Saturday, December 22, 2012

Portuguese Sweet Lemon and Olive Cookies

It's cookie season! Despite my best intentions, I've found myself lingering at the dessert table at for multiple tastes of chocolate chips and powdered sugar, or tearing at packages, hoping that someone has sent me a box of ninjabread men. I guess it's just not December without a cookie tray. But here's the thing: all those cookie trays? They're kinda sweet. And buttery. And after a few social occasions, it can all be a Bit Too Much.

So what to do in this season of cookie overload (beyond saying no to the cookie tray, which we all know is just crazytalk)? Turn to a cookie that's not quite so sweet. Or so buttery. Something a bit salty — briny, even. With a hefty helping of lemon zest. Like this Portuguese sweet lemon and olive cookie.

When I first spied this recipe from the amazing David Leite, I thought that these were just a sort of savory biscuit, some European too-sophisticated-for-sugar affair. But they are decidedly cookies. Just a more complex, salty-sweet version. They're studded with rich, briny, oil-cured olives, and punched up with lemon zest, sugar and olive oil (making them, to the delight of the lactose-intolerant, dairy-free). The sparkly dusting of sugar makes them sweet and festive enough to let you know you're firmly in the celebratory cookie season, but their rustic rough edges and briny notes are different enough to give a bit of a relief from it all. And they go beautifully with a glass of wine, cup of eggnog, solstice ale, or mug of tea — whatever it is you're using to toast the season. Happy holidays!

Portuguese Sweet Lemon and Olive Cookies
adapted from David Leite 
yields ~18 cookies

1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup oil-cured olives, rinsed if excessively salty, then pitted and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
pinch coarse salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large egg

Preheat your oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Cut three sheets of parchment paper to fit your cookie sheet, and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, chopped olives, lemon zest, and salt. In a separate bowl (I used the measuring cup with the oil), beat together the olive oil and egg until well combined. Pour this mixture into your dry ingredients, and mix well, until the dough comes together when you squeeze it (it won't come together into a cohesive ball, but it'll come together as you shape each cookie).

Lay out one of your sheets of parchment on a clean counter, and set out a small dish of additional sugar (start with maybe 1/4 cup). Pull off generous tablespoons of dough, and squeeze and then roll them to shape into balls. Shape 5 balls, roll them in the dish of sugar until well coated, and place on the parchment paper with ample space between them. Place one of the other sheets of parchment on top, and smush each cookie with your hand to flatten. Take a rolling pin and roll out further, until the cookies are about 4 inches across, and a scant 1/16th inch thick (don't worry about the rustic ragged edges — that's how these cookies should look). Transfer the parchment to a cookie tray, and bake until just browned on the edges and sort of pebbled on top, ~10 minutes. While the cookies are baking, shape the remaining dough for the next round. When done, let cool on a rack (Leite recommends fresh parchment for each batch, but given the short cooking time, I was easily able to cycle through mine). Store in an airtight container for several days, or bring to your holiday party that very night.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Apple Cider Doughnuts

The best doughnut is a fresh doughnut. I know, I don't have to tell you that. But this might be news: the best hour-or-so-old doughnut? That's a cake doughnut.

So doughnuts come in two main forms: yeasted and cake doughnuts. Even if you don't think you know the difference, you probably do. Yeasted doughnuts are airy and fluffy (from, you guessed it, yeast), the fried pillows that you find filled with custard or jelly. And cake doughnuts are, well, a bit cakier, a bit firmer. The kind you find at the apple orchard.

As a rule, I love the fluffy pillow of a yeasted doughnut best of all. But here's the thing: yeasted doughnuts do not age well. At all. After they cool down, they're just sad pillows of air and grease. But cake doughnuts? They hold up great. Sure, they're best hot from the oil. But even the next morning, their sturdier crumb (sturdier-yet-still-somewhat-delicate, mind you) still makes for a fine accompaniment to your morning coffee — especially if you've rolled them in some cinnamon sugar to sop up the grease. And so, when I wanted to bring some doughnuts to a Hanukkah party, and that party was being held more than half an hour from my kitchen, I decided to make up a batch of cake doughnuts.

These are dangerously delicious. The liquid in the dough comes from boiled-down cider and buttermilk, which are both baking perfection. The apple flavor comes through (thanks to the concentration), but subtle enough to play nicely with the other spices. There is some fussing involved — the dough must be par-frozen and then chilled — but the delicate handling of a soft dough yields doughnuts that are toothsome-yet-light. They're amazing straight from the pan. But even a few hours later at a party? They're pretty amazing as well.

And if you're looking for another greasy treat to enjoy this holiday season, I can direct you toward a recent story about spinach and cheese boyos. They come with their own rich tradition (and their own lashings of oil), over at NPR. Happy Hanukkah!

Apple Cider Doughnuts

adapted from Lauren Dawson at Hearth Restaurant, via the Washington Post
yields 18 doughnuts (and doughnut holes)

1 cup apple cider
3 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons butter, warmed to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (if you don't have, you can substitute an equivalent amount of milk with a hefty splash of cider vinegar, or, if you're frying for dairy-free folks, cider vinegar plus coconut milk is a crazy good substitute)

oil for frying
1 cup sugar tossed with 1 heaping spoonful cinnamon to finish

Start by reducing the cider: Pour into a saucepan, and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Reduce until it's just high enough to maintain a rolling simmer, and let cook off until reduced to 1/4 cup, ~20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

Fit a mixer with a paddle attachment, and beat together the softened butter and sugar for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add the boiled-down cider and buttermilk, mix until well combined, then add the flour mixture and stir on low until the mixture just comes together — do not overmix!

Line two sheet trays with parchment or waxed paper, and sprinkle generously with flour. Turn the dough out onto one of the sheets, sprinkle with a bit more flour, and pat/roll until it's 1/2-inch thick. Transfer the tray to the freezer until it firms up slightly, ~20 minutes.

Remove from the freezer, and round up some dough cutters (Dawson recommends 3-inch rounds, but I used my 2-1/4-inch round cutter for the doughnuts, and a well-cleaned cap from a bottle of Campari for the holes). Cut out the shapes, and transfer to the other tray. Mush the scraps together, re-roll, and cut out the remainder. Move the tray to the refrigerator, and let relax there for 20-30 minutes.

