Week Forty-Seven: Miscellaneous International Breads


Arepas, a specialty of South America, are a widely variable bread made from arepa flour.  Halfway between cornmeal and masa flour, arepa flour is made by cooking corn, then grinding it into a coarse meal.  But unlike masa, the corn in arepa flour is not treated with lime (or nixtimalized) first.  This not only renders it less nutritious than masa (like regular cornmeal), but also means none of these three flours will act the same in a bread.

I knew this fact.  And yet, I ignored it.

After being unable to find arepa flour at my local supermercado, I found a recipe for arepas that didn’t require arepa flour.  It was published in the New York Times.  It was written by a respected food journalist.  It  said “arepas” in the title.  Surely it would produce a reasonable facsimile.  Right?

I think you see where this is heading.  What I ended up with was a very tasty food, but I certainly wouldn’t call it an arepa.  I’d classify it as more of a gussied up hoe cake, or cornbread fritter.  Arepas are meant to be sliced open (rather like an English muffin) and filled with other foods, such as slow-cooked beef or pork, beans, cheese, fish, or vegetables.  These “arepas” had about as much chance of being split open as a raw egg might.

So the lesson learned today is that if 99% of the recipes for a food call for one specific item (and not much else), you should probably make every effort to find said item.  Any shortcuts may result in something reasonably good to eat, but you won’t end up with what you were aiming for.  Take it from one who knows.

Adapted from Mark Bittman, via The New York Times
Makes 8 to 10 arepas

4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) yellow cornmeal, finely ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) crumbled queso fresco
1 cup milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, more for serving, optional
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed
1/2 cup fresh corn kernels, or frozen kernels, thawed
1/4 cup chopped green onions, about 2 medium
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 small serrano or jalapeño chili, seeded and minced (optional)
3 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil, such as corn or canola (or as much as needed)

1.  In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, salt, and cheese.  Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until just steaming, then add butter and stir until melted.  Remove from heat, and stir into cornmeal mixture until a thick batter is formed.  Add the all-purpose flour as needed to correct consistency.  Fold in the corn kernels, scallion, cilantro, and chili (if using).  Let batter rest about 15 to 30 minutes.

2.  Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet.  Cook arepas by dropping 1/4 cupfuls into the oil and spreading to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Cook as many as will fit in your pan without crowding, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Flip and cook the other side for another 3 minutes, or until golden.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, and sprinkle with additional salt, if you like.

1.  If using frozen corn kernels, thaw them between two paper towels to absorb the moisture given off.

2.  If you can’t find queso fresco, farmer’s cheese is a close substitute.  Alternatively, you can use cheddar or Jack cheese.

Posted in Quick Breads, Savory | Leave a comment

Shrimp Tortillitas

Week Forty-Seven: Miscellaneous International Breads


As you might expect from the name, today’s bread is a Spanish flatbread.  But unlike its more familiar and unadorned cousin, the tortilla, a tortillita doesn’t require any other foods to subserve its flavor.  Filled with any combination of herbs, vegetables, meats, or seafood, a tortillita is quite capable of standing alone.

This version, taking cues from the Italian farinata, contains chickpea flour and a generous dose of black pepper, giving it a base flavor of sweetness, earthiness, and spiciness all at once.  Rounding out the taste is the clean flavor of shrimp and the green brightness of parsley and cilantro.  Finely chopped scallions provide depth, while remaining sweetly unobtrusive.

The texture is tender, but with a slight chew from the all-purpose flour.  Perfectly-cooked bits of shrimp almost crunch beneath your teeth, while the outside edges are delightfully crisp.  Lightly charred, these flatbreads provide a smoky counterpoint to a fresh and vinegary salad, for a perfect light meal.

Shrimp Tortillitas
Adapted from Mark Bittman, via The New York Times
Makes four 7-8 inch tortillitas

2 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) chickpea flour
2 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup chopped scallions (2 large or 3 small)
1/2 cup raw shrimp, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped parsley, leaves only
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Olive oil

1.  In a bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and pepper.  Whisk in 1 cup of the water; the consistency should resemble thin pancake batter.  If the batter is too thick, add more water, a little at a time.  Stir in the onions, chopped shrimp, and herbs.

2.  Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, but not smoking, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Pour in enough the batter to nearly cover the pan, and spread gently with a spoon if necessary to form a large pancake.

3.  Cook until the tortillita is set and looks dry around the edges, about 2 minutes.  Flip over, and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 minutes, until crisp outside but still moist inside.  If necessary, flip it again and cook for another 30 seconds or so.  Remove from the pan and serve immediately, while cooking remaining batter.

1.  The shrimp and herbs may be changed for any other seafood or herbs you like.  Scallops, smoked salmon, crab, or any fin fish would all be excellent options.  To pair with seafood, thyme, parsley, dill, fennel leaves, mint, or even basil would be good options.

