Friday, July 10, 2009

Cinnamon Rolls

July in America is all about patriotism, popsicles, and pastries. A difficult month for one trying to cut back on dessert-type-things. But wait! What if your stomach demands cinnamon rolls? What if your significant other does, too?

Sort-of-Diet Cinnamon Rolls to the rescue. Thank you, CooksIllustrated. These are somehow way healthier than regular cinnamon rolls, but... I don't know if I believe that. The only difference between these and their regular cinnamon rolls is half a stick of butter. When you need an emergency infusion of cinnamon rolls...

Photographs by Rebecca

Sort-of-Diet Cinnamon Rolls (Serves 9; each roll contains 280 calories)

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes


1/3 cup (2 1/3 oz) packed dark brown sugar (or 1/3 cup light brown sugar + 1 tbs molasses, if you have it)
1/3 cup (2 1/3 oz) granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, and more for dusting the work surface
2 tbs granulated sugar
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
3 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 tbs cream cheese (or light cream cheese, if you must, but it's nasty stuff), AT ROOM TEMPERATURE! Otherwise, this won't mix later.
2 tbs buttermilk
3/4 cup (3 oz) confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and spray an 8 inch square baking pan with cooking spray. This step is key! Preheating is important. Spray is important!

2. Mix all of the filling ingredients together in a bowl. Use your hands if you need to! This is the best part of making cinnamon rolls. It looks like dirt!




3. Whisk together the 2 1/2 cups flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and 2 tbs of the melted butter. Stir together the buttermilk and flour mixtures JUST until the liquid is absorbed - the dough will look shaggy.

4. Transfer the dough to a *lightly* floured work surface - I use waxed paper, because I don't trust my counters. Knead for 30 seconds. The dough should be smooth.

5. Now comes the tough part. You're going to pat this dough down, but you'll need to pry it up later, and the dough tends to stick. SO! What to do?

First, I get a new, cleaned work surface. That means a new piece of waxed or parchment paper - or, if using the counter, clean it. Then gently flour the surface again. LIGHTLY pat out the dough with your hands into a 12 by 9 inch rectangle. That's about an inch longer than a standard piece of paper. Gently is the key here; you have to peel this and roll it in a minute.

6. Sprinkle the dough rectangle evenly with the filling, leaving a half inch of plain dough on all sides. Gently press the filling into the dough.

7. Now, roll up the long side, carefully prying up the bottom with a spatula as you do so. Roll tightly. Go slowly, making sure not to tear your dough if you can help it.

You're going to end up with a long, thick cylinder of delicious dough. Try not to eat it yet. Roll it so the seam side is down.

8. Now, if you have plain, unwaxed floss, you can use that to cut this puppy. If not, use a sharp knife, and know that your rolls will inevitably be as squished as mine. Cut the dough log into thirds (I used a tape measure, because I'm a nerd), and then cut those thirds into thirds.

9. Arrange the rolls in the baking dish, 3 by 3. As you add them to the pan, gently press to slightly flatten and seal the rolls.

10. Cover the pan with foil, slide into the oven, and bake for 12 minutes. When you take it out, they'll look like so!

11. Take off the foil, slide them back into the oven, and bake for 12-14 minutes, until the rolls are golden brown. YUM.

12. This part will be tough. You want to get these onto a baking rack to let them cool, if you have one. Place the rack over a cookie sheet and spray the baking rack with cooking spray. Slide the rolls onto the rack and turn them over. Try not to eat them yet! They need to cool a few minutes before you can glaze them.


14. Whisk the cream cheese and buttermilk together in a small bowl until smooth. "Sift" the confectioner's sugar over the mixture - otherwise, you'll have lumps. I don't have a sifter. I had lumps. Really, who cares? It's still tasty.

Gently spoon the glaze over the slightly cooled rolls. Serve warm.

Robert's take: YUM. These are one of my favorite things ever. Ever-ever. Cinnamon rolls are the best, and these are tops. I know that the recipe implies that they're diet, but... they really aren't. They're just a little better than the alternative. I love them.

Rebecca's take: I agree. I'm really glad I demanded them - they were great to have around for a few days! Cinnamon rolls can cure nearly any problem. Oh, and sorry about the strange array of lighting in the pictures - it's very difficult to get a good shot in our poorly-lit kitchen, so I do what I can to improve the quality later...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pizza Crust Recipe (+ Margherita Pizza)

Pizza is the most perfect food there is.

It isn't a debate. There isn't a question. It just is. There's so many things you can do with a pizza, which is essentially any collection of stuff on a piece of bread. Sauce, toppings, cheese; these things can be included, but really, the only definition of a pizza is Pizza Crust Plus Something Else.

That's why the crust is so incredibly important to pizza. Homemade pizza dough is a thousand times better than anything you'll get at a take-out place, a million times better than pre-purchased pizza dough, and it's cheap as dirt. And honestly, it takes hardly any effort to make.

I happen to have found the most perfect recipe for pizza dough there is. And lucky you; I'm sharing it today, along with a bonus recipe for Margherita pizza!