When the dough is nearing the end of its relaxing time, heat a few inches of high-heat oil in a large pan (I used my cast iron Dutch oven) over a medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Prepare a rack for the cooked doughnuts, or a plate lined with paper towels or brown paper (I ripped up a few grocery bags). Mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.

When the oil is hot, add a test doughnut. It should become brown on the first side in about 60 seconds, and on the second side in a little less. If it passes this test, add a round of doughnuts. Cook until brown, flip, and fry until brown on the second side. Transfer to your prepared tray/rack, let drain/cool for a moment, then transfer to the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Coat with the mixture on each side. Enjoy hot, or not.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Scallion Latkes with Rice Vinegar Sour Cream

    It's a long-standing, well-documented tradition that American Jews go out for Chinese food on Christmas. In fact, a Borscht Belt-worthy joke about the practice even made it into the record of the Senate Judiciary Committee. There are many theories as to why, but they all generally acknowledge this basic fact: Chinese restaurants tend to be open on Christmas.  And so, for many American Jews, memories of December are scented with egg rolls as much as pine boughs. So why not bring Chinese flavors into the classic Hanukkah potato pancake as well?

    For the record, I still love me a classic latke — the ones that taste of nothing but potatoes, onions, and salt (and, you know, oil). But I also love me a good scallion pancake. And so, for this Hanukkah (which, to my utter surprise, begins in a week), I've combined the two. Behold the scallion latke. With rice vinegar sour cream.

    These latkes still have that deliciously fun French-Fries-for-dinner oily air of a standard potato pancake. But then it gets a bit more interesting. There are a few bunches of fresh scallions, both whites and greens, and some fresh garlic and ginger (not found in the traditional scallion pancake, but common in Chinese cuisine and brilliant at cutting through the oil). The fried pancakes are served with sour cream that's been further soured with the tang of rice wine vinegar, and topped with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce (and a garnish of scallions because, well, why not). It's a delicious way to combine the best of these culinary traditions.

    And in other news of cozy winter traditions, here's a recent story on the history of weaving with dog fur. Yes, you heard me. You can listen over at the Northwest News Network.

    Scallion Latkes with Rice Vinegar Sour Cream

    yields ~3 1/2 dozen small latkes

    I'm always a favor of frying latkes in advance, so that you can actually sit down and enjoy them with your dining companions (and, if you're entertaining, you don't greet your guests with a house that smells of fry oil). I also think that the rest and reheat lets them cook a bit more evenly, and some of the oil comes out in the oven. Just make the latkes in advance as directed, let cool, and transfer to a sealed container in the freezer (you can layer with paper, or else par-freeze and then toss in freezer bags). Bake on a rimmed sheet, straight from the freezer, at 375° Fahrenheit until sizzling and starting to color a bit more.

    5 pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
    2 large bunches scallions, finely minced (set a few spoonfuls aside to garnish the finished latkes)
    8 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
    2—3-inch knob fresh ginger, grated
    1 tablespoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
    2 eggs
    1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    1/4 cup matzo meal

    1-2 cups high-heat oil for frying

    For Serving:
    1 cup sour cream
    1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
    soy sauce
    toasted sesame oil
    sliced scallions

    Line a strainer with a large piece of cheesecloth or a loose-weave dish towel, and place in the sink or over a bowl. Shred half of the potatoes on the coarse holes of a box grater, and place the shreds in the lined strainer (if you have a food processor with a shredding disk, use that instead, then place about 1/4 of the shreds back in the bowl with a chopping blade, and pulse a few times to yield smaller bits that will help bind).

    Pick up the ends of the dish towel or cheesecloth and gather it around the load. Twist and squeeze to wring as much liquid as possible from the mixture, twisting further as more liquid is released. When it's as dry as possible, place the wrung-out mixture in a large mixing bowl. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.

    Add the scallions, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, eggs, sesame oil and matzo meal to the potatoes, and stir well to combine. Pour the oil into frying pans to a depth of 1/2 inch, and heat over a medium-high heat until a shred of potato sizzles when dropped in. Shape three tablespoons of the latke mixture into a round shape (I like to pack a 1/4 cup measure three-quarters full) and place in the oil. Flatten slightly to form a small pancake. Repeat as many times as your pan space allows. Cook the latkes until they're well-browned, 5 to 7 minutes, then flip and brown the other side (play with the heat if it's taking much more/less time). When the second side has cooked, place on a plate lined with brown paper or paper towels, stacking with additional paper or paper towels as needed.

    To serve, stir the rice wine vinegar into the sour cream (taste, and add more if you favor a bit more tang). Top each latke with a dollop of the tangy sour cream, a small drizzle of soy sauce and/or sesame oil, and a sprinkling of the reserved scallions. Serve.

    Sunday, November 25, 2012

    Challah with Chocolate and Salt

    Sometimes there are ideas that are so simple — and yet so deliciously perfect — that you wonder why it took you so long to come up with them. Like using pomegranate seeds to garnish absolutely everything you make while they're in season (in my case, including, but not limited to: salads, oven-roasted squash, a bowl of hummous, etc). And dry-toasting garlic before making garlic bread (more on that later). And adding chunks of chocolate and flaky sea salt to challah.

    This long-overdue combination comes from the brilliant Sassy Radish. Admittedly, it's a relatively simple tweak — all of the ingredients are basic staples, nothing too surprising. But when you take this slightly sweet, eggy dough, and then tuck in some big  chunks of chocolate and a generous sprinkling of flaky salt, the results are so, so good.

    Challah, with its rich-yet-light-softness, perfectly offsets the chunks of chocolate. And the salt, which may seem a bit excessive at the outset, turns out to be just what the combination needs. The resulting loaf is savory-sweet enough for a grown-up dessert, and makes a perfect match for your morning/afternoon cup of coffee. And compared to buttery brioche or pan au chocolate, it even seems somewhat healthy. But more than anything else, it just seems meant to be. I don't know why it took us so long to realize.

    And in news of elegantly simple solutions from elsewhere in the internets, here's a story I produced for NPR on cooking with a mortar and pestle. Also, I had the good fortune to sit down with the queen of good kitchen ideas, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. You can read that interview over at The Oregonian.

