Posts Tagged ‘breads’

This is something we all know as the honest-to-god truth:  there’s nothing quite like homemade bread.  It’s just one of those happy scents that when it’s wafting through your house, you know there’s going to be something delicious on the table. 

See, last week I had a hankerin’ for some Middle Eastern food.  You know the drill:  hummous, baba ganoush, tzatziki, falafel, and pita bread.  I thought I’d give doing my own pita a shot again;  I had done it during those long-ago days of school, so I knew it wasn’t hard to do.  And, really, if you’ve ever made a loaf of bread in your life, making your own pita is a snap. 

This recipe makes a good amount of dough–I got a dozen 6″ pita breads, which is plenty for our little family.  The great thing about leftover pita bread:  it makes delicious pita chips.  All you do is cut them into 1/6 wedges, toss them in some olive oil and salt, and toast them in a 400 degree oven until crispy.  You’ll make pita bread just for the purpose of making chips, I tell you. 

Kiddo got into the act with helping roll out the breads. 

A great thing about pita is that it cooks fast–it’s just a few minutes on a pizza stone or sheet pan in a hot oven.  This is definitely worth the effort of making your own.

Pita Bread – Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

  • 2 teaspoons regular dry yeast
  • 2.5 cups lukewarm water
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour (I used a 50/50 combination of whole wheat and white flours)
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, and stir in one cup of flour and let sit for about 15-20 minutes. 
  2. Add salt, olive oil, and flour in 1 cup increments to the sponge (that bubbly flour-yeast mixture–it’s called a sponge, but you knew that, right?), stirring until the dough is too stiff to stir.  Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, or knead in a KitchenAid with a dough hook for about 6 to 8 minutes.
  3. Place dough in a clean and lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 90 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 450°.  Heat pizza stone or baking sheet in oven.
  5. Punch dough down, and divide into 10-12 pieces, and roll into balls.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4″ thick.
  6. Place 2 or 3 breads onto heated stone/sheet and bake for 3 to 4 minutes, until bread has fully ballooned.  If your bread doesn’t balloon, it’s okay, it’ll still be very tasty.
  7. Keep baked pita wrapped in a clean kitchen towel to keep warm while the rest of the breads bake. 

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Ah, pretzels… a staple of ballparks and Oktoberfests everywhere.  There’s just something to the way they smell, the chew to the crust, the crunch of pretzel salt that brings back memories of good times.  Nowadays, you can find a pretzel stand at every neighborhood mall, and even though they may be tasty, they’re often doused with butter, oversalted, and the crust is all wrong. 

Surprisingly, they’re not as difficult as you may think to make at home, and they’re a great project for the kids in regards to the kneading and shaping of the pretzels. 

I started off with Alton Brown’s recipe as it seems to garnered quite a few good reviews;  I did make a few adjustments to the recipe to suit my personal tastes (don’t I always do that?).  While making the dough, I ended up having to add about an extra 1/2 cup of flour–it was a rainy night, and I do believe that affected the dough by being far too sticky to work with at the start.  I also cut down the amount of baking soda to a 1/4 cup in the boiling solution.  Adding an alkaline is necessary for the distinctive pretzel crust;  In Germany, the pretzels are dipped in a food-grade lye solution before baking. 

Yes.  Lye, the same stuff that’s in Draino and is used in soap-making.  It’s used in other foodstuffs:  it is what makes whitefish into lutefisk and corn into hominy.  I’m not going to tell you not to use it, but if you do (all the directions are out there and easily Googled), use all the proper precautions, because it is, even though it’s food-grade and diluted in water, it’s still a corrosive chemical.   Use goggles, gloves, and most importantly, common sense.  Here, for our uses today, it’ll be baking soda. 

The last adjustment I made to the recipe is I just didn’t bother with pretzel salt, mainly because I’m old and have to watch my sodium these days.  Boo, hiss, I know–but my fingers get all puffy if I’ve overindulged in the salty stuff.  I just gave them a very light sprinkle of kosher salt.   If you’re feeling fancy (and I may do this myself next time), they’d go nicely with a dusting of garlic powder and parmesan cheese, or perhaps a few jalapeño slices and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese just before baking. 

