Sunday, December 28, 2008

Yule Log - Daring Bakers Challenge

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand
And, as you can see, my yule log is very French!!

The yule log is not the typical genoise/buttercream roll. It's more of a layered frozen mousse cake, and it's incredibly delicious. Below you can see all the different layers

There are 6 different elements, which we all had to make, which were:

1. Dacquoise biscuit - a light meringuey biscuit made with almond meal (on the very bottom in the picture).
2. Ganache - like the chocolate you find inside truffles, very rich (right above the biscuit in the picture)
3. Mousse - which holds everything together
4. Praliné Feuilletée - a sort of chocolatey crisp (in the middle in the picture)
5. Crème Brulée - a cream made by baking for 1 hour (the yellow thing in the picture)
6. Icing - to go on top!

We were given quite a lot of leeway in terms of flavor, design, decoration, etc. I mostly stuck with the original recipes, as they were usually for dark chocolate, and in my opinion you really can't improve on dark chocolate! However, I did think that with all that chocolate, a bit of fruit would be really nice, so I added some orange zest and grand marnier to the ganache, and I made the crème brulée orange-flavored instead of vanilla, which was the original recipe. The orange crème brulée worked particularly well - definitely a good choice.

Below is the full recipe (though I'm not listing all the different variations suggested by the authors to save space), along with my notes in purple.

FRENCH YULE LOG OR ENTREMETS RECIPE by Flore of Florilège Gourmand

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake)

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) almond meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the almond meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

Gelatin is the gelifying agent in all of the following recipes, but if you would like to use agar-agar, here are the equivalencies: 8g powdered gelatin = 1 (0.25 oz) envelope powdered gelatin = 1 Tbsp powdered gelatin = 1 Tbsp Agar-Agar.
1 Tbsp. of agar-agar flakes is equal to 1 tsp. of agar-agar powder.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup *I just used some regular sugar syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped *I used Valrhona for all the dark chocolate in the yule log - I firmly believe in using the highest quality ingredients whenever possible, and Valrhona chocolate is truly incredible, though a bit difficult to chop!
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened
Zest of 1 orange
1 spoonful of Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter, orange zest, and Grand Marnier, and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

I had a bunch of ganache left over, so I used some of it for my decorations, along with whipped cream and whipped cream mixed with a bit of orange juice.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes) *I made both the gavottes (the lace crepes) and the praline paste. Though both tasted good, I realized that using a mortar and pestle to make praline paste is a very ardous task and results in a rather crumbly paste. However, I'll include my directions for the praline paste here.

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or I use an empty bottle of olive oil).

Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. To our knowledge they are not available outside of France, so you have the option of making your own using the recipe below or you can simply substitute rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K for them. Special note: If you use one of the substitutes for the gavottes, you should halve the quantity stated, as in use 1oz of any of these cereals instead of 2.1oz.
If you want to make your own praline, please refer back to the Daring Baker Challenge Recipe from July 2008. Or see below:

To make praline paste:
50 g granulate sugar
A few spoonfuls of water
A handful of almonds

1. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for a few minutes.
2. Drain the almonds, let cool, and remove their skins, which should pop right off now. Set aside.
3. Heat the sugar and water over medium heat in a small saucepan.
4. A minute or two after the sugar-water mixture starts boiling, add the almonds.
5. Let cook until the mixture is a lightish amber caramel.
6. Pour the mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper and let cool about an hour. You know have the praline. To make the praline paste, chop up the hard candy, and grind it until you get a nice paste.

To make 2.1oz / 60g of gavottes (lace crepes - recipe by Ferich Mounia):
1/3 cup (80ml) whole milk
2/3 Tbsp (8g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup – 2tsp (35g) all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp / 0.5 oz (15g) beaten egg
1 tsp (3.5g) granulated sugar
½ tsp vegetable oil
1. Heat the milk and butter together until butter is completely melted. Remove from the heat.
2. Sift flour into milk-butter mixture while beating, add egg and granulated sugar. Make sure there are no lumps.
3. Grease a baking sheet and spread batter thinly over it.
4. Bake at 430°F (220°C) for a few minutes until the crepe is golden and crispy. Let cool.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate *For the milk chocolate, I used Gianduja which is fantastic
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K *If I hadn't made the gavottes, I would have used crushed-up amaretti here - I still think this would be nice

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert *I'm leaving in the vanilla recipe, but when I did it I did not add the vanilla bean, and used orange as shown below

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing *only when using vanilla bean + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean *Replaced with zest and juice of 1 orange

