Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Irish bread for the Ireland-bound

Obviously I’m a few months late with the ubiquitous Irish Soda Bread post that every food blogger wrote during March in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. And I did celebrate my heritage (I’m indeed a part-Irish lass) then by eating a few slices of the traditional quick bread. But now, I’m baking it myself in honor of my impending trip to the Emerald Isle. In less than two weeks, I’ll be on a plane to Dublin, seeing the country for the first time and taking the one vacation that I – quite literally – have been dreaming of for years.

In order to adequately prepare myself, I’ve spent the past several weeks immersing myself in all things Irish, from listening to the Chieftans to reading anthologies of Irish literature (typical English student…I’ve actually enjoyed the literary criticism the most). And although my trip will primarily be a literary tour, I have not forgotten about the food.

The Irish are known for their storytelling and their irresistible brogues, not their cuisine. However, from what I hear, this is changing as quickly as Ireland itself. Still, I’m looking forward to sampling the tried and true food of Ireland: the potatoes, the cheeses, and of course, the bread. As part of my Ireland countdown, I knew that a loaf of Irish Soda Bread would be in order. And this recipe was so easy to make, I feel like it was hardly baking at all. But, when I look at it that way, it seems vaguely insulting to the Irish: “This bread is so simple, an Irish cook can make it!”

It’s not difficult to see why this bread has sustained the Irish for as long as it has; not only is it a cinch to throw together, it’s crumbly texture and buttery taste are absolutely mouth-watering at any time of the day, as a breakfast companion, a tea-time snack, or a dinner precursor. And as I’ve said before, the smell of bread baking is easily one of the most stirring scents in existence; this bread proves to be no exception. For this particular recipe, I added a touch more buttermilk than the required 1 1/3 cups, and it turned out quite well. I also omitted the caraway seeds, but I'm sure that their presence would have made the bread even better.

And as for the cross I cut in the middle of the bread: apparently it’s a purely useful practice that serves as a guideline for the slices, but I like to think that this particular cross is warding off any evil spirits trying to mess with me in the coming month.

Irish Soda Bread

3 cups flour
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
1-1/3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup currants or raisins
3 tsp. caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix flour, 1/3 cup of the sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add buttermilk, caraway seeds, and raisins; mix just until moistened.
Place dough on floured surface and knead. Shape into a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cut a deep 1/2-inch "X" in top of dough. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar.
Bake 1 hour or until golden brown. Cool completely on wire rack. Cut into wedges to serve.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Chocolate tortes are a year-round dessert (as the strawberries prove)

This weekend was the first in recent memory that was absolutely glorious, Friday through Sunday: finally, a real Spring weekend! And now that tomorrow is Memorial Day, summer will “officially” begin for me and for most of the city. The farmer’s markets are overflowing and the distinctive jingle of ice cream trucks are heard well into the evening (Side note: last week I was walking to my apartment at 10:45 p.m. when I heard the famous tinkling tune from a nearby street, sending an uncomfortable shiver down my spine, as empty playgrounds at midnight or abandoned insane asylums are liable to do. There is a certain time of night when hearing an ice cream truck is altogether eerie. End side note).

With all of the signs of summer at my door, one would think that I’d be searching for recipes for tropical fruit granitas and chiffony Cool-Whip pies. Well, while that might be true, my eyes are still always open for a rich chocolate dessert, such as the delectable fudge torte that I made yesterday. It was garnished with strawberries, though, and that is very summery, no?

Unfortunately, the few strawberry slices atop the chocolate do not make for a light warm-weather treat: this torte really is appallingly unhealthy-sounding, so if you’re the type who uses the phrase “swimsuit season,” then perhaps it’s best to wait on this one until it’s “baggy sweater and corduroy” season once again.

As usual, my solution to a particularly…luxurious dessert is simply to share the wealth. Luckily, I was at home in Connecticut for the past couple of days (working in an actual kitchen with a window and an oven timer and a real cake pan!), and what kind of person would I be if I didn’t whip up a torte for my family on Memorial Day weekend? (Insert obvious answer here).

