Roasted Garlic (a.k.a. best flavor ever)

Something magical happens to garlic when you wrap it in foil and put it in the oven. All the pungent, sharp spiciness fades like a bad memory as it becomes entirely different—creamy, mellow, warm and nutty.

In our kitchen, roasted garlic gets plenty of action, particularly at the holidays when we are making casseroles, gravies, appetizers and roast meats. If you are not roasting your own garlic, it’s a good time to start, especially in advance of many of the recipes I’ll be offering over the next week. You’ll save a lot of time and money over buying it pre-roasted, and I promise you this—you’ll never want to go back to any store-bought substitute. Roasting garlic is simple to do, and it doesn’t require any special equipment or gadgets.

Before I break it down into steps, let’s take a moment to explore the world of garlic to better understand more about it and how this roasting “magic” happens.

What gives raw garlic a sharp flavor?

Garlic belongs to the same botanical family (allium) as onions, leeks and chives. All of them contain organosulfur compounds (most notably allicin), which contribute to the strong aroma as well as the sharp, biting flavor. You may not know that the way you cut garlic can affect the flavor of it in a dish. When used in whole cloves, it is relatively mild. Slices are stronger, and chopped garlic really exaggerates the sharpness because of the release of the oils within the cloves.

How long has garlic been used in cooking?

A mighty long time! Food historians estimate that garlic had culinary uses in ancient China and Egypt as long as 4,000 years ago. There’s even a passage in the Bible to corroborate claims of garlic’s longstanding place in our diets. The verses are embedded in the Old Testament story of Moses trying his darnedest to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. A group of complainers started grousing about the manna that God provided to them each day for nourishment along the way. All they could think about was how great everything “used to be.” (Hmm, such clamoring seems somehow familiar.)

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite: we never see anything but this manna!”

Numbers 11:4-5, New International Version

Garlic’s prevalence eventually spread throughout the Asian and European continents and pretty much everywhere else, and I’d be hard-pressed to name a cuisine today that does not use garlic.

Is garlic good for you?

Maybe, but you should always check with your doctor before assuming that it’s safe to ingest garlic in large quantity or concentrated form. Anecdotes on the internet may suggest that chewing raw garlic does everything from preventing hangovers to curing cancer, but please be smart. There are mixed results from actual medical research, and for people with certain pre-existing conditions or those who take certain prescription medications, too much (or any amount of) garlic can cause more harm than good. In moderation among relatively healthy people, garlic delivers a good dose of B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus, iron and zinc. It has a wonderful taste, but it’s no wonder drug (sorry).

Can you give garlic to pets?

Please don’t. Though some “holistic” websites claim raw garlic is an effective way to prevent flea infestation in pets, the science shows any food from the allium family can be toxic to dogs and cats. For safety’s sake (and for the love of your fur babies), consult a licensed veterinarian.

What about the legends of garlic and vampires?

It is well-documented (c’mon, we’ve all seen the movies) that eating raw garlic provides protection against vampires and other evil forces. It is also a highly effective and diplomatic way to bring a bad first date to an immediate end. Or so I’m told.

Why does roasting garlic change its flavor?

Allicin, the organosulfuric compound that makes garlic “stinky,” becomes neutralized when it reaches 140° F and is converted to a different compound called polysulfides. The flavor shifts from “sharp” to “mellow” and even somewhat sweet. This conversion can be achieved during careful sautéing or frying, but more easily and consistently by slow roasting.

Can I roast garlic in the microwave?

Nope. It may soften a bit, but the texture and flavor will be all wrong, and the best you can hope for is a small mess in the microwave. And that lingering smell…phew. Don’t rush it.

How do you keep roasted garlic?

We go through it pretty fast at our house, so we usually just keep it wrapped in its roasting foil near the onion basket on the counter. If it will be several days or more before you plan to use it, I’d recommend transferring the roasted garlic to a covered container in the fridge.

Ready to make some? Gather up this very short list of ingredients, and let’s get started!

When we have a big cooking event approaching, I roast a bunch of garlic at once. We did 10 bulbs this day!

Ingredients

fresh whole bulbs of garlic

extra virgin olive oil (or spray)

aluminum foil

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Peel away most of the dry “paper” layer that protects the garlic, leaving only the layer closest to the cloves. This assists with more even roasting, and minimal mess when you are ready to use the garlic.
  3. Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the top off the entire bulb of garlic. It’s best to lay the garlic on its side to do this. If the individual cloves are offset at different heights, you can use the tip of a paring knife to expose the shorter ones.
  4. Place the cloves (individually or two at a time) on a square of aluminum foil, and wrap the foil up the sides to create a bundle, but leave it open at the top. Drizzle or spray oil lightly over the exposed tops of the cloves.
  5. Close up the foil tightly and bake, either on a cookie sheet or in a skillet, for about an hour. The garlic doesn’t take up much space in the oven, so I usually do this while I’m also baking a roast, a casserole or a loaf of bread.

