Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jim Lahey's No Knead Pizza

I’m a pretty quiet person.

Until I talk about books and baking, bread in particular.

So it’s only natural that I love collecting books about bread. My recent purchase is My Pizza by Jim Lahey. The whole book is about pizza making. Even though I already have American Pie: My Search for The Perfect Pizza by Peter Reinhart, another perception in preparing and baking one of the most loved dishes in the world is always appreciated. Besides, what Peter Reinhart stated in his book about the quest of finding a perfect pizza has ingrained, embedded in my prefrontal cortex. There will always be somebody who makes better pizza. The thing is even though we like the better ones, we will always cherish and savor the memory of the great pizza we’ve had earlier in life. It’s like nicely behaved ex lovers, really. Except that I have no need to revisit them.

There are so many wonderful pizzeria out there, it truly depends on what mood we’re in at the moment we want them. Right now I am into Jim Lahey’s but who knows what will be my favorite three months from now? One thing I know is that even if I find another killer pizza in the future, I will always love Jim Lahey’s dough, Peter Reinhart’s, Jeff and Zoe’s from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and many others whose pizza recipes I’ve tried and tested.

No knead trick in Jim Lahey’s recipe is basically the same as in other no knead recipes except that his does not require refrigeration but if you do not want to bake all at once then you can store some of the pizza dough in the fridge for later use.

To get the crispy and charred crust, a very hot oven is crucial. Traditionally, Italian pizzas are cooked on bricks in a wood-fired oven. This ensures the crispy crust, but also cooks the rest of the pizza “properly” as well. Now a brick oven is not something one can have inside an apartment or a lawn-less house in the city, right? That is why we have baking stone. Baking stone, especially one that has been used over and over again, gives a bit of that charred flavor as well. The crust cooks more evenly and moisture is drawn out of the dough rather than steaming the dough.  But if you don’t have it, it’s okay. Just make sure your oven is really hot.

Okay.. I actually don't feel comfortable in showing you the inside of my oven. No, it's not dirty. It's just.. stained. Anyhow, that's my baking stone which has definitely seen better days. But like most of the best humans, the stained are the most interesting ones.

Okay, let's get to the recipe.

500 gr all purpose flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup water
Note: You can substitute half of the amount of flour with wheat flour

-Mix all ingredients in a bowl, stir with a spoon, cover it with plastic, and let it sit for at least 18 hours.
It is best if you do it at night if you want to have pizza for lunch. This is what the dough looks like after 18 hours:

-Flour your work surface, place your dough on it, then divide it by four.
-Make a ball from those pieces of dough.

-If you choose to keep some for another day, a two days refrigeration will yield a lovely tangier taste, wrap the dough individually. Otherwise, cover loosely with plastic while you prepare the topping.
-Preheat your oven to 250C. If you have a baking stone, preheat it along with the oven. If you don't, preheat your oven anyway.
-Take a ball of dough and flatten it on a baking sheet however thin you wish your pizza to be.

-Slide the pizza on the baking paper with the baking paper as well onto the baking stone if using. Otherwise use any pan and bake for 5 minutes.
-Take your pizza out, put any topping you want, then bake it again until the mozzarella melts. If your using baking stone, remove your baking paper.

Drizzle your pizza with olive oil before you bake it again and after for an out-of-this-world oomph. I use my pizza peel here. That is a great tool for sliding anything to the baking stone.

Here's the result...

Would you look.. at.. THAT!

This meatless pizza is better on the palate and for your health than any pizza you would call for a hungry night delivery. It saves you lots of money, too. Of course you can have a carnivorous pizza. I would as well, if somebody would be kind enough to give me some cold cuts.

What I am asking you is to not be afraid to attempt pizza or bread baking if you don't have a baking stone. Having it is a plus, sure, but it's not a done deal. This recipe ensures you two days of lunch or dinner and what can be better than made with love made at home meals? A pair of Louboutin shoes would be the right answer but we're talking meals here.

So don't bother kneading. Just mix, sleep, wake, and bake!


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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

French Onion Muffins

What's better than caramelized onions? MORE caramelized onions!

I have just enough love for raw onions as a cat towards a bath. But when caramelized, we’re talking about Gone with The Wind passionate love.  It’s a matter of simple science, actually. The chemical process that occurs when you are caramelizing onions, or baking, is called Pyrolysis. You have Pyro; fire and Lysis; to separate. What are we separating here? The sugars from the onions. So basically, we use the heat to break down the sugar contained in onions into smaller units of sugar and the reaction caused by breaking down larger sugar molecules into small singular ones causes the onions to brown, soften, and develop a subtle sweeter flavor. Very neat, right?

I reckon that is another reason why I love cooking. It’s simple but it allows curious minds to dive deeper and try to find the core of its magic which indeed is explainable.

But let me not put the burden of boredom on your shoulder and get to the recipe straightaway. I’ve been making these wonderful muffins when (1) I want French Onion Soup but the weather is too hot for soup or, (2) I’m going to a potluck or, (3) I just feel like having savory muffins. I like cupcakes but I love muffins more and these muffins, though they contain cheese, taste very light. Just like French Onion Soup should be.

Recipe adapted from the book Muffin Magic
Makes 12 muffins
2 Onions, caramelized
1 cup milk
2 eggs
Fresh thyme from 1 sprig (or 1/2 tsp dried)
100 gr cheese, shredded
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats/quick cooking oats
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbs baking powder
Freshly ground black pepper

-Preheat your oven to 200C
-Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and oats. Set aside.
-Mix the caramelized onions, eggs, milk, thyme, a dash of  freshly ground black pepper, and 80 gr of cheese. Keep the rest of the cheese for topping.
-Mix the dry and wet ingredients until just combined.
-Fill your muffin liners with the batter, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and some freshly ground black pepper.
-Bake for 20 minutes

Mmmm... Mmmmuuffiinnss...

A single rosemary leaf put on top does give a lovely finish. Bring these muffins to a potluck party, pack some for breakfast or lunch, but be sure to share because the real joy is the unbelievable sweetness yet mellow taste given by the combination of simple and humble pantry staples. 

Or we can also put some Italian twist on this French inspired treat..

-----Put a teaspoon of pesto sauce inside the muffin.

So instead of filling the muffin liners with just the batter, fill it with a little batter, a teaspoon of pesto sauce, and cover it with more batter. If you decide to use the pesto, you might wanna skip the thyme in the batter to let the basil in the pesto shine.

Another note from me is use yellow onion. Not only because it's cheaper than the red but also because the yellow ones contains more lachrymator which produces a more complex flavour when caramelized. What's a lachrymator? Oh, it's only a compound of non-importance that makes you cry when you cut the onion. 

Lacrima.. tear.. Oh whatever, Have fun baking:)


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