Posted in Quick Breads, Savory | Leave a comment


Week Forty-Seven: Miscellaneous International Breads


If you’re familiar with panettone, you’re halfway to understanding today’s bread, casatiello.  For those who aren’t familiar, panettone is that Italian Christmas specialty that can’t quite make up its mind as to whether it’s bread or cake.  The towering confection is usually studded with gems of candied fruit, but other versions, such as chocolate chip or even custard-filled, are not uncommon.

Casatiello is a savory variation of panettone; the rich dough is dotted throughout with bits of meat and cheese instead of the standard sweet additions.  The result removes any overt tones of holiday spirit, making it appropriate for other times of year, though the richness indicates that it would be most welcome at a heavy-laden Winter table.

You can use whatever meat or cheese you prefer here, but full-flavored options will have the most impact; suggestions are given below.  This recipe doesn’t require much meat or cheese, so I recommend finding good-quality versions.  It won’t cost a whole lot more, and you’ll absolutely taste the difference.

The meat is diced and quickly sautéed, which helps its seductive flavors permeate the bread fully, while the cheese is coarsely grated and mixed into the dough, where it melts into singularity with the crumb, leaving richness and a lush texture.  A starter is used here, bringing a complex and gorgeously balanced texture to the bread, and helps give enough strength to the airy interior that it can support the weight of the meat and cheese effortlessly.

Generally speaking, I’m a bread purist; I’m not usually a big fan of stuffed breads, especially those packed with heavy foods like bits of salami and smoked Gouda, preferring the loaves to speak for themselves.  But this bread somehow remains light in texture while remaining bold in flavor, and in a thoroughly sophisticated way.  This is one excellent bread, impressive and delicious, and I know I’ll turn to it again, any time of year.

Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart
Makes 1 large loaf

For the sponge:
2 1/4 ounces (about 1/2 cup) unbleached bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 cup milk or buttermilk (at about 100º F if making the final dough the same day, otherwise cold)

For the dough:
4 ounces cured salami, or other similar meat (see note 1 below), in one piece
16 ounces (about 3 1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (6 ounces) coarsely shredded or grated smoked Gouda, or similar (see note 2 below)

1.  To make the sponge, whisk the flour and yeast together in a bowl.  If making the bread the same day, heat the milk or buttermilk to about 100º F.  Add to the flour and whisk until smooth.  Cover loosely, and let stand for 1 hour at room temperature.  If making the bread later, whisk the cold milk or buttermilk into the flour until smooth.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 and up to 48 hours.  Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding.

2.  Dice the salami into small cubes and sauté lightly in a pan over medium-high heat until crisp.  Remove from the pan, and reserve the rendered fat (to be used in place of some of the butter).

3.  To make the final dough, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the eggs and all of the sponge.  Using the paddle attachment, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms.  If there are any dry spots, drizzle in a little water or milk until moistened.  Without removing the bowl or the paddle, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes.

4.  After resting, remove the plastic wrap.  At medium-low speed, slowly mix the softened butter (and any reserved rendered fat), one small piece at a time, into the dough.  Let each piece of butter incorporate before adding the next, scraping the bowl and paddle as necessary.  You may need to add a small dusting of flour to help it incorporate.  This can take some time.  When mostly incorporated, switch to the dough hook.  Eventually, the dough will become tacky and supple, and clear the sides of the bowl.

5.  When the dough is smooth, add the meat and cheese, and continue mixing until evenly incorporated.  The dough should not be sticky; if it is, add a little extra flour.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl, and cover tightly with lightly oiled plastic wrap.  Let rest at room temperature until 1 1/2 times bigger in size, about 90 minutes.

6.  Lightly oil an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan or springform pan.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pressing gently to deflate. Shape the dough into a round by pulling the outside edges into the center, pressing to seal.  You should be forming a tight skin around the outside of the dough.

7.  Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, smooth side up.  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until nearly doubled in size.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º F, placing a rack in the lower third of the oven.

8.  Bake at 350º F for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180º.  Bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until fully baked and golden brown.  An instant-read thermometer should register 185º to 190º F when inserted into the center.

9.  Remove the bread from the oven, and let cool in the pan briefly.  When able to handle, remove from the pan, and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

1.  I used a peppered salami, with extremely good results.  Any full-flavored similar meat will do, though, such as pepperoni, andouille, pancetta, chorizo, tasso, or bacon.  Even a quality vegetarian meat substitute can be used with good results.

2.  Any full-flavored melting cheese may be used here, such as provolone, Swiss, or cheddar.  Mozzarella or Jack cheeses tend to be mild in flavor, and won’t lend much to the bread.  Parmesan and similar hard cheeses will not melt properly, and are too salty for this application.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | 1 Comment

Grill Bread

Week Forty-Seven: Miscellaneous International Breads


[Apologies for delays in posting yesterday and today; extenuating circumstances have prevented it.  Further delays this week are probable, but I am still cooking, and will update as I am able!]

Today’s bread isn’t an international bread as such, as the recipe comes originally from a restaurant in the middle of Indiana (a Lebanese one, but still); however, it does give a nod to the myriad flatbreads made in the Middle East and into South Asia.  The variety of these breads is really staggering; each small change of ingredients, each subtle shift of proportions, each different shaping and cooking method produces a new creation, and each one with an entirely new name.

