Girl Versus Dough

Knockout Gear — bench scraper

Bench Scraper

I decided to incorporate a few informative posts in the resting period between recipes on my blog. I haven’t fully conjured up all my ideas as to what I’ll talk about when I’m not talking about a particular recipe, but for now, enjoy the experimentation and feel free to offer your own advice.

This “segment,” if you will, offers a little breakdown of specific materials/equipment I find immensely helpful when prepping a dough. If you don’t have the time/money/energy to buy these materials, your own two hands are always your best tool (unless you don’t have hands, in which case I suggest being an eater of bread rather than a baker… we all have our gifts). This time I’m showcasing the bench scraper. Ah, yes, this delightful little tool, which looks like something you’d buy from a hardware store, is truly a gift from God in the realm of struggling with sticky dough. Fact: you will struggle with sticky dough from time to time. And though sprinkling more flour on a countertop suffices as a remedy for this ugly mess, the extra flour sometimes toughens the final product, and you risk losing that coveted softness of the bread you’re baking.

I’d been dreaming of a bench scraper for a time while I fought with gooey messes on my counter — and boy, did I fight. I managed to substitute the function of a bench scraper with metal pancake turners and other oddball kitchen items, but nothing was as sweet as the day when I received a bench scraper as a gift and so effortlessly scraped renegade dough from the counter. How glorious! So long, wasted dough; goodbye, sticky mess! I’d like to shake the hand of the individual who so ingeniously created this heavenly tool.

My bench scraper has made public appearances in past recipes (flaky lemon poppyseed scones, anyone?) and will continue to play the starring role as needed in the future. My scraper, from Food Network, is made of one piece of metal and includes a nifty little ruler along the bottom edge. It’s a lovely little device for any bread baker.

Round Seventeen — Flaky Lemon Poppyseed Scones

Lemon Poppyseed Scones

Top o’ the morning — er, evening! — to you!

Maybe the above statement is more Irish than British (or Scottish, the apparent host country of the scone), but nevertheless, I feel quite Western European after having noshed on a scone with a spot of tea. “Hmmm, tea, you say?” “Why, yes, it’s a lovely way to relax in the afternoon after a long day of linguistics in the library.” “You don’t say! May I try one, good madam?” “By jove, you may.” “Bloody hell, these are scrumptious! How ever do you make them?” Well, I’ll tell you, bloke. First, I must explain how I got on the scone track in the first place — my 12 (sometimes going on 30)-year-old brother, Matthew, had a school project in which he needed to demonstrate how to make something. He approached me with the idea of helping him make scones. I obliged, and so, together we concocted this recipe of the perfect flaky lemon poppyseed scone — plus, he now has a project, I now have a blog post. Jolly good! (OK, I promise I’m done sounding like Harry Potter.) Scones (properly pronounced “skawn,” as in gone, according to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible) are surprisingly simple to make. It’s really all about getting the dough — sticky and buttery and as heavy as an anvil — into a one-inch thick slab the size of a piece of paper, with straight edges to ensure the classic triangle shape. Apart from this turning and rolling and turning and rolling, etc., the rest of the process is easier than I expected. There’s no yeast, and therefore no need to wait for the dough to rise, and all it takes is 15 to 20 minutes in the oven before they’re done. The flakes of butter mixed in with dark, spherical poppyseeds and curly pieces of sun-yellow lemon zest make these substantial “tea cakes” a beautiful, as well as delicious, mid-afternoon treat (or breakfast). And, if you make them with someone you love, the process is just as good as the result.

Debrief: The original recipe calls for currants instead of the lemon poppyseed version we made, which I might try next time. Really, you could put anything you want in scones — apples and cinnamon, blueberries and lemons, dried cranberries or chocolate chips — the list goes on.

Flaky Scones courtesy of The Bread Bible

Makes 12 or 16 4-in-by-1 1/2-inch-high scones

Ingredients: 1 cup (8 oz.) cold unsalted butter 4 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1/2 cup sugar 2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/4 tsp salt 2 liquid cups heavy cream 2 tbsp grated lemon zest* 3 tbsp poppyseeds*

*or, per the original recipe, omit poppyseeds and lemon zest and add 1 cup currants

