lavash crackers (daring bakers)

This is the first Daring Baker recipe that has not only been from a cookbook I own, but was a recipe that I had planned to make soon anyway. Since football season started a few weeks ago, I’ve made Sunday into a snack day instead of serving an actual meal, which gives me a chance to play around with appetizer and dip recipes that I normally can’t (healthily) work into our routine.

The recipe itself was pretty simple. This is a rare recipe for Peter Reinhart in that it doesn’t require a pre-ferment, so the recipe can be completed in one day. The dough was easy to work with. I rolled it out right on my silicone baking mat, and then just moved the mat to a baking pan to bake it, so I never had to transfer just the sheet of dough.

I think Reinhart’s directions on rolling out the dough are off. I rolled the dough out to exactly the dimensions he recommends, but my “crackers” ended up far too thick. Reinhart refers to the rolled-out dough as “paper-thin” at one point, and mine certainly wasn’t. In the future, I’ll roll the dough out possibly twice as thin, so they’re more like crackers and less like little toasts.

I cheated on the dip. After I made it, I saw in the rules that we were supposed to make something that was gluten-free and vegan, but my pesto dip is based on goat cheese. But it’s so good! I have no regrets on breaking the rules if I get something so tasty out of it.

This challenge was a fun one – I always enjoy making yeast breads, and as I said, I’d been interested in this recipe for a while. The hosts this month, Natalie and Shel, also give directions for a gluten-free version, which I may try for my gluten-intolerant grandmother next time I see her. I’m always on the lookout for good gluten-free recipes.

Lavash Crackers (from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1½ cups (6.75 ounces) unbleached bread flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp instant yeast
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
⅓ to ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (3 to 4 ounces) water, at room temperature
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, sugar, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full ½ cup + 2 tablespoons of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Pesto Goat Cheese Spread (from Gourmet September 2002, but really epicurious.com)

4 ounces soft mild goat cheese at room temperature
2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
¼ cup pesto

Stir together all ingredients with salt and pepper to taste until smooth.

crawfish, roasted tomato, and farmers cheese pizza

I make pizza probably every other week, always on the weekend. About half of the time I make a traditional pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. The other half varies – in the past few months, I’ve made shrimp scampi pizza, caramelized onion and Gruyere pizza, and spinach ricotta pizza. When I tell Dave that we’re having pizza for dinner, he always asks hopefully, “Normal pizza?”

Not this time. I’ve had crawfish tails in my freezer for months. I used a portion of the package for a recipe which I will, eventually, blog about, but I had no plans for the remainder. Cooks Illustrated’s recipe for pizza with shrimp, farmers cheese, and roasted tomatoes seemed like a great place to use some of that crawfish in place of the shrimp. Something about that combination of ingredients seemed very American to me.

I really only used CI’s recipe as a basic guide. Their recipe is developed to grill the pizza, which I wouldn’t be doing. Since I wasn’t sure if the crust recipe they provided was specially designed for grilling, I opted to use my favorite regular pizza dough recipe, tweaked to incorporate the seasonings CI uses in their recipe.  I substituted crawfish for the shrimp and used far less than they call for, and I used Deb’s recipe for slow-roasted tomatoes instead of CI’s method for roasting tomatoes

Overall, it was the same basic ingredients CI called for, but combined a little differently. It was my first time using farmers cheese, and I really liked it. The slow-roasted tomatoes, oh my gosh. I made about twice as many as I needed for the pizza, and I ate the others plain. I was greedy and barely shared with Dave.

The only step I wasn’t quite sure how to adapt was the actual grilling of the pizza to baking them on a hot pizza stone. Since all of the toppings were already cooked, I didn’t want to risk overcooking them by putting them into a 500 degree over for 8 minutes. I ended up simply putting the untopped dough in the oven for a few minutes, then taking it out, adding the toppings, and putting it back in until the crust was spotty browned like I like it. It wasn’t the perfect solution – I should have poked the dough with a fork before putting it on the hot stone, because it puffed up like a pita.

Dave and I both really liked the pizza. I should have used more cheese, but when is that not the case? (The recipe below is adjusted for the amount of cheese I wish I would have used.)  Dave thinks shrimp would have been better than crawfish, but I don’t really agree. The only problem I had was that there was that the toppings, especially the crawfish, kept falling off the pizza. More cheese might have acted like glue to hold the toppings on as well. Overall, this was my favorite of the non-traditional pizzas I’ve made recently, and a great way to use up some of that tasty crawfish.

