February 28, 2009

Pizza Night

I know pizza is not necessarily "baking" like my other posts, but I have a fondness for bread baking that I would like to share. Pizza dough is easy - somewhat fast - and able to be made in large enough quantities to feed your friends (or family). It has become something of a tradition to have our friends over for pizza night, and though it is a lot of work, I love to do it because it makes our friends happy. The dough we make is pretty delicious. Michael's family has been making it since his dad got the recipe in college (which is where I learned to make it). Michael and I have been making this recipe for a few years now, and though it was tough to replicate Dana's mastery in the beginning I think we have done a pretty good job. I had been wanting to write about pizza night for a while now and this past Friday was a good opportunity. I think there were only 8-9 of us eating and they are all seasoned pizza making professionals. I only made 2 dough recipes and halved them to make 4 smaller 10" pizzas. I've included a lot a pictures this time to narrate the night. We also made dessert pizza which doesn't happen enough (another dough recipe split in two) thanks to Rebecca and her love for Nutella.

Some tools I recommend are the dough scraper/cutter and the Zyliss brand pizza slicer. The pizza slicer works really well, much better than the traditional wheel cutter and it's easier to hang onto and clean.

We nominated the boys to turn the pizza -Jay's landed on the ground so he and Emily had to eat the "dirt pizza."

Michael makes perfect rounds. He has had a lot of practice though. We have found it easier to pre-bake the crusts before adding toppings because they cook faster - and since the dough is fairly thick they don't end up doughy in the center if there is too much sauce etc.

Michael and Christina make mashed potato pizza and Ryan and Katelyn make pepperoni with half mozz. and half soy cheese.

Sarah is really artistic when she makes pizza - and although she uses more sauce than most of us her pizzas are really tasty (and pretty).

Waiting for pizza to cook.

The pizzas: pepperoni, and mashed potato with bacon and broccoli.

The "dirt pizza" turned out well with salami, mushrooms, and parmesan cheese. Also pretty.

Rebecca wanted to make dessert pizza like I said before. I usually make the dessert pizza with a sugar cookie base and cream cheese/fluff sauce with fruit, but Rebecca wanted to use Nutella and I didn't want to make a sugar cookie base (it was easier just to make another dough). So we came up with two - one with fruit and one with chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and orange zest. They were both delicious though the one with chocolate chips was so sugary it made me feel sick after eating a slice.

We all had a good time. Thanks friends for always making delicious pizzas! If you want to see the rest of the pictures from pizza night you can go to my picasa page. If you are interested in knowing the secret dough recipe email me.

February 18, 2009


I really wanted to make grapefruit sandwich cookies for our trip to the wineries on Presidents Day, but my pink grapefruit started molding secretly on the bottom.... Instead I made blondies because I thought they would be fast and simple (after making Focaccia that same day). I had most of the ingredients on hand and substituted white chocolate chips for butterscotch chips. The batter was delicious so I had high expectations for the bars. Who knew I would have so many problems between mixing and baking.

I realized as I was about to stick the pan into the oven that the oven was only about 200* after preheating it for at least 15 minutes. I waited a little longer and tried to re-ignite it since it is an old gas stove/oven combo, but nothing happened, it just wasn't working. At this point I got kind of upset - because it was getting late and I didn't think the cookie bars would do well waiting overnight to be cooked. My husband suggested taking it to our friend's house to make them but it was raining and I didn't want to walk 7 blocks in the rain to make cookies. He must have thought my sad puppy face was worth looking into and decided to investigate. He is not usually mister fix it unless it involves the computer, but crouched down on the kitchen floor with a flashlight to see if he could find a problem. No ideas. Now I was even more sad that I could not bake my cookies and the oven might be broken, but decided to deal with, not bake anything and watch some episodes of 30 Rock. Somehow during this time Michael figured out that if the electric ignitor doesn't have enough power it won't light -- and it so happened that the crazy space heater was sucking up so much power that this was the case. (The space heater also blows a fuse if we try and use the microwave at the same time as the tv or computer are on). So we turned off the heater, tried the oven, and heard that wonderful whoosh of gas + ignition.

I ended up baking the bars between midnight and 1am. They did something funny in the pan though. I think the baking soda reacted (after sitting in the pan for 2 hrs) and caused the cookies to be overly fluffy and bake unevenly to form a top and bottom crust with a gooey center. They didn't look very pretty but tasted fine - people at work seemed to like them anyways. I'll have to try it again now that I know about the oven's struggle for power on cold rainy nights. I also didn't have the heart to take a picture of the bars because they were ugly, so the only pics you get are of mixing and waiting period.

Tip: Check your oven soon after you preheat it - and don't use space heaters...