    Challah with Chocolate and Salt

    adapted from Sassy Radish

    3/4 cup apple cider (you can also substitute all or part orange juice, or water in a pinch)
    1 tablespoon active dry yeast
    1 large egg
    2 large egg yolks
    1/3 cup olive oil
    1/3 cup honey
    1 tsp coarse salt
    ~4 — 4 1/2 cups flour
    3/4 cup chopped chocolate
    1 egg, lightly beaten with a splash of water (henceforth known as the egg wash)
    flaky salt for sprinkling

    Pour the cider in the bowl of a stand mixer, then sprinkle in the yeast. Let sit ~5 minutes, to allow the yeast to soften and bloom.

    Add the egg, egg yolks, oil, honey and salt. Fit the mixer with a whisk attachment, and mix until the liquid is well-blended. Add a few cups of the flour, mixing until it forms a batter.

    Remove the whisk attachment, and fit the mixer with a dough hook. Add the remaining flour, bit by bit, until a soft and sticky dough is formed that just clears the sides of the mixing bowl, but still sticks to the bottom. Continue kneading with the dough hook for a few more minutes, to form supple, sticky, and well-developed dough.

    Lightly oil a large bowl, and turn the dough out into it. Swish it around, then flip it over, so that the top is oiled as well. Cover the bowl, and let rise until doubled, ~1-2 hours, depending upon the temperature of the room. When risen, punch it down to deflate (I like to flip it over at this point, but it's not necessary), and let rise another hour or so (it doesn't need to entirely double this time, but you want to see some rising). The dough can be refrigerated overnight for either of these rises — just remove it and give it an hour to come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

    After the dough has risen for the second time, line a baking sheet with parchment or dust it with cornmeal. On a lightly-floured countertop, divide the dough into strands for the braid of your choosing — you can do a standard three-strand braid, or search the internet for an ornate braiding method of your choosing (I'm still obsessed with this foursquare braid, which seems to work particularly well for this challah). After you've divided the dough into portions for your braid, press each portion into a rough oval, and scatter on the chocolate chunks. Roll the dough up into a cylinder, squeezing out any air and sealing the seam. Roll the dough strands out into long ropes (if the dough resists, let it sit for a few minutes to relax). The chocolate chunks may remain inside the dough, or work to the outside — either will make for a good result. Weave the strands into the challah, and place on the prepared sheet.

    Brush the dough with the egg wash (a brush is best for this, but I've made do with my fingers at times), and let it rise until it's increased by half, ~45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending upon the room temperature (you want to make sure the final rising is complete — if the challah hasn't risen enough, it can end up either too dense, or expand raggedly in the oven, ruining your pretty shape).

    While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit.

    When the dough has completed its final rise, give it another brush with the egg wash (be delicate to avoid deflate all that nice rising that's just happened), and sprinkle generously with the flaky salt. In fact, even more than you think is generous, taking care to sprinkle in the seams and towards the sides, for maximum salty coverage after baking. Transfer to the oven, and bake until the bread is burnished to a dark brown and smells done, ~35-45 minutes (if it's browning too quickly, you can dome with foil for the final 15 minutes of baking, but I tend to favor a dark challah). Transfer to a rack, and allow to cool before slicing. Don't worry — the chocolate will be nice and melty for a few hours.

    Saturday, November 17, 2012

    Apple Frangipane Galette with Cranberries

    This time four years ago, I was in New York, completing a public radio internship. I was getting an on-the-job crash course at a stellar program, but I was also kind of freaking out. I was far from home and dog, uprooting my life at the same time all of my friends seemed to be Getting Their Shit Together. I spent my nights house-sitting at the apartments of various friends who all had someplace better to be for the holidays (or else schlepping hours on public transit to sleep on a couch at my mother's house), and I spent my days worrying so much about mastering this unfamiliar work that my forehead would literally hurt from the stress of it.

    And then, amidst the winter storm, I heard about the WNYC pie contest. Yes! I could temporarily set aside the still-unfamiliar work of radio production, and turn to the always-comforting kitchen. I could go from feeling alone in the hallways to sharing my recipe with admiring new friends. So I pulled together some of the best flavors of the season, felt my way through someone else's kitchen, and crafted this apple galette — a beautiful array of crisp apples atop a rich swipe of frangipane, then topped with a sprinkling of jewel-bright cranberries. And I lost. I didn't even place.

    So yeah. It wasn't quite the triumph I was hoping for. But you know what? Things got better nonetheless. I got the hang of radio production, and, perhaps more importantly, realized that even though something scares the bejesus out of you doesn't mean it isn't valuable and rewarding in the end. That while stress can make your forehead ache, it can also reshape your life in ways you never thought possible. And that even if your galette didn't win over the hard-nosed judge (especially when it was hacked into tiny pieces, its beauty destroyed prior to evaluation), you can take the recipe, tweak it a bit, and come up with something that will win over legions of new fans. And that even if it doesn't, that's okay too. Because even as the days darken, and the radio deadlines loom, there's still a whole lot to be thankful for.

    Apple Frangipane Galette with Cranberries

    This galette is perfect for Thanksgiving — it's a nice little spin on tradition, and it's also much lighter than the standard overfilled apple pie, so as not to push you over the post-feast edge.

    1/3 cup ground almonds (I tend to keep a bag of this in my freezer, but if you don't stock it, just start with a slightly larger amount of whole almonds, and grind the mixture longer)
    2 Tbsp sugar
    2 Tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
    pinch salt
    1/2 egg (reserve the other half for brushing the crust)

    3 good-sized crisp, tart apples, such as Granny Smith
    1 unbaked pie crust (I still haven't found anything better than this — and I make a lot of pies)
    scant cup cranberries (if using frozen, no need to thaw)
    1 Tbsp butter, melted
    1/2 egg (left over from the frangipane), beaten with a splash of water or milk (aka the egg wash)
    sugar for sanding the top (coarse sugar is especially nice, but regular sugar works fine as well)

    Preheat your oven to 400° Farenheit.

    To make the frangipane: Place the ground almonds, sugar, butter, salt, and half the egg in a food processor, and process until a smooth mixture forms, scraping down as needed. Set aside.

