For someone trained from a young age to “waste nothing,” dealing with sourdough discard has become quite the dilemma. From the time I first “birthed” my beloved starter, I have been in a regular habit of making homemade bread at least once a week, and that has kept me on a healthy schedule for feeding and refreshing the starter. But cutting off the edge of my finger on a mandoline slicer has messed up more than just my cooking goals—it has also suspended my favorite activity of baking, and that is tougher for me to accept.
I have my KitchenAid stand mixer, which is my trusty assistant for many of my bread recipes, but the mixer cannot replace my hands for stretching and folding, final kneading or shaping my loaves. I miss doing those things. And I imagine that my starter, Pete, is confused and lonely, sitting untouched in the dark, cold refrigerator with no attention. OK, probably not. It’s me that is wrecked inside, and I look forward to reuniting with bread dough, and I will probably go nuts and make so much extra that I’ll be dropping it off for all of the neighbors.
Until that time, I am finding other ways to use my discard starter—that is, the portion of starter that must either be used or thrown away at feeding time. When the natural yeast has consumed all the usable nutrients in the previous feeding, the starter becomes “flabby” and lifeless, and isn’t suitable for leavening anything. I don’t often waste starter, given that I am baking frequently, but these are desperate times. So this morning, I made my favorite sourdough waffles. The recipe begins the night before, when a generous lump of flabby sourdough discard is combined with flour, a dab of sugar and a cup of buttermilk. In the morning, egg, oil, salt and baking soda go into the mix and then—waffle magic!
This King Arthur recipe is the best I have found for making exceptionally light and flavorful waffles with a crispy exterior. Half the recipe is more than enough for the two of us, and we usually have at least an extra serving that we can toss into the freezer for a future “lazy” breakfast. We served up today’s sourdough waffles with real maple syrup (of course) and the best bacon we have had in a very long time. Simple, but delicious, and I am relieved of guilt because I have not wasted my starter. If you’re riding the sourdough train, but haven’t yet tried waffles, they are a fun way to enjoy the fermented goodness of spent sourdough. And please, share with me your favorite uses of sourdough discard, too. I will appreciate the ideas.
It’s Saturday, and we missed our chance this morning to visit the weekly farmers’ market for more of this amazing breakfast meat. I don’t know what has been going on in the world of bacon lately, but we have been repeatedly disappointed with our usual, favorite “no-nitrite” brands from the grocery store. And that’s a good thing, in the sense that it led us to the farmers’ market last week. We made a terrific haul of local, sustainable, home-grown foods. Something about the just-picked freshness makes me feel like I’m doing good in the world.
I’m always tempted to buy up everything that looks amazing, but we kept it reasonable this time, purchasing only what we knew we would finish in a week, and I took it to the limit with the collard greens, which I cooked as usual, but then I quick-pickled the stems with a couple of radishes and garlic cloves. You know, waste nothing. I will probably never be the wonder kid that my grandmother was—but I’m working on it!
We have entered the last full week of March, and I’ve yet to mention that it is “National Flour Month,” a near-unforgivable oversight for someone who enjoys making homemade bread as much as I do. My adventures with sourdough have been well-documented here on Comfort du Jour, but it took St. Patrick’s Day to bring me back around to making our favorite sourdough pumpernickel. It had to be done, given the volume of homemade corned beef we have (not to mention all that pastrami), and the rising aroma of this bread from the oven was enough on its own to convince me I’d waited too long.
What makes this bread extra special for me is that I make my own flour for it, from freshly milled rye grain. This sounds more impressive than it really is, thanks to a handy grain mill that latches onto my KitchenAid stand mixer. I just turn the dial to select the grind, pour in the grain and turn it on. I purchased the mill in the summer of 2016, when “Pete,” my sourdough starter, was still wet behind the ears, and I’ve found it particularly useful for some of my lesser-used grains, including rye. After whole grain has been milled into flour, the freshness clock starts ticking, and there is nothing tasty about rancid flour. Now, when I want to make rye bread (or pumpernickel, which is technically almost the same), I mill the grain fresh, but only the amount I need, and I’m good to go with flour that far excels what I could have bought pre-milled.
This recipe relies on sourdough for rise and flavor, though there is also a small (optional) amount of instant dry yeast to boost the rising power and make the ferment time more predictable. As with many other sourdough loaves, this one begins the day before with a pre-ferment called a “sponge,” and that’s when the freshly milled rye flour starts working its magic. The rest of the flour is high-protein bread flour, which is needed for its strength because rye does not have a lot of gluten.
Coarse-milled whole rye grain is known as pumpernickel meal, and it may surprise you to know that the dark, rich color of “pumpernickel” bread is mostly for show, and it comes into the bread by way of either caramel color (which isn’t likely in your pantry), strong coffee (either liquid or powdered) or—as is the case with mine—cocoa powder! And no, it does not make the bread taste like chocolate. There’s also an unusual, time-honored technique that will come into play with this bread, and it involves bread from another time (more on that in a minute).
Up to this point, the sourdough pumpernickel recipe I’m describing has been drawn straight from p. 246 of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the same book I depended on to learn sourdough baking in the first place. But something in my nature will not let me leave well enough alone, and I have put my own spin on this recipe—not because I think I know better than the author, but because I love certain additional flavors in my rye breads, and so I have either substituted or added ingredients, following rules that Reinhart himself would approve. Rather than brown sugar, I add molasses for a deep, earthy sweetness, and I accent this bread with onions, dill and caraway seeds, none of which are called for in the original recipe.