Crawfish, Roasted Tomato, and Farmers Cheese Pizza (substantially adapted from Cooks Illustrated; Roasted Tomatoes from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 6 as a main course

Garlic-Herb Pizza Crust:
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1¾ cups water divided, warm
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (1 envelope)
4 cups bread flour
1½ teaspoons table salt

Roasted Tomatoes
24 cherry tomatoes (small), halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
Table salt and ground black pepper

Crawfish or (Shrimp)
1 pound crawfish tails or medium-sized shrimp
1½ tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
½ teaspoon hot chili powder
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Table salt and ground black pepper

Toppings
12 ounces farmers cheese, crumbled
⅔ cup packed cilantro leaves, minced
⅔ cup packed fresh parsley, minced

1. For the crust: Heat olive oil in a small skillet; add next 3 ingredients and cook over low heat until garlic softens, about 5 minutes. Cool.

2. Mix flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Add water and herb oil to yeast mixture. With machine on, gradually pour liquid into dry ingredients; process until a rough ball forms. If dough is too sticky or dry, add flour or water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let dough rest for 5 minutes, then continue to process until dough is smooth, about 35 seconds.

3. Knead dough by hand a few seconds to form smooth, round ball; place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until dough doubles in size, about 2 hours.

4. For the roasted tomatoes: Preheat oven to 225°F. Halve each tomato crosswise and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about three hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside. (The tomatoes can be set aside at room temperature up to 6 hours ahead.)

5. Place a pizza stone on the lowest oven rack and heat oven to 500 degrees. Punch dough down and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll each portion to form a smooth, round ball. Place the balls on a lightly floured surface, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest 10-30 minutes.

6. For the crawfish/shrimp: Heat a medium-sized skillet over high heat. Toss crawfish with 1½ tablespoons oil, chili powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper. Cook crawfish in hot skillet, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, until the tails curl. (Shrimp may need an additional 2-3 minutes, depending on their size; cook until opaque.)

7. Stretch and press a ball of dough until it reaches a diameter of 9-11 inches. If the dough is very resistant to being stretched, let it rest 5 minutes and then try again.

8. Brush the circle of dough with olive oil, then stab it with a fork 10-12 times. Transfer the dough to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Slide the dough onto the heated stone. Bake until the crust edges begin to brown, 5-8 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven, add ⅓ of all toppings, and return to hot stone until crust is crisp and browned, 3-4 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Repeat steps 7 and 8 with remaining dough and toppings.

pain a l’ancienne

Cooks Illustrated’s Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic recipe is cooked through a combination of roasting and braising, which keeps the meat moist and the skin crisp. Once the chicken is cooked, the braising liquid is made into a delicious garlicky herbed sauce. I supposed you could make some creamy rich mashed potatoes to serve with the sauce, but I love to dip bits of delicious artisan breads in it. For this meal, I think you need the absolutely best bread you can get. I haven’t found a fantastic bakery in my area, so that means I have to make it myself.

I know this is supposed to be the Dinner Party Menu Ode to Cooks Illustrated, but I strayed from them for the bread. They do have a great recipe for baguettes that you should check out if you have access to it, but I wanted to try Peter Reinhart’s pain a l’ancienne. Reinhart loves this recipe – he discusses it in length in the introduction before providing his recipe later in the book. I had made it once before with mixed results.

The recipe is actually less work than many other bread recipes, especially flavorful artisanal breads. Like all of Reinhart’s recipes, it’s developed to squeeze out as much flavor as possible from the simplest list of ingredients (flour, salt, yeast, water). Instead of requiring a pre-ferment, which basically means that the dough has to be made twice, pain a l’ancienne needs only be mixed and kneaded once, and there’s not even any proofing to worry about.

The key is that the dough is made with ice water and then immediately refrigerated overnight. The yeast slowly wakes up and does its thing, making its way through the flour and releasing every bit of flavor possible. All that’s left to do the day of baking is give the dough a chance to warm up and rise some more, mold the very wet dough into some semblance of loaves, and bake.

The result is some of the best bread I’ve ever made. I can’t think of how to describe the smell, but it’s so much more than homemade bread. The flavor matches the rich smell, and the crumb is chewy and tender.

The problem I’m having with the bread is the crust. The first time I made this recipe, which was a year or two ago, I followed Reinhart’s instructions to sprinkle the parchment paper with cornmeal before putting my dough on it. The result was a bottom crust ingrained with cornmeal. It wasn’t like pizza, where you don’t even notice the few grains; the wet dough had incorporated a thick layer of cornmeal. This time, I skipped the cornmeal, which is unnecessary anyway since the bread is baked on parchment paper. However, the crust was still far too thick, much thicker than is shown in Reinhart’s photo. It’s a straightforward problem to fix by adjusting the baking time and temperatures, and I put notes in the recipe instructions for how I’ll cook it next time.

With that small problem worked out, this is a truly fantastic bread recipe. The flavor is just about unbeatable. And, again – it’s less work than other recipes. You can’t go wrong.