The most wonderful aspect of this torte, easily, it its taste; the second is its utter simplicity. Aside from bake time, it was a very quick dessert to pull together, and it can be dressed up quite easily. And as beautiful as the presentation has potential for, it will still be topped by that first forkful of blissful fudgey-ness.
Chocolate Fudge Torte


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chip
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries


Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
In a pan over low heat, melt 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup light corn syrup. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips until melted.
Remove from heat and add sugar and eggs, and stir until blended.
Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla, then mix in flour
Pour into pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.
Cool in pan 10 minutes, then place on a cooling rack.

To make glaze: combine chocolate chips, 2 tablespoons butter or margarine and corn syrup in pan. Stir over low heat till chocolate chips are melted. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Pour over the top of torte and spread onto sides. Garnish with sliced strawberries. Chill until set.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cheesecake Brownies

There is a serious hole in my world of baking, and I feel that it's about time I filled it (with chocolate, of course). I've made cakes and cookies from scratch, but for some reason, whenever I think of brownies, I always head to the baked goods aisle of the grocery store, where a line up of boxed mixes stare me in the face, tempting me with beautiful photographs of the desserts I could be making. Perhaps this is because, growing up, my brothers and I would frequently make brownies together using these mixes, fighting over who got to stir the batter and who would then lick it off the spoon. The cupboard was consistently stocked with at least three boxes of mix, ranging from the dark chocolate variety, to "chocolate lover," to milk chocolate with chocolate chips. Maybe the choices were not very diverse, but that never mattered; when the oven timer rang, and the aroma of warm chocolate wafted from the kitchen to the living room, where we had gathered for twenty-five to thirty minutes in hungry anticipation with thoughts of moist, hot brownies and a glass of milk, we were in heaven.

My mother could relate a few choice stories from our childhood involving cookie dough and ice cream, but it's the brownie mixes (and their delicious outcomes) that I most remember. No wonder I'm hesitant to move on past Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines.

However, that's precisely what I did this week.

I had a starting recipe for marble cheesecake brownies that was made for some party at some point in the past, but if I remember the original correctly, it was frightfully sub par. So, I made some adjustments, made some additions and subtractions, and I ended up with these Cheesecake Brownies, made especially for my co-worker on her birthday. According to Emily, and my other colleagues, it was a well-amended creation, and a very welcome departure from a boxed mix; these squares are super fudgey with a thick, substantial consistency and the cream cheese topping is light enough to not overwhelm the brownies, but enhances their flavor.

Cheesecake Brownies


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup water
1 pkg. (8 squares) semi-sweet baking chocolate, divided
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs, divided
1/2 cup sour cream
1 pkg. (8 oz.) low fat cream cheese, softened
Semi-sweet chocolate morsels


Preheat oven to 375°f. Microwave butter, water and 2 of the chocolate squares in large microwaveable bowl on high 2 min. or until butter is melted; stir until chocolate is completely melted. Chop remaining 6 chocolate squares; set aside.
In one bowl, combine flour, 1 2/3 cups of the sugar, the baking soda and salt. Add 2 of the eggs and the sour cream; mix well. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Pour into greased and floured baking pan.
Beat cream cheese and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in small bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add the remaining egg; mix well. Spoon over chocolate batter and cut through batters with knife several times for marble effect. Sprinkle with the chocolate morsels.
Bake 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What's the deal with Nutella?

My first encounter with Nutella was in Rome while visiting my friend, Michelle. By the time I arrived, Michelle was nearing the end of her study abroad experience in Italy, and she had made a point to assimilate herself with the Italians as thoroughly as possible. Apparently one crucial means of doing so was to become obsessed with Nutella, incorporating it into every meal and snack, and even going so far as to take a spoon and eat it straight from the jar. Our lunches and dinners in the apartment consisted of pasta with olive oil, bread and sliced cheese, strawberries and Nutella. And in her cupboard, there was no average, 8-ounce container of the spread; no, she had bought the plastic, economy-sized tub of Nutella, with an opening large enough to stick my hand into and grab a fistful of Nutella, if I were so inclined (I was not).