The recipe below bears the nondescript title of Grill Bread.  It was accurately described as a “rustic tortilla”, and I intended for it to stand in as a sort of EveryFlatbread.  It doesn’t particularly resemble any specific flatbread that I know of, but neither is it a wholly new creation.  The result that I got was respectable enough, but I did have to fiddle with the recipe quite a bit to get even that middling of a review.

Made as written, the dough was extremely crumbly and dry; it was clear that such a thing would never produce the promised “better-than-pita” texture.  After adding extra moisture, I had a workable texture, but the dough was still finicky.  It was hard to roll out smoothly, cracking at the edges, and drying out easily.

I’m assuming that the original recipe has a small mistake in it, either from a mathematical error in scaling down the measurements, or from willful omission to ensure return visitors to the restaurant.  I prefer to think it’s the former; but the outcome was no less disappointing because of that.

This bread was just fine when warm, but after cooling, it became a bit grainy and dry on the tongue.  The flavor was appropriately mild, as the bread is intended to be served with more substantial and highly-seasoned foods.  Unfortunately, that pleasant mildness turned sawdusty after a few hours.

Ultimately, this recipe could be salvaged with some tweaking.  But is it worth it?  I think my previous successes with the sort of flatbreads I intended to give homage to today provide a clear answer: if you have a working recipe for a similar bread, use it instead.  Maybe let George handle this bread.

Grill Bread
Adapted from George’s Downtown Café, Terre Haute, IN, via Gourmet Magazine
Makes ten 6 inch breads

4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) white whole wheat flour (see note 2 below)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1/3 cup water, at room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1.  In a bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, salt, and yeast.  Combine the water, oil, and egg, then stir into the flour mixture until a rough dough forms.  Turn dough out onto a work surface.  Sprinkling with enough flour to prevent sticking, knead until all ingredients are moistened, about 2 minutes (dough may not necessarily be smooth).  Shape dough into a ball, and cover lightly with plastic wrap.  Let rest on the counter for 10 to 30 minutes.

2.  Divide dough into 10 even pieces.  Shape each into a ball, and flatten slightly.  Cover again, and let rest another 10 to 30 minutes.

3.  Keeping unused pieces covered, roll out each piece into a 6 inch round (less than 1/8 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin.

4.  Preheat a heavy skillet or grill pan (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat until just until beginning to smoke.  Reduce heat slightly, and cook one piece to test the temperature.  Bread should cook 1 minute on each side, and have slight char marks.  Adjusting temperature as needed, cook remaining pieces of dough, 1 or 2 at at time, until all are cooked.  Wrap cooked breads in a napkin or non-terry-cloth kitchen towel to keep soft and warm.  Breads are best served as soon as possible.

1.  Bread can be made 1 day ahead and cooled completely, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.  Reheat loosely wrapped in foil in a 350° F oven until heated through.

2.  If you don’t have white whole wheat flour, you can substitute an equal mixture of all-purpose and regular whole wheat flours.

3.  If you have a proper grill, by all means use it instead of the grill pan or skillet.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | Leave a comment

Bird of Paradise Bread (Khliab Raiska Ptitsa)

Week Forty-Seven: Miscellaneous International Breads


Over the year, I’ve featured breads from various nations or regions throughout the world.  This assortment of recipes is of course by no means complete, or even attempting to be.  The recipes I chose were for breads that I’d heard of but never seen, breads that intrigued me, or breads that are just favorites of mine.

But along the way, I turned up breads here and there that I wanted to make, but couldn’t fit into any planned theme, or couldn’t find enough similar recipes to turn into a decent theme.  And so, this week is devoted to those miscellaneous breads from around the world that I had to try, but never had a reason to.

The first bread from this mixed bag brings us to Bulgaria, a country with a rich panary tradition, like many nations in that area of the world.  The name of this bread translates to “bird of paradise” bread, and is as extravagant as its namesake.  The topping of this bread gives it its name, as the carefully patterned meat, cheese, olives, and bell pepper create a vibrant mosaic that is as much a treat for the eyes as the bread itself is for the tongue.


Most of the liquid here is from eggs and plain yogurt, so the crumb is very soft and is a fabulous yellow hue.  It’s open and airy, with an almost brioche quality to it.  Scattered throughout are little melty pockets of feta, which lend a salty tang to each bite, a welcome respite from the relative richness of the loaf.

So, is it authentic?  Never having been to Bulgaria, I can’t personally say for sure; but I do happen to know a Bulgarian gentleman, who called this bread a “masterpiece”.  I reckon that’s assurance enough.


why so sad, little bread? turn that frown upside down!


that's more like it!