Pain a l’Ancienne (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Bridget note: The only alteration I made to the recipe was to skip the cornmeal Reinhart calls for. I did put a note at the bottom about the cooking temperature and time, in order to correct the crust problem I had.

Yields 6 baguettes

6 cups (27 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2¼ teaspoons salt
1¾ teaspoons instant yeast
2¼ cups plus 2 tablespoon to 3 cups ice-cold (19 to 24 ounces) water

1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast and 19 ounces water in the bowl of the electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes on low speed. Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in a small amount of flour until this occurs (or dribble in water if the dough seems too stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl). Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula or bowl scraper dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

2. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and chill overnight, to retard fermentation.

3. The next day, check the dough to see if it has risen in the refrigerator. It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size (the amount of rise will depend on how cold the refrigerator is and how often the door was opened). Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill, and continue fermenting.

4. When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about ½ cup). Gently transfer the dough to the floured counter with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you. Avoid punching down the dough as you transfer it, to expel as little as possible of the carbon-dioxide gas that has built up in the dough during fermentation. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it. Dry your hands thoroughly and then dip them in flour. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. If it is too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it. Dip a metal pastry scraper into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough, and cut the dough in half widthwise with the pastry scraper by pressing it down through the dough until it severs it, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full length of the dough. (Do not use this blade as a saw; use it as a pincer, pinching the dough cleanly with each cut.) Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

5. Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to have an empty steam pan in place. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, or 550 degrees if your oven goes this high. Cover the back of two 17-by-12-inch sheet pans with baking parchment. (I just used my pizza peel.) Take one of the dough pieces and repeat the cutting action, but this time cut off 3 equal-sized lengths. Then do the same with the remaining half. This should give you 6 lengths. Flour your hands and carefully lift one of the dough strips and transfer it to an inverted parchment-lined pan, gently pulling it to the length of the pan or to the length of your baking stone. If it springs back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then gently pull it out again. Place 3 strips on the pan, and then prepare another pan and repeat with the remaining strips.

6. Score the dough strips as for traditional baguettes, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts. Because the dough is sticky, you may have to dip the razor blade, serrated knife or scissors in water between each cut. You may also omit the cuts if the dough isn’t cooperating. (I tried cutting, but the dough was so wet that it didn’t seem to make a difference.)

7. Take one pan to the preheated oven and carefully slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the baking stone (depending on the direction of the stone, you may choose to slide the dough and parchment off the side of the sheet pan instead of off the end); or bake directly on the sheet pan. Make sure the pieces aren’t touching (you can reach in and straighten the parchment or the dough strips, if need be). Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, reduce the oven setting to 475 degrees and continue baking. Meanwhile, dust the other pan of strips with flour, mist with spray oil, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. If you don’t plan to bake these strips within 1 hour, refrigerate the pan and bake later or the next day.

8. The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly at this point, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 205 degrees. (I think this is the part that didn’t work for me. I think I should have left it at the high heat and cooked it for only about 15 minutes.)

9. Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack. They should feel very light, almost airy, and will cool in about 20 minutes. While these are cooling, you can bake the remaining loaves, remembering to remove the parchment from the oven and turn the oven up to 500 degrees or higher before baking the second round.

Other recipes part of this recommended dinner party menu:
Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Sauteed Shredded Zucchini

Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.

danish braids (daring bakers)

Wow, who knew making Danish dough would be so easy? I’d previously considered making some sort of laminated dough, Danish or croissants or the like, but the number of steps involved with those recipes made me think that it would be an intense project requiring the better part of a day.

Not so. While the dough needs some babysitting, each step of rolling the dough flat and folding it into thirds, repeated three times, takes only a minute or two.

And good thing, because I made two separate Danish doughs. After I quickly scanned the recipe near the beginning of the month, I started thinking about what I wanted to fill my Danishes with. I settled on a savory and a sweet version, and it wasn’t until a few days before the posting date, when I looked closer at the recipe, that I realized that the dough itself was sweet and might not be a good match for the red pepper, Italian sausage, and parmesan I’d planned to fill it with. So I made the dough twice, once as written (except leaving out the cardamom, orange zest, and vanilla bean due to laziness) to be filled with cherries and almonds, and another time, reducing the sugar, increasing the salt, replacing the orange juice with water, and eliminating the vanilla extract.

I was very happy with both the sweet and the savory breads. I thought the dough might be flakier than it was, but perhaps this was due to the heat in my kitchen when I was working with the dough. Maybe the butter melted into the dough instead of remaining as separate layers. Or maybe that’s just how this dough is. Regardless, it was very tender. I did think that it needed a bit more salt, and this is something I’ll take into account in the future.

Overall, this was a great learning experience. Now that I know what’s involved with making a laminated dough, I feel much more confident trying similar recipes, like croissants and puff pastry.

Danish Braids

This is the recipe as I made it. You can find the original recipe at this month’s hosts’ sites.