Chill the butter. Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or freeze for 10 minutes. Mix the dough. In a large bowl or electric mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and with your fingertips, press the cubes into large flakes (Or use the electric mixer, mixing until the butter is the size of small walnuts). Stir in the cream just until the flour is moistened and the dough starts to come together in large clumps (at this point, my electric mixer went into overload and could barely stir the dough, so I had to use my hands to incorporate the ingredients). Stir in the lemon zest and poppyseeds (or whatever ingredient(s) you choose). Knead the dough in the bowl just until it holds together, and turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F 30 minutes before baking. Have an oven rack at the middle level and set a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. Shape the dough. Lightly flour the top of the dough (or use a floured pastry sleeve), and roll it out into a long rectangle 1 inch thick and about 8 inches by 12 inches; use a bench scraper to keep the edges even by smacking it up against the sides of the dough. Fold the dough in thirds, lightly flour the board again, and rotate the dough so that the closed side faces to the left. Roll it out again and repeat the “turn” 3 more times, refrigerating the dough, covered with plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes as necessary only if it begins to soften and stick. Roll out the dough once more. Trim the edges so that it will rise evenly. (To use the scraps, press them together and roll out, giving them 2 turns, then roll the dough into a 1-inch-thick square and cut into 2 triangles.) Cut the dough in half lengthwise so you have 2 pieces, each about 4 inches by 12 inches. Cut each piece of dough into triangles with about a 3-inch-wide base and place them about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. (The dough will rise but not expand sideways.) If the dough is soft, cover it well with plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 1 hour before baking. Bake the scones. Bake the scones one sheet at a time; cover the second sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you bake the first one, then bake the second pan directly from the refrigerator. Place the pan on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet and bake the scones for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown and the tops are a golden brown and firm enough so that they barely give when pressed lightly with a finger (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a scone will read about 200 degrees F). Check the scones after 10 minutes of baking, and if they are not browning evenly, rotate the baking sheet from front to back. Do not overbake, as they continue baking slightly on removal from the oven and are best when slightly moist and soft inside. Cool the scones. Place two linen or cotton towels on two large racks and, using a pancake turner, lift the scones from the baking sheets and set them on top. Fold the towels over loosely and allow the scones to cool until warm or at room temperature. (Since linen or cotton “breathes,” the scones will have enough protection to keep from becoming dry and hard on the surface but will not become soggy.)

Round Sixteen — Organic Beer Bread

It’s a beautiful thing when healthy, tasty and quick-and-easy all come together to form a bread. Elliott happened upon this beer bread recipe while visiting the Planet Green Web site and, seeing as he loves all things organic, and beer, and organic beer, I was immediately informed of his find and was asked — nay, implored — to make this loaf on his behalf. It didn’t take much convincing — after all, the recipe calls for what? SIX ingredients? Most of which (with the exception of organic beer) were sitting in the kitchen, waiting to be used? Well, if you insist, dear husband, I think I can manage to lift these arms of mine and make you some bread in 30 minutes flat.

Truth is, it was harder to find the organic flour than it was to make this recipe. We found the beer (Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager) at our favorite local wine store (Wine Knows… so clever), but when it came to finding organic wheat flour and organic bread flour, it was a lost cause. We were dumbfounded and, quite frankly, disappointed by our misfortune. It’s been a tough go of this “food revolution” we’re on ’round these parts, but I guess you just have to move on. So I substituted the organic flours for the ones I already had stored on my counter. At first, I was mildly skeptical of the idea that the beer alone would do the job of causing the bread to rise, but apparently the yeast is inherently in the beer itself, which allows the dough to rise in the oven (and thus makes it a “quick bread”). I’ve seen it with my own eyes, too, because the batter was flat prior to going in the oven and, when the bread was done, it was fluffier and rounded on the top. Who knew?

I’m not sure how I feel about the consistency of the bread. As it is considered a quick bread, it’s quite dense and moist, almost like a banana bread. To some, this may be a turnoff, but I think it makes the bread more robust and refined. And, if you’re still wary, maybe knowing that the recipe only calls for 1 1/2 cups of beer, leaving the rest to disappear down your gullet at 10 a.m. on a Sunday (What? We didn’t do that…), may change your mind. Bottoms up, my friends.

Debrief: The downside to this recipe is the lack of a specific answer when it comes to how long the bread will take to bake. I put mine in for 15 minutes, then another 7, then another 5 before it passed the “doneness test” for quick breads (clean toothpick, etc.). Still, I think I was a little overzealous in taking the bread out of the oven, because the loaf was a tad sticky. This may just be a condition of its moistness. The upside to this recipe, however, was the Samuel Smith beer (a recommendation from the recipe’s site) — definitely a keeper. Organic Beer Bread Courtesy of Planet Green (Recipe adapted from The Joy of Cooking)

1 cup organic whole wheat flour 1 cup organic bread flour 2 tsp baking powder ½ tsp baking soda ½ tsp sea salt 1 ½ cups organic beer

Method 1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan. 2. Combine dry ingredients. 3. Add beer. 4. Fold just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. 5. Bake until inserted toothpick comes out clean. 6. Let cool in the pan placed on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack. Extra punches: I’ve learned from multiple sources that it’s best to use the lightest beer possible for this recipe as it adds to the yeasty, beer-y taste, whereas darker beers tend to leave the bread bitter. So save the Guinness for drinking and use a lighter lager for the bread.