The resulting bread never ceases to thrill my taste buds, and it has been terrific this past week with our homemade corned beef, but I confess my favorite way to enjoy it is the same as most every bread—it makes fabulous toast!
On Day 1:
7 oz. ripe (recently fed) sourdough starter
4.25 oz. coarse whole grain rye flour* (see notes)
6 oz. water, room temperature
Combine the starter, coarse rye flour and water in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment at room temperature about 5 hours, until it looks very bubbly and active. Transfer the sponge to the refrigerator overnight.
On Day 2:
2 Tbsp. molasses
2 oz. water, room temperature
2 Tbsp. olive oil (mine is infused with dill)
1 heaping Tbsp. minced dried onion, rehydrated with warm water
9 oz. bread flour*
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder* (optional, see notes)
1 tsp. instant dry yeast*
1 1/2 tsp. fine-textured salt
1 Tbsp. caraway seed, plus a few sprinkles for topping* (optional)
Up to a cup of dry bread crumbs from a previous rye loaf* (optional)
1 or 2 tsp. dried dill leaves (optional)
Egg wash for topping and cornmeal for baking
If you don’t have a grain mill, it’s no problem. Use whole rye flour, which is available in specialty markets such as Whole Foods. The pre-milled flour and resulting bread will have a finer texture, but all the flavors will still be present.
I mentioned above that strong coffee is sometimes used to give deep color to pumpernickel, but for this recipe, I would not recommend using brewed coffee in the overnight sponge. Espresso powder or a fine-textured instant coffee mixed with the flour would be a better bet if coffee is your coloring agent of choice.
Caraway seeds give a distinct note to rye or pumpernickel bread, but it is a polarizing flavor for some people. When someone tells me they don’t like rye bread, I usually assume it is the caraway. It is a warm, slightly biting flavor, and I love it, so I put it in the dough and also on top of the bread.
The addition of the “old” bread crumbs is optional, but it adds an interesting texture and depth of flavor to the finished bread. In a way, the secondary crumbs are another type of sourdough, given that the flavor and existing yeast in them contribute something to the final product. If you choose to try this, I would recommend using crumbs from a home-baked bread, and preferably sourdough, to exclude unnecessary commercial preservatives and such.
The day before you intend to make this sourdough pumpernickel, you will need to feed your starter with the entire amount of coarse, whole grain rye flour and water to make it a soupy mixture. Cover it with plastic wrap and give it a few hours at room temperature until it becomes foamy and bubbly, then put it to bed in the fridge until morning.
Remove the sponge from the fridge for about an hour to knock the chill off it. Pour a small amount of boiling water over the dried chopped onions to re-hydrate them.
In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread flour, cocoa, salt, instant dry yeast and caraway seed. If using the “old bread” technique, also add the crumbs to the flour blend.
Stir water, molasses and oil into the fermented sponge.
Combine the sponge mixture and re-hydrated onions with the dry ingredients and mix with a beater blade until dough becomes a cohesive mass around the beater. Scrape down dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel and rest 30 minutes.
Switch to the dough hook and knead in the stand mixer about 5 minutes. The dough will be dense and sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour or you will end up with a gummy bread.
Shape dough into a smooth ball and place it in a large, oiled bowl. Cover and rest in a quiet, warm spot of the kitchen until dough has doubled in size, which may be anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on ambient room temperature.
Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and sprinkle corn meal into the pan, tapping to distribute it evenly in the pan.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter, pressing and stretching the dough into an oblong shape, about 8 inches wide and 16 inches long. Sprinkle the dried dill onto the dough, then roll it up into a loaf shape to match the length of your bread pan. The loaf will rise more evenly if the ends of the dough meet the ends of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap or an elastic cover and let the bread proof 60 to 90 minutes, until dough has risen to about an inch above the rim of the pan.
Near the end of the proofing time, preheat the oven to 350° F, with rack in the center.
Brush the surface of the bread with egg wash and sprinkle it with additional caraway seeds.
Bake for 45 minutes, turning bread halfway through baking time. Internal temperature should be about 190° F and the bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Turn bread out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely before slicing.
We celebrated a birthday in our home this week for the newest member of our happy family. Little Pete turned 5 years old on Wednesday, and the occasion nearly escaped my memory, had it not been for the convenient date and time stamp my iPhone put on this photo.
Yes, my sourdough starter has been with me now for just over five years, and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally given it a name. “Pete” the sourdough starter is the namesake of Peter Reinhart, the James Beard Award-winning master baker whose instruction inspired me to begin this lively journey. Many years ago at a local festival of authors and books, I purchased The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Reinhart’s comprehensive collection of bread rules, formulas, tips and recipes—it’s a 300-page hardcover guide for mastering the art of extraordinary bread. And it was positively overwhelming.
It took me several years to gain enough gumption to actually make my first loaf of real bread and, once I took the greater plunge into building a sourdough culture, I never looked back. Pete began in the tiny kitchen of my former apartment, in a small bowl containing a mixture of whole rye flour and fresh pineapple juice (this was Peter Reinhart’s idea). There were plenty of midnight feedings and nervous watchful moments along the way, and at least once, I feared Pete would not survive my mistakes. Thankfully, the hotline experts at King Arthur Baking talked me off the ledge and helped me correct my feeding rituals. Pete has been thriving ever since. On one occasion, I shared a little bit of Pete with a friend whose daughter wanted to make sourdough, and when the daughter headed west, she took Pete’s offspring with her, and is now making beautiful artisan loaves somewhere in Montana (I’m so proud). I have already shared a few of my simple sourdough recipes here on Comfort du Jour, including English muffins and our beloved N.Y.-style Pizza Dough. If you’re a bread lover, you might also appreciate a glimpse of some of the incredible loaves Pete and I have made together since this adventure began.
