too, because it tastes exactly like what it is – tomatoes. The combination of cheeses provides just the right amount of richness and flavor. I start out nearly every weekend by making this pizza, and I can’t think of a better way.

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Update 3/16/10: I’ve successfully used this method to make this pizza crust whole wheat.  I made the pre-dough out of 11 ounces whole wheat flour, ¾ teaspoon salt, and 1 cup water .  After letting that sit overnight, I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients – 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 11 ounces white bread flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons instant yeast, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, ¼ cup white wine, and ½ cup water.

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Traditional Pizza

You can substitute up to 7 ounces (about 1½ cups) of whole wheat flour for the white bread flour, but expect longer rising times and a more stubborn dough. But if you’re patient during shaping, your crust will be just as light and crisp as dough made completely with white flour.

Dough:
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
22 ounces (4 cups) bread flour
1¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup white wine
1½ cups water
cornmeal for dusting

Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
salt and pepper

Assembly:
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
10 ounces (2½ cups) part-skim mozzarella, shredded
2 ounces (1 cup) parmesan, grated
toppings of your choice

1. For the dough: Heat the oil and oregano in a small saucepan until fragrant. Mix in the water and wine.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the liquid mixture. Continue mixing on medium-low speed until the dough comes together, and then knead on medium-low speed for 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour or water as necessary to form a dough that is sticky but does not cling to the sides of the bowl. When the mixer is running on medium-low speed, the dough should not stick to the bottom of the bowl.

3. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Rub your hands on the sprayed bowl to coat them with oil, then quickly form the dough into a ball. Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

4. Either set the dough aside to rise at room temperature, which will take 1½ to 2 hours, or refrigerate it until the next day. If it’s chilled overnight, it will take about 5 hours at room temperature to warm and finish rising. You can also reduce the yeast to ½ teaspoon and let the dough rise on the counter for about 8 hours after it has been chilled overnight.

5. For the sauce: Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor 10-12 times, until they’re pureed. Transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl and let them drain, stirring occasionally for at least 10 minutes. (You can get away with less time if you actively stir and press the tomatoes through the strainer; if you wait longer, you can stir less.) Then discard the liquid in the bowl, transfer the tomatoes from the strainer to the now-empty bowl, and stir in a pinch of pepper and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.

6. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat the oven to 500ºF. Place the garlic on the hot pizza stone for 3-4 minutes or until fragrant.

7. Divide the dough and shape each portion into a ball. You have a few options of how to divide it. It makes enough dough for three 12-inch pizzas. However, I always cut it in half and freeze half. Then I divide the remaining dough into two more parts, one twice the size of the other. I make the larger one into pizza and the smaller into cheese bread (no sauce or toppings). Let the balls of dough relax for 10-30 minutes.

8. Using tongs, remove the garlic from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Mince.

9. Work with one ball of dough at a time on a lightly floured surface. Flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, just piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots.

10. Dust a pizza peel lightly with cornmeal and transfer the round of dough to the peel. Rearrange the dough to something reasonably circular; stab it several times with a fork. Add 1/3 of each of the garlic, sauce, and cheese, followed by toppings of your preference, then transfer the pizza to a hot pizza stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is spotty brown. Let the pizza cool on the peel for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

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