Round Fifteen — Ridiculously Easy Pizza Dough

In our continuing quest for good, vegetarian-friendly grub, the husband and I decided to make ourselves a homemade margherita pizza, with our own flair (queso fresco instead of mozzarella, plus some spinach… I’d say it was a result of culinary innovation, but really it was because we had nothing else in the fridge). I’ve always hated the buttery taste of store-bought pizza doughs, so I searched for a healthy, easy pizza dough recipe, as I’ve been longing to make my own pie base for quite some time now. Leave it to my handy dandy Food Network Magazine to come through in the clutch with a pullout section for what? Pizza. Schwing.

The recipe was so short it fit within the confines of a 3/4-by-2-inch box in the center of a list of 50 pizza recipes, and despite the gashes in my current food supply I had all of the ingredients necessary for not one, nay, but TWO pounds of pizza dough. My stars!

The original recipe calls for all-purpose flour alone, but in an effort to make a healthier dough I incorporated 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour with 2 cups all-purpose (I could have tipped the scales more in favor of whole wheat, but at the risk of make a super-tough dough I declined this time). In a matter of minutes the dough was ready for kneading, and my wonderful husband decided to take a stab (or a fist) at kneading for the first time (I guess he had a lot of stress to release).

After the dough doubled (which took just about 1 1/2 hours, per the recipe), we separated the mass in half and reserved one pound in the fridge for the next day, leaving one pound to spread thin, thin, thin across a 15-inch round pizza stone (also from Food Network — psh, what are the ODDS?)

We smeared on olive oil and crushed tomatoes; sprinkled a smattering of dried oregano, salt and pepper; and topped it off with crumbled cheese and torn spinach leaves. Into the oven for 15 minutes (barely) and bellissimo! That’s amore.

Seriously, if you’re salivating over these pictures (which you should be, because this pizza was ah-mazing), grab these ingredients out of your cabinets (or cupboards, if you are a gnome and live under a thatched roof) and get to business. It’ll be easier than poaching an egg! (I know, because I did just that this weekend.)

Debrief: This was certainly an inspirational recipe, to say the least, in the sense that it got me thinking about so many different kinds of pizzas I could make with this simple dough. Maybe a breakfast pizza or fruit pizza is in my near future.

Pizza Dough Courtesy of Food Network Magazine

Whisk 3 3/4 cups flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Make a well and add 1 1/3 cups warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 packet yeast. When foamy, mix in 3 tablespoons olive oil; knead until smooth, 5 minutes. Brush with olive oil, cover in a bowl and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Divide into two 1-pound balls. Use 1 pound per recipe (unless you want to make a thicker crust, deep-dish or a stuffed pizza… in which case follow the recipes on Food Network).

Extra punches: Really, you can make any pizza your little heart desires using this dough. It’s mild enough that it can be topped with anything from tomato sauce to barbecue sauce to hummus to yogurt. Go crazy! And send me the recipes.

Round Fourteen — Rosemary-Raisin Monkey Bread

So, after a series of days of movie-watching, article-reading and conversing with the husband, we decided it is in our best ethical interest to go what he says is called “flexitarian.” The term, if you are too lazy to look it up, refers to people who live on a mostly-vegetarian diet but will occasionally consume meat. For us, this means we will no longer eat meat or buy egg/milk products unless they are grass-fed or cage-free. It’s been tough for someone like me who loves her meat and has always had it readily available at the family table, but it’s important to me to start eating food that coincides with my morals. Which is why I am so happy that my morals recently coaxed me into making this recipe, which (though the name refers to an animal) is friendly to both the environment and to my empty tummy. I first read about monkey bread from another bread blog I highly regard, and when mine eyes laid upon it they widened in awe that this! — This satiating creation! This caramel-coated wonder! — was bread, indeed! I knew right then it had to be made, in my kitchen. I didn’t use that exact recipe but found another on the Food Network Web site, an overnight recipe courtesy of Mr. Alton Brown.

At first, the idea of mixing rosemary with butter, brown sugar and raisins sounded a little funky, but after stirring all of said ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, the aroma was so deliciously sweet and savory that I thanked the rosemary for sticking through the fight despite my initial cynicism. This recipe does require a bit of patience (as in, waiting overnight to eat it), but let me tell you, it is so much better than rolling pieces of store-bought biscuit dough together. May your own morals coax you soon.