    Peel and core the apples, then thinly slice (I tend to keep the slices together, so that I can just fan them out into the finished tart). Roll out the crust to a about 14 inches in diameter, then either place on a parchment-lined baking pan, or drape into a tart pan. Spread the prepared frangipane in a thin layer along the bottom of the tart crust (or, if making a free-form galette, in a 9-inch circle in the center of your dough), then arrange the apple slices over the top. If you're feeling particularly inspired you can fan them out in concentric circles, but it'll look pretty even if you're lazy like me and go for a less geometrical approach. Scatter the cranberries over the top, then fold the overhanging edges of the pastry over the fruit. Brush the crust with the egg wash, and then drizzle the melted butter over the exposed fruit. Sprinkle sugar generously over both the fruit and crust, so that they're coated with a thin layer.

    Transfer the galette to the oven, and bake until the crust is browned and the filling is cooked and bubbling, ~35-45 minutes. Set aside, let cool slightly, and serve.

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    Chocolate Juniper Cake with Milk Jam Sour Cream

    I tend get my hackles up over use of the word "special." It so often smacks of faint praise, or overcompensation. It's possible I'm a bit of a hater. But recently my friend Brian helped me come around. As good friends and neighbors, we end up eating a lot of meals together (and sharing too-good-not-to-bring-next-door bites of many more). And there have been times during these meals where he'll just pause, savoring everything about a singular mouthful, and then pronounce it special.

    Maybe it's the fact that Brian's a particularly dear friend, or the total wide-eyed sincerity with which he shares this reaction. Whatever it is, it's helped me get over my surliness and embrace the word. Because he's right. Some things truly are special. Like this cake.

    I first saw this cake posted on Bon Appetit, and figured that it was the sort of thing best left to the professionals. But then I saw it on a beloved blog, and thought perhaps it was within the mortal realm. And then I made it, and I shared it with my neighbors, and we moaned out some expletives about how holy crap good it was.

    Amazingly, it's not even all that complicated. The cake itself is just a simple two-bowl chocolate cake — you don't even have to remember to soften butter or anything. But there are a few simple steps that take it beyond. First off, the cake is scented with juniper berries (thankfully sold in bulk at the local natural market down the street), which manage to both deepen and cut through the chocolate with their unique woodsy vibe. Then you make a sauce that manages to be both milky-sweet and rich and tangy at the same time. And then — even better — you firm up the cake in the freezer, dredge it in sugar, and give it a quick pan-fry to yield a delicately caramelized crust. The end result makes you question all of your previous cake-making. Why isn't chocolate always paired with juniper? And milk jam sour cream served on everything? And seriously why isn't every cake caramelized prior to serving? None of these tweaks is all that difficult, and all are within the grasp of pretty much any cake-baking home cook. And the end result is really, really special.

    Chocolate Juniper Cake with Milk Jam Sour Cream

    adapted from Oxheart, via Bon Appetit 
    serves ~10 (you can also halve the recipe and bake in an 8-inch pan instead)

    2 heaping teaspoons juniper berries
    1 3/4 cups flour
    1 2/3 cup sugar (plus more for caramelizing the cake)
    1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
    2 tsp coarse salt
    1 1/2 tsp baking soda
    3/4 cup buttermilk (if unavailable, substitute soured milk)
    3/4 cup neutral oil, like vegetable or grapeseed
    2 large eggs

    Milk Jam Sour Cream:
    1 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
    1-2 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk (if you'd like to make your own milk jam, boil down 2 cups milk with 1 cup sugar until you're left with a darkened, sweetened cup, ~45 minutes — and, as a bonus, leftover milk jam or sweetened condensed milk keeps for a while and is great stirred into your coffee)

    To make the cake: Preheat your oven to 350° Farenheit. Grease a 9x13 pan, line the bottom with parchment and grease again, then dust everything with flour. Set aside.

    Heat a dry skillet over a medium heat, then dry-toast the juniper berries until they become oily and fragrant (this will barely take a minute). Let cool slightly, then grind in a spice grinder.

    In a large bowl, sift together the ground juniper berries with the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil and eggs until well combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and fold or whisk until just combined (don't over-mix). Quickly transfer to your prepared pan, smooth the top if needed, and bake until a tester comes out clean, ~35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool, then transfer to the freezer until solid, at least two hours and up to three weeks (if the latter, wrap well in plastic).

    To make the milk jam sour cream: Stir the sweetened condensed milk or milk jam into the creme fraiche/sour cream to taste — you want something that's lightly sweet, but still quite tangy.

    To finish the cake: Remove the cake from the freezer, turn out onto a cutting board and discard the parchment. Trim off the edges, then slice the cake down the middle, so that you have two rectangles of about 4-inches in height, then slice each rectangle crosswise into 1 1/4-inch bars.

    Pour out some granulated sugar onto a plate, grab a pair of tongs if you've got them, and heat a pan over a medium heat (the recipe recommends nonstick, but I did this with a regular steel pan and it was fine). Roll each cake bar in the sugar, so that they're well-coated with a thin-yet-thorough dusting. Working in batches, transfer the cake slices to the skillet. Let caramelize on each side, turning to expose the next side when the side in the pan has melted and caramelized (once your pan is hot, it'll take less than 30 seconds per side). You can also caramelize the short ends if you are quite obsessive, but it's not necessary. Serve straight from the pan, with a dollop of milk jam ladled over the top.

    Monday, November 05, 2012

    Winter Squash Pizza (Pizza Zucca)

    A couple months back, I sung the praises of the seasonal flatbread. So easy, so thrifty, so crowd-pleasing, so perfect for highlighting the season's harvest with just a wee bit of cheese to hold it all together. And now, the November installment in the series: the butternut squash pizza.

    This is so surprisingly good, greater than the sum of its winter-squash-and-starch parts. A simple lean dough is topped with thinly-sliced squash (you soak it in salted water the night before, which renders it both softer and tastier), some onions and sage, and then just a sprinkling of cheese and breadcrumbs to tie it all together. The end result is deep and savory, with that bit of squashy sweetness, and rich and creamy with only a bit of dairy.

    And in other news of the power of bread to unify, here's a recent spot I produced on Election Day Communion. If there's any bread that may have the power to pull us through electoral politics, I'm putting my faith in this one.

