Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homemade Ciabatta Bread

On Thanksgiving Eve, my sister-in-law called and asked if I could bring rolls to dinner the next day. Not wanting to head to the store, I sorted through some previously bookmarked recipes and settled on three different yeast breads... that way we would have variety and a back-up in case one or more didn't turn out well. (I was working with yeast, after all, and while I've had success with it in the past, each time I approach it with a tiny bit of fear, and a smidgen of trepidation.)

Of the three that I made, these were the most work, but in some ways, the most rewarding. It starts out with a biga, or pre-ferment that is made the night before and used to create that beautiful texture found in ciabatta bread. Making the biga is easy as it is essentially combining yeast, flour, and water and allowing it become a big, soupy mess overnight.

The next morning, the biga is combined with more yeast and water, then flour and salt, allowed to rest, then kneaded in a stand mixture for 15-18 minutes. Here's where you have to really keep an eye on things, as my stand mixer tried to walk off my counter at about the 8 minute mark. Trust me, it's totally worth the extra attention.

After a rise, dough shaping, and another rise, and it's ready to bake. I elected to make the rolls instead of loaves, which were adorable, but the next time, I'm going to make the loaves. There was a lot of crunchy exterior to the soft, airy, chewy interior, and it made it harder for the kiddos to eat.

I wish I had taken a picture of the inside (it was beautiful), but you can check out a pretty amazing step-by-step here. They came out just as pictured. I love it when that happens.

A lot of work? Kinda. Worth it? Absolutely.

Homemade Ciabatta 
Yield: 2 loaves, or 16 rolls

  • 4 ounce (1/2 cup) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon active-dry yeast
  • 5 ounce (1 cup) all-purpose flour
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flour and stir to form a thick, gloppy paste. Give it a good fifty or so brisk stirs to build up the gluten. Cover and let sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.
By the next day, the biga will look soupy with many big bubbles dotting the surface.

  • 17 ounces (2 cups + 2 tablespoons) water
  • 1 teaspoon active-dry yeast
  • Biga
  • 20 ounces (4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Dissolve the yeast in the water in the bowl of a standing mixer. Scrape the biga into the water and break it up with your spatula or squeeze it between your hands. You don't need to completely dissolve the biga; just loosen it up and break it into stringy blobs.

Add all of the flour and the salt. Stir to form a thick, very wet dough. Let this rest for 10-20 minutes to give the flour time to absorb the water.

Fit your standing mixer with a dough hook and knead at medium speed for 15-18 minutes (Level 5 or 6 on a KitchnAid). Keep a close eye on your mixer as it has a tendency to "walk" on the counter at this speed.
The dough will start off sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Around the 7-minute mark, it will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl, collect around the dough hook, and regularly slap the sides of the bowl. If it doesn't, nudge your mixer speed up a notch. Also, if the dough starts climbing the dough hook, stop the mixer and scrape it down again. By the end of kneading, the dough will look smooth and creamy with a glossy shine. It will puddle back into the bowl once you turn off the mixer, and this is fine.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rise at 70° - 75° for 2-3 hours, until tripled in bulk.

Dust your work surface heavily with flour. Set two sheets of parchment near your work surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the flour, taking care not to deflate it too much. Dust the top of the dough with more flour. Using a pastry scraper or pizza wheel, cut the dough in two pieces for loaves or into 16 pieces for rolls.

Brush your hands with flour. Working gently but swiftly, scoop the the loaves (or the rolls) one at a time from the work surface to the parchment. Press your fingertips about halfway into the dough to dimple the surface and slightly flatten the loaves (or rolls). Let the loaves (or rolls) rise, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes. When ready to bake, they should look pillowy with many big bubbles just beneath the surface.

Preheat the oven to 475°F while the loaves are rising. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven now.
When ready to bake, slide the loaves, still on the parchment, onto a pizza peel or baking sheet. Transfer them to the oven to cook, either on the baking stone or directly on the baking sheet if you don't have a stone. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Slip the parchment out from under the loaves and cool completely before eating.

Source: The Kitchn

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Apple Pie Cookies

Who doesn't love apple pie? Well, me, for one. It has never been one of my favorites. Give me a peach or cherry pie any day, but apple.... nah. That is, until more recently. It's been growing on me, and has encouraged the purchase of my fair share of Cortland, McIntosh, Granny Smith, and Honey Crisp apples this year.

When I saw these apple pie cookies on Smitten Kitchen, it was love at first sight. Pastry wrapped cinnamon and sugar apple slices, topped with coarse sugar.... Yes, please.

The crust is the star of this show, so I'd encourage you to make your own crust instead of going with store-bought. If you've not had success in the past or are fearful of failure, let me share with you the key to a flaky crust: cold everything. The butter, flour, water, your hands. Everything. You want to see the butter chunks in your crust. Also, having a beloved recipe helps, and I happen to have just that!

Sassafras Bakery's pies are delicious and their crusts are sublime. The owner of Sassafras Bakery, AJ Perry, recently shared her signature apple pie recipe with Food & Wine magazine, so I went with her crust on this instead of the one published on the original recipe. See those flaky layers above. Sweet, sweet, buttery, flaky layers.

