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Eastern Mediterranean Pizzas

Hiya. I am super short on time today, so I will just give you a series of not so random comments about this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Eastern Mediterranean Pizzas.

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I have a memory of a version of these that I ate during my summer spent in Israel many years ago. These are good, but not much like the memory of what I had. We liked them with some pickled veggies that I made based on this recipe.

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I liked that the dough could be made days ahead of time, which I did and it all worked out just fine.

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It was quite a sticky dough to roll out, so that was not as fun as it could have been.

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I made way more filling than the recipe and also left out the tomatoes, but added in some roasted eggplant, zucchini, and onion that we had leftover from another dinner. If you have access to sumac, I would advise that you use it here. Yummy.

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They look kinda blah just out of the oven, but smell good. I made the whole batch of dough and made 16 of these little pizzas. The ones we didn’t eat got wrapped in foil and frozen for easy future meals.

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It does benefit from a little extra color and crunch. How did you like these?

Focaccia, Revisited

I love focaccia. The husband and I used to go to an Italian Deli when we were newly married that had these marvelous sandwiches stuffed with an inch of various Italian meats and cheeses and veggies, all served on thick slabs of focaccia. It was then that I fell in love with focaccia. But, strangely, I have never bought or been served a focaccia that has lived up to that first deli’s standard. I’ve been making focaccia off and on for years with various recipes and they have all been pretty good. However, the focaccia recipe from Rustic Italian Food that I made a few weeks ago was the best I have ever had and the best I have ever made. And let me tell you, I have made some good ones.

Unfortunately, this week’s twd recipe for focaccia, to be found in Baking with Julia was much less than stellar. Part of its problem was that it followed the recipe from Rustic Italian Food, which, as I have already mentioned, was the best. Ever since that focaccia, the boys have been begging me to make more. That one was so sublimely delicious, that I knew it would be a tough act to follow.

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Firstly, the dough was too stiff.

All the focaccia recipes that I have made and really liked have been really loose doughs. You could almost pour these doughs, they are that loose. This dough was more like a pizza dough.

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Secondly, I thought the dough was too active. Look at how much it rose in an hour. Now, this could be because I used instant yeast or my water was too warm or some other variable, but I sensed some trouble. It was just too active for a dough that would eventually be retarded in the fridge, which brings me to my third issue with this dough.

I love using the fridge for holding bread dough, but this time, it did not work for me. Because of some oven timing issues, I was not able to give the dough the minimum 24 hours needed in the fridge. It was more like 20 hours and it was tough to shape. I understand that the longer the dough rests, the easier it is to shape. This was really my fault, but it was kind of the last nail in the coffin, so to speak.

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I opted to bake the bread into one giant, flat loaf because we like to cut it into nice rectangles for serving. It looked great before it went into the oven, with its rosemary, sea salt, and olive oil toppings.

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However, there was just not much oven spring to the dough. It was ok. It rose, but it had the texture of a thick pizza dough. It was too dry and tough to be called focaccia, in my opinion. This will not be repeated in my kitchen. The boys were initially excited about the focaccia, but both declared it to be just ok, not nearly as good as the “other one.”

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Now, dear reader, please take this post with a grain of salt. I am not saying that this bread is bad. In fact, it is tasty, and if you go and make it (you can find the recipe here), I am almost sure you will like it. After all, what’s not to love about freshly baked bread? Just don’t make it after making the one from Rustic Italian Food, The Bread Bible, or La Brea Bakery, ok? Then, you won’t be disappointed.

Pizza for Dinner

Today, I am running short on time, but I did manage to make the TwD recipe for dinner tonight, Pizza with Onion Confit.

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The dough was easy to make. I made the sponge at 1 pm and added the discard from my stiff sourdough starter. Then, I got the onion confit cooking.

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After an hour and a half, it was nicely bubbly.

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At 3pm, I mixed the final dough. Around 4pm, I turned on the oven with my baking stone inside and started getting the remainder of the topping ingredients together.

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The dough was ready to be shaped at 4:30. I made just half of the recipe of onion because I didn’t want to overwhelm the boys with it. Then, I added salami, artichokes, roasted red peppers, olives, and crumbled feta.

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15 minutes after I slid the first one in the oven, we were ready to eat. It was delicious. I think my topping mix leaned heavily to the salty side of things and, as long as I am being really honest, I found the crust to be a tad tough. However, it was really nicely crunchy and stiff on the bottom. I liked the confit. It was a nice alternative to tomato sauce, which has been banned from my diet. Overall, I am not sure I could say this was the best pizza I have ever had or made, but it was a good dinner, so you’ll hear no complaints from me. You can find the recipe here. The recipe made two very nicely sized pizzas, so I will be having it again for lunch tomorrow. Cold, because I will be out of the house. I wonder how it will taste then?

Sourdough Weekend

I had the rarest of weekends this past weekend:  I had no commitments, nothing that absolutely had to be done, well save one.

I had to feed the monsters.  And since I had nothing else that needed to be done, I decided to play with it a little.

First, I made a couple of pizza doughs using this recipe.