Sweet Danish Dough:
¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons whole milk
1½ tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ large eggs, chilled
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
4 ounces all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt

Savory Danish Dough:
¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon sugar
½ large eggs, chilled
1 tablespoon water
4 ounces all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the dough: Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, vanilla extract, egg, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

For the butter block: Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Divide in two and set aside at room temperature.

2. After the dough has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 9 x 6.5 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the dough to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 6.5 x 9 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Cherry filling:
1 can cherries, drained, ¼ cup juice reserved
1.5-2 tablespoons sugar
½ tablespoon cornstarch
pinch salt
drop almond extract
¾ teaspoon brandy
toasted almonds

Stir sugar, cornstarch, and salt together in saucepan. Whisk in reserved cherry juice and wine. Cook, whisking frequently, over medium-high heat, until mixture simmers and thickens. Stir in almond extract and cherries. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Add to braid along with toasted almonds.

Sausage filling:
¼ pound sausage
½ red pepper, diced

Put sausage and ¼ cup water in medium-large skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until water evaporates and sausage cooks through and browns, about 7 minutes, breaking up large pieces. Remove sausage with slotted spoon. Add enough oil so that amount in skillet equals about 1 tablespoon. Add peppers and sauté until softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside. Add to braid along with grated pecorino and parmesan cheese.

DANISH BRAIDS:
2 sets of Danish Dough
½ cup of each filling

Beat 1 large egg for egg wash

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 10 x 15-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 4-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about ¾ inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.

3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Lightly coat the braid with the egg wash. Spray cooking oil onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid.

Repeat with remaining braid and filling.

Proofing and Baking
1. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Brush braids with egg wash again.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

yeasted waffles with vanilla butter, sliced bananas and candied macadamia nuts

I try to resist having too many kitchen gadgets squeezed into my apartment’s small galley-style kitchen, but somehow I ended up with two waffles irons. One for flatter, traditional waffles and then one of those huge Belgian waffle makers that you see in hotel complementary breakfast line-ups.

Yikes. That’s a big waffle maker. But I figure the more I use it, the more justification I have for owning it. Danielle recently described a breakfast she had in a restaurant as a “dance in your seat meal” – sourdough waffles with candied walnuts and sliced bananas, served with vanilla butter. Hmm…yum.

I was pretty sure I could recreate it with just a few adjustments. I don’t have sourdough starter, but one of the recipes that came with my waffle iron uses yeast. It’s an easy recipe to put together, and in fact, most of it is done the night before, which I always like with breakfast recipes. The waffles ended up tasting fairly sourdoughy actually, plus they were wonderfully crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

I didn’t have walnuts, but I sugared macadamia nuts using the same method used for the peanuts in the Snickery Squares recipe. For the vanilla butter, I mixed softened butter with my homemade vanilla extract and just a little powdered sugar. I considered using a real vanilla bean, but I got lazy.

Overall, it was great! I wasn’t crazy about the banana, either because it was too ripe, or because I eat bananas so much that I’m just not interested in them in a weekend breakfast. But the nuts were great, and it was nice not having to slather everything in maple syrup. The real find of this meal was the waffle recipe, which is the best I’ve ever made, and will certainly be my standard recipe in the future.

Good Night Waffles (adapted from the Waring Pro Belgian Waffle Maker instruction booklet)

I reduced the butter in this recipe from 8 tablespoons to 6 tablespoons since I knew I’d be topping the waffles with vanilla butter. Because the waffles seemed so good with the lower amount of butter, I figured I might as well stick with it.

½ cup water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2¼ teaspoons (one packet) instant dry yeast
2 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon baking soda

1. The night before, or at least 8 hours before baking, combine the warm water, granulated sugar, yeast, milk, melted butter, and salt. Beat in the flour until smooth (this may be done using a hand mixer on low speed). Wrap bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight (or for 8 hours) on the countertop – do not refrigerate.

2. When ready to bake, preheat your waffle maker on your preferred setting. While the waffle maker is heating, stir the eggs, vanilla extract, and baking soda into the batter. Measure out enough batter for your waffle maker and pour into the preheated waffle maker. Use a heat-proof spatula to spread the batter evenly over the grids. Close lid and bake the Belgian waffle in the waffle maker until it indicates the waffle is done.

3. Remove waffle and repeat until the desired number of Belgian waffles has been made. Cover remaining batter and place in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Waffles may be kept warm in an oven at low-heat (200°F). Place Belgian waffles on a cookie sheet on a rack in the warm oven.

This made 6 waffles for me. I served it with 3 sliced bananas, 1 cup sugared macadamia nuts, and 3 tablespoons vanilla sugar. Vanilla sugar was made by mixing 3 tablespoon butter with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar.

pigs in a blanket

Dave’s co-workers tease him about how he always gets to eat gourmet food. “So she makes gourmet lunches for you to bring to work, and then you go home and eat gourmet dinners, and before bed have a gourmet dessert.” Um. Not always. I wonder what they’ll have to say about the leftovers from this meal?