Bird of Paradise Bread (Khliab Raiska Ptitsa)
Adapted from The Balkan Cookbook, by Catherine Atkinson and Trish Davies
Makes 1 large loaf

For the dough:
14½ ounces (about 3¼ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1½ teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons plain yogurt
1/4 cup water, at room temperature
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
2 to 3 ounces (1/2 cup) feta cheese, finely crumbled
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk to make an egg wash

For the topping:
2 square slices kashkaval or Cheddar cheese (see note 1 below)
4 slices of ham
4 pitted oil-cured black olives (see note 2 below)
1 star-shaped piece of red bell pepper (star shape optional, but fun)

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together all but a handful of the flour, all the yeast, and the salt.  Add the yogurt, water, and eggs.  Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms.  Increase the speed to medium-low and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding the reserved flour as necessary, about 7 minutes.

2.  Decrease the speed to low.  Add the crumbled feta, and mix until fully incorporated.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface.  Using floured hands, shape the dough into a round by pulling the outer edges into the middle, and pressing to seal.

3.  Transfer dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl, smooth side up.  Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

4.  While the dough rises, prepare the toppings.  Cut each square of cheese in half diagonally, so that you have a total of 4 identical triangles.  Cut the slice of ham into 4 long rectangles (about ½ inch by 2 inches).  Pit the olives, if necessary.  Cut a star shape from a bell pepper, or cut into 4 thin strips (about ½ inch long).

5.  Lightly oil an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan or springform pan.  Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, and oil the paper.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and press gently to deflate.  Shape again into a round by pulling the outer edges into the middle, and pressing to seal.

6.  Transfer the dough to the prepared pan, smooth side up.  Brush liberally with the egg wash.  To decorate (also refer to above pictures), arrange the kashkaval or Cheddar cheese triangles on top of the dough to form a square.  Place ham rectangles in between cheese, to form a cross.  Place one olive on each piece of cheese.  Place the bell pepper star in the center.  Cover loosely with lightly-oiled plastic wrap, and let rise another 45 to 60 minutes.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400° F, and position a rack in the center, or just below the center.

7.  Bake at 400° F for 15 minutes.  Reduce the temperature to 350° F and continue baking for an additional 25 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 190° F when inserted into the center. Cool a few minutes in the pan, then turn out of pan (running a thin knife around the edge to loosen if needed), and remove parchment.  Cool thoroughly on a wire rack before cutting.


1.  Kashkaval cheese, a specific type of Bulgarian yellow sheep milk cheese, may be found in specialty markets; but a good cheddar is an acceptible substitute.

2.  Oil-cured black olives can be found jarred in the International aisle of some grocery stores, but are more often seen in the bulk olive section of specialty stores, such as Whole Foods.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | 3 Comments

Pizza Crust

Week Forty-Six: Professional Recipes


I never used to think much about pizza.  I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t particularly love it either.  Of course, growing up, my pizza experience was limited to the major chains, so you can’t really blame me.  Eventually, I tried better pizzas, and started to understand the appeal; but the turning point for me came just a few years ago.

My boyfriend, while we were still a-courtin’, took me to a pizza place one night.  He had been there once before, and assured me (his gourmet-food-lovin’ girl)  that I would enjoy a pizza like no other.  The chef had trained in Italy (Naples, to be exact), and had flown in materials and workers to build his oven, which heats to 1200° F and cooks pizzas in 90 seconds flat.  It was said to be the most authentic Napoli-style pizza available, short of hopping on a plane.

There, I tasted what must be Plato’s Ideal Pizza: lightly charred in spots on the outside, moist and almost wet in the middle, with possibly the world’s most addictive gluten-pull to the crust.  Properly dressed with a restrained hand, the crust was the star of the show, despite the four-star toppings.  And lo, my eyes were opened, and I began to understand why people ever ate pizza to begin with.  To this day, I still crave the chew and creamy texture of that pizza from time to time; luckily, I live in the general vicinity of this restaurant.

But as much as I adore it, it’s not always possible to indulge in such luxury.  Sometimes, I need a homemade substitute, but I’m rarely willing to compromise quality.  It’s not pizza I crave, it’s that perfect texture.  And unfortunately, even if I did get the recipe for that particular crust, it’s not a matter of any combination of ingredients; it’s that insanely hot oven that really makes it happen.


So when I found a home-kitchen-ready recipe for pizza crust from Pizzeria Bianco, a highly vaunted pizza restaurant in Arizona, I had to try it.  Not that I’ve ever been to Pizzeria Bianco, but if the New York Times calls a place in Phoenix “pizza Nirvana“, it’s got to be at least half-decent.

In the absence of a 1200° F oven, I wasn’t expecting quite the same level of eye-rolling goodness; but 550° F and a quality pizza stone gave me enough confidence to try it.  The dough was very supple and forgiving, to the point that I stretched it out a bit more thinly than I usually prefer, resulting in a texture that was more crisp than chewy.

But overall, the result was quite good.  The flavor of the dough was well-balanced, with the lightest touch of sweetness from the honey that I always choose to add to my crusts.  If the dough were allowed to rise in the refrigerator overnight, the flavor would be more complex as a result, but it’s not necessary in this case.  It has an appropriately uneven crumb, with the occasional appearance of a giant bubble at the edge.