    Winter Squash Pizza (Pizza Zucca)

    reconstructed based upon the guidelines from Grandaisy Bakery, as told to Slice
    makes one large pizza, serving ~6

    1 pound squash (about half a standard butternut, or two small delicatas)
    1 pound pizza dough (I'm currently obsessed with the recipe in Jim Lahey's book, which you all should get)
    1/3 pound gruyere or similar cheese
    1/2 red or yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
    handful of sage leaves, coarsely chopped
    olive oil
    salt and pepper
    1/4 cup breadcrumbs

    The day before: If your squash is large, cut it in half (you only need about a pound). Peel and scoop out the seeds, then slice very thin (about 1/8-inch thick). Fill a large bowl with water, and salt until it tastes quite salty, and add the squash slices. Let sit overnight.

    When you're ready to make the pizza, take your dough out of the fridge if it's refrigerated, and let come to room temperature for an hour. Preheat your oven to 500° Farenheit, and place a rack near the top.

    While the oven is heating and the dough is warming, prepare the filling. Drain the squash, then place in a large bowl and toss with the grated cheese, onion, and sage leaves. Drizzle in a few spoonfuls of olive oil, until it's well coated, and season with salt and pepper (you shouldn't need too much salt, since the squash will have taken in some salt from its soak, but you want to have enough to offset the squash's sweetness). Set aside.

    Grease a half-sheet tray with olive oil, or line with parchment. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured countertop, and gently stretch out into a long rectangle (I like to sort of drape it over the backs of my hands, to allow the weight to help stretch). If the dough resists, let sit for a few minutes to relax, and try again. When the dough is stretched out, transfer to the prepared tray, then push-pull it until it is evenly spread to the edges.

    Sprinkle the squash filling evenly over the dough, right up to the edges. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top. Bake until the squash is baked and starting to brown, and any dough you can see appears cooked, ~20-30 minutes. Let cool slightly, slice into squares, and serve.

    Sunday, October 28, 2012

    Fig, Pistachio and Goat Cheese Danish

    I have this theory that the bulk of electric items that malfunction do so because they are, on some level, either:

    1. unplugged
    2. dirty

    Sure, I understand that there are a wealth of complex problems that afflict larger machinery (as my recent $1,600 car repair bill can attest). But when a bike light/toaster/mixer stops working, I find that if I unscrew the back plate, and then either blow out a clot of dust or reconnect some wires that are clearly no longer connected, nine times out of ten the thing will blink back into life. It's enough to give a girl a false sense of prowess. I can fix things! Okay, maybe I don't fully understand how a circuit works, but still! I can fix things! Similarly, I have no culinary degree, and don't really understand the intricacies of pastry and what-have-you. But with a few small tweaks, I managed to come up with a breakfast creation that makes me feel like I've got this whole cooking thing down backwards and forwards. I can fix breakfast!

    To be clear, I'm not usually a big fan of figs. Or so-inviting-yet-so-often-one-dimensional-and-disappointing sticky buns. Yet somehow, I bravely soldiered through these twin adversities and came up with a sweet figgy breakfast that is crazy good: the fig, pistachio and goat cheese danish.

    Figs have a lot going for them. Namely, they grow all over Portland, plopping down on sidewalks (or, in this case, your neighbor's yard), free for the taking. And they're beautiful, especially the Adriatics, with their light green skins hiding comically bright fuscia centers. But flavor-wise? Meh. As someone who always likes a bit of punch to my desserts (well, to all my meals, really), figs are just a bit too one-note for my tastes. They're all syrupy sweetness, no citrus sourness or berry brightness or appley snap. But luckily, these problems can be solved. With pistachios and goat cheese.

    Instead of the stales-within-minutes standard sticky bun dough, I started off with a rich danish dough instead (I used Nigella Lawson's brilliant cheater method, which is really just an easy combination of cutting butter into flour like pie crust, and then mixing in a yeasty, eggy slurry and giving the results a few turns). After folding and rising (you can stretch this out between a few days), you roll it out and spread on a rich-and-nutty-but-not-too-sweet pistachio paste, crumbles of tangy goat cheese, and those figs. The end result is perfect: the sweetness of the figs kept from becoming too cloying by the slight sourness of the goat cheese and the buttery, yeasty lightness of the dough. The pistachio paste keeps everything rich and creamy without overwhelming, and the figs are also just plain pretty. Yes, I'll acknowledge that creating this recipe didn't really take too much specialized knowledge — I just unscrewed the back plate off the standard sticky bun, and connected it with some of my favorite flavor (and, if we're being honest, color) combinations. But the end result is so good, I'd swear I actually knew what I was doing.

    Fig, Pistachio and Goat Cheese Danish

    yields 12 danish
    dough adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, the rest of the bad ideas are my own

    The danish dough isn't difficult to make, but it does take time, between the cutting and folding and rising. You can divide the stages across several days, or double the recipe, and then freeze half of it to thaw out at a later date.
    For the pastry:
    3/4 cup milk 
    2 tsp active dry yeast
    1 large egg, room temperature
    2 1/4 cups flour (I like a split of 2 cups white flour, 1/4 cup whole wheat flour)
    3 Tbsp sugar
    1 tsp salt
    2 sticks unsalted butter, cold, cut into pats

    3/4 cup shelled raw pistachios (you can use roasted if that's all you can find, but the subtler flavor of raw works a bit better)
    2 Tbsp sugar
    1/2 stick butter, softened to room temperature
    1 Tbsp flour
    1 egg
    pinch salt
    splash rosewater (optional, but adds a nice perfume)
    1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
    6 large figs — cut 4 into a small dice for the filling, and the remaining two into slices for garnishing the top

    1 egg, beaten with a splash of water (aka 'the egg wash')
    coarse sugar

    In a small bowl, mix together the milk, yeast, and egg. Let sit for a few minutes for the yeast to soften.

    In a food processor or large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt.  Add the butter, and pulse or press with the heel of your hand until the butter is reduced to 1/2" pieces (you don't need it quite as well-mixed as for a pie crust). If using a food processor, transfer to a bowl at this point. Add the yeast mixture, stirring until it's well-combined (it'll be a fairly goopy mass with lumps of butter — don't fret!). Cover the bowl, and refrigerate overnight or up to four days (if the latter, you might need to punch it down to deflate every day or two if it's rising a lot).

