Pizza in a Countertop Oven

If you have space for a countertop oven, I highly recommend one. It can replace your toaster, but a good-sized one can also do most of the things your regular oven can do — roast your chicken, broil your fish, bake your cookies, toast your nuts — using only a fraction of the energy of your big oven.

And if you have a baking stone, you can even bake a loaf of bread, or a pizza sized just right for one or two people.

I adored my Cuisinart Brick Oven when it worked, but after I had two of them quit on me in the space of three years (the top element died in one, the door spring in the other) it was time for a change. The Breville Smart Oven came to live here a few weeks ago, and the first hoop I had it jump through, other than toasting bagels (at which it performs marvelously, by the way) was my favorite white pizza — potatoes with rosemary and garlic.

For pizza, the hotter the oven the better, and a stone is essential for a crisp crust. The Cuisinart oven went up to 500F, but most countertop ovens, including the Breville, max out at 450F. Even so, I still got a pretty nice pizza, on the stone I saved from the defunct Cuisinart. Preheating the oven/stone for at 30 minutes gets the stone good and hot; skimp on this step and you risk an underdone crust.

Then there’s the question of how to get the pizza onto the stone in one piece. My regular peels are too big for the little oven, and my giant spatula is too small for a 10-inch pizza. Corrugated cardboard to the rescue! I cut a piece just wide enough to fit into the oven cavity. After rolling the crust out on the counter, I dusted my homemade peel generously with a mixture of white and semolina flours, and assembled the pizza on it. It slid off and onto the stone like a charm.

Get the recipe…

SFBI Video: Shaping a Baguette

The San Francisco Baking Institute, from which I graduated earlier this year, has launched a series of baking videos as a companion to its comprehensive textbook, Advanced Bread and Pastry.

I can’t comment on the series in general as I haven’t seen it, and there is an annual access fee, but one of the free sample videos is on shaping a baguette. It’s worth a look. It explains the process in clear detail, but starts from the point where the dough (about 350 grams) has already been preshaped into a cylinder.

Read on for how to preshape the dough…

This Will Amaze and Delight You

World Class Baking

Mike Zakowski loads breads and rolls into the oven.

Last month, when many people had World Cup Soccer on their minds, I was privileged to meet a small group of hugely talented bakers who came together at the San Francisco Baking Institute to prepare for a very different world cup: the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie. In the 2012 “World Cup of Bread Baking,” which is said to be the Olympics of the baking world, teams from twelve countries will compete for Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals as they promote international awareness of baking as a highly skilled craft.

Craig Ponsford, Chariman of the Bread Bakers Guild of America, sponsor of the USA team, graciously spent some time discussing the history and structure of this prestigious competition.

The Coupe du Monde was founded in 1992 by Christian Vabret of the Ecole Française de Boulangerie d’Aurillac to honor the art and craft of artisan baking, promote baking education and technical skill, and foster international goodwill and appreciation of traditional regional artisan breads and techniques. It is held in Paris every three to four years in conjunction with the trade show Europain. The previous Coupe du Monde’s top three teams are invited back to participate in the next event. Other countries must compete for the remaining nine slots through four regional qualifying competitions, the Louis LeSaffre Cups.

Jeremey Gadouas works on Viennoiserie.

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Kneading Conference 2010

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Kneading Conference in Skowhegan Maine, where bakers, farmers, millers, teachers, students, and friends came together for two days to celebrate grain and to bake and break bread together .

The keynote speakers, author and master baker Jeffrey Hamelman and sustainable agriculture leader Fred Kirschenmann, gave thoughtful and compelling talks.

All baking was done in wood-fired ovens…

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Food for Thought

The piece of gorgeousness you see here is the cover of a brainy new cookbook — and I’m in it!

Thinkfood is a collaboration between Posit Science and 50 food bloggers, each of whom has contributed a recipe featuring an ingredient known to improve memory, concentration, mood, or other brain-powered functions. With foods like flax seed, almonds, tuna, spinach, cinnamon, and more — doing their brilliant thing in everything from snacks to side dishes to main courses to desserts — you can eat smarter to be smarter.

You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what recipes I and the other bloggers contributed, but I think you’ll agree that the list of blogs is pretty damn impressive, so you just know the recipes are going to be wonderful.

The hard-cover book will be available in July, but you can start cooking more cleverly right now by signing up for the Thinkfood Recipe of the Week. Beginning today, one recipe will be distributed by email every Wednesday for the next 50 weeks.  You’ll have free access to the printable version of the recipe, which includes more information about the brain-healthy ingredient.

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