Monday, January 16, 2012

Light Winter Snack [Honey Wheat Pizza Dough]

A new year with new goals. After my trip from Hong Kong and Taiwan this past December, I am suddenly motivated to learn to read Chinese. My other goal is to engage in a healthier lifestyle, which includes more water intake, exercise, and a better diet.

On a different note, it's been cold in San Francisco. (Yes, it's not freezing temperatures, but us Franciscans have a low tolerance for "cold".) The best way to deal with it is to cook a dish that will keep me warm and warm up the kitchen as well. The idea: homemade pizza.

For my pizza, I made a honey wheat pizza dough. I used mozzarella cheese, fennel, fuyu persimmon, and Italian sausages for toppings. The lovely light licorice flavor flavor mingled with sweet ripen persimmon with spicy sausages was the perfect combination.

If a pizza stone isn't available, use a cast iron skillet to bake a pizza for the perfect crispy crust.

Note: The secret to a crispy crust without a pizza stone is to use a cast iron skillet. It handles the heat extremely well and is nonstick once seasoned so it's perfect for pizza making!

Honey Wheat Pizza Dough
Serves 1 for a meal or a snack for 2

1/4 cup water
1/2 heaping tsp active dry yeast
1/4 tsp honey
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt

  1. Add honey into the water and microwave for 40 seconds. Dip a finger in and if it feels like a hot shower then it's at the correct temperature or 110°F if you're OCD about precision.
  2. Add yeast and let it sit for 5 minutes.
  3. In another bowl, add flour, olive oil, and salt. Make a hole in the middle and pour water in. Use a spoon and mix everything together.
  4. Knead by hand for 7 to 10 minutes until smooth. Grease a bowl, place dough in bowl, and cover with saran wrap. Let it rise for 1  to 1 1/2 hours until it doubles in size.
  5. Preheat oven to 500°F and place cast iron skillet in oven (pizza stone or baking sheet).
  6. Roll out dough and add desired toppings.
  7. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbling.

Light Winter Pizza

4-5 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 persimmon, diced
half a fennel, sliced thinly
1 hot Italian sausage, cooked and sliced
olive oil
sea salt
Mozzarella cheese, grated

semolina flour

  1. Preheat oven to 500°F and place cast iron skillet in oven.
  2. Divide into 4 pieces, which will make 3.5 inch pizzas. Sprinkle semolina flour on counter to prevent dough sticking to the surface. Roll out dough.
  3. Brush with olive oil and a couple shakes of sea salt. Sprinkle on garlic, persimmon, fennel, and sausage evenly on pizza. (Remember: less is more. Too many toppings and the pizza will get soggy). Last step, sprinkle a thin layer of cheese.
  4. Transfer to cookie sheet with semolina flour to prevent sticking. Go to oven and tilt the cookie sheet so the pizza slides onto the heated cast iron skillet. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until crust is browned.  Use a metal spatula to retrieve the hot pizza. Slice and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Eek! Baking for Someone Else! [Apple Bars]

For the last three years, I've been experimenting and baking goodies for my loved ones and special family occasions. I didn't mind sharing the love even if the recipe didn't turn out the way I wanted. It was all a learning process. How else am I suppose to improve?

I suppose after three years, I have developed a reputation for myself. My boyfriend constantly praises me and always tells his coworkers and friends what I make and shares the goodies with them. My grandma and aunt make requests every couple of weeks for their favorite cake. My family is the hardest on me. They either like it or don't and they make it known to me about how they feel about my latest creation.

Since my sister started her full-time job at an accounting firm, she has been attending happy hours, office parties, and events. Earlier this month, she discovered that there was going to be a holiday dessert party and asked if I would be willing to make her something. I immediately said, "Yes" and came up with apple bars. I thought a dessert that wasn't too sweet and easy to handle with fingers would be a good choice, because I figured that most people would bring cookies and cakes.

I tested out the recipe and it was the hit with the family, but that didn't matter the night before the desert was due. I was nervous and anxious, because I wasn't sure if my sister's coworkers would enjoy it. I was also worried because it was my sister's reputation on the line not just mine! I didn't want her coworkers to think that she brought a crap dessert to the event. In the end, I over-worried and she told me that her coworkers enjoyed it and loved how it wasn't too sweet.

Apple Bars

Note: It's a multi-step process, but everything can be easily put together in a couple of hours. Most of the time is spent baking. I have organized the recipes in the order steps to complete. It starts with making the filling, then crust, praline, and the topping last. We make the filling first so it has time to cool down, then the crust. While it is in the oven, we make the praline and topping. Once the crust comes out of the oven, we break the praline into pieces and assemble all the components for the final bake.

adapted from Dorel

4 cups diced apples (approximately 4 apples), 1/2 to 3/4 inch sized pieces
2 TBSP lemon juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 TBSP granulated sugar
4 TBSP cornstarch
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup water

  1. Sprinkle lemon over apples in saucepan.
  2. Add sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix well.
  3. Microwave water for 2 minutes and add to pan. Turn heat to medium low. Stir mixture until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat and cool.

adapted from Foodgal and Oishi Food

3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup + 1 1/2 TBSP powdered sugar
8 TBSP butter, in pieces
1/8 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F.
  2. Combine flour and sugar until mixed. Add butter and mix with fingers until crumbly.
  3. Press into a 9 inch square pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Increase oven temperature to 375° F.

[Optional] Praline Topping

Note: I highly recommend this step because it provides an additional layer of complexity.

1/4 cup sugar

  1. In a skillet, sprinkle sugar evenly across the surface. Turn the heat to medium low. As the sugar starts melting and turning color, swirl the sugar around. If necessary, use a wooden spoon to stir in the stubborn sugar pieces that aren't melting. 
  2. When it's the color of dark amber, take it off the heat and pour onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Quickly tilt the cookie sheet so the praline spreads into a thin layer. 

adapted from Joy of Baking

1/4 cup flour
1 TBSP granulated sugar
2 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 heaping tsp cinnamon
large pinch of salt
1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3 TBSP butter, in pieces

  1. Add all the ingredients in the bowl except butter and mix with a spoon until evenly mixed. Add butter and pinch with fingers until crumbly.

  1. With the baked crust cooling, crack the praline into small crushed pieces with your hands and sprinkle praline on top of the crust. Add a layer of apple filling (about 3/4 inch thick). Sprinkle topping evenly over the surface.
  2. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
  3. Allow it to cool to room temperature before cutting into bars.


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