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour. *Instead I just heated the milk and cream, added the zest and orange juice and mixed well.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
Tartelette says: You can bake it without a water bath since it is going to go inside the log (the aesthetics of it won't matter as much since it will be covered with other things)....BUT I would recommend a water bath for the following reasons:
- you will get a much nicer mouth feel when it is done
- you will be able to control its baking point and desired consistency much better
- it bakes for such a long time that I fear it will get overdone without a water bath
Now...since it is baked in a pan and it is sometimes difficult to find another large pan to set it in for a water bath, even a small amount of water in your water bath will help the heat be distributed evenly in the baking process. Even as little as 1 inch will help.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

I had some issues with my crème brulée being a bit too soft and sort of breaking apart when I tried to put it in my yule log. I used a water bath, so perhaps I should have raised the temperature a bit at the end. In any case, it still worked pretty well and tasted delicous!

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

I think I used the icing too soon, and so the yule log ended up being a bit lumpy. Luckily I was able to cover this up with ample decorating!

How To Assemble your French Yule Log

Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different.
You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.

You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version A or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log as in version B *I did version B:

2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.
3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.
4A) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
6A) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.


2B) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
3B) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
4B) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5B) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
6B) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
7B) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8B) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.

9B) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with TWO pieces of Dacquoise the order is:
1) Dacquoise
2) Mousse
3) Creme Brulee Insert
4) Mousse
5) Praline/Crisp Insert
6) Mousse
7) Ganache Insert
8) Dacquoise

If you are doing the assembly UPSIDE DOWN with ONE piece of Dacquoise on the BOTTOM ONLY the order is:
1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise

If you are doing the assembly RIGHT SIDE UP in a springform pan the order is:
1) Dacquoise
2) Ganache Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Creme Brulee Insert
7) Mousse
8 OPTIONAL) Dacquoise

Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...
Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Some final notes. Here is the order in which I made the elements, which can help in terms of organization:

2 days before log-eating day: Make the gavottes and praline paste (this was just so I wouldn't have to worry about doing these on the day when I would be making almost everything else, and so that I would be able to buy substitutes in case they didn't turn out well)

1 day before log-eating day:
1. Make the dacquoise and let cool (can also be done later, but I wanted to get it out of the way)
2. Make the crème brulée, put in oven to bake.
3. While crème brulée is baking, make the praliné feuilletée and place in refrigerator to cool.
4. Make the mousse. At some point during the mousse-making, it may come time to take the crème brulée out of the oven and move to the freezer.
5. Let crème brulée freeze for an hour. You can make the dacquoise here if you didn't make it earlier.
6. Line pan with plastic wrap, pipe in 1/3 of the mousse, put in crème brulée, pipe in second third of the mousse, put in praliné feuilletée and pipe in the rest of the mousse. Let freeze for a few hours.
7. Right before you're going to use it, make the ganache.
8. Pipe the ganache over the last layer of mousse, and lay the dacquoise over that. Let freeze overnight

Log-eating day.
Make the icing, and ice log. Decorate as you please. Return to freezer until 1/2 an hour or so before you plan to eat it. 1/2 an hour before you plan to eat it, move it to the refrigerator to make cutting it easier.

Eat!! And Joyeux Noël!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cannelloni with Squash and Ricotta

This is one of those dishes where you take one bite and immediately think "Oh my goodness! Why haven't I been making this before and how soon can I make it again?!" Yes, they are that good.

I don't know if I've ever eaten cannelloni before, yet alone made them, but I can guarantee that after these, I'll be making (and eating) them again soon! The idea to make cannelloni occurred to me mostly because I have a whole lot of ricotta to get rid of. I'm leaving on Friday and won't be back for a week and a half, so my meals for these past few days have consisted of creative combinations of perishables that must be eaten or suffer the sad fate of being thrown away.

Anyways, I'd had a lot of spinach and ricotta recently, so I decided to try something different and mix the ricotta with a nice acorn squash I had, and then I just needed to figure out what kind of pasta to pair it with. Squash and ricotta cry out stuffed pasta to me, but I was a bit tired of ravioli and tortelli, and I wanted to try something different. So... baked pasta! An interesting experiment that turned out quite deliciously.

The squash ricotta pairing yields a lovely, delicate taste and a topping of béchamel and grated parmesan finishes it off perfectly. This recipe makes about 6 cannelloni:

For the pasta:
6 pasta sheets (if you want to make your own, see here for a pasta dough recipe - though you'll probably need to double it)

For the filling:
1 medium-sized squash (acorn worked very well here, I'm sure other winter varieties like butternut squash would too)
250 g ricotta
Grated parmesan

For the béchamel:
50 g butter
A few large spoonfuls of flour
200 ml milk

Preheat the oven to 355º F/180º C. Cut the squash in half and scoop out all the seeds. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the squash halves onto it, cut side down. When the oven is hot, put the squash in and let bake until soft, about 30-45 minutes depending on the size and type of squash.