I wasn’t sure what to do with the hot dogs leftover from the franks and beans. In my opinion, the only good way to eat hot dogs is crispy and a bit blackened from a grill or fire, preferably topped with chili. Since I don’t have a grill, my options were limited. Boiled (or worse – microwaved) hot dogs didn’t sound appetizing.

copy-of-img_1739Updated 3/20/09: Also good in mini!

Lemontartlet inspired me to wrap them in bread and bake them. It solves the problem of how to cook the hot dogs indoors, and I guarantee that my homemade bread is far tastier than a storebought hot dog bun. (Lemontartlet used biscuit dough, but I made a yeast bread.)

I based the bread recipe on a recipe for Parker House rolls, thinking that the butter in the recipe would give make it nice and tender, while the sugar would provide the flavor I wanted. It was a perfect match. The bread did expand more than I was expecting when I baked it, and I might (if such a thing is possible) have ended up with too much bread per dog. I’ll adjust the recipe and give better proportions below.

I found that the best method for rolling out the dough was to use my fingertips to flatten the dough balls a bit, and then roll in only one direction. I was using Nathan’s Beef Franks (recommended by Cooks Illustrated and definitely the best hot dogs I’ve had), which I think are a little shorter than most. Most of my rolls ended up just the right width to almost-but-not-quite coat the whole dog.

If you’re a perfectionist and want your pigs perfectly wrapped in those blankets, which I did but I didn’t figure out this trick until the last one, you can roll the bread dough out a little wider than the dog, then fold in the edges and roll a few times in the other (long) direction. You’ll have a more perfect rectangle, which will more perfectly coat your hot dog and evenly distribute your bread. And look a teensy bit better.

Either way, these are super fun, and other than roasting them over a fire until they’re slightly blackened, this has to be my favorite way to eat hot dogs!

Pigs in a Blanket (bread recipe adapted from Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Feriggno)

This is enough bread dough for 10 hot dogs.  If your package only has 8, you can make dinner rolls out of the remaining dough.

Bread dough:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup milk
1½ tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
3½ cups (17½ ounces) unbleached flour
1½ teaspoons instant yeast
1½ teaspoons salt

10 hot dogs
2 tablespoons milk

1. Heat butter in small saucepan over medium heat until just melted. Add ¾ cup milk and sugar. If butter re-solidifies, heat until it’s completely melted. Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs.

2. Mix flour, salt, and yeast in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn machine to low and slowly add milk mixture. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium (setting number 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) and mix until dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 8 minutes. Knead in extra flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough is too sticky. The dough should be not be dry, but soft. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, you can knead by hand for 10 minutes.)

2. Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; place in warm, draft-free spot until dough doubles in size, about 1-1½ hours.

3. Divide the dough into 10 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball. Let rest 10 minutes. Line baking pan with silicon baking mat or parchment paper.

4. Flatten each piece into a rough rectangle using the tips of your fingers. Roll in one direction until dough is ¼-inch thick. Roll in opposite direction (across shorter width) a few times, then fold in long edges to make perfect rectangle. Roll in long direction until dough is 1/8-inch thick. Place 1 hot dog near a short end, then tightly roll, keeping the tips of the hot dog exposed. Place seam side down on prepared baking pan. Repeat with remaining dough and hot dogs.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until dough is slightly inflated, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 375 degrees.

6. Brush the dough with milk. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

pita

Pita is one of those things that is just so much better when made at home than bought from the grocery store. Or at least this recipe, which is the only pita I’ve made, is. The bread is more tender and of course flavorful than what I buy.

Pita isn’t any harder to make than other homemade bread. The dough is kneaded and allowed to rise, like other bread recipes. It’s then shaped into balls, left to rest a few minutes, and rolled into a thin oval. Like most kneaded doughs, this one doesn’t like to be rolled out and will probably need to rest half way through to let the gluten strands relax. Otherwise it’ll be like trying to roll out a giant rubber band.

Only the baking process differs substantially from other breads. Pita is baked on a pre-heated surface, which I’m guessing is what produces the characteristic pocket. I’ve seen recipes that use a pizza stone for this, but I’ve always just preheated a flour-coated baking pan. As much as I love my pizza stone, the baking pan seems a little easier.

These pita were a fantastic addition to the Middle Eastern feast I made a few weeks ago. But my lunch of leftovers the next day was at least as good as the dinner – hummus, falafel, and vegetables stuffed into the pita’s pocket made for an incredibly satisfying mid-day meal.