I only get to eat pizza that I make (drat that lactose problem), and since we had a few hunks of cheese that had accumulated in the fridge, I decided pizza would be a good way to use some of it.   I mixed up two batches of pizza dough, each with a different starter (if you’re just joining this adventure, I have three sourdough monsters, each with a different feeding formula, but all three had the same mother).  This is where things got interesting.

Take a look at the two doughs after rising for two hours.  One is clearly more active.

I was a little surprised.  One starter is fed using the KA proportions that came with the original seed starter.  It’s basically, half starter and half feeder.  The other starter is one that I have fiddled with a bit.  I started off feeding it according to the proportions in DL’s book Local Breads, but I soon adjusted it to my own liking.  I felt that his starter had too much liquid, so I dropped the liquid level until I was adding an equal amount of liquid and flour to the starter for its feeding, which is what I do for the KA feedings.  But the ratio of starter to feeder is much lower than the KA — it’s about 18.5% instead of 50%.  Which do you think is the more active one?

If you guessed the KA one, you’d be wrong.  Yeah, I know, surprising!  I always expect that when I follow specific instructions, especially when baking, that things will turn out for the best.  But, I have found, with bread baking, things can be a little different.  Instinct plays an important part in bread baking because the texture of a dough can vary a lot depending on the weather and your ingredients.  I think the Non-KA starter also may have an advantage because there is more food for the little guys to eat during their week-long stay in the fridge.  I imagine they are nice and strong from a steady supply of food and water.

Meanwhile, in the KA container, with its larger seed colony, those little sourdough guys may have to fight for the food that’s there and possibly run out before end of the week.  I am a little concerned about the long term health of the KA starter.  If there is not enough food for all the starter, then I wonder if it will continue to get weaker and weaker.   Anyway, I find all this very fascinating.  I’m not really sure what I will do with this knowledge yet, but I’ll definitely be keeping a close watch.  Perhaps feeding the KA starter more often would help, but I am not sure I want that added complication.

Well, back to the pizza.  Here’s my pizza with goat gouda and some unknown hard sheep’s milk cheese.  The gouda melted nicely and I would definitely use this again.  The sheep’s milk cheese was good, but browned too quickly and did not get the gooey melted texture that is nice on a pizza.  It was all still very delicious.  The pizza crust was crusty, yet stretchy, really easy to make, and not at all sour.

The boys had their own pizza with asiago cheese.  Judging by the silence during our meal, I think they enjoyed it.  I will definitely be making sourdough pizzas again.

After all this, my stiff sourdough starter refused to be left out of the action.  I took the basic levain recipe from Local Breads and added dried cherries and chopped chocolate.  I thought the sweetness of the fruit and the chocolate would pair well with the sourdough tang.

The only thing I am unhappy with is the splotchy appearance of the bread.  I wonder what that is about?  Sugar level, maybe?  It is a nice sweet bread without being too rich and is really nice toasted.  When toasted, the chocolate becomes soft and oozy-what’s not to like about that?  This is definitely a bread worth getting up for in the morning.  With a nice cup of tea and slice of this bread, I think I could face anything.

Stone+Heat=Awesome

The baking stone fad has ebbed and flowed over the years.  I can’t tell you how many people I know who have one or once had one, but never used it.  I’ve been offered several and mostly I say no thanks, not because I wouldn’t use it, but because I already have one.  And I use it.  Almost daily.  Ok, not really daily, but it is a really handy thing to have.  I’ll give you a few reasons.

1.  Pizza

The stone is usually sold as a pizza stone.  Whether you make your own crust or open a frozen pre-made pie, the stone is great for baking pizza.  It makes the crust nice and crusty.  We do not make pizza often, but when we do I bake it on the stone and the crust is just as good as getting it from a brick oven pizza place (though without that nice smoky flavor from the wood fired ovens there).

2.  Bread

Of course, I use my stone primarily for baking breads.  Even bread baked in pans benefit from baking on a stone.  The stone retains heat and transfers it to your dough to create that crusty crust that makes hearth breads so yummy.  And if you have bread that has lost its crustiness, a few minutes on the baking stone will get that nice crust back for you.  It will even make your  biscuits out of a can or heat and serve rolls much better.

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3.  Oven Temperature

Many people complain of having trouble with hot spots or uneven oven temperatures.  A baking stone will help that greatly.  Once preheated, the stone will retain its heat for a long time, thereby keeping your oven at a more consistent temperature.  If this is your particular trouble, I suggest keeping your stone in your oven at all times on the bottom rack.  Bake anything you would not normally bake on a stone on a rack above it.

4.  Beauty from Ugliness

Today I tried to make the same beautiful sourdough loaves I made last week.  I must have done something wrong because the dough was wetter and it stuck to my proofing basket.  It was really ugly when it went into the oven, but after a nice long bake on the stone, it doesn’t look half bad.  In fact, it kinda looks like I might have done this on purpose.  Umm, yeah, you’re right.  The bread is still kinda ugly, but at least it’s nice and brown.  So, even if your food tastes bad, the stone will make it look beautiful, sort of.

So, if you have a baking stone that you never use, you might want to consider getting it out and trying it again.  Or, if you have a friend who has one and doesn’t want it, take it and try it.  It is worth it for the crust alone.