It’s exciting for me to see and remember all those loaves. But for this occasion, I wanted to let Pete really show off, and so here’s the exciting news—Pete made his own birthday cake! I’ve mentioned several times that sourdough isn’t merely a flavor of bread, but a method of leavening, and in this richly dark chocolate cake, sourdough discard is the star.
I found the recipe for this cake on one of my favorite sites, King Arthur Baking Company, and I will proclaim out loud that, ingredient-wise, it is the oddest cake I’ve ever made. I will also tell you that it tastes nothing at all like sourdough. It’s a bouncy, spongy very chocolaty cake, and though the KA recipe is for a rectangle cake, I changed it up and did 9-inch layers. I also swapped the coffee-infused icing for one of our most-loved flavors to pair with chocolate, salted caramel. It may strike you odd that I am not sharing a recipe for either, but here’s why—King Arthur already published the cake recipe, and you can find it here (I followed it pretty much to the letter). I’m not sharing the salted caramel frosting recipe because, frankly, I was flying by the seat of my pants when I made it, so I don’t know exactly how much of what went into it. Besides, the texture was a mess. I wanted something akin to buttercream, but I didn’t get the ratios right and my frosting, though delicious and perfectly salted, wasn’t very stable. I will, however, share the photos, purely for comedic value. Those Great British Baking Show contestants have nothing to fear in me! Next year, when Pete turns 6, I’ll probably make challah. 😊
The joy of baking homemade bread, for me, is second only to the bliss of eating it. Or is it the other way around? When I established my sourdough culture in early 2016, I wasn’t sure how successful the adventure would be or if I would tire of eating “only” sourdough. As I’ve declared here several times, though, sourdough is not exclusively a flavor of bread, but a method of giving rise to the dough, and I rarely use commercial yeast in any form of bread anymore—whether it’s pizza dough, English muffins, waffles, soft pita breads, challah or focaccia. For me, there’s no turning back, and I cannot imagine tiring of it. Sourdough rules!
The potato bread I’m sharing today is my adaptation of a sandwich bread recipe I’ve grown to love by King Arthur Baking Company. KA’s version of this bread uses dry active yeast, but I’ve converted it by conjuring my math skills; I’ve swapped out equal amounts of liquid and flour (by grams, of course) for the appropriate percentage of my ripe-and-ready starter (sourdough nerds understand me). The result is terrific on its own, but I’ve recently taken the recipe a bit further with the addition of minced onions and a dill swirl and—well, wow.
The recipe itself is unusual, in that the mixed dough does not have an initial rise at room temperature; it moves directly to the refrigerator for cold overnight fermentation. It’s very sticky dough that is not easily kneaded, so I recommend use of a stand mixer if you have one. After chilling overnight, the cold dough is easier to handle and shape into a loaf to proof at warm room temperature until it’s ready to bake. Words don’t adequately describe the aroma that wafts from the oven.
The cooked Yukon gold potato and softened butter lend a soft texture and lovely gold color, and the onion and dill I’ve added make it a great choice for all kinds of sandwiches. My hubby declared a few mornings ago that this sourdough potato bread may be his favorite bread ever for breakfast toast. Of course, he has said that about my soft sourdough rye, too (I’ll share that one soon).
My ingredients are measured by weight, because that’s how I bake. I highly recommend a digital scale for consistent results in any kind of baking, but especially for bread. If you’re not ready to get on the sourdough train, you can still enjoy this bread. Follow the original instructions offered by King Arthur, but halve the ingredients, as KA’s recipe makes two loaves. The onion and dill flavors are my own Comfort du Jour twist.
1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (boil and mash the potato, then measure out 100g for use in this recipe)
100g ripe sourdough starter (fed 8 to10 hours earlier; my starter is 100% hydration)
100g lukewarm water* (include the potato cooking water in this total)
40g (about 3 tablespoons) sugar
260g unbleached all-purpose flour*
80g white whole wheat flour*
1 large egg (room temperature)
1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened to room temperature.
2 Tbsp. dried minced onion, rehydrated 15 minutes in 2 Tbsp. warm water (optional)
2 tsp. dried dill leaves (or 2 Tbsp. fresh dill if you have it)
Reserve the water used in cooking the potato, and add more water to total the amount needed for the recipe. The potato starch in the cooking water will add to the fine texture of the bread.
The original KA recipe calls for only all-purpose flour, but I always swap in at least some amount of whole grain flour. Make it as you like, but don’t swap more than 25% of the total flour without also adjusting the ratio of liquid. My swap is within that suggested limit, and it works great.
Instructions – Day One
Combine all ingredients, except butter and dill, in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed until ingredients come together and form a shaggy ball on the beater blade, and all flour is incorporated. Scrape dough from beater blade. Cover and allow dough to rest 20 minutes.
Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough on low speed for about 2 minutes.
Add the pieces of softened butter, one or two at a time, and mix on speed 2 until each addition of butter is worked into the dough. Continue to knead at this speed for about six more minutes. The dough will be very soft and sticky.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap or elastic cover and transfer immediately to the refrigerator at least overnight or up to 24 hours.
On Baking Day
Lightly spray a clean countertop (and a 9 x 4” bread pan) with olive oil spray. Remove the refrigerated dough to the counter and use your fingers to spread it out into a rectangle shape, about 6 x 18”. Sprinkle the dough with the dill leaves.