Pita (adapted from Ultimate Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Feriggno)

UB note: The staple bread of the Middle East, called Khubz in Arabic, is more commonly known by its Greek name, Pita, in the west. Its soft, chewy crust, absorbent crumb, and hollow pouch make it the most versatile of breads, ideal to scoop up, dip in, wrap around, or be filled with all manner of food. Best served warm, Pita can be easily reheated: sprinkle lightly with water and warm in the oven. Keep Pita in a sealed plastic bag to prevent dryness.

Bridget note: The only things I’ve changed from the original recipe are adapting it for instant yeast and for a stand mixer.

Makes 8 breads

3½ (17.5 ounces) cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ cups water
1 tablespoons olive oil

1. Mix flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix water and olive oil in 1-quart Pyrex liquid measuring cup. Turn machine to low and slowly add liquid. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium (setting number 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) and mix until dough is smooth, supple, and elastic, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. Initially, the dough will be quite stiff. It will soften and stretch as you continue kneading. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds. (Alternatively, you can knead by hand for 15 minutes.)

2. Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, about 1½ hours.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

4. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a smooth ball. Let rest 10 minutes.

5. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out each ball to form an oval, 9 inches long and ¼ inches thick. Cover with a dish towel and proof until slightly risen, about 20 minutes.

6. Dust two baking sheets with flour and preheat in the oven for 5 minutes. Place the dough ovals on the hot baking sheets and return immediately to the oven. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until puffy. Wrap in a clean, dry cloth to keep the crusts soft and to prevent drying out.

I think these are the last of the pictures from my old camera. Woohoo!

kaiser rolls

I said recently that my health nut phase didn’t last long, and while I no longer stress about eating white rice or refined sugar, I do feel a little guilty buying white bread. There are some breads, mostly artisanal, that I prefer made with all white flour, but usually I like the flavor and nutrition of at least a portion of whole wheat flour.

I love Kaiser rolls for sandwiches, and Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice has some enticing pictures accompanying his recipe. The recipe follows Reinhart’s standard method of using a portion of pre-fermented dough to maximize the flavor of the final product.

The result, of course, was very good. But, there are a few changes I want to make. Mostly I want them to be a little sweeter. The only sugar in the recipe is just a bit of barley malt syrup. In the future, I’ll add honey or granulated sugar. Also, Reinhart’s photo looks like he used an egg wash or something, which he doesn’t call for in the recipe. His are so shiny and pretty, I think I might use an egg wash, or at least milk, next time.

Overall though, these were good, and fun. And with the whole wheat flour I added, just a bit healthier than what I would have got from the grocery store.

Kaiser Rolls (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 6 large rolls or 9 smaller rolls (I made 8 rolls and thought they were pretty big)

Bridget note: Next time, I’ll add 2 tablespoons honey or 3 tablespoons granulated sugar to the dough. I’ll also brush the rolls with milk just before baking.

1½ cups (8 ounces) pate fermentée
1¼ cups (10 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon plus a pinch (0.2 ounce) salt
1 teaspoon (0.11 ounce) instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1½ teaspoons (0.33 ounce) barley malt syrup
1½ tablespoons (0.75 ounce) vegetable oil or shortening, melted
10 tablespoons to ¾ cup (5 to 6 ounces) water lukewarm

1. Take the paté fermentée out of the refrigerator 1 hour before making the dough. Cut it up into about 10 small pieces with a pastry scraper or serrated knife. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

2. Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the pate fermentée, egg, barley malt syrup, oil, and 10 tablespoons water. Stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) for 1 minute, or until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still some loose flour, add the remaining 2 tablespoons water.

3. Lightly dust the counter with flour, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Knead for about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine), adding flour, if needed, to make a dough that is soft and supple, tacky but not sticky. The dough should pass the windowpane test and the internal temperature should register 77 to 81 degrees. 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.

4. Ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size. If the dough doubles in size before 2 hours have elapsed, remove it, knead it lightly to degas it, and return it to the bowl to continue fermenting until doubled from original size or until 2 hours have elapsed.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 6 to 9 equal pieces (4 ounces for large rolls, 2⅔-ounce pieces for smaller rolls). Form the pieces into rolls. Mist the rounds lightly with spray oil, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let the dough relax for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sheet pan with baking parchment, lightly mist it with spray oil, and then dust with semolina flour or cornmeal.

6. Prepare the individual rolls by cutting them with a Kaiser rolls cutter or knotting them. To knot them, roll out a round of dough into a 12-inch strand (shorter for smaller rolls). Tie a simple knot. Loop the two ends through the center of the knot a second time (see pictures) Place the rolls, cut side down, on the parchment, mist lightly with spray oil, and loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap of a food-grade plastic bag.

7. Proof the rolls for 45 minutes at room temperature, then flip them over so the cut or folded side is facing up. Mist again with spray oil, cover the pan, and continue proofing for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the rolls are double their original size.

8. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Uncover the rolls and prepare them for baking. If you want seeds on your rolls, mist them with water and sprinkle poppy seeds over the top. If not, just mist them with water.

9. Place the pan in the oven, spray the oven walls with water, and close the door. After 10 minutes, rotate the pan for even baking and lower the oven setting to 400 degrees. Continue baking until the rolls are a medium golden brown and register approximately 200 degrees in the center. This will take 15 to 20 minutes for large rolls, or less for smaller rolls.

10. Remove the rolls from the pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Wait at least 30 minutes before serving.

Pate fermentée

This is twice what you need for one recipe of Kaiser rolls.

1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups (5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant yeast
¾ cup to ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 to 7 ounces) water

1. Stir together the flours, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer). Add ¾ cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball (or mix on low speed for 1 minute with the paddle attachment). Adjust the flour or water, according to need, so that the dough is neither too sticky nor too stiff. (It is better to err on the sticky side, as you can adjust easier during kneading. It is harder to add water once the dough firms up.)

2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for 4 to 6 minutes (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook for 4 minutes), or until the dough is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. The internal temperature should be 77 to 81 degrees.

3. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour, or until it swells to about 1½ times its original size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead it slightly to degas, and return it to the bowl, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze it in an airtight plastic bag for up to 3 months.

I’m out of town this week, walking along the ocean and hiking around a lake. I’ll be back next week to catch up on comments and other blogs!

pecan honey sticky buns (twd)

My experience with sticky buns is limited; I guess we were more of a cinnamon roll family. Madam Chow’s TWD choice for this week would be something new for me then.

Dorie is insistent that you don’t cut the brioche dough in half. But, I did anyway. (Actually, I made a third of the recipe.) It would have been the same amount of effort to make the whole thing, and it freezes well, but do I really need this incredibly buttery bread dough to be conveniently at my fingertips? Nah. I admit I had to get a little creative with my mixer since I was making such a small amount – I mixed with the paddle for a while after adding the butter, then switched to the dough hook for the last few minutes of kneading.

I had the same problem that a number of other TWD members did with this recipe – 2 hours of rising in the morning, plus putting the rolls together and baking makes for a long wait until breakfast. I think it would work to form the rolls the night before, put them in the fridge overnight, and let them rise in a warmed oven the next morning. That should cut the waiting time in half.

The brioche made for a really light and airy base for sticky buns. But, I wonder if all that butter is worth it once it’s drowned in glaze? I’m thinking my base for cinnamon rolls would work just fine, with only about a third of the butter.

Overall, I thought these were great. The bread was light and tender, the glaze wasn’t too sweet, and they weren’t nearly as sticky as I was expecting. I almost wish I had made some extra to store in the freezer!

Pecan Honey Sticky Buns (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Makes 15 buns

For the Glaze:
1 cup (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup honey
1½ cups pecans (whole or pieces)

For the Filling:
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the Buns:
½ recipe dough for Golden Brioche loaves (see below), chilled and ready to shape (make the full recipe and cut the dough in half after refrigerating it overnight)

Generously butter a 9 by 13-inch baking pan (a Pyrex pan is perfect for this).

To make the glaze: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the brown sugar, butter, and honey to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Pour the glaze into the buttered pan, evening it out as best you can by tilting the pan or spreading the glaze with a heatproof spatula. Sprinkle over the pecans.

To make the filling: Mix the sugars and cinnamon together in a bowl. If necessary, in another bowl, work the butter with a spatula until it is soft, smooth and spreadable.

To shape the buns: On a flour-dusted work surface, roll the chilled dough into a 16-inch square. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, spread the softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon sugar, leaving a 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Starting with the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months . . . . Or, if you want to make just part of the recipe now, you can use as much of the dough as you’d like and freeze the remainder. Reduce the glaze recipe accordingly).

With a chef’s knife, using a gentle sawing motion, trim just a tiny bit from the ends of the roll if they’re very ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into 1-inch thick buns. (Because you trim the ragged ends of the dough, and you may have lost a little length in the rolling, you will get 15 buns, not 16.) Fit the buns into the pan cut side down, leaving some space between them.

Lightly cover the pan with a piece of wax paper and set the pan in a warm place until the buns have doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The buns are properly risen when they are puffy, soft, doubled and, in all likelihood, touching one another.

Getting ready to bake: When the buns have almost fully risen , center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the sheet of wax paper and put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. Bake the sticky buns for about 30 minutes, or until they are puffed and gorgeously golden; the glaze will be bubbling away merrily. Pull the pan from the oven.

The sticky buns must be unmolded minutes after they come out of the oven. If you do not have a rimmed platter large enough to hold them, use a baking sheet lined with a silicone mate or buttered foil. Be careful – the glaze is super-hot and super-sticky.