Alton Brown’s Soft Homemade Pretzels

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt


Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

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Sometimes here at El Rancho Destructo, the word pizza is a source of contention.  Choo and I are from entirely different ends of the spectrum when it comes to our pizza likes.  He loves the New York style, with its thin, chewy crust that has a bit of crispness on the very bottom and the light hand when it comes to toppings; I, on the other hand, am a sucker for Chicago-style deep dish pizzas, with their rich, buttery crusts stuffed full with cheese, meat, and sauce. Really, I was in pizza heaven on my first trip to Chicago (and sadly, the only at this point), and I was introduced to Lou Malnati’s.  We could both see the merit in each other’s tastes, but we had our favorites, and boy, we couldn’t be any different.

Ordering a pizza is more often than not a situation that either one of us won’t really be all that happy.  We did, however, find a New York style place that I don’t consider all that bad, so that’s usually our choice when we order out.  Yet, in our desires to not only be thrifty, but to generally eat better in our day-to-day lives (don’t worry, we’re not giving up our bacon and butter!), I started making pizza at home.  I often used my sourdough starter for the pizza crust, and while tasty, it caused… digestive issues with us.  I had a pizza stone, but here I have two weak spots:  one, my home oven is unable to reach the high temperatures as compared to a restaurant pizza oven, which helps create the crisp crust Choo loves.  Secondly, I suck at using a peel–you know, that wooden/metal paddle used in transporting pizzas from counters to ovens to boxes.   I roll out my pizza, put on toppings, then I’m never quite able to get it on the peel.  Don’t even ask about some of the messes I’ve made in trying to slide that uncooked pizza onto the stone.

I looked to my beloved cast iron skillet (one of the two greatest things that came out of my first marriage) for the answer.   I didn’t have to worry about using the peel, and I knew I could load up the pizza with the amount of toppings that I preferred.  The only problem is that the crust still turned out rather soft.

The next time, inspiration struck:  What, I asked myself, is one of the benefits of a cast iron skillet? Why… it can go from stove to oven!  After assembling the pizza, I turned on the flame to a medium-high, and after a few minutes, I could smell the crust beginning to toast, and saw a bit of olive oil bubbling along the sides.  I immediately tossed that hot skillet in a preheated oven and baked it for its usual time.  What came out was just right–a top of bubbling cheese and sauce; a bottom crust that had a crunch that made my Choo happy (and me, I was relieved to finally have a solution).

Let’s start with the dough.


Pizza Dough, makes enough for one 12″ skillet pizza

1 envelope of active dry yeast

1 cup warm water, about 105-115°F

pinch of sugar

2 1/2-3 1/2 cups bread flour–up to 50% can be whole wheat flour if you choose

1 teaspoon of salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine your warm water, pinch of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of flour, and let sit for 10 minutes.  You’re checking to make sure your yeast is working, and if the mixture after 10 minutes is foamy like this:


You are good to go!  It means your yeast is happy and chomping away.  Don’t see any foam?  Toss it and start over with a fresh envelope.

If you’re lucky in having a KitchenAid, use your dough hook attachment as you add the salt, olive oil, and the flour.  Gradually add the flour, starting with 1 1/2 cups, and slowly work the rest in a half cup at a time until the dough is no longer sticky and is pulling away from the bowl.  If mixing and kneading by hand, knead in the remainder of the flour until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes; if using a stand mixer, about 5 minutes.

In a clean bowl, add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and add your dough, rolling it over so the dough is lightly coated in oil, and cover bowl with a clean dishtowel.  Set aside in a warm part of the room for about 1 hour, until dough is doubled in size.

While waiting for the dough to rise, prepare your toppings:


I had some Tomato Confit that needed to get used, so I threw that in the Cuisinart, with a pinch of sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon of Nomu Veggie Spice Blend–it was on hand and quick;  I could have gone outside to clip herbs, but I also had a clingy Kiddo so it was just best I stayed inside.  A few pulses in the food processor until mostly smooth, and I had a passable pizza sauce.  It was a bit wetter than I’d like it, and if I felt like dirtying another pan, I would have cooked it for a few minutes to reduce it a bit.  I certainly don’t expect you to make your own, and I’ve bought Trader Joe’s Pizza Sauce (the fresh in the tub, not the jar), which I’ve found to be rather good.  If you do make your own sauce, do tell;  I’ve made a decent one by using a can of tomato paste, a little olive oil, a spoonful of water, some fresh herbs and garlic.