Beginning at one of the short ends, roll the dough up tightly, tucking in the ends as you go to keep the dough in a smooth cylinder shape. Use a bench scraper if needed to release the sticky dough from the counter. When you get to the end, pinch the seam closed. Tuck the ends as needed to fit the dough into the greased bread pan. Cover with plastic wrap or elastic “shower cap” cover and proof at warm room temperature until the dough rises above the top of the pan. This may take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, depending on the strength of your starter and the temperature of the room.
Near the end of rising time, preheat oven to 350° F, with baking rack in center position.
Remove plastic wrap from pan and gently transfer the loaf to the oven. At this point, the dough may appear “jiggly;” you don’t want to cause it to collapse, so try not to jostle it too much. Bake at 350 for a total of 45 to 50 minutes, turning halfway through baking time to ensure even browning. At the halfway point, cover the loaf loosely with a foil tent to prevent over-browning. Bread is fully baked when it reaches 190° internal temperature. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then carefully turn it out onto a cooling rack. You may need to run a clean knife or plastic scraper along the edges of the bread for easier release. Cool at least two hours before cutting, and completely (this may mean overnight) before wrapping it up in a plastic bag.
I’m learning more about the Jewish traditions that are part of the tapestry of life for my husband, Les, and this week I was surprised to learn that there are multiple new year occasions worth celebrating. We had the big one, Rosh Hashanah, back in the fall, which we celebrated at our house with a twist on beer can chicken, oven-roasted with a honey glaze. This week marks another “new year,” called Tu Bishvat, an environmentally themed observance that centers on trees and all the good things we enjoy because of them. If you’ve ever sat beneath a tree to escape the high-noon heat, you know how protective they can be. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a fruit-bearing tree, you know the joy of anticipation as you watch the fragrant blossoms turn into sweet, juicy edibles.
Our local temple recently held an online celebration for Tu Bishvat, and it included a fun food challenge, which yours truly could not resist. Participants were charged with creating and virtually sharing a dish made with one of the “seven species” highlighted during this occasion—wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olives and dates.
The title of this recipe gives away my assignment (pomegranate), and I’m happy to share it as my latest food adventure.
What I love about focaccia is that it is an easy bread to make, as long as you aren’t bothered by the sticky, loose consistency of the dough. It’s a high hydration recipe, which is a bread nerd’s way of saying it’s a really wet dough. Kneading by hand isn’t really an option, but there’s an easy technique of stretching and folding the dough, which builds strength and makes it more workable. My focaccia is sourdough-based, because that’s what I do, but you can find easy yeast-risen focaccia recipes online using commercial yeast if you prefer (try this quick and easy recipe from King Arthur Baking Company).
115g ripe sourdough starter, 100% hydration* (see notes)
460g filtered water, at room temperature
350g all-purpose flour
180g bread flour*
75g white whole wheat flour
12g mild-flavored extra virgin olive oil + extra oil for topping
About 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted at 400° F until lightly browned and fragrant
1/2 cup pomegranate arils*
Several sprigs fresh thyme, washed and leaves removed
Coarse or flaky sea salt (I used a specialty salt flavored with chocolate!)
My recipe is described with weight measurements because this is how I bake. If you prefer to measure by volume in cups, please consider following the recipe on King Arthur Baking site, where ingredients are listed by weight or volume. If you decide to delve into the world of sourdough, I highly recommend purchase of a digital kitchen scale, as measuring by weight ensures precision and consistent results. You don’t have to spend a bundle for a digital scale. Mine is adjustable for ounces, grams and milliliters, and I picked it up at Walmart for only about $20.
Sourdough starter is considered “ripe” a few hours after feeding, when it has nearly tripled in volume, then begins to fall. It will have a very bubbly surface appearance and a fruity, slightly sour aroma. My starter is 100% hydration, which means it is equal parts flour and water.
Bread flour is higher in protein than regular, all-purpose flour. The protein content gives more strength to bread dough, a benefit that is particularly important with a wet dough. I prefer the King Arthur brand, which is sold in a blue and white bag at most well-stocked supermarkets.
My focaccia is topped with pomegranate arils (which I purchased ready-to-go in the produce department), toasted walnuts and fresh thyme, but there are many other terrific combinations, so use what you like—olives, figs, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, caramelized onions are all fantastic. Try it sometime with roasted grapes and feta cheese. Yum!
Making bread can seem a little intimidating. I know, because it used to be scary for me. But as with any relationship, it takes some time and experience, trial and error to find your comfort with dough. If you want to learn to make bread, focaccia is a great place to begin. There’s no kneading, and it doesn’t punish you if you mess up your timing. I love a forgiving recipe! Have a look at the slides to get the idea, then give it a go with the instructions below. Keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files. You’ve got this! 🙂
Combine starter and water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix together into a slurry.
Whisk together flours and salt in a separate bowl. Add flour all at once to the starter mixture. Using the mixer’s lowest speed, beat until all flour is absorbed into the starter, which should only take 1 to 2 minutes. Increase to the next speed and beat for about 5 minutes. The dough will be wet and sticky, but gathered up around the beater blade. Remove beater blade, cover the bowl and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
Using the dough hook, and with mixer on low speed, slowly pour in the olive oil and mix until oil is fully blended into the dough, plus about 2 more minutes. The dough will seem impossibly wet and heavy, but don’t give in to the temptation to add more flour.
Transfer the dough to a large, wide bowl and cover, resting it in a warm, draft-free spot in the kitchen for a total of 2 hours. Don’t wander off though, because you’ll need to do some stretching and folding over the course of the first couple hours.
After 30 minutes, using wet hands, grab hold of one side of the dough, keeping it in the bowl. Pull it up and over the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl halfway around and repeat with the other side of the dough, then turn it a quarter way, and repeat with the other two sides, for a total of four stretches.