Pictures by Rebecca

Pizza dough: Makes one medium pizza (approximately 13 inches, enough for four servings. Can easily be doubled.)

Preparation time: 10-15 minutes

1/4 cup hand-warm water
1/2 envelope (or 1 1/8 tsp) instant yeast
1/2 cup room-temperature water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups bread flour (11 oz), OR 1 cup bread flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour (5.5 oz each)
1 tsp salt
OPTIONAL: 1 tsp herbs, 2 cloves garlic

You can use a food processor, stand mixer, or just your hands to make this.

1. Pour the warm water into a small bowl or cup and add the yeast. Stir and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes. If it doesn't, then your yeast is dead. Toss and try again.

2. Mix the flour (or flours, if you're using whole wheat - I really prefer the whole wheat and bread flour mixture, because it makes the crust better!) and the salt together in a bowl, food processor, or the bowl of a stand mixer.

3. OPTIONAL STEP: if you'd like a herb / garlic crust, add the olive oil to a skillet with herbs and / or garlic. Let cook on medium-low for 2-3 minutes, until aromatic. Allow to cool.

3. Add the yeast-water and olive oil (or cooled flavored oil) to the flour. Mix until combined.

4. Pour in the room-temperature water. Mix until the dough comes together into a ball. Add up to two tablespoons extra water to make the dough soft and VERY slightly sticky. You'll probably have to add at least one tablespoon; two is probably a little too much. You just want it soft enough to knead; if it sticks to your hands, it's going to make it a bad time. Still, a little too much water is better than too little!

5. Now, time to knead. If you have a food processor, you're in luck; pulse for thirty seconds or so. If you have a stand mixer, knead with a dough hook on medium for five minutes. If you just have your hands, knead on a work surface for 7-8 minutes. Please, try not to add any additional flour when kneading. Too much flour and you'll have a tough crust, and no one wants that!

6. Oil a medium bowl and put the dough-ball in. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size; 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

7. If you really want an awesome crust, gently punch down the dough and stick it in your fridge overnight after the first rise. Take it out an hour before you're ready to bake the dough the next day.

And that's it. The best pizza crust you'll have. You can do whatever you like: add tomato sauce and pepperoni and mozzarella, layer with pesto, make Strawberry Pistachio Goat Cheese Pizza... or...

BONUS RECIPE: Margherita pizza (Serves 4)

Preparation time: One hour (most of this is just waiting time.)
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes


One recipe pizza dough
2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
8 oz mozzarella

NOTE about pizza stones:
If you want a really amazing rise, use a pizza stone. These are super, ghetto cheap; $10 or so at Target. Here's the thing: they keep a stable, high temperature and ensure a great, absolutely amazing pizza crust. I can't recommend a pizza stone highly enough. If you can't find one or don't want to use one, you aren't going to get the same results... but you'll be okay.

I also really recommend using parchment paper. Pizzerias use cornmeal to slide their pizzas onto the stone. I use parchment paper; it lets me easily slide the crust into the oven without it sticking on anything, and it helps clean-up. Parchment paper is a baker's best friend.

Now, on with the show!

1. Preheat your oven (and, hopefully, your pizza stone) to 500 degrees *one hour* before you're ready to bake. Trust me, wait the hour. You want every inch of the oven to be blazing hot. Pizzeria ovens are 800 degrees; you want to get kind of close to that.

2. Fifteen minutes before the hour is up, roll out your crust. I put the dough on a piece of parchment paper on a RIMLESS baking sheet (this makes it easy to slide the finished pizza onto the hot stone. If you're baking directly on a baking sheet, don't worry about rimless.) Roll it out to a 13" crust. It might be a little thin or refuse to stretch; that's normal. Just roll it as much as you can, wait a few minutes, then stretch a little farther. It may take a while, but you'll get there.

3. Mince the garlic and saute in the olive oil for two minutes, until fragrant.

4. Time to assemble: spread the garlic-oil all over the dough. Add the basil leaves and sliced tomatoes.

5. Some people like to add the cheese here. Me, I hate little brown spots on the cheese for no good reason, so here I slide the pizza into the burning hot oven, bake for 7 minutes, slide it back out, add the mozzarella, and bake for another 5 minutes.

For simplicity's sake, though, feel free to add the cheese before baking and cook until little brown spots form.

6. Slide it out and cut into eighths.

Robert's take: With a good pizza crust recipe, you can do *anything* - pineapple pizza, barbeque chicken pizza, plain cheese. I use this recipe more than any other; it's quick, easy, and fantastic. Better than any other crust I've *ever* tried. And if you use the whole-wheat dough - trust me, you won't know it's whole wheat - it'll be even healthier. What normal, red-blooded American doesn't love more fiber? Or pizza?

Rebecca's take: I've eaten a lot of pizza, and Robert's not lying when he says this is the best pizza crust ever. Yes, sometimes we crave a greasy delivery pizza, but anything made at home is bound to be a lot healthier and taste pretty swell! Also, margherita pizza is perfect for anyone who's not fond of too much tomato sauce on a pizza - you get just the right amount of tomato!