We had a great time at St. Peters this weekend, and made a significant amount of money for Sts. Joachim and Anne Care Service. Despite some problems with the ovens, it went pretty well in the kitchen and the crowd was great fun. As you can see, the ceiling in the room was high and allowed for some significant hang time on the pizza toss (although I dropped one ON THE FLOOR, which I have never done before, not even when I first started learning---how embarassing!) For those who attended, thank you---and as promised, here's the recipe for basic American Pizza Dough. The three pizzas featured were Asparagus Mornay, Italian Beef, and Stage Rat-A-Touille, from my book Thursday Night Pizza (Reedy Press, 2010).
On Saturday of this week I'll be doing a big pizza event for the Knights of Columbus in St. Peters MO, and I have a gourmet pizza and wine pairing event at Immaculate Conception Parish in Morris Illinois next month (click on "Upcoming Events" above for more info). Whenever I have such an event, it's usually necessary to par-bake crusts ahead of time, that is, to form the crusts and partially bake them, so the crusts are stable but not fully baked. Without a commercial dough sheeter, it's too hard to create enough fresh crusts to serve everyone at once. The crusts are stored in the fridge or freezer until needed. The next time you make homemade pizza, make a little extra dough and then par-bake a few crusts for the freezer. Here's how:
A par-baked crust is made with the same dough as other pizzas, although a more moist dough tends to keep from drying out in the process, so you may want to increase the water in your recipe slightly. Since the crusts are essentially baked twice, a wet dough helps prevent an overly dry crust.
Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees with a pizza stone in the middle rack. Form the crust as usual, whether by rolling it out or simply stretching out with your fingers. Place the crusts on a peel lightly dusted with cornmeal. To ensure a consistent interior texture, some pizzerias “dock” their dough at this point, that is, they pierce it all over with a fork or a specially designed tool called a “docker”. This step isn’t necessary if you don’t mind a few air pockets in the crust. A little tip: when I dock a crust, I use the points on a plastic pasta server.
Brush the top of the dough all over lightly with olive oil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Then bake on the pizza stone for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the dough just beginning to brown VERY lightly in a few high spots. Remove from the stone and slide onto a cooling rack. If large air bubbles form on the crust while it’s in the oven, pierce them with a fork and deflate them. When the crust is completely cool, double wrap in plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Par-bakes may be stored for up to 3 months, but mine never last that long!
To use, unwrap the crust and let it thaw for at least 15 minutes before adding toppings. Then bake as usual. The crust will be crispier than with fresh dough, but you may find that you prefer that. I like a par-baked crust when I’m making a pizza with a lot of toppings, like a supreme or a meat lovers, because it holds up better. And as I've said above, using par-bakes is also a great way to serve a lot of pizzas in a hurry. Using a combination of fresh and par-baked crusts, two culinary students and I once made 54 pizzas in an hour and a half for a fundraiser. You can even put the toppings on your crusts and double wrap them in plastic wrap for the freezer. However, I recommend a light coating of cooking spray on the crust before your sauce goes on, to keep it from getting soggy in storage.
Par baked crusts cooling on a coffee table in my room at the Chase Park Plaza, when I was preparing to give a pizza demo at the Rep's Food and Wine Show a few years ago. The demo area had only a glorified toaster oven, so it was easier to do the prep in my room, which had a small kitchen in it. The hallway smelled amazing, and some of the other guests wondered who was having a party in their room!
So here's what I made with that lovely Holiday Bread I mixed up the other night: Orange Sugar Twists. I adapted the recipe from Homemade Bread (1969, from the editors of Farm Journal). You start with enough dough for one loaf of bread or a dozen dinner rolls, and divide the dough in half. Form two small rectangles and let rest for 10 minute so it's easier to roll out. In the meantime, remove the zest from a medium orange with a microplane. Mix zest thoroughly with 1/2 cup of sugar. On a lightly floured board, roll half of the dough into a rectangle 12” x 9”.
Brush melted butter down the center third of the dough and sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of the orange sugar.
Fold one third of the dough over the center section. Brush top with butter and sprinkle on 2 more tablespoons of the orange sugar.
Fold the remaining third of the dough and seal the edges. Repeat with the second section of dough and remaining butter and sugar.
Cut each rectangle into 12 strips. Twist each strip twice, hold for a couple of seconds, and then untwist once. Place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Cover and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes or until doubled. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 F. for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from pan to cool on racks.
In a small microwave safe bowl or cup, whisk juice from half of the orange with the powdered sugar. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Whisk in the almond extract to make a smooth glaze. Brush glaze on sugar twists and serve warm.
The ones on the left had one twist and were a bit lighter, the ones on the right had two twists and were a bit chewier. You don't really need the frosting if you are going to serve these with a light tea like Formosa Oolong or Jasmine, but with dark teas like Assam or coffee, the frosting really enhances the flavor.
Right now I have a double batch of Holiday Bread rising in the kitchen. I was waiter at supper tonight, so bteween serving some really tender roast beef with homemade gravy and taking around toppings for the traditional Sunday-ice-cream-for-dessert, I was running back to the kitchen to gather ingredients and start proofing the yeast. I used to do double and even triple batches of dough by hand with nary a dough hook in sight, but incipient carpal tunnel syndrome and sheer laziness have made me rely more and more on the mixers in our abbey kitchen.
So you can imagine my dismay when I turned on the KitchenAid and got nuthin'---no hum, no grinding gears or labored rotation, just complete silence over a bowl of proofed yeast. Fortunately, we have a slightly larger Hobart mixer on the same countertop, and so it was easy enough to pour the yeast mixture from one bowl to another and press onward. (More later about what I made with it.)