Golden Brioche Loaves

2 packets active dry yeast (each packet of yeast contains approx. 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch water
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 (1.75 ounces) cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

What You’ll Need for the Glaze (you would brush this on brioche loaves, but not on the sticky buns):
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

To Make The Brioche: Put the yeast, water and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit into the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can – this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you’re doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point, you’ll have a fairly dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2 tablespoon-sized chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You’ll have a dough that is very soft, almost like batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap to the bowl. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the uncovered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight. (After this, you can proceed with the recipe to make the brioche loaves, or make the sticky buns instead, or freeze all or part of the dough for later use.)

The next day, butter and flour two 8½ by 4½-inch pans.

Pull the dough from the fridge and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cut each piece of the dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each piece into a log about 3½ inches long. Arrange 4 logs crosswise in the bottom of each pan. Put the pans on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat, cover the pans lightly with wax paper and leave the loaves at room temperature until the dough almost fills the pans, 1 to 2 hours. (Again, rising time with depend on how warm the room is.)

Getting Ready To Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
To Make the Glaze: Beat the egg with the water. Using a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the loaves with the glaze.

Bake the loaves until they are well risen and deeply golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pans and turn the loaves out onto the racks. Invert again and cool for at least 1 hour.

caesar salad

I almost never make salads. Not because I don’t like them, but because I don’t like them as a side dish. To me, salad doesn’t coordinate well with other dinner items. I do like when it’s served before a meal, or as a meal.

I went the route of serving Caesar salad as a meal the day that I made the peanut butter torte. I figured that if I was going to eat peanut butter and cream cheese and oreos and chocolate and whipped cream for dessert, something was going to have to give.

In one of Alton Brown’s first Good Eats episodes (um, before the show was very good), he discussed the original Caesar salad recipe, which was built tableside at a restaurant by chef Cesar Cardini. The recipe starts with a thin coating of oil on the lettuce, then salt, pepper, more oil, lemon juice, and a coddled egg. I’m not all about this method. I like to at least attempt to emulsify my salad dressing ingredients, and I also think that putting oil directly on the leaves keeps the other ingredients from flavoring the lettuce. Instead, I whisked the dressing ingredients thoroughly, then dressed the leaves with the mixture.

The only ingredient in this recipe that struck me as unusual was the coddled egg. Coddled eggs are cooked in boiling water for about one minute, so, yeah, they’re still mostly raw. I didn’t tell Dave about the raw-ish egg in the salad, and I tried not to think about it myself. I’m not worried about salmonella, I’m just grossed out by eating raw egg white. But I really don’t think the salad would have been as good without it. The egg gives the dressing not only smoothness and body, but a pleasant rich, but not overwhelmingly eggy, flavor.

Alton’s croutons are really exceptional. I had my doubts that grinding the garlic into the oil and then straining the oil to toast the bread in would add enough garlic flavor, but they were extremely garlicky and delicious.

Because I’m a flake, and I forgot while planning this meal that one of the key parts of Caesar salad is the croutons, I made Deb’s pizza bianca to go with the salad. I used my pizza dough recipe instead of the one she gives (although they’re very similar) and followed the directions in the recipe for forming the dough. (Keep in mind that Deb rolled her dough out much thinner.) Also, because Peter Reinhart’s constant reminders that a slow rise is better for artisan breads has stuck with me, I made the dough the day before (with less yeast) and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I took it out and let it come to room temperature, then shaped it and put it back in the fridge until I wanted to bake it. It was very good. The only thing I’ll change next time is to use less olive oil on the top, because “Oh my god, there’s a fire in the oven!” aren’t words Dave likes to hear from me when I’m cooking.

Hail Caesar Salad (from Alton Brown’s Good Eats)

Bridget note: I made a few changes to the recipe. I dried the bread as slices instead of cut up into bite-size pieces, because they were easier to cut once they were dried. I didn’t use kosher salt. I found 2 cups of water to be far too little to be able to cover the eggs. I probably used a bit more Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese.

1 loaf day old Italian bread
3 garlic cloves, mashed
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
2 eggs
2 heads romaine lettuce, inner leaves only
7 grinds black pepper
1 lemon, juiced
6 drops Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut ½ to ¾-inch croutons from the loaf of bread and place on a baking sheet and put into the oven until dry but not browned.

Use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic with 4 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Strain the oil into a skillet over medium heat. Add the dried croutons and fry, tossing constantly until all of the oil is absorbed and the croutons turn gold. Set aside.

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the eggs and cook for 1 minute. Chill in ice water to halt cooking. Set aside.

In a very large bowl, tear lettuce and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining kosher salt and the black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil. Toss well. Add the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Break in the eggs. Toss until a creamy dressing forms. Toss in Parmesan cheese and serve with croutons.