Just out of the oven, they tasted just like an apple pie. As they cooled, the apple flavor was less dominate, so I think next time I will slice my apples just a little thicker than the original 1/8" the recipe calls for.

Smitten Kitchen has some great step-by-step photos showing how to put these beauties together. They are a little more complicated than your standard cookie recipe, but it's worth a little extra work for some extra flaky layers. Portable pie yumminess for the win.

Apple Pie Cookies
Yield: Approx. 20-24 cookies
Note from Smitten Kitchen: "Promise me that you won’t mess around with soft pie dough, here or anywhere. The single easiest way to master pie crusts is to decide at the outset that you won’t waste your energy on limp, stretchy dough. As soon as your dough softens, transfer whatever you’re doing to the freezer for two minutes to chill it again. Soft dough is hard to work with. It’s stretchy and doesn’t cut clean shapes, it gets sticky and you compensate by over-flouring it and that stickiness is those tiny bits of butter that will be your layers of flakes later disappearing, melting before they hit the oven and sealing into zillions of buttery pockets. It will also annoy you and make you think that you’re bad at working with pie dough but you’re not. You’re just warm-blooded and you need to put the pie dough back to chill for two minutes."

  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice and chilled
  • 1/4 c. ice water (plus more as needed, added a tablespoon at a time)
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar (optional) 
  • 3 medium apples, whatever you like to bake with (I used Granny Smith)
  • Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Few gratings fresh nutmeg
To finish:
  • 1 large egg
  • Coarse or granulated sugar for garnish
Other items needed:
  • A couple baking sheets covered with parchment paper
  • Rolling pin, pastry brush (for egg wash), fork (for crimping and dipping) and sharp knife (to make slits)
  • Two round cookie cutters of different sizes. I used 2 1/2-inch and 1 1/2 to 1 3/4-inch rounds. You’ll want to make sure there’s at least a 3/4-inch different in the sizes, as you’ll need the extra margin to crimp your dough. 
For the pie dough:
In a food processor, combine the flour and salt (and sugar, if using). Add the butter and pulse in 1-second bursts until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle the ice water over the dough and pulse in 1-second bursts until it just comes together. Do not process more than 30 seconds. Test by squeezing a small amount of dough together; if it is still too crumbly, add a bit more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather any crumbs and pat it into 2 disks. Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, at least an hour.

Meanwhile, get everything else together: Line up six small dishes. In the first one, pour some water. Leave the second one empty; you’ll use it for your apples in a bit. In the third one, mix the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and any other spices you like in your pie, such as a pinch of cloves. In the fourth one, place a little bit of flour to dust your surface and dip your fork for crimping. In the fifth one, whisk an egg with one teaspoon of water until smooth. In the last one, or in whatever container you keep it in, add some coarse or regular sugar for decorating the tops of the pies.

On a well-floured counter, roll out your pie dough pretty thin, a little shy of 1/8-inch thick. Lift and rotate your dough as you roll it, to ensure that it rolls out evenly and so you can be sure it’s not sticking in any place. Use the larger of your two cookie cutters [mine was 2 1/2-inch) to cut as many rounds as you can from the dough. Transfer them to parchment-lined baking sheets and keep them in the fridge until you need them. Once you’ve finished the first packet, repeat the process with the second packet of dough.

Prepare your apples: Peel your apples. Cut thin (about 1/8-inch thick) slices from one side of whole apple, stopping when you hit the core. Repeat on opposite side. I got about 10 usable slices from each side of my small-medium-ish apples. Use the smaller of your two cookie cutters (mine was about 1 2/3 inches) to cut the apples into cute little discs that will fit inside your pie cookies. Place them in your second bowl, covering them with a few drops of lemon juice if you find that they’re browning quickly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

And now, assemble away! Grab your first disc of chilled dough and lightly dampen it on one side with the water. This is to help it seal. Take your first disc of apple and toss it in the cinnamon spice sugar. Place it on the damp side of the bottom disk. Place a second disc of dough on top; I found it easiest to seal it by picking the whole thing up (this is when you’ll be glad that your dough is cold and semi-firm; if it’s soft and getting sticky, chill it until it’s easy to pick up) and press the tops and bottoms around the apple with your fingers.

Back on the floured counter, cut decorative slits in your “pies”. Dip your fork in the flour and use it to create a decorative crimp on the sealed edges. Brush your cookie with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Replace on baking sheet and chill while you prepare the others.

Bake your apple pie cookies for 25 minutes, or until puffed and bronzed and very pie-like. (If this is your first batch, peer in at them at 20 minutes, to make sure your oven doesn’t run hot.) Transfer to a cooling rack to cool before eating them if you have that kind of willpower.

Do ahead: These will keep for a few days at room temperature. You could also make a larger batch of these, doing everything but brushing them with egg and sprinkling them with sugar, and keep them frozen until needed. Bake them directly from the freezer, just adding a couple minutes to the baking time.

Source: Crust slightly adapted from Sassafras Bakery's recipe. Filling and process from Smitten Kitchen.