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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Whole Wheat Thin Crust Pizza with White Sauce

For a long time, I couldn't stand the taste of store bought whole wheat breads. They seemed dense, dry, and bland, almost cardboard like. However, I am finding that my taste has matured and changed for the better, especially after eating home made whole wheat breads. And of course, eating whole grains is much better for health than all purpose flour.

Whole wheat breads are denser in texture than their counterpart white breads. This is mainly because all purpose flour which is used to make white breads, doesn't contain the germ and bran parts of the wheat grain. The bran in the flour hampers the creation of gluten (wheat protein) strands which is needed to create the fluffy bread texture. While I have made several breads with whole wheat flour, I hadn't tried a whole wheat recipe to make pizza before. When I came across a whole wheat thin crust pizza from America's Test Kitchen, I had to try it out. The recipe called for whole wheat flour and the bread flour to boost up the gluten content. Due to the mix of the flours, we are able to have a great texture and chew.

I made a few modifications, used the cheeses that I had on hand and a variety of toppings and the end result was fabulous.



Ingredients
For the pizza base
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
2 tsp honey
3/4 tsp rapid rising instant yeast
1.5 cups cold water
2 tbsp
1 and 3/4 tsp salt
all purpose flour/bread flour to flour your working surface

For the pizza base sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic gloved, finely chopped
1/2 tsp black peppercorns (whole or ground) (this will add heat to the sauce, so you can adjust quantity to taste)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp red chilli  flakes (optional) (this will add heat to the sauce, so you can adjust quantity to taste)
1/8 tsp salt
10 basil leaves (optional)
2 cups shredded mozarella cheese
2 cups shredded mixed cheese (cheddar, mozarella)

Toppings used here
broccoli
artichokes in brine solution
olives
onion, sliced
tomato, diced
mushroom, sliced

Additional topping suggestions
green bell pepper
colorful (red/yellow/orange) sweet bell peppers
spinach (add this after the pizza is baked)
pineapple
jalapeno slices



Method

To make the dough
Mix together the whole wheat flour, yeast, honey. Add the water and combine till there is no dry flour and keep the dough aside for 10 minutes. Keep it covered. Add the salt and oil and knead the ingredients together, till the dough comes together and is smooth. If you have a food processor or a stand mixer, you should use it to knead the dough. It will take less than a minute for the first step and 3-4 minutes for the second step. If not using a mixer, it will take about 10 minutes of kneading to get a smooth dough. Even if you use the food processor, knead the dough by hand for about a minute and shape it into a smooth ball.
Then put it in an oiled bowl and cover with a plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge for at least 18 hour up to 48 hours.

Pizza sauce
Heat the extra virgin olive oil and to it add the garlic, peppercorns, oregano, red chilli flakes (if using). Let the garlic get lightly browned (takes less than a minute). Take the oil off the heat and add the salt. Let this cool.

Pizza assembly
One hour before you start to put your pizza together, place a pizza stone on the top rack of your oven (4-6 inches from the broiler heating element) and pre-heat the oven to 500F and let the pizza stone heat for the entire hour.

At the same time, get your pizza dough our of the fridge, divide it into 2 parts and roll them into balls. Place them apart from each other (leaving space for the dough to expand) on an oiled flat pan or baking dish or separate plates. Cover with plastic wrap and let it stand for an hour

Dust your rolling surface liberally with flour. Take one of the dough balls and roll it flour to cover it and then using your fingertips and palm, flatten it and into a 12 inch pizza round. Dust the pizza peel that you will use to place the pizza base into the oven and transfer the pizza base. to your pizza peel. Flatten it further into about a 13 inch round.

Switch the oven to broiler, high setting for 10 minutes while you spread the toppings on the pizza.

Now, spread half of the flavored oil that you made above onto the pizza. Leave a small border around the pizza, about 1/4 inch. Place the basil leaves onto the base of the pizza (if using) and then layer 1 cup of each cheese onto the base. The add the toppings. I have listed the toppings that I used and also other suggestion. You can use any combination that you want.



Switch the oven back to bake at 500F. Slide the pizza very carefully onto the pizza stone. Bake till the crust is browned and cheese melts and is bubbly. It takes about 10-12 minutes for this to occur. The time may vary based on your own oven, so check on the pizza and keep an eye on it after 8 minutes.
Rotate the pizza halfway through the baking process, at around the 5 minute mark.

