Pizza Dough and the Impossibility of Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza

Recently I decided to get over my intimidation and bake bread. I found a recipe in my trusty Martha Stewart Baking Handbook and it turned out fabulously. So I got cocky and got out Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, by Ken Forkish.

My husband gave me this book for a gift (after some broad hints) while we still lived in Ottawa, while I was still working on my thesis, and before we had Claire. A world away. I carried it with me everywhere and read it like a novel (the opening story of Forkish’s founding of a French bakery in Portland does sort of read like a novel). I was fascinated and inspired. And completely intimidated. Poolish, levain, biga…I thought I knew a lot about baking but all this was new to me. Scales, tubs, proofing baskets…I didn’t even have a cast iron dutch oven (I also broadly hinted and got this for a gift — or sort, as my poor husband inadvertently got ceramic instead of cast iron and oval instead of round). In the end, I read the entire book and never baked a single loaf of bread.

Fast forward to today. Claire was napping, I was feeling brave, and opened Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast to¬† see if maybe the pizza crust was doable. The intro to the pizza section said “use any recipe from Chapter 3.” I flipped to the first recipe and the first step was “Feed the levain.” Shoot. What was the levain and how did I make it, let alone feed it?? You also needed a 12 quart tub — I wasn’t sure what that was and how big it was, but I knew I didn’t have anything like it.

I looked in the index and there was a “Same Day Straight Pizza Dough.” I flipped to that. The suggested schedule said to start the dough at 10AM if you wanted pizza sometime after 6 because it needed a 6 hour rise time, then shaping into balls, then another 2 hour rise. It was 3:00 when I read this. It also called for 7 cups of flour. How much pizza dough did I need??

Defeated, I googled “quick pizza dough” and found a recipe on The Kitchn site, a site that has never failed me, for thin crust pizza. They describe it as “the very best thin-crust pizza dough for a home cook on a weeknight,” and let me tell you: they are not kidding. It whips up in minutes and bakes like a dream. And only calls for 2 cups of flour. The longest part was the five minute kneading time. I found myself watching the clock while kneading and then stopped and just enjoyed the beauty of a simple, nurturing task in a rare silent moment.

I haven’t given up yet on Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast; it has become for me the Everest of cook books. Someday I will read it all again, buy all the stuff, and attempt it. But I might wait until Claire is in kindergarten.

Vegan Chocolate Earl Grey Pudding

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After a long summer hiatus, I’m back to blogging and have been baking and cooking up a storm.

While I’ve been loving Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, and plan to review some recipes from it soon, today I thought I’d do a quick post during Claire’s nap on a fabulous little chocolate pudding recipe I found in our local paper.

  1. Steep Earl Grey tea bag in 100ml of boiling water for about 10 min.
  2. Wrap 300 grams of silken or smooth tofu in tea towel and squeeze as much water as possible from it then combine with tea and one tsp vanilla and blend until smooth.
  3. Melt 100 grams of dark chocolate with 5 TBsp maple syrup over double boiler. Add to tofu and blend again until smooth (I used a salted dark chocolate so I would add a pinch of salt here if you’re using another kind).
  4. Chill for at least an hour and garnish with grated chocolate and Maldon salt.

This comes from Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Cook — a book I have to check out, even though I am drowning in cookbooks. I love the title: I’m becoming increasingly persuaded that the truly modern/sane/progressive approach to food must be plant-based, not animal-based. More on this soon…

Recipe review of Ottolenghi’s Orange Hazelnut Greenbeans

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I’ve been meaning for some time to do some recipe reviewing. As a grad student, with limited time and resources, I always hated it when I tried a recipe and it flopped. Now that I have a bit more time on my hands (if I don’t mind often cooking with one hand while holding Claire) and I’m no longer a poor student, I love trying new things and hope to give you a heads up on the flops and the fabs.

This one, from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, is definitely on the fab side. I did a simplified version because I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand (does anyone besides Ottolenghi himself typically have hazelnut oil on hand?).

This is brilliantly simple (I’ve made it even simpler than the original): take a pound or so of green beans, blanch for 4 minutes in boiling water then transfer to ice water. Meanwhile, roast about a half a cup of hazelnuts for few minutes at 375. Drain beans and dump out onto a tea towel to remove excess water. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil, the zest of one orange, and garlic clove put through a press. Mix well and season with fresh ground pepper and sea salt. Roughly chop the hazelnuts and sprinkle on top. Done!

Tip: make sure to pick the youngest, skinniest beans; if you have slightly thicker, older ones, boil for an extra minute or so.

The original called for hazelnut oil as well olive, snow peas, and fresh chives. The flavours are quite intense with the orange and garlic so I feel like the chives could be too much, but I’ll try when I’m at my mom’s next and can pick some fresh from her garden. Will let you know how that goes. The snow peas would probably be lovely but I didn’t have them on hand. Even with a slightly simplified ingredient list, though, this dish was so good: refreshing, light, intensely flavorful, and unusual. I’ll likely say this again and again here: Yotam Ottolenghi is a genius.

PS: Claire hated this recipe. She stuck her tongue out like, “get the taste off!” Oh well. I tried.

Claire’s Favorite Squash (“Kabocha”)

Since Claire and I spend so much time together in the kitchen, I had really planned on blogging about food a lot more than I have, and it doesn’t take much to do more since I’ve done none.

As soon as fall arrives, I obsessively buy squash and put it in everything. This recipe is quick and easy and Claire loves it. It’s adapted from a cookbook my mother-in-law gave me called Just Add Shoyu, which was created and published by the Japanese community centre she and her family were a part of in Toronto. In fact, one of my husband’s aunts has a recipe in it. It’s nice to cook from a book with a family and cultural connection, and the photos all exhibit a certain minimalist Japanese elegance.

Kabocha is Japanese for winter squash, which looks a lot like buttercup squash. You could really use any squash, and if you google kabocha and buttercup squash, they look essentially identical so I just grab the closest thing to the photo.

My new philosophy of cooking is that recipes need as few steps as possible, and those must preferably be doable with a baby in a sling on my hip. This recipe has been modified to reflect this philosophy.

1. Wash squash then microwave for a minute or two to make peeling and chopping easier.

2. Cut in half, remove seeds, then peel and cut into chunks, about an inch by an inch and a half. If little bits of the peel stay on, no worries. The original recipe actually said to leave some on for colour.

3. Cover with water, just barely, and add a tablespoon each of soy sauce (shoyu), mirin, and agave syrup (feel free to add more to taste, but I kept these to a minimum so baby can eat this).

4. Boil gently on low medium heat until soft and most of the water is reduced.

Voila! Best baby food ever and great side dish.

I know lots of people don’t give babies any added sugar or salt, but I don’t subscribe to this approach of giving these poor little humans nasty, bland, textureless blah for months on end. I suspect it makes them picky eaters when they start eating a greater variety of foods, but that’s just my two cents worth. I feed Claire everything we eat; if I think the flavours will be too intense, or if the food is too rich (like avocado), I mix it with her oat cereal to tone it down. Because the squash is on the sweet side, you could mix it with more tricky veggies, like kale, to make them more palatable. Claire could eat this stuff all day.