    To turn the dough into pastry, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Dust a work surface with flour, and turn the dough out onto it. Roll until it forms a rectangle, about 18" in length (no worries about being terribly precise). Fold into thirds, like a business letter, then rotate 90 degrees. Repeat the process three more times — the clumps of butter will roll out into nice long flakes, and the dough will begin to become more cohesive and dough-like. Cover and let rest half an hour (you can also re-refrigerate for another day or two at this point if needed).

    When you're ready to assemble the danish, line an 8-inch square pan with parchment and make the filling. Place the nuts and sugar in a food processor, and process until reduced to bits. Add the butter, flour, egg, salt and rosewater, and process until it forms a relatively smooth paste (scraping down the sides of the mixer as needed).

    Roll the dough out into a rectangle about 18" in length. Spread with the pistachio filling — go right up to the short side edges, but leave about 1/4" on each long edge. Sprinkle the chopped figs and crumbled goat cheese, then roll the long side in and pinch to seal. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 12 equal pieces. Place the pieces, with either swirled cut side up, into your prepared pan (you may need to squash them down slightly). Top each roll with one of the fig slices. Let sit for ~30-40 minutes to rise (they will have some space between them, but that will be filled in as they rise and then bake).

    While the Danish are rising, preheat your oven to 375° Farenheit. 

    When the Danish are slightly risen, brush with the egg wash, and sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. Bake until browned, ~20-25 minutes. 

    Friday, October 19, 2012

    Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini

    A friend once noted that despite living in Southern California, she could always tell when the sun was shining in Seattle. Because of all of the ohmygosh look at the sunshine! posts on Twitter. Sunlight can be so sporadic in the rainy Northwest that people feel compelled to note its presence on the rare times that it shines forth. Likewise, I can always tell when the season is turning to autumn. Because of all of the winter squash posts on the food blogs.

    Not that I can blame people. The coming darkness of winter can be a bit hard to handle, especially after the endless warm summer evenings. And did I mention the rain? But winter squashes — butternut, kabocha, hubbard, delicate — are some of the best consolation prizes. They're dense and sweet, healthy, and their penchant for oven-roasting has the lovely side effect of warming up the kitchen on these cold days we're not quite yet accustomed to. And they're delicious. Especially in salads like this.

    This recipe comes from the folks behind the Moro restaurant, who specialize in the Moorish cuisine that was at one time common in Spain. In some ways this dish reminds the lovely roasted eggplant with saffron yogurt I recently tried — a produce-driven recipe of simple ingredients in an unexpected combination. Rich golden chunks of squash are roasted until sweet and butter soft, then combined with whole chickpeas, red onions, garbanzos and cilantro. Then the whole thing is dressed with a nutty, lemony tahini sauce. It's got some winter heft with the warm squash, but still a last hurrah of sunny brightness. Perfect for the early days of autumn (because, in case you haven't heard, it's pretty much here).

    Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad with Tahini

    adapted from Casa Moro
    serves ~4

    1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 ½ lb.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 ½-inch cubes
    1 clove garlic, pressed
    ½ tsp ground allspice
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    2 cups cooked chickpeas (either drained from a can or cooked up yourself)
    ¼ of a medium red onion, finely chopped
    1 handful coarsely chopped cilantro leaves (I opted to leave them whole, for a bit more pretty)

    Tahini Sauce:
    3 Tbsp tahini
    1 clove garlic, pressed
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    2 Tbsp olive oil
    2-4 Tbsp water, as needed
    hefty pinch sugar
    salt to taste

    Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

    In a large bowl, combine the squash cubes, garlic, allspice, olive oil, and a pinch or two of salt. Using a large spoon or your hands, toss until the squash pieces are evenly coated. Turn them out onto a baking sheet, and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

    Meanwhile, make the tahini sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and the smaller amount of water. Add the sugar and salt, taste for seasoning, then add additional water until it thins to a thick-yet-pourable consistency.

    To assemble the salad, scatter the squash, chickpeas, onion, and cilantro on a serving bowl or individual plates. Dress with the tahini sauce, and serve.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    Mizuna, Melon and Pomegranate Salad

    It's easy to get stuck in a particular idea of how things should be, and lose sight of the huge world of possibility out there. This past weekend I attended an amazing conference, where producers and sound artists talked about the new things they were doing with radio production. It's changed the way I think about the stories I make. And a few days earlier, in a slightly-less-dramatic-but-perhaps-more-delicious development, I had a breakthrough in salad.

    Salads slip into boring ruts fairly often. A head of lettuce, a vinaigrette, maybe a few slices of radish or cucumber. We forget that they can easily be so much more. Anything, really. Luckily there are stellar recipes to remind us. Grilled kale with ricotta and plums. Rhubarb, beet and blue cheese, or roasted eggplant with saffron yogurt. And, drawing inspiration from these sources, my own contribution to the genre.

    During a trip to the farmer's market, I picked up a head of peppery mizuna and an adorable softball-sized melon, swayed by both the latter's knock-you-out perfume and the farmer saying that this would be the last one, as he'd just pulled up his plants for the season (I am a total gather-ye-rosebuds sap, it turns out). The bitter greens play beautifully against the drippy-sweet melon, and the fresh taste of mint (taken from a neighbors yard), bright pop of pomegranate seeds, and sprinkling of nuts come together to form something that pushes the idea of what a salad can be. It's beautiful, really, a perfect showcase for the fruits and vegetables of the season. And it's delicious.

    Mizuna, Melon and Pomegranate Salad

    Serves ~4

    1/2 bunch mizuna or other pepper green, torn into bite-sized pieces
    1 very small melon, or 1/2 standard-sized, cut into small-ish chunks
    1 handful mint leaves, torn
    1 handful pomegranate seeds
    1 handful lightly-toasted roughly-chopped hazelnuts or almonds
    1 minced shallot (optional)
    1 tablespoon fairly smooth vinegar, such as sherry
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    dollop honey
    salt and pepper

    Arrange all of the salad ingredients on a serving plate or individual plates. If using the shallot, add it to the vinegar in a small jar, and let sit for a few minutes to mellow. Add the remaining ingredients, stir to emulsify, and adjust to taste. Drizzle as needed on the salad, and serve.