Remove your pizza and let it cool a little before cutting it. Place it on a wire rack.

Then return your oven to broil and using the same process work with the second piece of dough and add the toppings. Turn the pizza back to bake at 500 and then place the second pizza into the oven.

Serve hot.

Tips
Make the dough the previous evening, when you want to make it for dinner (about 24 hours). You can use whole or you can grind these to make a fine powder and use pepper powder instead. It will add heat to the sauce, so adjust the amount of pepper you want to use, based on taste. I used whole peppercorns and then picked them out of the oil before spreading the oil onto the pizza surface.
You can use a mixture of mozarella, parmesan and cheddar cheese on the base. If you are choosing more than one cheese, mix a little together at first and taste it and check if you like the combination.
Heating the stone at 500F for an hour creates a kiln effect and ensures that the pizza gets cooked properly and there are no uncooked spots under the toppings. This helps create a nice crispy crust.
Place the pizza on a wire rack, so that the steam doesn't pool under the pizza crust and make it soggy.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Blueberries

I have made been making pancakes for the longest time, but I have never had a go to recipe that I knew would always taste good. Most of the times I used to fall back on using multigrain flour pancake mix from the local store. Or once in a while I tried out a new recipe, though nothing really stuck as "the one".



I am a fan of America's Test Kitchen, and while perusing their cookbook, I came across their recipe to make blueberry pancakes. This has now become my go to recipe for whenever I want to make pancakes. The main reason is that all the ingredients needed to make the pancakes are generally always available in the pantry and fridge. I tried this recipe a few times as and then substituted whole wheat pastry flour for the all purpose flour.  The all purpose ones are great and I like the ones with whole wheat pastry flour even better. The whole grain adds texture and depth to the taste and this is my go to recipe to make pancakes.


Ingredients
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups milk
1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 egg
3 tbsps unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
1-2 tsp oil
blueberries (optional)

Method
Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Whisk together milk and lemon juice and set aside. The milk will thicken (the solids start to separate from the liquid in the milk. It is more noticeable if the milk is at room temperature than when milk is cold). Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Whisk together egg, vanilla essence, and add to the milk. Add the butter as well and mix the liquid ingredients together. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the liquid ingredients slowly to the flour. Mix the ingredients together with a whisk until they are just combined. Some lumps will remain. Do not overmix.

Heat your pan or griddle, and add some oil to the pan. Pour one ladle or about 1/4 cup of batter onto the pan. If using blueberries, sprinkle about 8-10 blueberries onto the pancake.  Cook until bubble appear for 1-2 minutes and then flip the pancake over and cook in the other side till golden brown for another 1-2 minutes. If pan is large enough, you can make 2-3 pancakes at a time.




Tips
Do not overmix the batter. Once the batter looks mixed in and you cannot see the dry flour anymore, stop mixing. Even if you see clumps in the batter, do not give into temptation to mix and make the batter smooth. Over mixing the batter can lead to chewy pancakes. The original recipe calls for all purpose flour, however I have used whole wheat pastry flour.
Note: Whole wheat pastry flour is different from whole wheat flour. Whole wheat pastry flour is closer to all purpose flour in color and texture whereas whole wheat flour is darker in color and heartier in taste.
I have used cold milk directly from the fridge and also milk at room temperature and haven't noticed any change in taste or texture.
You can substitute buttermilk instead of the milk and lemon juice mixture. Use 2 cups of buttermilk instead, if available.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Sweet Crust for Mini Fruit Tarts - 200th Post Celebration!

This experiment started out with an intent to make whole wheat shakkarparas/shankarpali for the family. I have been trying to replace all purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour in many recipes and thought that I should try replacing it here as well. However, I decided to be cautious, halved the recipe and made a whole wheat dough. It was quite late in the night, so I wrapped up the dough in plastic wrap and placed it in the fridge and decided to tackle it the next day. It so happened that I was looking for something in the kitchen cabinet the very next day and came across mini tart molds which I had bought almost two years ago but hadn't used yet. So, I got them out and one thing led to another and instead of using the dough to make shankarpali, I decided to experiment with it to make a tart crust. And the experiment was an absolute success. The crust was crispy, with the just right of sweetness, and just perfect to make fruit tarts. Once the tart crust cooled down, I filled them up with some pastry cream and fresh fruit.