I’m sure that I’m simply not cosmopolitan enough to fully comprehend the devotion to Nutella, but from what I understand, it’s somewhat similar to the American love of peanut butter. Peanut butter is also spread on everything, sweet or savory, and is very enjoyable when snacked on from the jar. Well, given my love for peanut butter, I figured that I could perhaps introduce Nutella into my kitchen and it would be a smooth transition.

Again, I think that my lack of sophistication is to blame in that I haven’t really been sure what to do with the Nutella that has been sitting behind an unopened jar of salsa for about a month now. It just seems wrong to put it on a morning bagel (whole wheat with cocoa and hazelnut?), and I think I would need a pan of much better quality if I were to make Nutella crepes (something I can envision doing, but probably not very well. Michelle, being the worldly girl she is, is much better at crepe-making than I could ever be).

Today after I returned from the produce market, I put away my vegetables and milk, looked at the apples and strawberries sitting on my counter, and wondered what I could do to make my fruit fancier for a change. Since I was tired and feeling quite lazy, I figured the simplest way to do so would somehow involve Nutella.

Normally when I “make” a single-serving dessert, the most work I have to do is open my cabinet door and pour out a handful of M&Ms. But why not put together an actual plated dessert for once? It’s hardly a chocolate soufflé, but it’s nice to put in a bit of effort, even when it’s only for myself. Hence, the plate of sliced green apple and strawberries with a scoop of Nutella, a scoop of peanut butter, and a drizzle of honey, which I enjoyed while gazing out my open window at the gray Brooklyn sky.

It was actually a very pleasant departure from dipping hunks of apple into the peanut butter jar while standing over the kitchen sink, licking apple juice and PB from my fingers.

I have a bit more ground to cover before I even approach the realm of European sophistication, it seems.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s been my experience that at some point, almost every Monday, I will hear the following exchange:

“How’s it going?”
“You know: Monday.”
“Yup, I hear ya.”

Very rarely this short dialogue takes place on the subway or at the gym, but more often than not, I hear it around the hallways of my office, or in the communal kitchen, or the restroom, or the elevator during lunchtime…there have been Mondays when I hear these exact words repeated three or even four times. At that point, all I can think of is Office Space and the one employee who accuses the other of “having a case of the Mondays.” Then I inevitably wonder if I’ve been sucked into the farce-like universe of corporate culture, and double check that I hadn’t left my soul waiting for me at home.

I’ve found that free food brightens any day at the office, whether it is a dispiriting Monday, a promising Friday, or an average Thursday. And in my office (or at least the area where I and my other colleagues-slash-cooks sit), free food has become the rule rather than the exception. To my knowledge, no one has been complaining about this.

And it had been about two weeks since I last brought in an office treat, so I figured it was my turn. And what makes a group of workers more motivated than chocolate mixed with peanut butter?

Absolutely nothing, that’s what.

So today, I treated my co-workers to this slight variation of a Nestle recipe for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (baked as a pan cookie). And being a particularly arduous Thursday in my assistants' corner of the office, I like to think that these cookies made everyone's day a bit less exasperating. They made my day, too: I received a glowing performance review from them all.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: 3 ½ dozen

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups (11.5-oz. pkg.) milk chocolate chips
Granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Combine flour and baking soda in small bowl. Beat butter, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Beat in egg. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Press down slightly with bottom of glass dipped in granulated sugar.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are set but centers are still soft. Cool on baking sheets for 4 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.
For pan cookies:
Prepare dough as above. Spread dough into ungreased 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Double-Fudge Chip Cake: Happy Birthday, indeed!

I realized today that May is a very birthday-heavy month as far as personal acquaintances go, and that before the month is out, I probably should check around just to make sure that I’m not missing anyone.

As I was thinking of all the birthdays popping up this month, I couldn’t help but wonder how each person would be celebrating. Sure, I know about the parties and the presents, but what I really want to know is what sort of treat the birthday boys and girls will be indulging in on their special day. Or instead, if they are somehow able to separate food and festivities, as I so clearly am unable to do.