February 16, 2009


Focaccia is one of my favorite breads. I spent a semester abroad studying in Italy and we visited the region, Liguria, a few times where I fell in love with focaccia. Liguria is located in Northern Italy along the coast and is one of the most interesting collection of cities. There are five cities nestled in the valleys of mountains all of which you can hike to.(This is also where my husband and I got engaged). Anyways, Vernazza is the town with the best Focaccia - no disagreeing. We used to get a few different slabs of the oily, salty bread with toppings like rosemary, olive or mushroom. My favorites were plain and olive. Since living there I have only tried to create a focaccia once and it was not even close to what I remembered. I live in San Francisco and lucky for me have found Liguria Bakery in Washington Square. It is as close as you can get to the real thing. So, rather than spend money on a slab of focaccia every now and then I decided it was time to make my own. I have a cookbook by John Ash who specializes in local food and wine pairing - and decided to try his recipe since it sounded fairly authentic. The dough is a basic dough to which I added chopped fresh Rosemary. The only difference between this dough and a traditional bread dough is the addition of a good olive oil. The recipe suggested using a fruity oil but since I didn't have any I used my regular old everyday olive oil. The dough requires a lot of rising/resting time so if you plan on making it do allow about 3 hours total. Another difference from this flatbread and basic bread dough is more olive oil on the top of the slab before baking. This is the key to really moist bread. I was really pleased with the outcome - and I think my friends and husband appreciated it too. I only wish it stayed fresh longer - it turned hard rather quick but was still tasty. This was an easy recipe I'll definitely add to the collection.

February 5, 2009

Shortcakes with Berries and Whipped Cream

So many birthdays early in February. My friend Leslie just turned 37. She is really fun and silly and isn't afraid to pursue her dreams (lessons I'm learning). Leslie doesn't really eat sugar either -so baking for her is somewhat of a challenge. I have big ambitions of creating the perfect dessert with some kind of natural sugar but this requires trian and error and I am not a big fan of this method as it usually means you waste a good dessert! Anyways, rather than using splenda as a substitute like I tried last year (Elvis Cake) I chose something she loves, Fruit. I think Leslie is part monkey as she could probably sustain herself on bananas for quite a while, but she seems to love all fruits and berries. I chose a shortcake with a teensie bit of sugar (I know I'm bad) and served it with fresh berries and whipped cream. The recipe I used is from my cookbook, Baking From My Home to Yours, and it seemed perfect. We (Joey, Alberto, and myself) celebrated Leslie's day of birth with a lunch pot luck on the roof garden at our office. It was blazing hot (strange for this time of year in SF) but refreshing. Alberto made spectacular enchiladas, Joey made a tasty bay shrimp salad and I finished off with the dessert. I can not say that I ever made the type of shortcake the cookbook called for - which is more like a biscuit but I really liked the idea of individual portions, especially since it had to travel. The recipe is also glorious because you can freeze the dough in little blobs and toss them into the oven whenever (this will come in handy in the summer). The dough resembled a sweet biscuit dough with a crumbly texture. I believe they are best served warm with a gigantic pile of fruit and mound of whipped cream. While we are on the topic of whipped cream, please please please never buy cool whip or any other fake whipped processed goop. True whipped cream is lovely. You have the ability to control the sweetness and weight of the cream - for the shortbread I let the cream form soft peaks - and added vanilla at the end with a whisk. We had this discussion during our lunch and Alberto confessed to loving whipped cream from a box of some sort and Joey said she would never eat cool whip again after reading the ingredients on the carton. I am truly disgusted by the fake stuff and sometimes refuse to make things from boxes.... anyways, please no more fake whipped cream people. I don't have a secret recipe here to share with you for whipped cream, but I can tell you my method. I don't measure - I use the rule that the cream will double in volume when whipped so I put a little into the mixer and mix on slow speed for a minute or two, then crank it up to med-high until it begins to hold soft peaks. At this point I add one teaspoon of powdered sugar at a time until I think it is sweet enough (test using the finger dip method) and finish beating to the desired consistency. When it is done in the mixer I whisk in about a 1/4 tsp or so of vanilla. It comes out perfect every time and I really appreciate not having to measure sometimes. To make the berry filling, I just sliced up some of my favorites and sprinkled sugar over the top so the berries would release their juice and set aside for at least 10 minutes. I cut the biscuits in half and top with as many berries as fit followed by a dollop of cream. The top of the biscuit fits snugly off to the side of the whipped cream dollop. It is beautiful and tasty and a great way to finish a birthday lunch.

February 2, 2009

Gingerbread Cake - Beats the Allergies

Our friend Ryan is allergic to almost everything - even celery and carrots. Anyways, today is his birthday which he shares with Groundhog Day, so we celebrated with cake yesterday during the Superbowl.
Since Ryan has so many allergies (and they seem to be always changing) I gave him some options of which he chose Gingerbread Cake. I made this cake last year for Michael's birthday, I think it was the first attempt at a cake from this cookbook, and it was just ok. I made some adjustments this time around including changing the suggested raspberry jam filling to none and rather than chocolate buttercream (chocolate allergy) as the recipe suggests I made a much lighter lemon buttercream. I also shortened the baking time as last year's cake was a little dry and used heaping tabelspoons of ginger.
The cake turned out well. It was moist and the light frosting paired with a more dense cake was much better than the first time I made it (sorry love). Anyways, Ryan really liked it and that was the goal - to feed the birthday man something he wasn't allergic to that he enjoyed. Our other friends Emily and Jay made some strawberry sorbet - and emily really liked the combination. This may be a better combination than using a raspberry jam filling. Next time I might try lemon curd filling and frost the whole cake with lemon buttercream rather than just the two layers.
The second time around is always a little better, thanks Katelyn for taking me up on my offer to bake. I'm glad that gingerbread is accepted after the holidays, it's just too good to wait one whole year for.

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