When I first started baking seriously and giving bread demos, (years before Breaking Bread with Father Dominic) people would often come up and ask me what I thought about bread machines. "They are an abomination unto the Lord!" I would thunder---only half joking---and then go on to pontificate about the physical, moral and spiritual benefits of kneading dough by hand. At that time bread machines were fairly expensive, but as they became affordable more and more people began asking me about how to convert my recipes to the quantities needed for a bread machine. I would proclaim myself a "Bread Flintstone" who didn't use such new-fangled gadgetry, and that was that.
However, when I was invited to host Breaking Bread for public television, Fleischmann's Yeast signed on as a sponser, who informed me that 50% of their business came from bread machine users. They actually wanted a clause in my contract that I would not say negative things about bread machines in public! I promised to behave myself, and the Fleischmann's test kitchens developed bread machine versions of any of my recipes that could easily convert, which we included in the cookbooks accompanying the show.
To my surprise, the reaction from viewers was overwhelming positive. Older women with arthritis would tell me how thrilled they were to be able to bake again using a bread machine. Single moms of children with food allergies would thank me for making it possible for them to get healthy bread on the table at the touch of a button. One woman who saw me at a bread demo actually mailed me the text of a prayer she used with her machine:
"I know I should be doing this by hand,
And yet I make no apology.
Instead I offer this grateful prayer:
'Thank you, God, for technology!'"
So my dough has risen and it's time to do some shaping. Tune in again later this week for a new recipe for . . . . but why spoil the surprise?
I tested the finished tiramisu trifles on some of the Academy faculty after the morning session of our in-service. Since I hope to use them at a gourmet pizza dinner, I found it ironic that they were serving cafeteria pizza for lunch, the kind that are proof that old mop heads are recyclable. The directions were quite correct---letting the trifles refrigerate overnight resulted in far better flavor, and the level of "coffee-ness" was just right, although some true java lovers suggested a stronger brew. The "mouth feel" from the marscapone/cream mixture was exquisite, and it was generally agreed that the extra crunch of the chopped semi-sweet chocolate bits was a positive addition over powdered cocoa. The one disappointment? I forgot to bring my camera to lunch! No solution for that but to share the recipe in the hopes you'll try it yourself: downlaod it here.
My Irish mother has always superstitiously maintained that whatever you do on New Year's Day you are destined to do for the rest of the year. She generally shops for fabric and goes out to eat on January 1st--I always try to bake something I've never tried before. After all, if I'm fated to repeat this activity throughout the year, that will mean that I'll have enough self-confidence as a baker and enough leisure time to pursue the possibility of failure. Plus if I'm successful, I'll end up with lots of new recipes in my culinary repertoire, perhaps enough for a new book.
So this afternoon I tried my hand at making ladyfingers from scratch. Aha! I hear you cry: He's making tiramisu! And you wouldn't be far off. I have a pizza event in February (check out the Upcoming Events page) and I wanted a somewhat different dessert, so I want to develop a tiramisu trifle. It will have the same basic elements as a traditional tiramisu: marscapone, whipped cream, coffee, chocolate and ladyfingers. But it will be layered like a trifle, probably in individual footed glass cups. I'm still working out the details on the construction, and I'm hoping to lighten or omit the custard-y qualities of the dessert to make it a bit lighter at the end of a six course meal. But first, I need ladyfinger cookies to soak in the coffee.
There are lots of ladyfinger recipes online, even some tiramisu trifle recipes (one by the ubiquitous Rachael Ray) but I decided to start with a classic and turned to the 1962 edition The Joy of Cooking which I purchased for a whopping $8 at a flea market. I figured that if Mrs. Rombauer could guide me unerringly through pâte à choux and mocha cream puffs (much to the delight of the Stage Rats) then she would do the same for ladyfingers. I was not disappointed.
The recipe calls for a lot of sifting and whisking and folding, but nothing that the average baker can't handle, and a stand mixer and a rubber spatula helped a great deal. Usually they're made in special pans, but I made mine in muffin tins so I can easily fit the round shapes into the individual dessert cups. I put only about two tablespoons of the batter into each cup, so they came out as small, very light disks, two dozen of them. I'll keep you updated on the experiment, and post a photo of the finished product--even if they DON'T turn out!
Update from the evening
I have assembled the trifles in little fluted glass cups and they are in the fridge overnight. I mixed the marscapone cheese with sweetened whipped cream and briefly soaked the ladyfinger disks in strong coffee with a little rum extract added. The layers were: coffee-soaked ladyfinger disk, marscapone cream, a sprinkling of finely ground semi-sweet chocolate bits, another disk, and more cream. They'll get a little chocoate garnish just before I serve them tomorrow. Every tiramisu recipe I've seen says to let the flavors develop overnight, so no sampling until tomorrow. The reason you haven't gotten any links to recipes yet is because I'm still testing, but when the whole process is complete, I'll give complete instructions so you can try it at home. I have a suspicion I was too timid with the coffee and it probably needs to be stronger. If you come around St. Bede tomorrow afternoon, you can have a sampl and offer your own opinion!
Actually, upon reflection I realize that the ladyfingers turned out just fine, so here's the link to my adaptation of the Joy of Cooking recipe. If you don't have a stand mixer as per the instructions, an ordinary whisk will do, but you'll have forearms like Popeye when you're done.
Fr. Dominic Garramone AKA