Ingredient Introduction #9 – Yeast

I love bread.

And because I eat so much of it, I’m able to work part time as a car cover model. Seriously, though. I could never do a low-carb diet.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I was in high school when that whole everyone’s-giving-bread-makers-as-gifts craze was steaming hot. So, I didn’t get one, and I’ve always thought doing it the “old-fashioned” way would be too difficult.

Honestly, I’d still be fine with just buying bread, but an e-mail I got recently made me second guess myself.

So, after years of buying loaf after loaf, and even driving 30 or so minutes to get baguette after baguette at the French bakery, I felt it was time to make my own.

I started with the recipe in that e-mail: Meyer lemon focaccia. I think you understand why I wanted to make this so badly, right?

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As you might imagine, I had the lemons. I just had to go get… yeast.

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In reality, it’s a fungus that makes bread rise… little tiny granules that need sugar to do their thing. In theory, it’s a scary little product that’s as finicky as a 3rd grader with a peanut allergy.

I started with the packets of active dry yeast.

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This focaccia recipe was super simple, but it took a lot of patience, which you know I don’t have.

You have to mix the yeast with the sugar and water to let it bloom, proof, or awaken. The water temperature is supposed to be a big deal… hot, but not too hot. I used the regular hot water from my sink, and it worked fine. Of course, you could kill a lobster with what comes out of my faucet. If all else fails, use a thermometer.

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Then, there’s a lot of mixing, letting it sit, folding it (making the focaccia-like air pockets), letting it sit…

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Folding it, letting it sit.

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And get this… It has to come to room temperature (45 minutes, at least)… Then you have to divide it, and let it rise (45 minutes).. All before you can get baking!

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After looking at my flat little circles, I thought I had a bum bag of yeast or I did something wrong.

In my head, this was all supposed to triple in size and serve as a safety bag for Tom Cruise’s next cliff-diving stunt-double.

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On one circle, I followed the recipe… adding the lemon slices and rosemary. On the other, I went rogue: oregano, grape tomato slices, and garlic powder.

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Well I did something right. The rounds were soft, tender, and tasty.

The lemon version was interesting… Slightly bitter from the rind, yet subtly sweet, and aromatic.

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The tomato version was off the charts. It tasted like a pizza, but without the guilt-inducing cheese, and heartburn-sparking sauce.

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In my opinion, this isn’t a sandwich-style focaccia. Per round it’s just not thick enough. You can see in the recipe photo that it’s relatively thin. Try this. It’s a great base for a pizza, too!

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Or, use both rounds and build one heck of a sandwich!

At this point, I was fearless. I applied to Subway, Firehouse, and Quiznos to be a bread baker. Okay, I’m lying. But, I did get up the gumption to go for a calzone.

A calzone is kinda like a pizza pocket, but there’s no sauce. If you sauce it, call it a Stromboli.

For this, I went back to the store. I wanted instant gratification, so I got pizza yeast.

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It’s made with a dough relaxer so it won’t spring back while you’re forming your pie, plus, it doesn’t require rising time.

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I was really excited, because I got to use the dough hook on my stand mixer for the first time. This was a cinch! I used bread flour, and I think that was a smart move. It gives you a crispy, crackly crust that’s not chewy.

My mom got me a calzone contraption for Christmas, so I got to use that for the first time, too!

I went with an eggplant calzone. Here’s how I did it:

1 eggplant, cubed skin-on
1 red bell pepper, cubed
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup red wine
15 oz whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
4 tsp hot cherry pepper juice (optional)
1 egg

In a large pan, sauté the eggplant, onion, and the bell pepper in a good drizzle of olive oil. After about 10 minutes it should be softened. Add the garlic, and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant.

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Add 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, the pepper flakes, oregano, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Stir. Add in the wine, scraping off any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.

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Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the wine is dissolved.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, parsley, and remaining teaspoon of garlic powder. Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

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On a floured surface, roll out your calzone dough. It should make a good-sized oval. I was making one big calzone for two people, but you could split the dough and make 2 small calzones.

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On one half of the dough, leave a bit of a border (1/2 inch), and scoop out your eggplant mixture. You’ll have some left over. Use it for pasta the next day.

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On top of the eggplant mixture, spread out the ricotta concoction. The, sprinkle on the mozzarella.

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Beat the egg. Using a pastry brush, “paint” the borders of your calzone, then fold over the empty side onto the filled side. Crimp it with your calzone contraption, if you have one. Otherwise, use a fork.

Carefully transfer the calzone to a baking sheet sprinkled with corn meal. This will prevent sticking, and help you slide it off when it’s done. The corn meal granules act like baby ball bearings.

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“Paint” the top of the calzone with the egg wash, then make a slit in the middle to let steam escape. Otherwise, you’ll have an eggplant and cheese hot air ballon.

Bake at 450 for 12-15 minutes.

The egg wash gives it a nice shine!

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Serve it with your favorite pasta sauce. Just heat it up first.

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This was outstanding. The crust was delicate, yet crunchy. It housed the creamy filling perfectly. The eggplant had a bit of a bite to it. The cheese was decadent, and luscious.

I will never use refrigerated pizza dough again. Ever.

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Making your own is a snap. You were right, Mary Lu (my friend, and loyal reader who, along with her husband, are stellar bread and pizza crust bakers)!

My next goal is to make a loaf of bread, or even a baguette. If you have a favorite recipe, please comment and share!

Tip: Check the expiration date on your yeast before you buy it. I picked up one packet that expired in 2011!

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