When the squash is done, remove the baking sheet, turn the squash halves over so the cut side faces up and let them cool. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and add the pasta sheets, a few at a time if necessary.

After a few minutes, remove the pasta sheets and place onto a clean towel to dry and cool.

While the pasta and squash are cooling, make the béchamel by melting the butter in a saucepan, then adding the flour and stirring up. Add the milk and whisk everything thoroughly. Butter a large baking pan, and pour in enough béchamel to cover the bottom.

By this time, the pasta and squash should be cool enough to deal with. Scoop out the fleshy part of the squash and mash it up in a bowl. Add the ricotta and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and a healthy dose of grated parmesan and mix again.

Preheat the oven to about 400ºF / 200º C. Spoon 1/6 of the squash ricotta mixture onto the short end of one of the pasta sheets, leaving a bit of room at the edge. Roll up the pasta sheet and place into your baking pan.

Repeat for the remaining 5 sheets, and then pour the rest of the béchamel over the cannelloni. Finish it off by grating some parmesan over everything and then place into the oven and bake 20-30 minutes.

Serve warm.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Vegetable broth

Now that it's cold and wintry, it seems that practically every evening the only thing I want for dinner is a nice hearty bowl of soup. Since the beginning of December, I think I've made 4 or 5 different types of soup, which translates to 8-10 soup dinners in 19 days since I always make too much for one night!

Anyways, making soup is easy and almost always works out well, and it's even nicer when you make your own broth. It just feels so much more authentic than throwing in a little cube or using a store-bought version. Plus, since you decide what's in it, you have more control over the tastes that will go into your soups.

Though I have yet to try my hand at a meat/poultry/fish-based broth, I'm very happy with this vegetable broth, which is also slightly easier on the wallet! I usually make a humongous pot and then freeze everything I'm not going to use in the next couple of days. You can freeze your broth in various containers - I've seen suggestions for using ice cube trays or muffin tins - and then transfer the frozen brothsicles into ziploc bags for safekeeping. The night before you plan to use one, just pop it into the fridge to thaw and then heat it up immediately before using it.

The recipe below is my standard one, but you can throw in all sorts of vegetables, legumes, and spices. I would advise against anything that might give off a particularly overwhelming flavor, like pepper or tomato, but as always, it's up to you! Here's what I like to use:

1 leek (can substitute with a yellow onion)
A few cloves of garlic
1-2 carrots
A stalk of celery, with leaves if desired
A few sprigs of parsley
Whatever leafy greens of the cruciferous family are on hand - spinach is good, cabbage leaves, kale, etc.

Peel the garlic, crush and set aside. Rinse the leek and tear off the outermost leaves. Chop off the rough, green leaves at the top and then slit the leek lengthwise with a knife. Holding the leek under cold running water, spread out the leaves so that every leaf gets thoroughly rinsed on both sides. When the leek has been well-washed, chop it into little circles and set aside.

Peel the carrot and chop into small bits. Wash the celery, greens and parsley, and chop these up too.

Find the biggest pot you can and fill it about 3/4 full with water. Put all the vegetables into the pot. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. when the water is boiling, add the spices, salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to the lowest degree possible and let simmer for about an hour.

When the hour is up, you should have a nice goldeny liquid filling the pot. Turn off the heat, and set a strainer over another large pot. Pour the broth into this second pot so that the vegetables get strained out and you're just left with the liquid (you can also just use some of the broth right then and put the vegetables in it for a simple soup).

Whatever part of the broth you don't use immediately, you can store in the refrigerator for a few days or else freeze it as mentioned above. It's a good idea to let the broth come to room temperature before putting it directly into the refrigerator or the freezer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Zucchini leek tart

I like tarts. A lot. And I make tarts a lot. Perhaps because I've only had an oven since I moved into this apartment in July, I've filled up the months since then eagerly making anything that involves baking, roasting, etc. And now that it's practically Winter and the world is cold cold cold, baking is a cheap way to heat the house with the bonus that you get to eat something delicious at the end!

I actually first made this tart awhile ago and somehow never got around to writing it up. Then this week, I suddenly found myself with some week-old zucchini and leeks sitting around in my fridge, and so I decided to try the tart again, except with a cornmeal crust instead of a normal pastry crust like I had used the first time.