    Tuesday, October 02, 2012

    Roasted Plum and Walnut Sundaes

    Early in July, my dear friend broke her leg. I'm not talking about a small, clean break, with a few days of pain and a few weeks in a cast. I'm talking about surgery, pins and plates, about weeks of painkillers and not being able to put your foot on the ground for almost three months. That's nearly a whole season of being bedridden. In the beginning, we ate a lot of ice cream.

    As far as bedridden summertime consolation prizes go, ice cream is a pretty great one. Over the Summer Of The Tibial Plateau Fracture, I ate ice cream several nights a week. Taste-testing the difference between chocolate gelato (Talenti was the front-runner). Deciding if hot fudge sauce was better over lavender or vanilla ice cream (opinions here were split). Whether cardamom was delicious or "too perfumey" (again, a split decision). It was a delicious way to spend an indoor summer. And I didn't want to give it up just because the season changed.

    And so the ice cream continues! But it needed a bit of an autumnal makeover. I grabbed a bag of Italian prune plums, the only fruit that seems to be in season these post-berry/pre-apple days. Eaten out of hand, they're not really my favorite — sweet but unexciting, lacking the punchy tartness of most other plums. But roasted with a bit of sugar and lemon, they slump into rich fuscia sweetness, more complex, more inviting. And they're perfect with vanilla ice cream. Add a sprinkling of walnuts, and it's a perfect autumnal sundae. Even if you've moved out of summer and onto new pursuits (such as re-learning how to walk without crutches), it's still a sweet way to cap off an evening.

    Roasted Plum and Walnut Sundaes

    serves 4

    3/4 pound Italian prune plums
    scant 1/4 cup sugar
    juice of 1/2 lemon
    4 scoops vanilla ice cream
    1 large handful toasted walnuts

    Preheat your oven to 400° Farenheit.

    Cut the plums in half, remove the stones, and slice them into quarters. Sprinkle with the sugar and lemon juice, and roast until the plums are soft and somewhat collapsed, and the juices have come out and thickened just slightly, ~20 minutes (the juices will thicken further upon standing, so don't worry too much about that). Remove from the oven, and let cool slightly (lest you melt the ice cream like I did).

    Scoop out the ice cream, and top with some of the plums and their juices, and a handful of walnuts. Enjoy.

    Monday, September 24, 2012

    Roasted Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt

    As someone who allots about 15 minutes to shower, dress, and get out the door most mornings, it's possible I underestimate the importance of physical appearance. We should care about inner beauty, right? Not the creative hairstyles resulting from my shower-then-apply-bike-helmet morning ritual. Similarly, food should be eaten because it's delicious, right? Not because it's pretty or artfully fussed-over. Right?

    Well, kind of. When it comes to food, sure, we're after delicious. But aesthetics are actually a kind of delicious, too. A counterpoint of colors, careful placement of items on the plate — all of these can shape your whole experience. I'm not talking about 80s-style fussy towers of food, or sauces applied with squeeze bottles in the home kitchen. I'm just talking about taking the smallest of moments to highlight something about the food itself, about the ingredients and occasion and wonder of it all. I'm talking about this salad.

    This combination is classic Ottolenghi, just a few simple ingredients that come together in deliciously unexpected ways. And also: so gorgeous! Eggplant is roasted until butter-soft, then topped with a bright yellow saffron yogurt, fragrant green basil leaves, pine nuts, and pomegranates that provide a punchy little pop of tart flavor (as well as garnet-bright color). It's surprising, perfectly balanced, and easy. And beautiful.

    Just as the fiery fall palette of leaves makes you take a deep breath in awe of the seasons, this gorgeous plate of late-fall produce captures a bit of that on a smaller scale. Sure, it's just a salad of fall vegetables, a bit of yogurt and nuts. But — as this presentation makes clear — that, in and of itself, can be beautifully amazing.

    Roasted Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt

    Both the eggplant and saffron yogurt can be prepared in advance, making this a perfect make-ahead dinner party dish. I tripled the amount of eggplants and salad elements and doubled the yogurt, and fed a Rosh Hashanah dinner party of 18 people with a bit of leftovers. You can also substitute a saffron tahini sauce for the yogurt sauce (as we did for one platter) for any dairy-free/vegan guests.

    adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
    serves ~4-5, or more as part of a larger spread

    2-3 good-sized Italian eggplants, unpeeled
    olive oil for brushing
    2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
    1 handful of pomegranate seeds (maybe 1/3 of a pomegranate, depending upon size)
    1 handful of basil leaves

    Saffron Yogurt:
    1 pinch saffron, infused in a few spoonfuls of hot water for a few minutes
    2/3 cup Greek yogurt
    1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
    juice of 1/2 lemon
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    salt to taste

    To cook the eggplants: Preheat your oven to 425° Farenheit. Cut the eggplants into 1/2-inch thick rounds, brush each side with oil, and place in a single layer on a baking tray (you may need to do this in a few batches). Sprinkle with salt, and bake until they soften and brown on the bottom, ~7-10 minutes. Flip over, sprinkle with salt again, and return to the oven until the second side is browned and the eggplant is butter-soft. Transfer to a container and cool (if you don't use a ton of oil, the eggplant may dry out a wee bit on the edges, but if you transfer them to a covered glass container while still warm, they'll soften up beautifully). Let cool, and, if desired, refrigerate up to three days.

    To make the saffron yogurt: Whisk together all ingredients until smooth, and adjust seasonings to taste (I was initially wondering whether olive oil was necessary, but it does a lovely job of rounding out the flavors). This can also be made up to three days in advance.

    To assemble the salad: If you made the eggplant in advance, allow to warm to room temperature. Lay the eggplant slices on individual plates (or, ideally, a nice dramatic platter). Drizzle generously with the saffron yogurt, then sprinkle the pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, and basil leaves. Serve.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    Brown Butter Cake with Pear and Chocolate

    Once we age out of wearing pointy hats on our birthdays, most of us tend to not bake up cake for dessert. Cakes are for office parties or weddings. And even on those boredom-killing or celebratory occasions, we're hardly looking forward to them. They're either too cottony, or too cloying, or favoring tier-supporting structure over delicacy. It's little wonder we forgo the cake entirely, opting for plum-studded tarts, or fudgy flourless chocolate cookies, or ganache-covered macaroons instead.