My birthday isn’t swinging around until next month, so I’ll have to wait for my own celebratory delicacy, but the wonderful thing about being a self-proclaimed baker is that I can make something delicious for other people when it’s their special day, hopefully adding to their revelry (and perhaps sampling a little bit of the food-merriment, too).

While I was thinking about birthday cuisine, I remembered one particular cake that I once made for a special someone on his birthday, and the amazed reaction it received. I can’t recall the exact words that were used, but it boiled down to a very positive review of the cake and the effort it took to pull together.

This cake (not pictured) is from a Mrs. Fields cookbook that I’ve had for years, and I still take the book down from the shelf when I’m looking for a more distinctive dessert recipe. And the Double-Fudge Chip Cake is one of these selections; the name alone is quite striking. The procedure is slightly involved, and I know I was overwhelmed when I first read it through. But like any respectable cake, it is definitely worth the time and careful attention, especially when it’s given as a present on someone’s big day.

Also, this is a cake that just begs for creative decorations. I personally used Hershey kisses as a garnish.

Double-Fudge Chip Cake

Yield: One 9-inch layer cake


3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2 ¼ c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 stick (½ c.) salted butter, softened
2 ¼ c. (packed) light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. sour cream
1 c. boiling water


8 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2 sticks (1 c.) unsalted butter, softened
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar
1 c. heavy cream
4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate chips


1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 9-inch cake pans.

2. Make the cake:
In a double boiler, melt the chocolate over hot, not simmering, water. Set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the brown sugar and then the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Beat at high speed for 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the melted chocolate.
Beat in portions of the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture; beat well after each addition.
Stir in the boiling water and pour the batter at once into the prepared pans. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the center springs back when touched lightly. Set the cake pans on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then invert the cakes onto the racks to cool completely.

3. Prepare the frosting:
In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the butter. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, blend the confectioners’ sugar, cream, and vanilla until smooth. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and mix at low speed until blended. Place the frosting in the refrigerator until thick and firm yet still easy to spread, 20-30 minutes.

4. Assemble:
Place one cake layer upside down on a cake dish. Spread ¼ of the frosting on top and sprinkle with ½ cup of the chips. Add a second cake layer upside down and frost with another ¼ of the frosting and the remaining ½ cup of the chips. Add the top layer upside down and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Compassionate Cupcakes

I would be a terrible vegan.
I’m sure I could commit to the lifestyle for perhaps the morning, or for a period of time between lunch and dinner (unless I have a cup of afternoon tea), but anything surpassing a few hours would truly be pushing it. That being said, I have a great amount of respect for vegans, and how closely they live according to their beliefs. I appreciate their general sincerity and their limitless compassion, what encouraged them to live a vegan lifestyle in the first place. What I truly marvel at, though, are vegan chefs and bakers. I know there was a time when being a vegan baker would have been an unimaginable feat; after all, how do you bake without eggs? Or milk? Or chocolate chips!? But nowadays, there are so many food substitutes and ingredient choices that not only is it possible to bake vegan, but it’s not difficult to bake vegan with mouth-watering results.

This is what I discovered this weekend at Cake Shop in the Lower East Side. On the counter of the café sat a tray of cupcakes with an obvious dividing line between two separate sets of cupcakes. On the right were some chocolate and red velvet cupcakes, sprinkles on top, slightly oversized and very tempting. On the left was a collection of smaller cupcakes, some with green frosting (lime), some chocolate, some vanilla, and one with a nut-flavored frosting. These were the vegan cakes. I took a moment to study the vegan side and the non, and compare the two, attempting to determine what the differences might be. Size aside, the cakes appeared nearly identical.

Hoping to expand my palate, I went for the vegan cupcake (chocolate on chocolate) and took it to a table near the back where the solo diners/coffee drinkers sat, laptops open, probably working on important pieces of literature, or at the very least, their vegan blogs.

It would be inaccurate to say that I bit into the cupcake with a bit of trepidation, because vegan or not, it was still a chocolate cupcake. But I did bring it to my mouth with a minute hint of suspicion. How do they do it? Can a vegan cupcake really be as good as one that makes no apologies when mixing in butter, eggs, milk?