Though the cornmeal crust was tasty, I decided it didn't complement the filling as nicely as a regular pastry crust, so I'll give the recipe for the first version, though of course you're free to substitute cornmeal for some or all of the flour and see how you like it. Either way, this is a wonderful tart - light and yet filling, and also not too difficult!

For the crust:
200 g pastry flour
50 g unsalted butter
1 egg
A small spoonful of salt
A little bit of cold water

For the filling:
2 medium-sized zucchini
1 largish leek
100 g ricotta
1 egg
Olive oil

Begin by making the dough a couple of hours ahead of time. Sift together the flour and salt. Cut the butter into smallish chunks and crumble it into the flour mixture, using either your hands or mixing-gadget of your choice (I'm old-fashioned and go with the hands way). Once the flour and butter are thoroughly mixed, lightly beat the egg and then mix it into the flour/butter mixture. Pour in the cold water a little bit at a time, mixing as you go so that you get just enough to make a stickyish dough. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Several minutes before you plan to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 355º F/180º C. While the oven is heating, prepare the filling. Wash the zucchini and chop the ends off. Using the large holes of a cheese grater, grate the zucchini into a bowl.

Tear off the outer leaves of the leek and then rinse thoroughly. Slit the leek lengthwise with a knife down almost all the way to the root. Spread the leaves apart and rinse even more thoroughly in cold water to get out all the bits of dirt that inevitably find their way into the leek leaves. Once the leek has been washed, chop it into little half circles.

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the leek, and after a minute or so, add the zucchini. Let cook at high heat for a few minutes, then cover the pan and turn the heat to low. Let the zucchini and leek cook at this heat for 15 minutes or so, until the leek starts to caramelize. Stir every so often to keep the zucchini from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Lightly beat the egg with a fork. When the zucchini/leek mixture is done, add it to the egg, and then add the ricotta. Stir everything up well. Grate the parmesan over the top, sprinkle on the salt and pepper and mix everything up again.

When the pastry dough is done chilling, take it out and roll it out onto a well-floured board. I like my crusts fairly thick, but you can make yours as thin as you like - as long as it doesn't fall apart!

Butter a tart pan all over the bottom and sides and carefully place the rolled-out dough into the pan, adding and taking away bits where necessary. Poke holes in the bottom and sides with a fork, and let bake for about 10 minutes to pre-cook the crust.

After the crust is somewhat hard, take it out of the oven and spoon in the filling. Return the tart to the oven and let bake 20-25 minutes. Remove, let cool a bit, and then eat!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Caramel Cake - Daring Baker's Challenge

Since my dad's birthday falls in November, as soon as I saw this recipe, I knew this would be his birthday cake, and I was quite excited and also quite apprehensive. This cake represented many firsts for me - my first caramel syrup, my first browned butter, my first cake with icing... in fact it was only my second cake! So I was pretty nervous about it, and I warned my parents to have some ice cream as a back-up in case disaster struck!

Luckily, the ice cream was unnecessary.

Much to my surprise, the cake turned out wonderfully. I knew it would probably taste good no matter what, but the batter held together, the cake rose the way it should, and in general, it was absolutely incredibly delicious. My aunt even asked me to make it for her birthday too (which isn't until April so I might be ready to tackle it again by then).

The recipe comes courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon, of the blog eggbeater, which is a great resource for people who love to bake. The original recipe can be found here.

Co-hosting this month's challenge are Dolores ( , Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo:, and Jenny of Foray into Food ( You can check out their sites for all the rest of the completed challenges.

Below is the recipe, along with some pictures and my notes about anything special I did, or additions I made (we weren't allowed to change the recipe but we could infuse things into the caramel syrup and we could decorate the cakes however we wanted, so there was some room for experimentation). I ended up infusing the caramel syrup with crushed amaretti, which I love, and then adding some slivered almonds on top of the frosting to go with the amaretti. The almonds were actually a really nice touch, because the frosting was so sweet and rich that the nuttiness provided a nice contrast and helped me eat even more of it!!

The recipe contains 3 parts - the cake itself, the caramelized buttercream frosting, and the caramel syrup, which goes into both the cake and the frosting. I made the caramel syrup 2 days ahead and the frosting 1 day ahead, which helped me stress out less on actual cake-baking day. My notes come in purple after the double asterisks.


10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F **or 180º C

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.


2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)
** A small handfull of amaretti, crushed thoroughly
In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. ** I was very worried about this, so I took some extra precautions. I wore oven mitts when I poured the cold water in, but more importantly, I put a colander over the bowl and poured the water through that. This was highly effective in stopping any water from leaping up and burning me.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.} **Here, I poured in the amaretti.

