Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cookbook Fail

It's been said that the best way to succeed is to fail. That seems kind of counter-intuitive. If you want to succeed, shouldn't you succeed? The thing is, nothing teaches as firmly and thoroughly as failure.

Raise your hand if you have ever
* Put in baking powder instead of baking soda
* Put in tablespoons instead of teaspoons
* Burned something
* Underbaked something
* Left out an ingredient
* Omitted a step in recipe
* Failed to read a recipe all the way through before starting and only midway into the baking realized you were missing either a key ingredient or tool.

I've done all of those. Some of them more than once.

Each time you fail you learn more. And I have failed a lot. If you've read my blog for any length of time you know that. I ought to be a genius by now! I'm not, but what I am is able to spot some obvious bloopers and pause to evaluate.

Recently I got suckered into buying a new cookbook. I knew nothing about the author, but it had beautiful pictures, so I gave in. Hey, it was at the thrift store, so I only paid $2 for it. Perhaps that should have been a clue. If there was nothing wrong with it, why get rid of it?

After getting it home and thumbing through it, stroking the pretty pictures (yes, I do that. Don't you?), I decided the panini sandwiches needed to go on the menu. Because I'm into making my own bread, I liked that the recipe included directions for making flat bread.

I started by putting the warm water into a bowl with the sugar and then I paused to read out much yeast to add. 30 g or 1-1/4 oz. Hmmm. I'm much better with teaspoons and tablespoons for yeast. My kitchen scale isn't good with teeny measurements, but I dragged it out to see if it would cooperate. Let's see.....scooping, scooping, scooping.....30 grams - holy cow, that's a lot of yeast! Maybe the 30 grams was a misprint and I'd do better to follow the ounces. Start over.....scoop, scoop, scoop..... again - a huge amount of yeast.

Wait a minute, the jar I store my yeast in says it holds 4 oz of yeast. That means that this recipe which makes 10 small flatbreads (ie, not very puffy and risen) calls for over 1/4 of the jar of yeast???? That's insane!

So, I guessed at an amount that seemed appropriate, and it turned out beautifully. Thank you years of experience!

The flat bread has ground fennel, which lends it an interesting flavor, and the sandwich has arugula, which adds a fabulous peppery note. Fresh, oozy, melty mozarella and salty tangy proscuitto round out the flavor parade. If you like sandwiches, you've got to give it a try. You could buy flatbread at the store, but really it is simple. And I've fixed the recipe, so there's no fear of failure here. Trust me, I've made the mistakes for you.

Mozzarella and Proscuitto Panini
- adapted from Coffee & Bites

1-1/3 cups lukewarm water
1/2 tsp sugar
1-1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 lb (4 cups) bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the filling:
extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
8 oz fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
4 oz (2-1/2 cups) arugula
8-12 wafter-thin slices proscuitto
salt and freshly ground
black pepper

1- In a small bowl combine 2/3 cup of the lukewarm water with the sugar and yeast. Stir, cover, and leave in a warm place for 5- 10 minutes, until it's bubbly and about doubled in size.

2- While the yeast is growing, roast the fennel seeds in a dry, hot pan (a cast iron skillet is ideal) until you can just smell the aroma and the seeds begin to pop. Grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle until quite fine. Mix the fennel seeds with the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the yeast and oil. Start to mix into the flour, adding the remaining 2/3 cup of water.

3- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is elastic. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with a towel and leave in a warm place for 45 minutes until almost doubled in volume.

4- Turn the risen dough out onto your work surface and divide it into 8 pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll each out to about 6 inches in diameter, about 1/2-inch thick. Prick all over with a fork.

5- Heat a cast iron skillet until really hot. Place the dough into the pan (I could fit two at a time in my pan). When the bottom of the bread is dotted with dark spots (check after 2-3 minutes), turn the bread over and cook for a further 4 minutes. Stack the rounds of bread and cover with a clean kitchen towel while cooking the remaining rounds of dough.

6- For the sandwiches, split 4 rounds of bread horizontally with a bread knife. Place the halves cut-side up on your work surface and drizzle them with olive oil. Top 4 halves with mozzarella, arugula, and ruffles of prosuitto. Season with freshly ground black pepper and sandwich with the other halves of flat bread.

7- Toast the panini in a panini maker or a cast iron skillet, with the top weighted down, just till the mozzarella melts. Halve each panini to serve.

Makes 4 paninis. You can double the sandwich ingredients to make 8.


Sara said...

Ha! That is definitely a cookbook FAIL! It's crazy how some cookbooks don't seem to have even tested the recipes! Your version sounds delicious, though.

bellini said...

Good thing you know what you are doing Lynn.

Anonymous said...

Hey there,
There's 28 grams in an ounce, 8 oz in a cup, 16 Tbsp in a cup - so that would mean 30 grams is about 2 Tbsps. Hope that helps! Really enjoy reading your blog.

We Are Not Martha said...

Oops! Good thing you're so smart :) And your panini looks beautiful!! It's so true though... the more I cook and the more I screw up, the better I get!


Rachel said...

Oh my. Better you than me! I would have dumped all that yeast in. Your final product looks delicious though!

The Blonde Duck said...

Well, at least it was only $2. You got any tables that have a short leg?

Deborah said...

I probably would have just given up after coming across that, so kudos to you for continuing on and fixing the recipe! And the panini looks fantastic.

grace said...

yes, i've certainly done all those things. more often than burning the food, however, i burn myself. doh. :)

Debbie said...

I love going to thrift stores and looking for books! Sometimes you can find a really good one and other times you'll see ones you've never seen before! Lucky for you that you have made breads before with yeast. I'd be clueless!

The Blonde Duck said...

I hope you had a good Easter!

Di-licious said...

I had to laugh when I read your post - I also put my hand up. Too often I skim the recipe and then realise that I forgot to pick up buttermilk from the store. Luckily I know that I can 'make' buttermilk using mik and vinegar. That's experience! Love the recipe for panini - I adore them! This will be on my TO COOK list!

teresa said...

happens to me all the time!

you've got a great blog, that panini is fantastic!

Barbara said...

Oh yeah, I've done all those things! AND once made a cake entirely with salt instead of sugar and didn't realize it until someone ate it!

I've always wanted to make flatbread...

Elle said...

I've done all the bloopers you mentioned and then some :) Thanks for this recipe...I've been wanting to try panini bread at home and now...thanks to you years of experience...I won't make the mistake of too much yeast...and I'll roll it thin enough.