Efficient and divine

Posted: August 20th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 5 Comments »
Char=GOOD

Char=GOOD

I love fire. I think it’s great. I love smoke and char and the smell and taste of things cooked over a flame. Being a vegetarian, you’d think my options would be limited. True, veggie dogs and burgers don’t quire pick up the grill flavor like the meat versions do, but think of this–grilled onions, peppers, pineapple. Grilled pizza. Oh yes. Summer’s best friend. I’ve made grilled pizza over a charcoal grill before, and while the taste was decent, my crust didn’t fully bake through and I ended the evening with watery eyes and a nasty cough. Therefore, I am suggesting that any who try this, try it with a gas grill.

First off, pizza dough. I haven’t found a perfect crust recipe yet, so I’ll invite you to use your favorite rather than offering one up. Every time I make pizza I use a different recipe in my search for THE crust. The crust is going to get crispy no matter what, so I wouldn’t over-think it too much. And by the way, if YOU have the perfect crust recipe, please. I’m begging you–SHARE. I like a New York style crust. Thin and chewy. I make it thicker for the grill for ease of handling, but otherwise, the thinner the better.

Once your dough is ready, make it into SMALL pizzas. Think about it–do you want to be flipping a sixteen-inch crust with nothing but a spatula and tongs? Probably not. I make mine about eight inches across and lay them out on a board so they’re ready to go once the grill is hot. And by hot, I mean HOT. I cranked our grill all the way up and got temperatures exceeding 650. This makes a very nice charred flavor.

When the crusts are ready to go, bring them out with all your toppings. I did plain cheese, a margherita, one with grilled mushrooms, peppers, and onions, one with grilled pineapple… The best thing to do is to grill the toppings first so they’re ready when you are. If they cool down, no stress. They’ll heat back up–trust me! Throw a couple crusts on  the bottom rack and close the top. Depending on how hot your grill gets, these will be done in several seconds to a few minutes. It REALLY varies. Just keep peeking on them and keep track so you know for the next ones. When they’re nice and brown with a good char in spots, flip them over (I like to use tongs for this), move them to the TOP rack, and add your toppings. Don’t go crazy or nothing will cook properly–if you’re using mostly grilled toppings you’re safe, but piling on anything cold is going to give you an unsatisfactory result. Close up the grill and leave it a bit longer this time. The cheese isn’t going to bubble as well as in an oven, so don’t wait for that unless you like your crust closer to charcoal than bread, but it will get some pretty black spots and melt nicely. Use your personal taste here–my sister’s ideal pizza has barely a touch of black on it, whereas my dad will be happy with an entirely charred bottom. I’m somewhere in the middle, enjoying nice dark grill marks and charred edges on an otherwise golden crust.

As for toppings, anything goes. I think anything grilled works best because it keeps the flavors smoky, and I’m a fan of smoky, but really, anything you like on your pizza works. Just remember to keep it simple, and keep an eye on it. Your dog may thank you for the overcooked pizza, but your guests are just going to be ticked.


Rising up to the challenge of our rivals

Posted: August 13th, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
There's more where that came from..

There's more where that came from..

What do you do when it’s 10:30pm, you’re in your pyjamas, and you’ve just spent over an hour making éclairs, only to realize you’re out of chocolate and the only store open is a 24-hour gas station?

The answer to that goes a long way towards proving what kind of baker you are. If your answer is like mine, get dressed and buy chocolate bars!, chances are you’re a) Obsessed and b) Insane. The good news is, you’re not alone.

Inspiration comes in all forms, but the simplest when it comes to cooking is seeing someone else’s success and wanting to replicate it. The sincerest form of flattery and all that. When someone on my Facebook posted his photos of éclairs, my first thought was “Waaaaaaaant!” Then I realized, I’d never made them. Nor had I made ANY kind of choux pastry, and when I considered it, it seemed….kind of scary. I mean, French pastry. It’s a bit HUGE, isn’t it? But, being who I am, I immediately decided it was time to face my fear head-on, in the form of deliciousness.

First up, custard for the filling. I heat two cups milk in a double boiler over water which was at a slow boil, then sifted  in 1/4 cup white sugar and 1 tablespoon corn starch. While it heated I beat two eggs until pale and then added about a half a cup of the milk to the eggs, whisking the entire time and adding the hot milk very slowly. Once the eggs were tempered, I added the egg & milk mixture into the double boiler with the rest of the milk, again…very slowly, and stirring the entire time.  (Otherwise, you WILL scramble your yolks. ICK.) This has to come to a slow boil so it will thicken. Once it has, take it off the heat, cover it in plastic wrap (directly on the surface so it won’t form a skin) and refrigerate it.

While that cooled, I made the dough. On the stove I put a cup of water and half a cup butter, brought it to a boil, then turned it to low and sifted in a cup of flour. Mix this vigorously until it forms a ball, and then take it off the stove and beat in four eggs separately. Try not to do like I did and beat it so vigorously that a glop flies out onto the floor, though.

Once it’s all incorporated, spoon it into a pastry bag (or directly onto a greased cookie sheet). I made mine about an inch wide and four inches long using the pastry bag. The dough slips a bit on the cookie sheet, so I used my finger to stop the dough from sliding right off or making a super-skinny éclair. These should be baked at 450 for fifteen minutes, and then at 325 for about twenty minutes more. My recipe said they should be done when the bottoms, when tapped with a knife, sound hollow, but they still looked underbaked inside when I took them out then–just use your best judgement. You obviously don’t want them too dry because then, well. They’re too dry.