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

**I made half this recipe and it was more than enough to give the cake a very generous coat of frosting. However, it does say the frosting will keep for 2 months, so if you want to make extra, I can't imagine that it would be a bad thing!
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light

(recipes above courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon)

My final recommendation - we had the cake with frangelico (an Italian hazelnut liqueur), and it was absolutely heavenly. Overall, a wonderful birthday dessert!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Corn Muffins

I know I'm a day late with these, but yesterday was very busy with preparations and these muffins are good even when it's not Thanksgiving!

In my family, it's a tradition that either my brother or I always makes the Thanksgiving cornbread. We also always use the same recipe which comes from an old, yellowed kid's cookbook we have where all the recipes are accompanied by little sketches showing exactly what to do and most of the dishes are as simple as say, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

This recipe is probably the most complicated one in the book in fact. However it is very good. Last year, I made it in Milan for a little improvised Thanksgiving dinner I organized with my German housemate and the guests, who had never eaten cornbread before (they were all either German, Italian, or British), though suspicious at first were quickly won over by it! They were not so quickly won over by the cranberry sauce but I suppose you can't have everything...

This year I decided to spice up the recipe a bit by making muffins instead of bread and I added parmesan to half the muffins and thyme to the other half. Both flavorings worked really well, though I wouldn't advise adding them together (I tried that on a test run and it just didn't work as well).

You will need: (makes about 12 muffins):
150 g plain flour
150 g cornmeal
2 spoonfuls of baking powder
1 spoonful of salt
Maple syrup (the recipe calls for this but you can also substitute honey or another type of syrup, which I did here)
250 ml milk
55 g butter
2 eggs

About half an hour or so before beginning, take out the eggs and the milk so that they'll be room temperature when you start your muffins. Preheat the oven to 400ºF/20oºC. In a small saucepan, heat the butter until melted. Set aside to cool.

Use some extra butter to butter the muffin tin (or loaf pan if you want to just make bread). Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, and then add in the syrup.

Beat the eggs, and add them to the milk and melted butter. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones, stirring until everything is thoroughly mixed, but no more. Just make sure there's no flour anywhere.

Pour half the batter into another bowl. Grate the parmesan over this half, and stir in. Sprinkle a good quantity of thyme into the other half and mix that in too. Spoon the batter from both bowls into the muffin tin.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the muffins start to brown on top (it only took about 15 minutes in my unruly oven).

Let cool a bit, but serve warm if possible!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Butternut Squash and Leek Soup

I've been meaning to make butternut squash soup for about six weeks now, and somehow I just haven't gotten around to it. It hasn't been for lack of ingredients either - the squash has been sitting patiently on my kitchen table for ages, reminding me at every meal that it needs to be used. Well tonight, inspired by the delicious butternut squash soup my grandmother made this past Sunday, I decided it was finally time for me to have a go at my own version of the soup.

It ended up being the perfect day for it too - cold, gray, rainy, and generally miserable. Just the sort of day when you want to curl up at home with a nice warm bowl of soup and not worry about anything!

I knew beforehand I wanted to incorporate my leeks into the soup, but searching for recipes online, I couldn't find any one recipe that had exactly what I wanted. So, I read through lots of recipes and then used those as a starting point to make my own version, which turned out to be quite tasty, and is given below.

You will need:
1 butternut squash
1 large leek
Broth (several cups)
A few cloves of garlic
A sprig of fresh parsley
Olive oil
A handful of toasted pine nuts

Peel the squash, remove the seeds/inner part, chop into coarse cubes, and set aside. Peel the garlic cloves and crush them. Wash and chop the parsley into very fine pieces.

Remove the outermost leaves of the leek, and rinse the rest thoroughly. Slice lengthwise down the middle of the leek so that the leaves fan out and rinse again, making sure to get in between all the leaves (leeks can get very dirty). When the leek is fully clean, chop it into small pieces.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil, and when it's hot, add the garlic and the leek. Let cook a couple minutes and then add the squash. Slowly pour in the broth and then add the parsley, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper.

When the broth starts to boil, turn the heat down very low, cover the pot and let simmer about 45 minutes, stirring every so often.

Since I don't have a food processor or an immersion blender, I left the soup fairly chunky, but once the squash started to soften I bashed it up a bit with the spoon so that there weren't any super-large chunks.

When the squash is fully softened, grate the parmesan and stir it in.

In each bowl, place a few toasted pine nuts. Spoon in the soup and then pour a spoonful or so of cream over the top. Stir up and eat immediately.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fagioli all'uccelletto

This Tuscan bean dish is perfect on a cold, gloomy day, like the ones we've finally started having here in California!