Unfortunately, this isn’t precisely the pizza of my dreams, but I’m reasonably sure that is a pipe dream until I build myself a volcanic stone wood-burning oven in the backyard (that I don’t have).  Until then, there’s always that other restaurant, or this recipe and my baking stone, and that’s close enough for me.


smoked fontina, gruyère, bacon, roasted potatoes, onions, and sweet potatoes


Pizza Crust
Adapted from Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, AZ
Makes one 14  inch pizza, to serve 2 to 3

8 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water, at room temperature
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey (optional)
Cornmeal or semolina, for dusting

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, yeast, and salt.  Add the water, olive oil, and honey (if using).  Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until combined.  Turn the mixer off.  Without removing the bowl or hook, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes.

2.  Remove the plastic wrap.  Turn the speed to medium-low, and continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 5 to 6 minutes.  Dough will be very slack, and will not clear the sides of the bowl.  If needed, add additional flour or to correct the consistency.

3.  Tranfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Dust with flour, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel (not terry cloth).  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 75 minutes.

4.  While the dough rises, prepare any desired toppings.  At least 45 minutes before baking the pizza, put a baking stone on an oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat oven to 550° F.  If you don’t have a stone, you can use a large baking sheet turned upside-down.

5.  Place a piece of parchment paper on a pizza peel, or on an unrimmed baking sheet.  Dust liberally with cornmeal or semolina.  Dust the dough with flour, then turn out onto the prepared parchment, taking care not to deflate.  Pat out the dough evenly with your fingers and gently stretch into a round, reflouring fingers if necessary.  Spread dough with desired toppings, leaving a 1 inch border.

6.  Slide pizza, still on parchment, from the peel onto the preheated stone.  Bake at 550° F until the dough is golden brown, about 5 to 8 minutes.  Using the peel, transfer the pizza to a cutting board, discarding the parchment.  Cool 5 minutes before slicing.


1.  Dough can be allowed to rise slowly in the refrigerator for 1 day.  Bring to room temperature for about 1 hour before shaping.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | 1 Comment

Fig and Fennel Bread

Week Forty-Six: Professional Recipes


Ah, figs.  I discovered figs late in life, as my mother (who cannot abide the multitudinous seeds) never kept them in the house.  In contrast to her, I have come to find the seeds irresistable, crunchy and surprising beneath the flesh.

I often daydream about one of my all-time favorite hors d’oeuvres: a whole fresh fig, preferably soft and nearly over-ripe, stuffed ungraciously with a walnut or almond and a bit of blue cheese through a slit cut in its side, dignity preserved with a cloak of thin prosciutto wrapped around tenderly, and baked until the meat turns crisp.  They are as good at room temperature as they are warm.  Drizzled with the smallest bit of honey, and eaten in one bite, it’s one of the more amazing things you’ll ever put in your mouth.

The regrettably short season for fresh figs means that I become actually giddy when I see them appear in the grocery store each year, with exactly the above preparation in mind.  But for the rest of the year, I must turn to dried figs to get my fix, and it just isn’t the same.  It has always fascinated me how very different fresh figs are from dried figs.  Fresh, they are vibrant and winey; dried, they are richer, jammy, and somehow more subdued.

But as much as I prefer the fresh sort, the dried ones have their charms as well.  For example, dried figs can turn into all sorts of confections that fresh ones never could, like the traditional Spanish fig and almond cake, pan de higo.  And while fresh figs can certainly stand up brilliantly to cheese, I think dried figs have the edge there.  Their relaxed flavor tends to match a wider variety of cheese than does the more fleeting taste of a fresh fig.

This leads me to why today’s bread is so delightful: it is perfect to serve with cheese.  Rather than offering up a plate of cheese, a plain baguette, and a mound of dried figs, to be awkwardly negotiated between dish, hand, and mouth; this loaf combines chopped bits of dried fig with a flavorful bread, eliminating any tricky juggling.

The texture is rather dense, but considering this serving recommendation, it is appropriately so.  Ciabatta, with its large holes, is all well and good; but it becomes a little disappointing when even sizeable pieces of cheese will fall right through.  A closer crumb means that even runny cheeses can be handled with ease.

Calimyrna figs are used in this bread, a type that I was less familiar with, tending more often towards black Mission figs.  Their flavor is sweeter, more herbaceous, and reminiscent of Fig Newtons (but in the best possible way).  Paired with the licorice notes of fennel, and the slight tartness of rye flour, the combination of flavors is delightful and bright.

I found this dough to be extremely stiff, much stiffer than the high-hydration doughs I’m accustomed to.  But once the figs were added in, the problem resolved itself somewhat, as the dough loosened up a bit.  The figs I used were extremely moist, however; if your figs are drier and harder, you may want to soften them by soaking in a little warm water, or even wine or a liquor.  Their moisture, too, will help the bread keep longer, up to a few days at room temperature.