I can’t say for sure how they do it, but I can answer the second question with a confident “yes.” If I had picked that cupcake up off an unmarked tray at a party, I would never have guessed that it was made with anything but the most non-vegan ingredients. The cake was moist and the frosting creamy – truly a perfect chocolate cupcake.

I must give credit to all the vegan bakers, who meticulously create recipes that compromise neither their values nor their love for a delicious dessert. After a very limited search at a nearby bookstore and later online, I uncovered a handful of vegan cookbooks, like The Joy of Vegan Baking and Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan , all including recipes for treats like éclairs, apple crumble, and, yes, chocolate chip cookies.

I thoroughly enjoyed being vegan for a couple of hours, but a slice of homemade spinach quiche for dinner followed my compassionate cupcake. However, I’d be excited to try a vegan baking recipe as an interesting challenge – not simply to make a cookie or cake that’s incredible for vegan food, but to make an incredible cookie or cake that just happens to be vegan.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

PB&J at Play

Perhaps it’s the long sunny days we’ve been enjoying, or it could be all the Yeats poetry I’ve been reading, but lately I’ve been overcome with a playfulness that I think has also been advanced by the rows of pink tulips that I see every morning at the bodega near my apartment. Earlier this week, I realized that I needed, as soon as possible, to find a recipe that’s positively dripping of whimsy, while I’m so full of it.

What I came across struck my fancy right away as fun and lighthearted, but because I tend to take my cookies rather seriously, also an opportunity to branch out from my regular baking gamut.

Yeats himself had declared the times just before sunrise and just after sunset the most enchanting of the day, when the world was most prone to acts of magic and the Sidhe (fairies). I reminded myself of that this morning at 5:30, when unable to fall back asleep, I got started with my baking instead.

And these cookies were certainly different; the first bite is a sweet hit of the fruit preserves, and the peanut butter flavor kicks in a short moment later (perfect for breakfast, no?)

I can imagine these Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprints being a delightful dessert in a child’s lunchbox, but I can likewise see them as a novel treat that will bring a smile to the faces of friends who have become accustom to the conventional when it comes to baked goods. I won’t be presenting these at the former any time soon, so I hope I’m correct with my assumption about the latter.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprints

Courtesy of Cooking Light

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray
7 tablespoons preserves, any variety
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and salt, stirring well with a whisk; set aside.
Place sugars, peanut butter, and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating on low speed just until combined.
Lightly coat hands with cooking spray. Shape dough into 36 balls (about 2 1/2 teaspoons each). Place balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb into center of each dough ball, leaving an indentation. Cover and chill 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Uncover dough. Bake at 350° for 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove cookies from pans, and cool on a wire rack.
Place preserves in a small microwave-safe bowl, and microwave 20 seconds, stirring once. Add juice, stirring until smooth. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon preserves mixture into the center of each cookie.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Sweet nectar

Did you know that there are beekeepers in Brooklyn? This was news to me. I had always thought of beekeepers as a rustic group of quirky hobbyists, and perhaps that is true to an extent, but it seems that there are beekeepers dotting the rooftops of Brooklyn, bringing its residents all natural and very local honey during its prime season. One well-known local beekeeper, John Howe, has his own website,, which explains that “urban honey has great advantages, among which is that the bees forage on a varied horticultural diet, the flowers of which are untouched by pesticides and chemicals of agriculture.”

Even though I use Burt’s Bees soap, I have never thought much about honey in general. I don’t take it with my tea, nor do I spread it on my bread. And I can’t even count the number of times I’ve used it in baking recipes, only because it’s been too few to tally. But honey is a versatile and distinctive sweetener, and I figured that I should introduce it into my repertoire. To do so, I actually had to go out and buy a bottle of the sweet stuff; in my pantry, I have random products like cider vinegar and oat bran, but I never had gotten around to acquiring honey.

And since I’m unfamiliar with using honey as a baking agent, I went to Martha Stewart, confident that she would have a simple recipe that would slowly introduce me to the ingredient. What I found was the following recipe for honey lace cookies.

