Every other weekend, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it’s incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
If you are a regular Macheesmo reader, it’ll be no surprise to that I like a good pizza pie. Personally, I’m a thin crust kind of guy but on a cold day I can get behind a good deep dish pizza. Any way you slice it though (ha!), there’s nothing like a good piece of pizza.
While it’s an older book, I think it’s worth taking another look at “American Pie” by Peter Reinhart. If you didn’t know, Peter knows baked goods. He’s been called a master bread baker by more than one qualified person and I’ve learned a ton about bread from his other book “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” So yea, I wanted to check out his thoughts on one of my favorite foods.
The Hunt. Peter is a fantastic writer and I was pulled into the story behind this book. I think it was so appealing to me because I’ve had a similar idea to go on the hunt for the “perfect pizza” whatever that may be.
The moment is one you may have had… you arrive in a town and a friend or lover or family member or complete stranger says that you MUST go to (insert pizza place here) because they make THE BEST pizza. But do they? Do they really?
Well, for the first 80 or so pages of this book, Peter documents his hunt. Now, as a regular cookbook reader, I must say that it’s pretty ballsy to spend the first 80 pages of a book devoted to something other than recipes.
But if you’ve ever had a pizza that is just… heavenly, especially if you have had the privilege of eating at one of the places Peter visits on his quest, I think you’ll enjoy the ride. He’s a great writer and story-teller and he makes his quest for the perfect pizza into an Odyssey of sorts.
But more than that even, it legitimizes him as a pizza authority. After you read (or even skim) these first 80 pages, you’ll know that this guy knows his pizza. And the recipes that are in the last 2/3s of the book are very, very legit.
The Recipes. Before we even get to the recipes, Peter does the right thing and addresses a few issues about making pizza. First, and this is something I completely agree with, crust is 80% of the battle. Figure out how to get a really good crust in your home environment, and you can beat 99% of the pizzas in America. Seriously. He also has a few words about sauces and cheeses, but really most of the introduction is devoted to the crust – and rightfully so.
What I was very happy to see is a number of scenarios for the home baker. A really good pizzeria almost certainly has a brick oven or some other method of cooking the pizza evenly and at very hot temperatures. This is hard to replicate for the home cook, so Peter lays out different scenarios that you may have and how to best approximate a pizzeria crust.
Even the worst scenario (normal oven with no stone or baking tiles) is covered and he has some nice tricks that still produce decent results (I’ve tried one of them.)
Speaking of Crust. Finally on page 103, we get into the recipes. I must say though that I didn’t find this to be a problem at all. The first 100 pages of this book are an awesome read and if they don’t make you excited to make some pizza, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
The first thing that becomes apparent when you get into the recipes is that Peter is not a fan of shortcuts, and with good reason. But at the same time, he makes it clear why each step is necessary in the crust process and he actually makes it all very accessible. There are 12 pizza dough recipes in the chapter and they really span the gambit of doughs – from the super thin to the super thick. My favorite and one that I’ll be trying very soon is the frozen pizza dough that you actually par-bake and then freeze to mimic (but destroy) the store-bought frozen pizza varieties.
In my opinion, this chapter is the most important in the book, the rest is just, well, toppings.
Sauces. Well, there are definitely your standard tomato sauces in this chapter, but that is just the beginning. Peter introduces us to a killer pesto (and a few varieties) along with some spicy, infused oils, eggplant purees, white sauces and even an onion marmalade. All of these, along with the dozen or so of other sauces, would be wonderful on a pie.
Finally, The Pizzas. So the last 90 pages of the book is devoted to actual pizzas. But here’s the thing. After you’ve read the crusts and the sauces, they actual recipes seem almost unnecessary. I mean… he’s given you the building blocks for great pizzas, so start building!
But there are some other details that he gets into in this chapter that will definitely help you out. Things like how to actually shape a pizza correctly and how to pick a cheese or two that will work well with your pizza. Important stuff no doubt. He also gets you started with about 30 or 40 actual pizza recipes (dough, sauce, cheese, toppings all together). But the variations on each of these recipes is pretty much endless. The point is that he does a fantastic job of giving you the tools and info you need.
So, if you happen to live in one of the cities that is considered a pizza haven, then this book will give you the tools to produce similar results – close to your favorite pizzeria. But, I think this book might be even more important for someone living in say, rural Wyoming where I’m from. The best pizza we have there is from the local Pizza Hut. If that’s the case, using the tips and recipes in this book, I would bet you can make the best pizza in a 100 mile radius.
One awesome thing about living in DC is that you occasionally get invited to a crazy event where you can witness, first hand, some professional schmoozing.
One of my friends got comped a few tickets to The National Italian American Anniversary Gala this weekend and she was nice enough to invite me along as a friend-date. (Don’t get any ideas people. She’s the one who actually introduced me to Betsy.)