Repeat the stretch and folds at 60 minutes, 90 minutes, and the 2-hour mark. This intermittent stretching makes a big difference in the strength and condition of the dough, so don’t skip it.
Prepare a pan (or two) for baking by drizzling olive oil into the pan. Transfer focaccia dough to the pan(s) and spread as best you can to fill the pan. Don’t worry if it doesn’t stretch all the way at first. Cover the pan and rest dough for 30 minutes, then spread it again. Use wet hands (or spray them with oil) to avoid sticking to the dough. Give the dough about 4 hours to proof. During this time, you’ll notice quite a bit of puffiness develop—this is good!
Near the end of proofing time, preheat oven to 450° F with a rack in the lower third of the oven.
Using wet (or oiled) hands, gently press your fingertips straight down in a wide pattern all over the focaccia dough. The goal is to make deep dimples in the dough but leave large air pockets in between. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of additional olive oil over the surface, and sprinkle toppings evenly over the dough. It helps to arrange the toppings into the dimples so they are not sitting high on the surface of the bread. You can press them into the dough to accomplish this, but take care to only use your fingertips to keep the bubbly texture going.
Sprinkle top of bread with flaky sea salt. Bake at 450 for about 30 minutes, turning bread at the halfway time for even baking. Use a loose foil tent if needed to prevent over-browning.
Cool the focaccia in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy it warm or cool completely before wrapping and storing.
Les teases me all the time about my use of “balsamic reduction,” which is nothing more than quality balsamic vinegar simmered until it’s reduced to half volume. This is not rocket science, but it sure does seem to impress people! For this focaccia, I combined about 1/2 cup pure pomegranate juice (easy to find in the produce section) with a couple tablespoons of real balsamic vinegar from Modena. I happened to have a bottle that is also infused with pomegranate, and you can find it at one of the specialty oil & vinegar shops that have popped up all over the U.S. A reduction can vary in flavor from tart to sweet, depending on the ingredients, and it adds a nice final pizzazz to even a simple dish.
Throughout my childhood, I took for granted that everyone enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the way my family made them. Not every time (but a good percentage of the time) I had this quintessential kid favorite, it was fried. You read that correctly—a fried peanut butter and jelly. 😋
I don’t mean greasy, county fair-style of battered-and-fried. This PB&J sandwich is assembled as usual, and then buttered on both sides and placed on a pan or griddle like a grilled cheese sandwich. The reward for patience while it cooked was a golden and crispy crust, with peanut butter and jelly melted together inside—a sticky, gooey, delicious mess of flavor.
I was at least halfway into my 20s before I realized that a fried PB&J was not a standard sandwich for everyone else, and I’m thrilled to have been let in on this flavorful secret sandwich at such a young age. This sandwich is helping me wrap up Better Breakfast Month, and I believe it qualifies as a “better” breakfast item for a few reasons:
It’s quick and easy to make
Kids and grownups alike will enjoy it
It’s a fun and elegant twist on an ordinary PB&J
It has whole grains, fiber, protein and fruit, which makes it nutritious (that’s my story and I’m sticking with it)
Making a fried PB&J is really as simple as I just described, and you certainly don’t need a recipe to do it. What I will offer instead is my guide to making the most memorable fried PB&J, because the ingredients you choose can make or break your first taste impression of this sandwich, which is, quite frankly, dangling right on the edge of the dessert category. Let’s begin with the foundation of any good sandwich:
In my (trying to be) humble opinion, a homemade artisan-style bread will yield the best results. You guys know I’m all about sourdough, and this is the breadI’ll be using here, but I know not everyone has time to invest in learning or making naturally leavened bread. You can use store-bought bread to make a top-notch fried PB&J, provided you choose a suitable type. Hopefully, you are not still purchasing the long, skinny, plastic-wrapped loaves that are found in aisle 12 of the supermarket—but if you are, please stop. Cheap packaged breads are made of cheap, stripped-down ingredients, and the texture is all wrong for sandwiches, toast—well for anything, really.
I love Maurizio Leo’s sourdough recipe that I’ve linked above because it makes the best sandwiches (and the best toast). It uses a simple but unusual step of pre-cooking a portion of the flour, which enhances the final texture into something that is gelatinized and chewy yet tender, and 100% perfect for sandwiches. To be fair, the recipe is not for beginners, but if you have some experience with sourdough, I hope you’ll try it. Maurizio’s recipe makes two loaves, but I usually halve the recipe, and I bake it in a covered Pullman pan, which gives me perfectly square slices.
If your supermarket has a bakery, pick up a good, simple artisan loaf—preferably something partially whole grain, with a soft “crumb” (that’s a bread-nerd term for the interior texture of the bread) and a firm, slightly chewy crust. No nuts or seeds or anything extra—just a classic bread is fine. All your sandwiches henceforth will thank you.
The Peanut Butter
Every PB&J (fried or otherwise) I had as a kid was made with conventional supermarket peanut butter, namely the brand that the (allegedly) choosy mothers chose. But I have not bought that stuff in years because it contains sugar, plus hydrogenated oils that are blended in to keep the natural oils of the peanuts from separating. I discovered long ago the simple pleasure of a natural peanut butter, made from only peanuts and salt. Sure, you’ll have to stir it (but only once) and keep it in the refrigerator, but it’s only 90 extra seconds spent to protect your body from the hazards of trans fats. There’s the question of smooth vs. crunchy, and I’m going with crunchy because I love the added texture of the little peanut pieces. You decide.