Debrief: Not too much to change. Maybe I’ll try a different recipe for monkey bread altogether? I know The Bread Bible has its own with pecans. And yet, that rosemary…

Overnight Monkey Bread courtesy of Food Network

Ingredients Dough: 4 large egg yolks, room temperature 1 large whole egg, room temperature 2 ounces sugar, approximately 1/4 cup 3 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons 6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature 20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting 1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt Vegetable oil or cooking spray

Topping: 8 ounces unsalted butter, approximately 16 tablespoons 8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed 1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary 3 ounces raisins, approximately 3/4 cup

Coating: 2 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 5 tablespoons 1 teaspoon ground rosemary

Directions For the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk attachment and replace with a dough hook. Add all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Check the consistency of the dough and add more flour if necessary; the dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky. Knead on low speed 5 minutes more or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface; knead by hand about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the 8 ounces of unsalted butter, brown sugar, rosemary, and raisins. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Pour half of the topping into the bottom of 2 bundt pans and set aside. Cover and store the other half of the topping in the refrigerator until the next morning.

Place the melted butter and rosemary for the coating in a medium shallow bowl and stir to combine. Once the dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Portion the dough into 1-ounce pieces; roll each piece into a ball. (You should have approximately 36 balls.) Roll the balls in the melted butter and rosemary.

Divide the balls evenly between the 2 bundt pans. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight or up to 16 hours.

Remove the bread from the refrigerator and place in an oven that is turned off. Fill a shallow pan 2/3-full of boiling water and set on the rack below the bread. Close the oven and let the bread rise until slightly puffy looking, 20 to 30 minutes. Once the bread has risen, remove it and the shallow pan of water from the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Once the oven is ready, place the bread on the middle rack and bake until slightly golden on top, approximately 25 to 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer.

Place the remaining topping in a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Reheat until the mixture is pourable, approximately 5 minutes. Fifteen minutes into baking, pour the remaining topping over the bread, and finish cooking. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then invert onto a platter or cutting board. Serve immediately.

Round Thirteen — Crusty Soft-Center Spoon Bread

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If ever there was a tasty bread baked for instant gratification, this is it. I was having one of those “Good Lord I reeeeeeeally don’t even want to lift a finger today” kind of days, but my internal deadline was nagging at me about how “it’s been almost two weeks and your next post is due, and I don’t care that you were on vacation in the Bahamas because what kind of an excuse is that, anyway?” This is true, being away from the kitchen because I was too busy sipping Bahama Mamas from a coconut monkey head while lying on a boat deck trying desperately to change my skin color to anything darker than the vampiric translucence it was is not much of an excuse for a belated bread post, but nevertheless, I haven’t had much time. I found this bread in Joy under the “Corn Breads” section, and I was feeling mildly southern that day (I don’t know, maybe it was my subconscious wishing to be back in warmer climates) so my hankering + laziness led me to this spoon bread recipe. Heck, I didn’t even know what a spoon bread was, and I’m still not completely sure (the closest I got to an explanation was “corn souffle“), but it sounded like something warm and slightly gooey and cornmeal-y, and if it requires nothing more than a spoon and a mouth, I’m in.

Truth is, it wasn’t much more than a slightly softer version of regular corn bread, but the golden brown, crusty edges in combination with the melt-in-your-mouth buttery center was like eating one of those baked mac n’ cheeses where you crack off the burnt cheese on the end of the casserole dish and douse it in warm, melty cheese noodles and… egads, it’s good. And very, very easy to make, too. Perfect for a day when you’d rather be back on a tropical island drinking cocktails at noon, but instead you’ve got bread to bake.

Debrief: I’m very aware that this is barely passes for a traditional bread, but if it has the word “bread” in it, I say it mildly counts. Next time I make this, I may disperse the batter in ramekins and bake it for less time so it more truthfully becomes a “corn souffle.”

Crusty Soft-Center Spoon Bread courtesy of The Joy of Cooking

Makes 4 servings (which is a mighty-fine heapin’ helping, I’d say. I served mine to 8 with no complaints.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together: 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1 tbsp sugar 1 tsp salt 1 tsp double-acting baking powder Add: 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal Stir in until well blended: 1 beaten egg 1 cup milk Melt in a high-rimmed 8 x 8-inch baking dish: 2 tbsp butter Pour in the batter. Pour over the top: 1/2 cup milk Bake 45 minutes or more, until good and crusty. (My overzealous oven completed its task in 38 minutes.)