    But oh, this cake. This cake. Essentially, it's not much more than your basic genoise — whipped eggs and sugar, some flour and melted butter. But the butter is browned, giving it a surprisingly nutty depth. And then it gets a helping of autumnal pears and bittersweet chocolate. And it's perfect.

    To be clear, this isn't your standard buttery birthday cake. It's a bit more complex and grown-up, rich with brown butter and chocolate, moist with pears, but still light and just slightly dry (which is where the whipped cream comes in). It's kind of amazing, especially in these pear-heavy days at the end of summer.

    And in other news of the transformative power of a quality baked good, I recently had the good fortune to sit in on a challah-baking class, right before the Jewish new year. You can take a listen over at NPR. L'shana tova!

    Brown Butter Cake with Pear and Chocolate

    from Al Di La, via the Smitten Kitchen (do you know she has a cookbook coming out?)
    1 cup flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 stick unsalted butter
    3 eggs, at room temperature
    3/4 cup sugar, plus another spoonful or so for sweetening the whipped cream
    3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (go with pears that are just barely ripe — too soft and they'll sog up the cake)
    3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks
    1 cup cream

    Preheat the oven to 350° Farenheit. Butter a 9-inch springform pan, dust with breadcrumbs or flour, and set aside.

    Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

    To brown the butter, place in a saucepan and melt over medium heat, cooking until the butter turns a light brown and smells nutty and delicious (about 5-7 minutes). Scrape the bottom of the pan towards the end of this time, so that it browns evenly without the solids burning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

    Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. You want to whip them for several minutes, beyond the usual foam, until it thickens and will sheet off the beaters in thick ribbons (more than 5 minutes).

    Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.

    Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixture down to the slowest stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter in batches. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined, then use a spatula to gently scrape and fold in the last of the batter (be careful not to over-mix — though this cake has a hefty amount of leavening, it still gets a lot of its loft from beaten eggs, so you don't want to deflate).

    Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top (they'll sink to the middle as the cake sets), and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Whip the cream with a bit of sugar, and serve together.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Focaccia with Pear, Blue Cheese, Arugula and Corn

    I made this focaccia for a potluck on Thursday night. And it was so good, I made it again the next day. And now I'm wondering why I don't make this all the time. I know there are those who knead together an eggy-rich braided challah bread to mark the sabbath every Friday night. But I would argue that a seasonal focaccia, bolstered with a bit of whole wheat flour and topped with an assortment of whatever vegetables (and heck, even fruit) happen to be in your refrigerator or farmer's market, is an even lovelier way to mark the time.

    This focaccia has a lot going for it. It's easy (after a quick knead, the dough just rises by itself overnight), cheap (especially if you go with a similar refrigerator-cleaning mix of items), and is ridiculously delicious. The thin slices of pear (picked from a friend's tree!) add a bit of sweetness without being overpowering, and also contribute a bit of moisture, making it feel rich even with minimal cheese. The sweet corn, peppery arugula and piquant blue cheese all play off each other beautifully. And though I've already made it twice, I'm totally planning on making it yet again. Until the next seasonal focaccia comes to harvest.

    Focaccia with Pear, Blue Cheese, Arugula and Corn

    Inspired by this Woodberry Kitchen recipe in Bon Appetit, but tweaked beyond recognition
    serves ~12 as an appetizer, ~6 as a more substantial meal element

    As with any dough, a long, slow rise works beautifully (so don't be freaked out at the small amount of yeast). I do this as a two-day process: make dough at night, rise in the fridge, press out onto the tray in the morning, refrigerate again, top and bake before dinner. But you can tweak the timing to work with your schedule, skipping the second refrigeration if needed.

    1 1/2 cups room-temperature water
    1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
    1 tablespoon sugar or honey
    2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for coating the dough)
    1 scant tablespoon coarse salt (plus more for topping)
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2 1/2 cups bread flour

    aleppo pepper (a richly flavored yet not-at-all hot pepper — seek it out if you want this delicious secret weapon in your pantry, omit otherwise)
    1 pear, cored and thinly sliced
    1/4 pound blue cheese, crumbled
    1/2 bunch torn arugula (or several handfuls baby arugula), tossed with a drizzle of olive oil
    1 ear corn, cut off the cob

    To make the dough: Pour the water in the bowl of a mixer (or just a large bowl), and sprinkle the yeast over. Let sit a few minutes for the yeast to soften and bloom, then stir in the remaining ingredients until combined. Let sit, covered, for 15 minutes to hydrate, then knead with a dough hook (or stir with a spoon) for just a few minutes, until the dough comes together in a smooth mass (the dough should just clear the sides of the mixer — add more flour if needed, but it should still be somewhat soft and sticky). Oil a covered container, and transfer the dough. With wet or oiled hands, pull one end of the dough out until you can basically fold the dough in half, then rotate a quarter-turn and repeat with each side (this stretch-and-fold technique builds a little firmness into the dough without extra flour). When finished, flip the dough upside-down (so that the oiled bottom is now on top), cover, and refrigerate overnight.

    To shape the focaccia: Remove from the refrigerator, and let warm to room temperature. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment, or coat it with a bit of oil, and turn the dough out onto it. With wet or oiled hands, try to pat-push the dough until it is evenly spread in a thin layer over the entire surface (if it resists you, step away for a few minutes to let the dough relax, then come back to it). When the dough has been spread out, cover with a thin film of oil, and refrigerate again (or, if you don't have the time, proceed with topping and baking).

    To finish the focaccia: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees farenheit (you want a hot oven so you can let it preheat the full time the dough is doing its final rise).

    Remove the dough from the refrigerator, if it's been chilling there. Sprinkle the oiled top of the focaccia with aleppo pepper, then top with the pear, blue cheese, arugula and corn. Give a thin brush of oil over the pears, and a sprinkling of salt over everything. Let rise until starting to get a bit puffy — this will take 20-30 minutes if the dough is at room temperature, longer if it's been refrigerated. Bake until the focaccia is browned and delicious-looking, about 20 minutes.