Anyway, it’s sure to be a rip-roaring good time since Jimmy Kimmel is emceeing the deal. Apparently, Nancy Pelosi will be there along with other Italian American superheros. I’ll be brushing up on my Italian American history on Friday night by watching all three Godfathers AND Goodfellas. It’s gonna be awesome.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’m probably going to be a fairly horrible date. I don’t really follow politics so I won’t know if I run into someone I should be impressed by and I’m generally not the best schmoozer… especially when there is food and booze involved.
But, I’ll do my best! I’ll report back next week if anything memorable happens or if I snap any amazing paparazi-like photos with my phone. My goal for the night is to do just one thing: Pass health care reform. Or get drunk with Jimmy.
Now for a few links!
How to Cure Olives – I’ve always wanted to know how to do this and it turns out to be fairly simple as long as you don’t mind fiddling with a fairly potent chemical. Cool photo in the post also. (@ Ruhlman Blog)
Persimmon Pudding – I always see persimmons in the store this time of year and frankly I’m sort of at a loss with what to do with the little things. This looks like a good idea to me! (@ Joy the Baker)
If you told me that I could only pick one snack food to eat for the rest of my life, it might be chicken wings. Either that or popcorn, but probably wings. I’ve made chicken wings before on Macheesmo, three kinds in fact, but this version is something different.
I think there are three important qualities to a solid chicken wing: 1) Tender and juicy meat. I hate an overcooked wing. 2) Heat! This one is debatable but in general I think a wing needs some heat for it to be memorable. 3) Messy. I better have to lick my fingers.
These sticky wings have all three of those qualities!
Sticky, spicy, and wonderful.
I had a hard time deciding what to call these guys because I actually adapted the rub and sauce from a ribs recipe. It’s got some Asian flavors going, but also some Southwestern aspects. The wings have a dry rub on them, but then are tossed in a sauce.
A few weeks ago when I made my Porter braised brisket, I wanted a biscuit or something to go along with it and as luck would have it, I found a delicious recipe as I was browsing the latest Bon Appetit. The recipe is your standard buttermilk biscuit base, but then you fold in cheese and a lot of herbs as if you were making a laminated dough for croissants or something.
Except it’s a lot easier than croissants. The folding makes the biscuits really light and fluffy though and the cheese and herbs add a delicious punch to the dough. The biscuits were great with dinner, but were also good to just snack on.
The other thing about this recipe that I wasn’t expecting at all was that when the biscuits were baking, my kitchen smelled exactly like Thanksgiving. All of the herbs are pretty holiday-like and it smelled exactly like I was about to put a 15 pound bird in the oven.
So if you are looking for a good biscuit recipe this Thanksgiving, bookmark this recipe people!
2) Chop up all the fresh herbs and mix them in with grated cheese. Grate frozen butter.
3) Mix dry ingredients and butter together to incorporate everything well, then add buttermilk. Using a fork, mix it all together until it forms a ball.
4) Turn out dough ball onto a floured surface and gently roll it or press it into a rough rectangle. This should be about 8 inches by 10 inches. Then cover the right 2/3 of the dough with 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Then fold over the left third of the dough to cover the cheese mixture. Finally fold over the left 2/3s of the dough to finish off the folding! So you have three layers of dough and two layers of cheese!
Do this folding process two more times. The easiest way to do it is to rotate the dough 90 degrees, roll it out again to the same sized rectangle, and repeat the whole folding process!
Note: A dough scraper helps lift the dough if it is sticking to the counter.
5) Once you’ve done this whole folding thing three times and all of the cheese mixture is deep in the dough, roll it out one more time and slice it into 2 inch by 2 inch (approximately) rectangles.
6) Transfer them to a lightly greased baking sheet and they are ready for the oven.
7) Bake for only 10 minutes at 500 degrees.
8) Let them cool for 5 minutes before biting into them. You should have enough biscuits to need two baking sheets as you should give them an inch or so in between each biscuit. Bake them one sheet at a time though to make sure they brown nicely!
Adapted from Bon Appétit Nov. 2009.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.
Making the Cheese Mixture
You need a lot of fresh herbs for this recipe. This recipe is packed full of herb flavor from 4 different fresh herbs. I would encourage experimentation here people. If you have some rosemary around, don’t go buy thyme, just use what you have.
This would actually be a great way to use leftover fresh spices if you have some laying around!
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme! And by rosemary, I mean basil.
Chop up all your fresh herbs and mix them in with your grated cheese!
Making the biscuit dough
This is a little trick I learned from Good Eats but is also written in the recipe: when making pie crust or biscuits, you want to make sure you have your butter as cold as possible. So freeze it! But once it’s frozen, it’s hard to distribute evenly in the flour.