Fagioli all'uccelletto, which means something like "beans in the style of the little bird" is a Tuscan and particularly a Florentine specialty, which is generally made with cannellini (the white, kidney-shaped beans). It's ridiculously simple, but I always forget that often the most delicious dishes are ridiculously simple - for example my personal favorite thing to eat in the world - bread and cheese!

As for the name, from what I can gather it seems that the most likely explanation is that these beans are prepared with the same seasonings people would use to cook birds. Makes sense to me, but I like to think there's a stranger, more romantic explanation somewhere...

For a large pot (serves about 4), you will need:
400 g. dried cannellini (you can also use the canned variety which cuts out a whole lot of preparation time)
250 g. tomatoes
Several leaves of sage (I've also used dried sage when I couldn't get any fresh and I can assure you that fresh is better)
A couple cloves of garlic
Olive oil

If you're using dried beans, they will need to soak for at least 8 hours, preferably 10-12 or even more. If you leave them to soak before going to bed, they should be fine for the next day. Rinse the beans first, then put them in a pot and fill the pot with water. If possible, change the water every so often.

Approximately an hour and a half before you plan to eat, bring the water with the cannellini in it to a boil, and then let them simmer for at least 45 minutes. It's important to turn the heat down quite low after the water starts boiling so that the cannellini don't turn into mush!

While the cannellini are simmering, peel the garlic cloves and crush them. Wash the sage leaves and chop them up quite finely. If you're using fresh tomatoes, bring some water to a boil, wash the tomatoes, and use a paring knife to carve a little x into the bottom of each tomato. When the water's boiling, throw the tomatoes in and let them sit for about 30 seconds.

Drain the tomatoes and rinse them quickly with cold water. The peels should come off quite easily now and the tomatoes should be cool and easy to handle. Deseed the tomatoes if you're up to it - or at least try to get rid of the core and the juice. Chop up the remaining pulp.

In a large pot, heat some olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and sage and let cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds or so. Turn the heat down and add the tomato pulp. Sprinkle everything with salt and pepper.

Drain the beans and pour them in (or for the canned variety, rinse them off and add them in). Stir everything up, and then cover the pot. Turn the heat to the lowest degree and let cook about 30 minutes, stirring every so often.

Eat and enjoy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pan Tomate

This Catalan "dish" is about as simple as you can get, and yet it's one of my favorite appetizers because it's so fun to make, especially with a big group of people.

I was introduced to Pan Tomate (literally "tomato bread") while staying with the family of a friend in a little village way up in the Pyrénées. They were wonderful people with a very lively family full of small children and animals. And Chantal (my friend's aunt) certainly knew how to cook! Every meal she served was sumptuous, fun, and far more food than we could possibly eat. But we gave our best efforts!

Even with all the fancy cooking, my favorite dish was this simple appetizer which came, as they told me, from the typical workman's lunch in the region. The way they explained it, the men's wives would set them off in the morning with a hunk of bread and some tomatoes, and at lunchtime the men would use their work knives to slice the tomatoes in half and then rub the halves all over the bread. A very practical way to get a nice, fresh meal without having to come home!

We ate pan tomat in the same way, rubbing the tomatoes on ourselves, and that's what makes this dish so fun, despite the sparsity of its ingredients. I highly recommend this for largish dinners with family, friends, and of course, good wine. As this can be somewhat messy, it is not advisable for fancy dinner parties where you're trying to impress people, but those aren't nearly as enjoyable as the other kind!

You will need:
A couple of loaves of good, fresh bread. High-quality bread is important here (and in my mind, everywhere else as well). The bread should have a good hard crust. Otherwise, tomato juice will get all over you!
Several fresh tomatoes. I recommend medium-sized round tomatoes - the kind you would put in a salad.
Olive oil
Several slices of prosciutto crudo (or jambon de pays, as we called it there), again of high quality. The prosciutto is optional, but I think it's a nice addition, especially for special occasions.

Cut the bread into largish hunks, and then slice the hunks down the middle, so that each piece has crust on the bottom. Place the bread into one or more baskets for people to grab from. Wash the tomatoes and slice them into halves, or quarters if they're large, and place them into one or more bowls, just like the bread. You could also have people slice their own tomatoes at the table, but that might get a bit complicated. As it is, this dish requires a lot of passing around of olive oil, salt, etc.

Put out the olive oil and salt, along with the bread and the tomatoes, and a plate with the prosciutto if desired.

Pour everyone a generous glass of wine (featured here is a lovely prosecco - carpené malvolti di conegliano).