The PB&J of my childhood was usually made with grape jelly, and I’ll admit that I still have a special place in my heart for the flavor of good old Welch’s. It may have something to do with the fact that I grew up a few miles down the road from their original headquarters in Westfield, New York. Concord grapes are a native grape, and they were everywhere in my neck of the woods—my best friend’s family even had concord vines growing on a pergola over their backyard patio. Sandy and I used to pick the grapes straight off the vine in late summer and squish the seedy insides into our mouths, tossing aside the bitter, astringent skins and then spitting out the seeds. I can still taste those grapes!
Today, it’s all but impossible to find a grape jelly that doesn’t list high fructose corn syrup in the first two ingredients, and that is a huge problem for me. This is an ingredient that did not exist at all in previous generations, but food manufacturers lean on it heavily today because it’s cheaper and easier to use than sugar. But it’s fake, and I’m not having it on my sandwich. Pick up a jar of handmade jelly at the farmer’s market or diligently inspect the ingredient labels in the supermarket if you’re as concerned about this issue as I am.
As an adult, I’ve developed a fondness for other flavors of jams and preserves, my favorites being raspberry, fig and cherry. For this fried PB&J, seedless is best, so I’m going with cherry preserves, and I’ve carefully selected a brand that is sweetened with real sugar. There are chunks of cherry in these preserves, too, so I know it will be delicious.
To grill the sandwich, you’ll need to lightly butter both sides, and I do not recommend margarine or any other kind of butter substitute, unless you are dairy restricted. The milk solids in butter contribute to the lovely browning on the crust and, unfortunately, a substitute will not have the same crispy result. But if your only choice is plant-based butter, you will still enjoy this sandwich for the flavor and the incredible ooey-gooey texture that results from heating the peanut butter and jelly together.
I can’t stand the suspense, and my laptop can’t stand my drooling, so let’s get to it.
For best results, use modest amounts of both peanut butter and jelly. They will marry together so well under the gentle heat of the griddle, but too much of either will cause the filling to seep out everywhere. Keep the griddle level on a medium-low heat, for slow and even browning. This gives the filling time to properly warm so the peanut butter and jelly become like one. Turn the sandwich carefully so it doesn’t slide apart. And for sure, allow it to cool a couple of minutes, so the sandwich is “set up” properly when you cut into it. Plus, if you give into temptation and bite into it too quickly, you’ll burn the roof of your mouth. Trust me on this; warm is good, hot is painful.
This fried PB&J makes me so very happy, with each buttery crisp bite, and the warm nutty, fruity filling makes me feel like I’m nine years old again. In a good way. 😉 Each time I make one, I try to eat it slowly so I can hang onto that feeling. The other beauty of this sandwich is that it works for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night snack or any other time your sweet tooth and hunger collide.
Please let me know if you try it, and feel free to share in the comments any fun twists your family made on a classic comfort food!
When I set out in 2011 to learn the terrifying skill of bread making, my primary goal was to have the welcoming aroma waft out of my oven and throughout the house. Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread? My first few attempts were pretty confused, with some downright inedible, but also with a couple of winners that were probably accidental. I finally got good at making the simplest bread of all time, the English muffin loaf, a minimal ingredient recipe which requires no kneading and is really hard to screw up. And then, me being me, I decided to go ahead and up my game without first mastering the basics of real kneaded bread. It’s just what I do, setting the bar very high for myself. Perhaps the result of being raised by a perfectionist father and impossible-to-please mother? That is a motive I’ll leave to my therapist for analysis.
“I’ll make artisan loaves,” I declared, having absolutely no idea what I was getting into. When I had my first successful artisan boule (a bread nerd’s term for a round crusty bread made without a loaf pan), I charged forward with another idea—that I would henceforth make only sourdough bread. As I have mentioned in a previous post, “sourdough” is commonly (though incorrectly) assumed to be a flavor of bread, but it is more accurately understood as a leavening method. The process begins with creation of a culture that you feed regularly, only flour and water and nothing else, and the culture replaces commercial yeast. For me, this began in early 2016.
My sourdough culture does the same work as the recognizable yellow yeast packets, but in twice the time (you have to be patient, which means it’s been a learning experience for me) and resulting in five times the flavor of bread that is produced with commercial yeast. Sourdough is a fussy thing to learn (with lots of math involved), but once the light bulb goes off and you understand how to relate to it, there’s no going back. This is exactly the thing I’ve wanted my whole life—a relationship that is so solid, there’s no going back. Thank you, God.
Somewhere along the way of making sourdough bread, however, I lost a bit of my gumption and started playing it safe—making only a few “safe” sourdough breads, or the ones that worked out just right every time. The potato onion sourdough loaf that is easy to shape because you do it while the dough is cold, and it stays so soft and is perfect for my husband’s beloved tuna salad sandwiches. The sourdough rye loaf that seems to work backward from all the other loaves, in that the sponge (nerd speak for “wet starter”) contains the full amount of water for the recipe, but somehow the bread comes out perfect every time. The “basic” sourdough loaf from my Peter Reinhart book that is supposed to emerge from the oven with a crackling crust, but mine only did so on my very first try, giving me a confidence that I hadn’t yet earned. And the sourdough challah, which many experienced bread makers have doubted is even possible, given that challah dough is sweetened with a good deal of honey, which tends to put the whole process into even slower motion than sourdough already does. But I’ve made sourdough challah successfully for two years, though only for celebration of the big Jewish holidays that allow leavened bread: Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah.