This is a useful recipe to have on hand, as it makes a charming and flavorful addition to any hors d’oeuvre menu.  It makes excellent use of dried figs in all their robust glory; and in between fig seasons, I need any little fix I can get.  It might not be a fresh fig clad in crisp prosciutto, but spread a slice of this bread with a creamy blue cheese, and you’ll hear no complaints from me.


Fig and Fennel Bread
Adapted from Clarke’s, London
Makes two 12 inch loaves

14 ounces (about 3 cups) unbleached bread flour, plus extra as needed
4½ ounces (1 cup) rye flour
1 to 2 tablespoons fennel seeds, to taste
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (1 packet)
1¼ cups warm water (105° to 115° F)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces dried Calimyrna figs, chopped (about 1½ cups)

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flours (reserving a handful of the bread flour), fennel, salt, sugar, and yeast.  Add the water and oil.  Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms.  Scrape the bowl as needed, increase the speed to medium-low, and continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 5 to 6 minutes.  The dough should be stiff and clear the sides of the bowl; add the reserved flour as needed.

2.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface.  Flatten slightly, and place chopped figs on top.  Pulling the dough around the figs, knead them in until evenly distributed, dusting with flour as needed to prevent sticking.  If any pop out, just poke them back into the middle.

3.  Shape the dough into a round ball, and place in a large, lightly oiled bowl turning the dough to coat.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit at warm room temperature until doubled in volume, about 60 to 90 minutes.

4.  Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, taking care to deflate as little as possible.  Cut dough into two even halves.  Shape each piece into a loaf about 12 inches long.  Transfer the loaves to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches in between the two.  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap, or a slightly damp kitchen towel (not terry cloth).  Let rise at warm room temperature until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400° F.

5.  Using a sharp serrated knife or razor blade, decisively slash each loaf 3 times with diagonal cuts, letting only the weight of the blade press into the dough.  Bake at 400° F for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and baked through.  An instant read thermometer should register about 200° F when inserted into the center.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

1.  This recipe specifies Calimyrna figs, which may be called Turkish figs.  They are pale in color, not like the smaller black Mission figs.  Mission figs may be used, but the taste will be different; Calimyrna figs go especially well with the fennel.

Posted in Savory, Sweet, Yeast Breads | 6 Comments

Windsor Court Scones

Week Forty-Six: Professional Recipes


The Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans is widely known for its elaborate and spohisticated Afternoon Tea, so when I saw their recipe for scones, I had to try them.  They were described as “unusual”, but neither the method nor the ingredients held a clue as to why that word might be used.

A standard biscuit method is employed: cut cold butter into flour, add liquid, mix lightly.  The liquid used, however, is cream; a thing slightly out of the ordinary, as cream is generally used in the absence of butter.  Butter is used, but in a modest amount.

The resultant texture was far more fluffy than flaky, which was unsurprising given the lack of folding the dough over itself (a simple trick to get flaky biscuits).  But these scones were very rich despite their light texture, almost cake-like, but less sweet.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but they tasted, somehow, exactly like a scone should.

Scones and biscuits, owing to their similar ingredient list and mixing techniques, are often interchangeable creatures, made as they are by many.  Cut a dough into a round, and it’s a biscuit.  Cut it into a wedge, it’s a scone.  But one bite of these scones, and there was no way you’d ever mistake one for a biscuit.  These are scones, through and through.

They’re certainly less buttery than biscuits, which is the best guess as to their unmistakable nature.  Rich but not buttery, light but not flaky, they certainly are “unusual” in this world where scones and biscuits are too often the same.


Windsor Court Scones
Adapted from the Windsor Court Hotel, New Orleans
Makes 8 large wedges

11 ounces (about 2½ cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons sugar, plus extra for finishing
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup dried currants
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons cream to make an egg wash

1.  Preheat the oven to 450° F, and grease a baking sheet or line with parchment.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Add the cold butter and cut in with a pastry blender or fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Pea-sized lumps are okay.  Add the cream, eggs, and currants, and quickly fold together until it just forms a dough, drizzling a little extra cream over any dry spots if necessary.

3.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and lightly flour the top.  Pat into a 1 inch thick round, and cut into 8 equal wedges.  Carefully transfer to the prepared baking sheet.  Brush the tops with the egg wash, and sprinkle with additional sugar.

4.  Bake the scones at 450° F for 13 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden on top.  Let cool briefly on baking sheet before serving, or removing to a rack to cool thoroughly.


1.  Instead of wedges, these may of course be cut into rounds.  I prefer scones in wedges, but they’ll taste the same either way.

2.  Instead of using regular white sugar to sprinkle on top, a coarser and more sparkling texture may be gotten by using turbinado or raw sugar instead.

Posted in Quick Breads, Sweet | Leave a comment

Pretzel Knots

Week Forty-Six: Professional Recipes

If I were forced to choose a favorite bread — for me, a Sisyphean task — boiled pretzels would surely be in the final running.  Something about their sticky, almost metallic-tasting skin, tight around the dense and ivory interior, just does it for me.  The pretzels I’ve made before have been quite good, so with such amateur successes under my belt, I was excited to try this professional-level recipe, from Wolfgang Puck’s Cut in Las Vegas.