Solution? Grate it! It looks like white cheddar, but that’s butter!
The Alton Brown Method.
Mix your dry ingredients and butter together to incorporate everything well, then add your buttermilk to the party. Using a fork, just mix it all together until it forms a ball. Whatever you do, don’t over-mix it, or start kneading it or anything crazy.
Keep it as light as possible.
Forming the biscuits
So now we need to incorporate this huge amount of cheese and herb mixture into the biscuit dough while keeping the dough light and airy. BA recommends a method that’s used to make laminated doughs and croissants and it worked like a charm! Here’s the run down:
Turn out your dough ball onto a floured surface and gently roll it or press it into a rough rectangle. Should be about 8 inches by 10 inches. Then cover the right 2/3 of the dough with 1/3 of the cheese mixture.
This is just 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Get it?
Then Fold over the left third of the dough to cover the cheese mixture.
Finally fold over the left 2/3s of the dough to finish off the folding! So you have three layers of dough and two layers of cheese!
Two more times
Notice that we only used 1/3 of our cheese mixture. That’s because we are going to do that whole folding process two more times. The easiest way to do it is to rotate your dough 90 degrees, roll it out again to the same sized rectangle, and repeat the whole folding process!
It really doesn’t take that long once you get the hang of it.
One note though: As you work, if your dough starts sticking to the counter, it would be helpful to have a dough scraper to scrape up the dough as you are folding. Then you can throw down a little more flour and keep going. If you don’t have a scraper you can use a knife, but a scraper is worth the $8 if you make even a few baked products throughout the year.
For the math inclined
By doing this fold three times, you make 27 individual layers of dough. You could do one more series of folds and go for 81 layers, but you run the risk of overworking the dough. Three is about perfect I think.
Once you’ve done this whole folding thing three times and all of your cheese mixture is deep in the dough, roll it out one more time and slice it into 2 inch by 2 inch (approximately) rectangles.
I'm a square kinda guy.
Of course you could make circle biscuits but that just seems like more work than necessary. Square biscuits are the best!
Then transfer them to a lightly greased baking sheet and they are ready for the oven.
See the layers?
Baking the biscuits
These need to bake for only 10 minutes at 500 degrees. Let them cool for 5 minutes before biting into them. You should have enough biscuits to need two baking sheets as you should give them a inch or so in between each biscuit. Bake them one sheet at a time though to make sure they brown nicely!
Try not to eat them all immediately.
These are light and fluffy but have flavor of an intense cheese straw. They were great to use to sop up all the deliciousness from the brisket I made, but Betsy had a few as a study snack also and they are great no matter what!
As with most biscuits, these deteriorate pretty quickly after day one. I would say by day three or four you’re better off using them as a paper weight than trying to eat them.
With Football season in full swing and baseball playoffs happening, I’ve found that my weekends and sometimes week nights are spent eating a lot of excellent (but not excellent for you) food and drinking copious amounts of beer.
I definitely enjoy a good plate of wings (check back on Thursday for an example) and a beer or a few, but after many days of that, my body is usually screaming for some sort of veggie besides celery dipped in blue cheese dressing.
So over the weekend I set out on a Internet hunt of sorts to find 60 dishes that might help you detox after a long weekend of excess. Why 60? Well, because it fits nicely in a 20 by 3 square of photos.
Make a few of these and your body can thank me later.
I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I think I’ve found the cure for the flu… including the swine variety.
Betsy was sick a few weeks ago, and maybe she didn’t have the swine flu, but she was definitely sick and I decided to make a dish that my mom used to make for me: chicken and dumplings. When I told Betsy I was going to cure all her illnesses with chicken and dumplings she replied, to my shock, “I’ve never had that.”
I was stunned by that, but it made me even happier to make it for her.
I kind of feel like I don’t need a flu shot now.
The thing about this recipe is that there are a lot of shortcuts to take if you want, but I do recommend the full process. Sure, it takes some time, but it’s a great recipe to make on a lazy Sunday, it makes A LOT, and the quality difference is noticeable. IF you wanted to take some shortcuts though, you could use canned stock and maybe buy a roasted chicken or something for the chicken meat.
There’s nothing like a warm breakfast during the fall. Similarly, there’s nothing like a warm dessert! This baked apple dish can kind of be both. I call it a breakfast baked apple because I stuffed it with homemade granola leftover from my peanut butter granola bars!
When a baked apple is done right, it is pretty heavenly. I mean, come on:
As I see it there are only two problems you can run into in the baked apple world: 1) You used the wrong kind of apple. That’s pretty easy to avoid though. Golden Delicious bake up really nicely. Or you can check out this chart for other good varieties.