Next, demonstrate for your guests how to make pan tomat: take a hunk of bread and drizzle a bit of olive oil onto it. It's not important to spread the olive oil out evenly because the tomato-spreading will take care of that. Sprinkle salt onto the olive oil. Then, with gusto, take a tomato half and rub it all over the bread, leaving the leftover tomato on if you want, though that's not necessary. Top the tomatoed bread with a slice of prosciutto, take a good sip of wine, and eat, encouraging your guests to do the same!

Ideally, this appetizer course should go on quite a bit, with lots of tomato-rubbing and merry-making.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Persephone's Delight

The other day I was discussing cooking with a friend of mine, and he asked me what was in season right now. I mentioned various vegetables, and then I added that I had been seeing pomegranates all over the markets lately. I almost never eat pomegranates, but my friend got really excited and told me I absolutely had to make chocolate-covered pomegranate seeds. "You get the sweet, dark chocolate and then suddenly the tartness of the pomegranate seed like a little surprise!" he rhapsodized.

I agreed it sounded good, but I didn't think I would actually get around to making it. Well, a week or so later, I heard about this contest for... recipes involving pomegranates! I decided that this was a sign from above that I really ought to try my friend's recipe, so I dutifully went out and bought a pomegranate and proceeded to spend my afternoon making little chocolate pomegranate drops.

While it is a bit time-consuming, the end result is delicious and you can freeze them and keep them for a long time, so it's worth making a bunch at once. And so, here is my recipe and contest entry for Persephone's Delight (my own name).

You will need:
One pomegranate
A large bar of high-quality dark chocolate (I used Valrhona 61%)

Slice the pomegranate into quarters and scoop out the seeds onto some paper towels to dry up any extra juices. Cut the chocolate into smallish chunks.

In a large bowl, bring some water to a boil and place another metal bowl over that bowl. Place the chocolate in the top bowl. When the water is boiling, turn the heat down a bit and let the chocolate melt thoroughly, stirring every so often. When the chocolate is all melted, turn off the heat.

Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with wax paper. Using a toothpick, spear a pomegranate seed and roll it around in the chocolate, then place it on the wax paper. Continue doing this until you have:
a) used up all your pomegranate seeds
b) used up all your chocolate
c) used up all the space on your baking sheet, or
d) gotten so tired of sticking each individual seed into the chocolate that you're ready to just dump them all in and call it a chocolate pomegranate stew.

Note that this recipe would probably be a good one to make with friends (lots of them), while sitting around discussing Greek myths. You can also read Eavan Boland's fantastic poem, "The Pomegranate" as an accompaniment to your culinary activities.

Once you have reached point a,b,c, or d above, place the little droplets in the fridge to harden (I also think they taste better cold because the pomegranate flavor is more pronounced against the chocolate).

An hour or two later, and voilà! A delight that would have had Persephone eating far more than four measly little seeds.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pizza Tonno e Cipolla

Pizza tonno e cipolla, that is, pizza with tuna and onions, is one of my all-time favorite pizzas.

Unfortunately, it's a pizza that isn't too popular here in the U.S. Even though we're willing to put just about anything on our pizzas, some of them quite horrendous, tuna does not seem to be a topping people think of when writing their pizza menus.

So, of course, I decided to satisfy my cravings by making my own! I had also just bought a baking stone, and this seemed like a good opportunity to try it out. Well, it seems I needed a bit of practice with this new stone. Even though I had successfully made pizzas on my parents' baking stone, this time it took me not one, not even two, but three tries before I could declare myself successful in my pizza-making endeavor. The first time I tried, it was actually more an ingredient issue as I didn't realize my flour was not high-gluten; the pizza came out OK, but it was a bit more work and one side got a bit smushed when entering the oven.

The second time was, at least presentation-wise, a disaster. The pizza dough stuck horrendously to the peel, so much so that even with the help of a spatula I couldn't get it onto the stone. Eventually I had to transfer the gooey mess that had once been a lovely-looking pizza onto a baking sheet and bake it that way. The good news was it still tasted fantastic, but unfortunately not very photo-worthy.

Well, this time, I learned from my previous mistakes and now, an older and wiser pizzaiola, I present you with my method for making a pizza tonno e cipolla.

I used a slightly different dough recipe this time, partly due to necessity (i.e. lack of ingredients) and partly just to experiment. It came out just as good as my previous doughs, so I think either one is fine. I also added cherry tomatoes because that was the way my favorite lunch pizzeria in Milan did it, and I loved it.