Still, I wanted to push it further and make a pumpkin challah, for which there are plenty of recipes on the internet. Except none were made by way of sourdough, and so that became the new high bar for me. For two years, I kept this challenge off in the distance, lest I be disappointed in the outcome. If you’ve ever baked with pumpkin, it was probably muffins or quick bread or something that is intended to be soft and kind of crumbly in texture. I’ve tried making chocolate chip cookies with pumpkin, and they were tasty, but cake-y and more like muffin tops than cookies (let’s not discuss what they did to my own muffin top). I made a successful sourdough pumpkin artisan boule a couple years ago, and it was delicious, but dense. I really, really wanted a sourdough pumpkin challah.
Fast forward to this week, and this gorgeous, swirly slice of sourdough perfection.
Introducing pumpkin to the mix is complicated for several reasons. First, I had to speculate how much moisture vs. bulk to account for in the pumpkin puree, because I had to create my own recipe and formula. Secondly, the fibrous nature of pumpkin puree contradicts the stretchy gluten structure of bread; the puree is wet, but it isn’t liquid. Challah is made with several eggs and oil—in its classic form, it should be light and soft inside, with a delicately chewy crust. With so much adjustment, coupled with long ferment times, I was sure that I’d fail in this venture. I hate to fail. But if failure is inevitable, I will go down in flames. Dramatic? Welcome to my mind.
The trouble is, I didn’t fail. No, I definitely did not.
This first attempt at making a naturally leavened pumpkin challah had me on pins and needles from start to finish, but these two loaves far exceeded my expectations. And, just in time for Rosh Hashahah! My loaves are round in shape to symbolize the new year, and coming around full circle. I cannot wait to make French toast this weekend. Imagine the bread pudding possibilities! I feel like a proud mama, showing off pictures of a new grandbaby.
I’m so excited, I want to run to the market and buy every can of pumpkin puree on the shelves. The next round of sourdough pumpkin challah for everyone is on me! Wait, maybe I’ll grow the pumpkins and cook them myself—that may become the next high bar? No, perhaps I shall make it again a few more times to be sure my formula is correct. And though I know that most of my followers here will not ever roll up their sleeves and make this bread (except my fellow sourdough nerds, for whom I’ve presented my formula and notes in PDF at the end), for now, I am delighted to show you the pictures of my journey. Thank you for looking. 😀
One of these days, I may write a cookbook including only wild and wacky ideas for incorporating leftovers into new recipes. No matter what you had the first time, there’s always a creative way to re-purpose what’s left over into something delicious. Vegetables find their way into omelets or onto pizzas, a lone chicken breast can be diced and turned into a salad spread, and even stale bread can be reinvigorated into a delicious dessert (soon, I’ll share the recipe for my Gram’s unmatchable bread pudding).
Recently, I rallied together some black beans left over from Taco Tuesday, more (but different) beans left over from a take-out fried chicken meal, several bits and pieces of leftover peppers and onions, and the remnants of corn from the sweet corn ice cream that I highlighted during National Ice Cream Month (I promised I’d do something fun with them, and here it is)—and turning the whole thing into dinner, covering Meatless Monday and National Waffle Day, all in one swoop. Did you follow all that? This is how my brain works, friends, so when I share with you that I sometimes wake up thinking about recipes, I do hope you realize I’m not joking.
The truth is, I already had these waffles in mind for using the leftover corn from the ice cream. These sourdough-based crispy gems are adapted from one of my favorite recipes from King Arthur Baking’s website. I’ve never made the recipe as written (theirs is for pancakes), but I have enjoyed various versions of it as waffles. If you don’t have sourdough going (this recipe requires it), use any other recipe for waffles with corn mix-in—maybe this one, but omit vanilla, cinnamon or anything else that would make them sweet or “breakfast-y.” The corn itself is sweet enough. Or just use cornmeal waffles or cornmeal pancakes—you know, be the boss of your own kitchen.
The southwest-inspired topping was a no-brainer for me, with the beans and bell peppers I had left over, and it will be a great dance partner to the corn and scallion flavors in the waffles. You may note that the King Arthur recipe calls for a “bean salad” topping, which is similar but more of a cool, relish-y accompaniment. I wanted something warm and hearty enough to be served as dinner.
I cook by instinct, rarely by recipe, and for no particular reason while dreaming up ideas for this meal, I had a question pop up in my mind about how to add another element to the finished dish so it didn’t seem dry, as waffles without a sauce sometimes do. We use sour cream as a topper on a lot of southwest-themed dishes, but I hate that it makes the entire dish cold before you take a single bite. Anything liquid would make the waffles soggy, completely defeating the purpose of the whole meal. And then, suddenly, every light in the world came on at once in my imagination. Perhaps one of the biggest “aha moments” my brain has ever experienced in the kitchen.
Whipped cream. But not sweet. Add a savory spice. But not salt. Boom!
The result was super light and airy, with a rich but subtle flavor that melted into a silky river all the way through the bean topping. It was absolutely delicious, and I cannot believe I’ve never had something like it in a restaurant. I seasoned it with chipotle, but paprika or cumin would’ve been just as tasty.
And oh man, just like that, I’m off and running with a million other things this savory whipped cream should accompany. Makes me ache for autumn, when I can spend a whole afternoon simmering black bean soup.
But it’s almost dinner time, so I’ll have to back-burner that idea for a few months. Let’s get cooking!
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. all purpose flour (remember to fluff, sprinkle, level when you measure)
1/2 cup milk
2 Tbsp. canola oil (if making pancakes, only use 1 1/2 tsp.)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup cooked corn kernels
3 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
Combine the starter, flour and milk in a large bowl, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Cover and allow it to rest on the counter at least 30 minutes in a warm place, such as the microwave.