I hadn’t before made cookies this delicate, and so my batch came out far from perfect, but the process went so quickly that I learned from my mistakes fast. The recipe calls for a six minute bake time, which slightly burned the first tray I baked. I would suggest watching the cookies closely after three minutes and removing them from the oven as soon as they are golden, to avoid the smattering of black that a few of mine came out with. Also, I have to add that a squirt of cooking spray on the wax paper, if that is what you are using, will help the cookie removal once they’re cooled. Finally, I used a measuring spoon to place the batter on the trays, and I think that this was the one proficient technique I used.

Despite the flaws that come with the trial and error of a new recipe, these cookies were crisp and packed a sweet punch of honey, and as Martha suggests, an ideal companion to a cup of tea. And my reliable friend/taste tester Laura found them light enough that she “could have eaten about ten,” but flavorful enough that two were completely satisfying.

Honey Lace Cookies

Yield: about 24


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper (or waxed paper sprayed with cooking spray). Set aside. In a small saucepan, melt butter, sugar, and honey. Transfer to a bowl. Whisk in flour and salt until smooth.
Working quickly, drop 1/2 teaspoon of batter onto prepared baking sheets, at least 3 inches apart. Bake until cookies spread and turn golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack; let cool completely. With your fingers, carefully remove cookies from pan.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Better than delivery

Like most universities, mine was within walking distance of an incredible, crowded, all-night delivery, extra-cheese-with-everything pizzeria. The place was called Pugsley’s and the pies were substantial and doughy and about as delicious as any variation I have tried over the years. As a bonus, it was also located in the Little Italy section of the Bronx. I like to think that meant that the seasonings were even more authentic, and the mozzarella was freshly acquired every morning from Arthur Avenue. Throughout my undergrad years, Pugsley’s was a 2:00 a.m. godsend and perpetual student hangout. There was karaoke, outdoor seating, and a gong in the kitchen. And even though, in reality, it’s only a subway ride away, I know that I can never board a train back to the Pugsley’s I knew as an undergrad.

Nowadays, I don’t call for delivery at all hours of the night, not just because I’m sleeping off my day at the office, but because I find such an enriching fulfillment in making my dinner for myself. This may wear off as I grow older, but for now, creating my meals with my own two hands is an experience I positively savor (just like the food itself). And of course, it’s one thing to put together a sandwich for myself, and another thing entirely to make my own pizza, from the crust up.

I see myself someday baking artisan breads in a stone oven, using ingredients I just picked up at the local market. There’s sunlight pouring through the windows, and a familiar woodsy scent intermingling with the smell of dough. For the time being, though, if I want to make bread, I do it in the “quaint” apartment-sized kitchen that I’ve got. Even without a sunny window, I made this whole-wheat pizza crust, kneading and all – maybe there wasn’t the aroma of a stone-oven, but I can confidently say that there is nothing like the smell of warm rising dough.

In the end, although I was quite proud of myself, I found myself slightly disappointed with the pizza dough. Not that it wasn’t good, it was simply too bland. I was looking for a bare-bones recipe, and I definitely got it. I’m sure it can be jazzed up with some herbage, or a flavorful assortment of toppings, or honey in place of the sugar. I went with broccoli and a generous helping of Italian seasonings and Parmesan cheese, resulting in a crisp, thin-crust pizza that still was generally quite tasty. In the future, I’ll think of this as a template for a crust recipe, and I know I’ll again take pleasure in the total baking experience.

Whole Wheat Pizza

Makes two pizza crusts


1 teaspoon white sugar
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour


In a large bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top, and let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy.
Stir the olive oil and salt into the yeast mixture, then mix in the whole wheat flour and the all-purpose flour until dough starts to come together. Place dough on a surface floured with the remaining all-purpose flour, and knead until the dough becomes smooth, about 10 minutes. Place dough in an oiled bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover loosely with a towel, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
When the dough is doubled, place the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 2 pieces. Form into two tight balls. Let rise for about 45 minutes, until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll a ball of dough with a rolling pin and gently pull the edges outward, while holding and rotating the crust. When the circle has reached the desired size, place on a well oiled pizza pan. Add toppings.
Bake for 18 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden at the edges, and cheese is melted on the top.