There was a Portabella Mushroom that was once a part of a pair; I had used one, but the other lingered without purpose.  This lonely mushroom’s destiny was to be chopped and sauteéd with garlic in preparation for this pizza.  I’m not trying to be fancy, here, I just like my mushrooms to be cooked.  Mushrooms contain quite a bit of water, and they have something of a ‘squeaky’ kind of texture when they’re not fully cooked that I find unpleasant on a pizza.  Is that so weird?


Onions and peppers, of course.   Pizza is such a great vector for eating vegetables.

Right about this time, it’s a good idea to preheat the oven to 450°.


Once the dough has doubled in size, it’s time to punch it down, roll it out to approximately a 14″ circle.  Drizzle a tablespoon or two of olive oil in the skillet, and then lay the dough in, folding and pressing in the overlap to form a crust.  Yeah, I know, I was kinda sloppy on this one.


Action shot of Kiddo helping with the toppings.  I like doing sauce first, a layer of parmesan, all the veggies, then finish off with any meat (turkey pepperoni in this instance), and a good layer of mozzarella cheese on top–I’ve found that doing the cheese on top holds all the toppings in place,  it cuts up rather nicely in the end, and it disguises those vegetables long enough that Kiddo eats most of his dinner before he realizes that he’s consumed something green.

When all the toppings are added, turn the flame to a medium-high setting, and let the pan heat up for about 3-4 minutes.  When the oil bubbles up along the edges and the dough starts to smell toasty, it’s time to go right into the oven.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes, when cheese is fully melted (I like it a little browned, to tell the truth) and sauce is bubbly.  As much as you might want to cut into it right away, let it sit for about 10 minutes to settle.  It’s going to be lava-hot, and you know it.


Serves 2-3

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Do you remember when Phil Hartman played The Anal Retentive Chef on Saturday Night Live?  You can’t help but think that when you take a look at Chris Kimball, Editor in Chief for Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, that you could swear that’s where Phil got his inspiration.  All bow tie jokes aside (we won’t go into Choo’s belief that there is a Bow Tie Federation who send out messages on their plan for world domination by the color of their ties), the people at America’s Test Kitchen are serious about the recipes they publish and the products they recommend.  Their ability to be fastidious yet completely unpretentious is one of the reasons why I love just about anything they put out.  One of their cookbooks, The New Best Recipe is, out of my library of cookbooks, is one of the few that actually take residence in my kitchen (next to The Joy of Cooking and my own hand-written book).  This isn’t any fancy cooking, either;  this is the book to open when you want to roast a chicken, make a perfect macaroni and cheese, or the best way to prepare oven fries.  It’s not just how:  they explain the why. For this Banana Bread alone, they dedicate nearly a full page in describing all of the different ways they came about to deciding what worked best.

I’ve made many a loaf of banana bread in my life.  I have to say this is definitely my favorite one of the bunch. (Pun intended.)  I do make a few small personal tweaks:  I skip the nuts, since Kiddo doesn’t like them, use brown sugar instead of white (hence, the loaf pictured is a little darker than what you’ll get using white), and I add a 1/2 tsp. of ground cardamom.  Yes, cardamom.  Trust me on this, it’s really good. But, I’ll give you the recipe as it’s given in the book.

Banana Bread, from The New Best Recipe, from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the pan

1 1/4 cups walnuts, chopped coarse

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 very ripe, darkly speckled large bananas (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/4 cup plain yogurt

2 large eggs, beaten lightly

6 tablespoons melted butter, cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle poistion and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 5″ loaf pan; dust with flour, tapping out excess.
  2. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and walnuts together in a large bowl; set aside.
  4. Mix the mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl.  Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky.  Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  5. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  (The bread can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

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