The color of roasted garlic may vary, depending on your oven temperature, the age of the garlic and the length of roasting time. Once it is soft and easily squeezed from the cloves, it’s done, even if it has a somewhat “blonde” color. We usually let it roast until it is a deep golden shade.

To use the roasted garlic, simply turn the bulb upside down and gently squeeze the sides. The soft cloves will slide right out into your bowl or recipe. Add roasted garlic to soups, dips, hummus, vegetables, spreads, sauces or meats, or enjoy it in its simplest form by spreading it right onto crackers or crostini.


My Real NY Pizza Dough

I went through some crazy mental calisthenics to perfect our pizza at home. Over a period of two years, I pored over countless books and online articles, viewed more YouTube videos than I care to remember (one of them was narrated entirely in Italian and I could only learn by watching his hands move), and swung back and forth like a pendulum, enjoying small successes, a few near misses and more than enough total disasters that left me cursing like a sailor.

Luckily, you don’t have to go through all that because I’ve done the heavy lifting for you, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. This pizza dough, says my dear husband, is as close as he’s ever had (at home) to a real New York pie. And he should know.

If you’ll be using dry yeast, please check to see if it’s “instant.” There are differences between instant dry yeast and active dry yeast, and you might need to adjust the process to be successful. I’ll explain more in the “Getting Technical” section, where I’ll also demonstrate the most accurate way to measure your flour.

If you’re a sourdough nerd like me, follow the sourdough instructions, beginning with a “fed” 100% hydration starter. Otherwise, use a small portion of an envelope of instant dry yeast, and the flour and water measurements that accompany it.

Here we go!

Standard Yeast Version

2 1/2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour (see slides for measuring tips)

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (look for King Arthur brand orange bag)

1 cup + 2 Tbsp. cold filtered water

1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast (or yeast marketed for pizza dough)

1 tsp. sugar

1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

Combine all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add cold water all at once and blend until all flour is incorporated and mixture becomes a cohesive mass. Drizzle the oil on top but do not mix yet. Cover and rest for about 20 minutes,* then proceed to “next steps.”

Sourdough Version

280g (approx. 2 1/4 cups) bread or all-purpose flour

70g (approx. 2/3 cup) white whole wheat flour (King Arthur brand in orange bag)

227g (1 cup) cold filtered water

113g (1/2 cup) ripe sourdough starter (mine is 100% hydration)

1 tsp. sugar

1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1 1/2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

Combine ripe starter and cold water in your mixing bowl until fully blended. Stir together dry ingredients in a separate bowl, and add them all at once to the mixing bowl. Mix on low until all flour is incorporated and mixture becomes a cohesive mass. Drizzle the oil on top but do not mix yet. Cover and rest for about 20 minutes,* then proceed to “next steps.”

Next Steps

After the 20-minute rest, switch to a dough hook (if using a stand mixer) or turn dough out onto a clean, lightly floured countertop (if you’re kneading by hand) and work that dough. This step is crucial, because it is here that the gluten will begin to develop. Gluten is the web-like structure that allows bread dough to rise when the yeast does its job. If you haven’t already drizzled in the olive oil, do it now. Your recipe won’t be ruined without it, but the oil helps to condition the dough, which makes it a bit easier to manage for shaping later.

After 6 minutes of kneading by mixer or 8 minutes by hand, you should have a smooth, supple dough that is soft and slightly tacky, but not sticky. If you pinch a small piece from the ball and stretch it between your fingers, you should be able to see the light through it. If it tears easily, knead a few more minutes until it reaches this point. If it feels dry and tight, wet your hands and knead another minute. If it is very sticky, try to knead another tablespoon or two of flour into it.

Lightly flour your countertop and use a bench scraper or sharp serrated knife to divide the dough into two equal pieces. Shape each into a ball by repeatedly tucking the edges under and turning the dough in quarter circles. When it’s smooth and round, slip the dough ball into an oiled quart-size zip top bag. Use a spray oil to mist the inside of the bag first. Repeat with the other dough ball.

Put the dough balls in a protected spot in your refrigerator (we pop it into the deli drawer) for at least 36 hours, and up to 3 days before your pizza party.

On pizza day, remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours ahead of your meal time. Follow instructions in the “Tips” section regarding pre-heating of the oven because the temperature and rack placement varies based on whether you’re using a steel, a stone or a pan . While the dough is still cold, take it out of the bag and dust it generously with flour, then cover loosely with a clean dish towel.

When it reaches room temperature, shape the dough into 12 to 14 inch circles. Please, for the love of all things pizza, do not use a rolling pin!

Get as creative as you want to be with your toppings, then slide that pie into the hot oven.

Want to print this recipe?

Getting Technical

One of the things that makes this pizza crust special is the cold fermentation of the dough. It might seem strange that we are using cold water, not giving the dough time to rise, and especially stuffing it straight into the fridge. But trust me, it works!