But if I’m honest, in the end I was a bit disappointed.  I wasn’t sure if it was the recipe or the cook to blame (perhaps a little of both), but they weren’t quite what I’d envisioned.  The recipe directs you to refrigerate the rising dough, during both proofing and fermentation.  Dutifully, I followed instructions, forgetting that Las Vegas usually runs about a thousand degrees hotter than does Chicago in November, and is about 1500 feet higher up than Chicago.

What does that have to do with anything?  Well, the extra heat and higher elevation both would make the yeast work more quickly.  Refrigerating the dough slows that activity down, and in such hot and high environments would result in a perfectly-leavened dough.  But in my cooler kitchen, closer to sea level, the technique resulted in a cold, totally un-puffed lump.

I know, some of you are crying foul over my claim that the outside temperature in Las Vegas has anything to do with the temperature inside, where the dough would be rising.  Yes, yes, air conditioning and all that.  But have you ever been in a professional kitchen, especially a steakhouse kitchen like this one, which surely has massive open-flame grills?  Those suckers are hot!  Air conditioning or not, I promise you that kitchen is far hotter than mine (where scarves are occasionally part of the uniform).

One thing the long, cool fermentation did provide, however, was a more complex flavor.  The pretzels themselves may have been flat, but they sure tasted good.  And I think this is now my new recipe for the poaching liquid; the flavor it imparted to the crust was fantastic.  Not too sweet, not too metallic, full and flavorsome, it was simply excellent.

The original recipe tells you to poach the pretzels for only 10 seconds per side, a shorter length of time than is typical.  I poached mine for closer to 20 or 30, which resulted in a stronger crust flavor than would otherwise occur.  The shorter poaching time would also ensure that the crust would not fully cook and set in the water, allowing for a bigger oven spring, and fluffier rolls.  Personally, I like my pretzels a bit dense, and I’m addicted to a strongly-flavored pretzel crust; hence, the increase in time.  The end result was still quite fluffy inside, though, more so than any other pretzel I’ve made.

Overall, this recipe holds great promise.  With the tag-team of good texture and fantastic flavor, this recipe would be unstoppable when made with the proper technique for the environment.  I’d like to have another go at these, to see if I can push them over the edge from pretty good to amazing.

Pretzel Knots
Adapted from Cut in Las Vegas, via Bon Appétit
Makes 8

For the dough:
9½ ounces (2 cups) unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup buttermilk
1½ teaspoons vegetable oil

For the poaching liquid:
8 cups water
1/4 cup beer
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup packed brown sugar

For finishing:
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 to 2 tablespoons coarse salt

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast.  Add the water, buttermilk, and oil.  Using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until a rough dough forms.  Increase the speed to medium-low and knead for about 5 minutes, or until supple and smooth.  The dough should be sticky.  Transfer to a large lightly-oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap,  and refrigerate until doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.

2.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface.  Gently deflate, and divide the dough into 8 even pieces.  Keeping the unused pieces covered loosely with plastic wrap, roll each piece into a long rope, about 8 to 9 inches long.  Tie the ropes into single or double granny knots.  Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, and cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until puffy, about 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 450º F.

3.  To prepare the poaching liquid, combine the water, beer, baking soda, and sugar in a medium to large pot.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium to keep the liquid at a lively simmer.  Cut the parchment paper between the pretzels so each rests on its own square.  Line a second large baking sheet with parchment paper.

4.  Gently lifting by the paper, lower each pretzel into the boiling water, removing the parchment as soon as possible.  Poach pretzels for 10 to 20 seconds on one side, gently turn over, and cook for 10 to 20 more seconds.  Transfer boiled pretzels with a skimmer or slotted spoon to the second baking sheet, letting the liquid drain off well.

5.  When all the pretzels have been cooked, let cool briefly, about 5 minutes.  Brush evenly with vegetable oil, and sprinkle generously with salt.  Bake the pretzels at 450º F for about 15 minutes, or until deeply browned.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Serve warm.

1.  Don’t store pretzels in an airtight container, as the trapped moisture will make them look shriveled.  Pretzels can be stored at room temperature, uncovered, for about 1 day.  Remaining pretzels should be frozen in an airtight container (such as a zip top bag), and reheated unthawed in a 350º F oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until heated through.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | 2 Comments

Pain au Lait

Week Forty-Six: Professional Recipes


Today’s bread comes from local restaurant L20, one of the places on my short list of Restaurants To Visit Before Moving Away From Chicago In The Unforseeable Future.  Chef Laurent Gras has handily garnered lauds and honors at previous restaurants, but it’s his own recently-opened restaurant that brings lucky diners the rare taste of these tiny pains au lait.

At L20, bread isn’t flown in, trucked in, or even purchased from a local artisanal bakery.  No, it’s made in-houseSeven times a day.  All different, all reasonably bite-sized, and all fantasically good, reliable sources say.  If this pain au lait is any indication, they’re more than right.