Remove them from the pan to a wire cooling rack, and slice open the tops to vent the steam. While those cool, make the icing from three ounces chocolate, two tablespoons butter, a cup of confectioner’s sugar, two tablespoons of milk, and a teaspoon vanilla. I just microwaved the chocolate and butter and then stirred in everything else in, but you can do stovetop if you’re worried about burning your chocolate. Make sure to pay attention to your consistency here–if you like a thicker, fudgier, icing, you may want to omit the milk.

Once that was done I basically sat around drooling and waiting for everything to cool. Thankfully it did before I ate my own arm off in anticipation, and I spooned the custard into the pastry (through the vents) and then covered the tops (and the vents!) with chocolate. Some recipes I saw said to vent the sides, but this makes no sense to me. Not only would the custard be more likely to leak out the side, but on top the slit is easily disguised by chocolate. Who wants a great big slit in their gorgeous éclair??

I left them on the racks so the chocolate could harden and admired my handiwork. Looking at them, so perfectly imperfect and golden-brown, I felt a distinct surge of pride. I’d been intimidated, and I’d powered through. I attacked a completely unknown recipe and I succeeded. And the best part? Succeeding means that now I have fresh éclairs to eat.


Sweet Success

Posted: August 3rd, 2009 | Author: adi | Filed under: Uncategorized | 7 Comments »
Pictures wait, eating comes first

Pictures can wait, eating comes first!

After the blueberry pie disappointment, I was determined to try again. After prodding Matt to pick a type of pie, he decided on peach, and though I’ve never baked a peach pie before, I went with it. I am SO glad I did. This pie was perfect. The only thing I can conceivably say was wrong with it is that it could have used more crust. The fresh peaches, twelve large ones, all peeled, sliced, drained, and sweetened with a cup of sugar, were still slightly firm and had just a hint of tartness. I added about a quarter cup of flour, some fresh-ground nutmeg and cinnamon, and called it done. The crust was that gloriously easy-to-remember halving crust–four parts flour, two parts butter, one part ice water. The END. I went with two cups flour, one cup butter, and a bit less than half a cup of ice water. Crust takes practice, but really, the main rule is just not to overdo it. It will crumble at the edges. It will fall apart if you aren’t careful. It will look like a mess and you will worry it’s awful, but when it bakes your faith will be handsomely rewarded. In the picture it looks a little watery, I know. That’s because I ate this STRAIGHT from the oven, and gave it no time to set. This is a no-no, but I don’t care. I wanted my pie and I wanted it NOW. It melted the whipped cream but ohhh it was divine.

And because I got a lot of “ACK PIE CRUST IS SCARY” notes last time, here’s exactly how I make crust:

1. Measure two cups of flour into a mixing bowl, and refrigerate. I never time this, I just toss it in and then work on something else for a while. In this case it was slicing peaches. Drop a couple ice cubes into a glass of water and stick that in the fridge, too. Don’t worry about measuring it yet. The butter should stay in the fridge, also.

2. Cut the butter into chunks, handling as little as possible. I don’t have a good pastry cutter so this speeds up the two-knives method considerably. (If you have a pastry cutter, don’t worry about it.) Using the backs of two butter knives, scissor the chunks of butter into bits. Coarse meal or baby peas are good images to keep in mind. If the bowl starts to feel room temperature, throw it back in the fridge. You can do this as often as you like–there’s no chemical reaction here to slow down or mess up or anything, and the colder your butter is, the flakier your crust will be.

3. Once the butter is cut, drizzle on some of the ice water. Using a fork, toss the dough until the water is absorbed. It shouldn’t stick together in a ball, but it should create bigger chunks than you had with just the butter. You can always add more, but you can never add less. For good measure, stick this back in the fridge and finish the filling.

4. Roll out, one crust at a time. The amounts given will be plenty for a two-crust pie, with bits left over so you can make cinnamon and sugar snacks. Roll the crust GENTLY, and don’t overwork it. I repeat: DON’T OVERWORK IT. Like I said, it WILL crumble at the edges. It’s better too crumbly than overworked. It should end up about a quarter-inch thick.

5. Roll your dough onto your rolling pin, and transfer to the pie pan. If you’re worried about a soggy crust, brush it with a little bit of beaten egg and bake it on its own for a few minutes. If not, fill it up and dot your filling with butter, then top it and brush the top crust with more beaten egg. I never use a whole egg, but I have a dog, so that works out ;) You can also sprinkle your crust with a little sugar, which is pretty but unnecessary.

6. Bake for ten minutes at 450, then decrease to 350 and finish baking (another half hour or so, depending). I don’t know why. I just know it works. If the edges start to get too brown, just wrap them in tinfoil. If you’re afraid of burning yourself, have someone else do it. I’ve been burned so many times I hardly feel it any more.

If you do this, I PROMISE you will have a crust you love. Matt was one of those people who left his crust on his plate and ate the filling of the pie. After a slice of this peach pie, he was a convert. If you are someone who’s just not that impressed by pastry, DO THIS. You will amaze yourself. I know it seems daunting. I know you’re afraid. But it is soooooo worth it. And if the lattice is too scary? Don’t do it! I saw a gorgeous crust that was pseudo-lattice–thicker strips in the middle, thinner on the outside, and no weaving. Another great way is with a cookie cutter–pick a shape, cut out pieces, and just lay them on top of the filling. Some overlapping is fine, but too much will cause the crust not to bake. I’ve seen this with a leaf shape that looked especially gorgeous for a Thanksgiving pie.

And for extra oomph, make your own whipped cream. It’s not hard, at ALL (unless you’re using square tupperware), and it tastes a million times better than from the store. All you do is whisk heavy cream and add vanilla (or almond, which I prefer) extract and sugar to taste. I like to use confectioner’s sugar because it’s not grainy, but be careful because it’s easy to add too much.

And please. SHARE! I would absolutely love to hear your stories and see photos.

Good luck Pretty Girls and Boys!