Yeast does not need warmth to do its work, it only makes it work faster. In a typical bread recipe, warm water and rising time in a warm spot of the kitchen allows you to make bread (or whatever) in a couple of hours, but what you gain in time, you lose exponentially in flavor and health benefit, which is even more technical.

Despite the wait time, this is a quick recipe. You can make this dough in 30 minutes, including the 20-minute rest.

Speaking of which, the technical term for the rest period is “autolyze,” though there’s some dispute on whether the yeast and salt should even be present at this point. Purists would say no, and in artisan bread making, the autolyze might go as long as an hour. Whether or not this is a “true” autolyze, the down time gives the flour a chance to fully absorb the water before you begin the more strenuous work of kneading. At any point during the rest, you may drizzle the olive oil over the dough—I usually do this simply so I don’t forget to add it. But don’t begin mixing it into the dough until the rest period is finished.

This recipe suggests “instant dry yeast,” which isn’t instant in terms of how quickly it works, but in the fact that you can add it from the start of the recipe without “proving” it first. “Active dry yeast” requires pre-dissolving in warm water before it will do its job. If you have this “active” type of yeast, you might be able to make this dough with a simple adjustment. Measure your total water, but remove about 1/3 cup of it to a bowl. Warm it in the microwave to bathwater temperature, sprinkle the yeast over and wait 5 minutes until it’s foamy. Then proceed with your recipe. If it doesn’t get foamy, it’s no longer active (bummer). If your yeast is labeled “quick-rise” or “rapid-rise,” both are forms of instant yeast and you’re good to go.

For any baking recipe, it is important to measure your flour correctly. I highly recommend a kitchen scale if you intend to take up bread making, but for now, if you rely on volume measurements, trust the “fluff, sprinkle, level” method described in these slides. Digging your scoop directly into the flour bin is going to ruin your recipe, and even spooning straight from the bin to the scoop can yield a crummy result. Proper measuring does make a difference. The flour I’m using for this demonstration should weigh 125 g per cup. Let’s see how it goes.

Tips for Success

This dough is for thin crust pizza, which means it does not “rise” after you shape it. Simply add sauce, toppings and bake.

Take it easy on the toppings. You should be able to see the dough through the sauce, and your pie will be much more evenly cooked if it isn’t piled high with too many ingredients. Pre-cook and cool meats and vegetables for best results, and use cold cheese.

If you’re using a stone or steel, you must preheat it the proper amount of time. This means set a timer for one hour, from the time your oven reaches the set temperature. These tools will absorb a great deal of heat, which will then be transferred back to your pizza. We bought our steel from this company, and it is freaking awesome. You can also find them on Amazon.

Just go ahead and get one.

Oven temperature should be HOT. Les and I shake our heads at the Papa John’s commercial, boasting about its 450° F oven. This is absurd. For best results (at least, with this recipe), bake your pizza at 550° F, which is the max for most home ovens. To bake on a pan, place the rack in the center to lower third of the oven. If using a pizza steel, set the rack about 8 inches from the top heating element. Some pizza stones have specific temperature limits, so please follow the instructions on yours and allow extra time accordingly. I would hate for you to lose the whole pizza if the stone breaks under the heat.

OK, so…I have something to say.

Let me say this loud and clear: gluten is not everyone’s enemy. So many people are convinced today that they have issues with gluten. And some really do, including people diagnosed with celiac disease, and I hate it for them. But plenty of others are simply buying into the idea that gluten is solely to blame for their bloating, discomfort and other digestive issues. I’m not a doctor, but I understand enough about bread chemistry to suspect that the sudden widespread clamoring over gluten sensitivity is much more likely related to the speed with which modern high-volume bakeries are churning out bread. Hear me out.

Time is our friend when it comes to yeast breads. More time allowed for fermentation improves not only the flavor of the end product, but also its digestibility. During fermentation, the yeast coaxes the sugars out of the grain, which results in complexity of flavor (this is particularly true when using whole grains in baking), and many of the “anti-nutrients” in the grain get broken down, which means your body doesn’t have to do the work. Speed up or skip through this step and—well, it pretty much spells disaster for the belly. It’s like putting green wood in your fireplace or microwaving a steak. You wreck the whole thing.

The cold fermentation on this pizza dough will take 36 to 72 hours (depending on how quickly you’re planning to make your pizza). When commercial bakeries speed up the process, it’s for the end result of getting more loaves to market shelves faster—not for quality and certainly not for flavor. Just one of many reasons I’m in love with sourdough.

All of this to say, if you’re not allergic to wheat, and not officially diagnosed with celiac disease, your sensitivity issues may be related to cheap bread. Please talk to your doctor. Real sourdough bread (naturally leavened, not just “sour flavor” added to commercial yeast bread) may be the miracle you’ve hoped for.

Thanks for letting me share that. I hate for anyone to miss out on bread.