Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch -- Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade FoodsMake the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch -- Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods by Jennifer Reese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jennifer Reese lost her job and began experimenting in the kitchen to see what was better when made at home and whether it was worth the time and labor involved to do so. The result is this cookbook which I like very much.

Reese's calm common-sense comes shining through in the introductions to each recipe. Her sensibilities are very much like mine and, just in case they aren't, she clearly describes her likes and dislikes about each project. Thus I know that I probably don't want to make my own cream cheese (at least from her recipe) because I don't want something noticeably tangier (or as her family says "sour") than Philly Cream Cheese. Would I mind my homemade peanut butter being "nubbier" than commercial brands if the peanut flavor sings forth? Maybe not.

Each recipe is prefaced by three bullet points:
  • Should you make it or buy it?
  • How much hassle is it?
  • What's the cost compared to store-bought?
Then, no matter her own conclusion, the recipe follows so that you may proceed with your own experimentation if you choose.

Reese doesn't base her conclusions solely on the answers to those three questions. For example, homemade Danish are an unbelievable hassle and cost compared to store bought but the results are so superior that everyone should make them once to see if they find the result worth the trouble.

Part of the attraction for me is that sometimes Reese blithely accepts that store-bought brings the results she wants. I suppose it helps my acceptance of her judgments that I too have continually tried homemade hamburger bun recipes only to find the results far stiffer and denser than I desired (and I have tried over a dozen recipes).

I also approve of someone who finds, after a year's experimentation, that keeping chickens for the eggs is insanely expensive, but keeps the chickens anyway. After a year, she and her family have been transformed into chicken fanciers so it is worth the trouble. Such is a side effect of experimentation, as most people know who have tried it ... sometimes the experiment changes you beyond the measurable results in ways you can't foresee.

Reese's charm and sensibility shine through to the point where I see that many reviewers love the book for the way she tells personal experiences, despite never making a single recipe. Obviously I concur since I  have just reviewed the book after reading only a third of it. I may come back and revise this as I get further along, but for now, this is a solidly entertaining read with a lot of useful information.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Neapolitan -Style Pizza Dough ... Something to Build On

Since we've been talking about pizza, I can't believe I never gave you some of the most basic recipes that are used to "build" pizza around our house.

From my favorite cookbook on the subject, Pizza: Anyway You Slice It by Charles and Michele Scicolone,  comes one of the favorite pizza doughs of our household. I used it when we had a party and had a couple of people particularly comment upon how much they like it.

It has what may seem like an unusual ingredient, cake flour. This is included because Italian flour is lower in gluten than American flour and cake flour helps turn the crust into a tender, easily stretched dough which is easy to shape.

I'll confess that I often cheat and use 2-1/2 teaspoons yeast, a more traditional amount (at least for someone who is used to bread baking), to get the dough to rise in an hour or less.

Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1-1/4 cups warm water
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
2-1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
Olive oil for the bowl

Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand for 1 minute, or until the yeast is creamy. Stir until the yeast dissolves.

In a large bowl, combine the cake flour, 2-1/2 cups of the all purpose flour, and the salt. Add the yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Lightly coat another large bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it to oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft free place and let rise until doubled in bulk; about 1-1/2 hours.

Flatten the dough with your fist. Cut the dough into 2 to 4 pieces and shape the pieces into balls. Dust the tops with flour. Place the balls on a floured surface and cover each with plastic wrap, allowing room for the dough to expand. Let rise 60 to 90 minutes, or until doubled.

Thirty to sixty minutes before baking the pizzas, place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles on a rack in the lowest level of the oven. Turn on the oven to the maximum temperature, 500 to 550 degrees.

Shape and bake pizzas in desired fashion.