“Pain au lait” literally translates to “milk bread”, but such a humble name hardly describes the elegant things.  As might be expected, the only liquid used in the dough is milk.  Butter too is added, in a moderate amount that tends toward generosity but stops well short of extravagance.  The resultant texture is not nearly as rich as one would think; in fact, I’d say the word “rich” would be inappropriate here.


The word “light” is more to the point, but it scarcely does them justice either.  These little treasures are indeed extremely light, but not quite airy; they have a soignée gravity to them.  The firmly crisp crusts, both top and bottom, conceal a pure white interior, its tenderness made complex with the familiar tug of a well-crafted gluten structure.  Coarse salt sparkles on the golden tops, shining with a thin coat of egg wash.

Inside, they are soft and very nearly flaky (due to the slightly unusual rolling and folding technique used), while outside, they are almost crackery; the combination of textures is delightful.  As for flavor, I think the dough would go from merely excellent to absolute perfection were a biga or starter used.  At the restaurant, they may in fact use such a method, judging by the discussion of levain naturale and yeast terroir in the L20 blog.  For the purposes of most home bakers, though, this instant yeast method produces a superb result, one that I am thrilled to have pulled from my own oven.

I cannot imagine a finer roll to serve at any meal.  I am not exaggerating or using hyperbole.  The obvious suggestion this time of year is to serve it with Thanksgiving dinner, nor is that really as insane as it sounds.  Yes, the recipe looks complex, but it’s actually very simple; the mixing method is minimal (and hands-free if you have a mixer), the rolling and folding procedure is completed rapidly and with little thought, they bake in nearly no time, and hardly require cooling.

Okay, so you have to stick around the kitchen every 30 minutes for 2 hours; but if you’re working on a Thanksgiving menu, that’s not out of the ordinary.  I assure you, the result for your efforts will be more than worth it.  If you’re anything like me, the brussels sprouts might be cold, the turkey might take far longer than anticipated, the dressing might burn, but set a basket of pain au lait out, and all else will be forgiven and forgotten.  Just remember to hide a few for yourself, dear cook; believe me, once they’re on the table, they’ll absolutely disappear.



Pain au Lait
Adapted from L20, Chicago
Makes 45 to 50 small rolls

17 ounces (about 3½ cups) unbleached bread flour, plus extra for dusting
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups milk, at room temperature
6½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1 egg yolk beaten with 1/2 teaspoon sugar to make an egg wash
Coarse salt, for finishing

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.  Add the milk.  Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms.  Add the butter by pieces.  Increase the speed to medium-low, and continue kneading for 6 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.  The dough should be very slack, and will not clear the sides of the bowl.  If the dough looks too wet, add a spoonful or two of additional flour.

2.  Scrape any dough down from the sides of the bowl.  Leaving dough in the mixing bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

3.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, gently pressing flat.  Using only enough flour to prevent sticking, roll the dough to a rectangle less than 1/2 inch thick, about 8 x 15 inches in size or as big as the dough will allow.  Lift and stretch the corners to keep the dough square.

4.  Fold the dough in thirds, as you would fold a letter, bringing a short end into the middle of the dough.  Wrap the dough well with plastic wrap, and transfer to the freezer (ideally on a flat surface like a baking sheet or plate).  Let sit in the freezer for 30 minutes.

5.  After the first rest, unwrap the dough.  Roll out again on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 8 x 15 inches in size, or as big as the dough will allow.  Tri-fold again as above, re-wrap, and freeze again for 30 minutes.

6.  After the second rest, repeat the rolling and folding a third time.  Re-wrap, and freeze again for 30 minutes more.

7.  After the third rest in the freezer, unwrap the dough and roll out again to a rectangle about 8 x 15 inches in size, using only enough flour to prevent sticking.  If the dough resists, cover loosely and let rest on the counter for about 10 minutes before rolling again.  While the dough rests, lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper. 

8.  Using a rolling cutter, bench scraper, or knife, cut the dough lengthwise into 4 long strips.  Cut each strip crosswise into 11 or 12 even squares.  Transfer each piece to the prepared baking sheet, and cover loosely with a slightly damp kitchen towel (not terry cloth).

9.  Let rise at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until slightly less than doubled in size.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400º F, and position a rack near the middle of the oven.

10.  When fully risen, gently brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash, and sprinkle with a little coarse salt.  Bake at 400º F until well-browned on top, checking after 10 minutes, and every 2 minutes thereafter if not done yet.  Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.


1.  Any coarse salt will do for finishing the rolls; please don’t use table salt, as it will make them overly salty.

2.  If you find the egg wash a bit thick for brushing, you can thin it with a bit of water.

3.  These breads are best the day they’re made, but leftovers may be wrapped well, frozen, and reheated as needed in a 350º F oven for about 5 minutes.

4.  I’m not entirely sure why, but the salt I used on the tops turned an almost purple color after baking.  The flavor was unaffected.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | 4 Comments