What better way to celebrate the 200th post than this, eh?! The best part is that I made a batch of minit tart crusts and stored them in an airtight box. I have made a small batch of pastry cream and am able to serve up these tarts to the family whenever someone is in the mood for dessert.


Ingredients
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
2.5 cups all purpose whole wheat pastry flour, approximately


Method
In a mixing bowl, mix together the milk, sugar and stir. Cut the butter into small cubes and add it in. Then, start adding the flour, half cup at a time and mix it well, so that the butter is incorporated into the flour evenly. As the dough comes together, add the flour a tablespoon at a time and then stop when you have a dough which is firm. It takes about 2.25 to 2.5 cups of flour to get to this stage. At this stage, cover the dough in plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 30 mins.

Then make small balls of the dough and roll out small discs of about 3-4 mm thickness and place them gently into the tart mold. Using your fingers, press the dough into the mold and shape it. Then place the molds back into the fridge to cool for another 30 mins.




Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Pierce the base of the mini tart molds with a fork a few times. Then, line the base with small aluminium foil pieces and place some dry beans (chickpeas/pinto/rajma) or pie weights. Place the mini tart molds onto a baking sheet and place it into the oven on a centrally placed rack. Let it bake for 7-10 minutes till the crust is a light golden color. Then remove the sheet from the oven and remove all the foil pieces along with the weights. Place the sheet back into the oven and bake for another 5-7 minutes till the mini tart crusts are evenly browned color and have a golden brown color.

Cool down completely and store in an airtight container.

You can fill these with custard, whipped cream, ice cream, or preserves and top with fresh fruits. The tart crust can be stored for a couple of weeks, but assemble them on the day they are to be eaten.

The ones pictured here have been filled with lightly sweetened vanilla bean pastry cream and topped with fresh berries and apricot.



Tips
Whole wheat flour is not the same as whole wheat pastry flour. The pastry flour is closer to all purpose flour in texture but made from the whole grain. It is made from soft wheat and is lighter in color.
Placing the pie weights or beans while pre-baking the crusts will prevent the crust from puffing up. It is important to rest the dough in the fridge, so that the butter hardens. As it melts while cooking, it imparts a flaky texture to the crust.
Make sure that the crusts have been completely cooled before storing them in an airtight container.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Buckwheat Crepes

The first time I ate crepes was about a decade ago. I was was at a very upscale French restaurant for dinner and ended up ordering the crepe with cheese and spinach. While it was tasty, I couldn't eat more than a fourth of it because it was just too heavy. So, I was a bit put off by crepes after that experience. I didn't order crepes again for  a while.  The next time I tried dessert crepes. These were delicious and had fruits fillings. I thoroughly enjoyed them. However, I was never motivated to try making these at home.


All this changed after a visit to Montreal. There was a shop there selling amazing ice cream and crepes. We ordered the desert crepes there and I noticed that there was something different about the crepes. They didn't seem like they were made of all purpose flour and had a great texture and taste. They didn't get chewy even when they had cooled down as all purpose flour ones do. We enjoyed the crepes so much, that I finally asked the person making these what was different about these crepes. This was when she told me they also had buckwheat flour in addition to the all purpose flour. I had never heard of this grain before and I looked for it as soon as I cam back home.

I experimented with the recipe and was able to create one which tastes the same as the one we had in Canada. Once you have the crepe batter ready, you can use it to either make savory or sweet crepes.


Ingredients
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 all purpose flour
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence (necessary for sweet crepes. optional for savory ones)
1/4 tsp salt (if using to make savory crepes. do not add for sweet crepes)
2 tsp sugar (if using sweet crepes. do not add for savory crepes)


Method
Melt the butter. Put all the ingredients together in the blender and pulse a few times till the batter is well mixed. The batter is ready to use.


The key to making good crepes is to have them be very thin. For this just enough batter to cover the base of your non-stick pan in a thin layer. You may have to make a couple to figure out how much batter you need. I generally need one large layer for a 12 inch skillet. Heat your pan and coat it with a little oil. You can either use a spray or a paper towel dipped in little oil.  Oil is needed because you don't want to heat an empty non-stick pan.  Once the pan is hot, pour the batter using a ladle into the pan and swirl the pan around in one direction to coat the base of the pan. Since the pan is hot, you will not have enough time to use a spatula to spread the batter before it starts cooking. So it is important to swirl it fast enough to spread it around.