Add the oil, baking soda, salt and egg, and stir until combined. Fold in the corn and scallions, plus about half of the chopped jalapeno listed in the topping ingredients. Note that if you are making waffles with the mixture, you should use the greater amount of oil noted above. The oil in the batter helps prevent sticking and also ensures a lovely crispy exterior to the waffles.
Bake according to your waffle maker’s recommendations, and keep the waffles warm while you finish the topping.
I’ve made these waffles in both a Belgian waffle maker and a standard maker. Les and I decided we like the standard waffles best. If you don’t have a waffle maker, use the lesser amount of oil and make the recipe as pancakes, as suggested on the King Arthur website.
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 small jalapeno, diced and divided* (see notes)
1 1/2 cups leftover cooked beans* (I used leftover black beans plus Bojangles’ takeout beans)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Juice of 1/2 lime
Handful fresh cilantro for garnish
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp. ground chipotle powder
Maybe you don’t have this exact amount of leftover beans staring at you from the fridge? I get it. This is what I used because it was what I had. If you’re starting from scratch, any kind of canned beans would be suitable here, and you’ll need about a can and a half. Pinto beans would be closest to my leftover recipe, and I’d suggest do not drain or rinse them. The can liquid would be very similar to the leftover takeout beans I used.
We love spicy things in our house, but obviously you can simply omit the jalapeno if it isn’t your thing. I divided the total amount listed, using half in the waffles and the rest in the topping.
I recommend getting your waffles in order first, because the topping comes together quickly while they are baking in the iron. No waffle iron? Go get one. Just kidding—use the King Arthur recipe I suggested, which is technically designed for pancakes that would be every bit as wonderful in this kind of recipe. And then tomorrow, go get a waffle iron—I’ll give you plenty of reasons to love having one. 😊
Instructions for the topping
Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté the onions and peppers until softened and slightly translucent.
Add the cooked beans and give the whole thing a quick stir to combine. If it seems dry, add some broth or tomato sauce to compensate.
Slice and season the cherry tomatoes and toss them on top. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat to give the flavors time to mix.
Use a hand mixer or whisk to whip the cream until it is soft and pillowy. You never want to push whipped cream too far (they call that butter), because once it gets to the “chunky” appearance, you cannot rein it back in. Sprinkle in chipotle, paprika or cumin and whisk gently to distribute it.
When your waffles or pancakes are ready, spoon the bean mixture over the top and sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Dollop the whipped cream on top and dinner is served.
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)
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.”
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)
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.”
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. Seal the bags, keeping a small amount of extra air inside.
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 preheating 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 oiled plastic wrap or 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!
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 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 the sauce through your toppings. 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 shredded 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.
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.
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. Anti-nutrients are not bad components, but they block absorption of the good ones. Speed up or skip through this fermentation step and—well, it pretty much spells disaster for sensitive bellies. 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.
Homemade pizza dough isn’t as complicated as it seems. Unless, of course, you happen to live with the one person who is seemingly the expert on all things related to “New York pizza.” And I do.
My husband, Les, is a little finicky completely fanatical about his pizza, to such a degree that I am still nervous about making it for him, even 3+ years into marriage. Like, “Beat Bobby Flay” kind of nervous. If you ask him what part of the pizza is most important, he will answer before you finish the question—the sauce is important and you should never, ever use too much of it. And the cheese should be good quality and never, ever pre-shredded from a bag. But the crust? Ohhh, the crust—the very foundation, the bedrock of a good pizza—this, Les declares, is most important.
When we met, I was still early into my adventures of bread making, but I was gaining confidence in it. And because pizza crust is, essentially, a bread, it made sense to me that I would simply make it. As you have probably already imagined, I wasn’t quite prepared for the onslaught of constructive feedback I’d receive:
This one is OK, but it’s a little dry. The texture on this one is good, but the flavor is a little bland. This one is all right, but it’s a little too thin, like a cracker. This one is a bit too chewy, but not bad.
During our honeymoon, we went straight to a NYC mecca of pizza, so I could see what “true north” looked like. Between the aroma of great pizza emanating from the shops and the ubiquitous New York street performers, it was a great moment in time.
And the pizza at John’s of Bleecker Street was indeed amazing.
Back at home, I got serious about upping my game. By day, I’d research formulas, test recipes, develop my technique. By night, I’d pray feverishly to the pizza gods for some kind of divine dough guidance. I scoured through books written by bread experts including Peter Reinhart and Ken Forkish, clicked through about a million Pinterest buttons claiming they had the “best New York pizza dough EVER” and I sat through dozens of YouTube tutorials to learn the correct way to shape my dough. In case you’re wondering, you don’t have to throw it into the air to be successful. My ceiling is thankful.
Finally, I found the dough recipe that was closest to Les’s memory of New York pizza, and with a few tweaks of my own (most notably, my effort to build the dough from my sourdough culture), I have earned my keep. You can imagine my joy today, each time we make pizza at home, when this man of mine declares out loud (and, of course, to all his Facebook friends) that our homemade pizza rocks.
Beyond the recipe, we have discovered the beauty of a pizza steel, which has completely changed the game for us. If you’ve ever considered getting one, just do it. It inspires me to make even more homemade pizzas, and in the weeks ahead, I’ll elevate your happy by sharing some of my favorite unconventional toppings (because everyone can figure out a pepperoni and cheese).
Ready to roll in the dough (well, figuratively)? I’ve created a tutorial for replicating our favorite homemade pizza dough—complete with recipe, instructions for yeast version and sourdough version, and steps for shaping the crust so you can enjoy pizza at home that rivals the best local takeout joints.