Cover the pan for a minute or so. Remove the cover and check if you can easily move the crepe. If so, flip the crepe over and cook it on the other side for another minute.

This is the basic technique to make the crepe. Stack the crepes on top of each other.




You can stuff it with any stuffing you want. Desert crepes can be stuffed with a combination of berries, banana,  sweetened cream cheese or nutella. You can stuff crepes with savory filling of spinach and ricotta cheese. Last time, I made a stuffing of fresh mozarella, spinach, basil and tomato.  This was based on the caprese salad. The crepe was delicious.

You can be creative and try out different options.


Tips
Always use a non stick pan. Do not apply oil after the first crepe. Since oil is applied to the pan surface before the first crepe is made, this crepe may not spread well. You can heat your oven to 200F and keep the stacked crepes in it on a wire rack to keep the stack warm.
The batter will last for a couple of days, if refrigerated.
If you are making savory crepes, and do not want to taste the egg, you can add some spices like a mix of oregano, basil and rosemary or any one of these spices to mask the egg taste. If you decide to add vanilla, reduce the amount you add because vanilla essence makes the crepes smell sweet. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Caramelized Sweet Potatoes - No Sugar Added

Sweet potatoes is a root vegetable which is loaded with nutrients. It is very popular in India as a food to be eaten the days when one is fasting. Growing up I ate several versions of this. Boiled with milk, boiled with sugar sprinkled on it, and also cooked in ghee, with sugar. The one cooked in ghee was my  favorite version of this until I came across this recipe. This has got to be the best recipe that I have come across for cooking sweet potatoes. Before this, I hadn't realized how sweet, sweet potatoes really are. This is a recipe from my Cook's Illustrated book, that I came across when I was trying to select sides to go with a meal I was making, when entertaining a few friends. It was a festive occasion and I wanted to make an elaborate meal with new dishes. This is an easy, recipe. The cooking time is lengthy, but the preparation time is very short and there is really very little you have to do when the potatoes are cooking.

I made this the first time around, but ever since then, my husband has always made them and he will always get sweet potatoes every time he goes grocery shopping. It is so delicious and sweet, that you could also eat it as a dessert sometime. And it is completely sugar free!! Can you believe it? If not read on and do give it a try. This is my favorite sweet potato recipe and it may become your favorite recipe too!


Ingredients
4 large sweet potatoes
1 tbsp oil
salt to taste
pepper to taste


Method
Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly, scrubbing them well to remove any dirt. You can leave the skin on or peel them. Cut these into 1/2 inch thick disks, discard the ends. Drizzle the oil on it, sprinkle some salt and pepper on it and toss these well together, to coat all the slices.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray oil on the foil. Line the potato slices in one layer on the foil. Then take another piece of foil and cover the baking sheet with this foil, crimping it on the sides with your fingers, so that it is nicely fitted around the sheet and forms a seal.
Now place this baking tray on the center rack of your cold oven. Do not pre-heat the oven. Once the potatoes are in the oven, set the temperature to 425F and let these potatoes cook for 30  minutes. Then remove the tray from the oven. Remove the foil covering the potatoes and then place the tray back into the oven for 10-20 minutes. Keep a check on the potatoes after 10 minutes and once you see the bottom of the slices caramelizing, remove it from the oven. Then flip all the potato slices and cook these for another 10-20 minutes till the slices have caramelized on the other side.

Serve warm, though these taste great even when cold.


Tips
You can scale this recipe up or down easily. Just make sure to scale the oil accordingly. You need a quantity of oil that is just enough to coat the slices.

Make sure to clean the potatoes really well if you plan to keep the skin on. Spraying the foil is important to make sure the potatoes do not stick to the base as they caramelize.
Once the caramelizing process starts, it is important to keep a check on the potatoes, as they can burn easily. Hence the range of 10-20 minutes is given. I have sometimes seen caramelizing occur in 10-12 minutes and sometimes at 18 minutes depending on the number of potato slices being cooked.

The original recipe called for the potatoes to be peeled and the oven to be cold at the start of the cooking process. However, through the months that we have made this, we have been successful at getting a great end result even with leaving the skins on and putting the potatoes in the oven after it had preheated to 425F. We have even cooked it with covering it with the foil and the result was still delicious. So, overall I think this is a very forgiving recipe and an easy one to make.

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