For the dough:
150 g bread flour
50 g whole wheat flour (this is how I compensated for the fact that none of the grocery stores I visited had whole wheat bread flour. It's not nearly as hearty as using all whole wheat flour, but it's enough to add some oomph to the dough!)
About half a glass of water
Half a package of yeast
A small spoonful of sea salt
A small spoonful of sugar
A larger spoonful of olive oil

For the toppings:
A small cupful of tomato sauce (I just use canned tomatoes for pizzas)
About 100 g pizza mozzarella
1 small-to-medium yellow onion
About 100 g tuna
A handful of cherry tomatoes
Another spoonful of olive oil

A note about the tuna - using higher quality tuna really makes a difference here. I still remember the pizza tonno e cipolla I had at a pizzeria in the Navigli section of Milano where I'm sure they used fresh tuna because the taste was just amazing. Of course, it will still taste good with standard canned tuna, but I think it's worth it to try to get the best kind available. One brand I like is Ortiz, which comes preserved in brine in a glass bottle.

A couple of hours before you want to eat your pizza, prepare the dough. If you're using active dry yeast, activate it by adding it to a small cup of warm water, along with the sugar. Sift together the two flours and then add the sea salt. Form the flour into a sort of fountain, high on the sides and low in the middle. Pour the yeast mixture into the center and gradually blend in the flour from the sides, adding more flour from farther out as you go. Add in the oil and then the water, a bit at a time, blending until you get a smooth, slightly sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead for several minutes until the dough becomes resistant, bouncing back when you press it down.

Form the dough into a ball, coat it lightly with oil and place in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a cloth or some such thing and leave it in a warm, non-drafty place. Do not put it in your oven, as this is the point where you should start preheating. Remember, to make a good pizza you want your oven to be hot hot hot!

If you own a baking stone, make sure the stone is in the oven before you start preheating. If you plan to bake your pizza on a baking sheet, do not put the sheet in the oven. In either case, heat the oven to about as hot as it will go, usually 500ºF or 250º C.

After about 45 minutes, start preparing your toppings. One of the reasons I think my second pizza stuck so much was that I took too long to put the toppings on. The quicker you are in topping your pizza, the less chance there is that it will stick to the peel, so make sure everything you need is perfectly ready before you roll out the dough.

Begin by peeling the onion and chopping it into half-rings. The first time I made this, a big question I had was whether the onions should be raw or pre-cooked before going onto the pizza. My internet research proved unhelpful as there seemed to be several people who swore by putting them on raw and several others who insisted they should be cooked. One person even described an elaborate method that involved marinating the onion in wine for a full day beforehand!

While I was not about to try the marinating method, I did decide to do an experiment in which I covered one half of the pizza with raw onions and one half with pre-sautéed onions. In my opinion, the sautéed onions tasted much better, so that is the recipe I'm giving here.

Onion Experiment

After you've chopped the onion, heat some olive oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, add the onion and let cook a few minutes until tender. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, stir a bit, and then remove the pan from heat to let the onion cool.

Chop up the mozzarella and tuna, and wash the cherry tomatoes and slice them into halves. Be sure to have your tomato sauce, oregano, and a spoonful of olive oil ready.

When the dough has doubled in size (after about an hour or an hour and a half), take it out and roll it out onto a well-floured surface. For those of you using baking stones, another trick you can use to keep the dough from sticking to the pizza peel is to start by rolling it out onto a different floured surface and then transfer it to the peel before you add toppings. I also sprinkled some semolina onto the peel, but I decided I didn't like the taste when the pizza was done, so I don't think I'll be doing that again soon.

When rolling out the pizza, it's good to keep it in the air a fair amount, tossing it gently and then spinning it a bit so it stretches evenly. When you get it pretty well tossed, you can also go around stretching out the edges to make it bigger and thinner. Remember that a true pizza should have a very thin crust!!

When the pizza is ready, test to make sure it's not sticking to the peel by lightly bouncing the peel up and down a few times and seeing if the pizza moves. If not, unstick it now before you add all the ingredients, after which it will become impossible. It's also important not to weight the pizza down with too many ingredients, though these ones are so good that it's hard for me to stick to that rule!!

Spoon on the tomato sauce, spreading it evenly across all but the very outer edge. Sprinkle the mozzarella over it, then the onions, tuna, and finally the cherry tomatoes. Try to place the cherry tomatoes facing up so that the skin doesn't burn.

Drizzle everything with olive oil and then sprinkle oregano over the top. Place the pizza into the oven, keeping the peel level and just bumping it slightly to get the pizza onto the stone (of course, if you're using a baking sheet you don't have to worry about any of this).

Let the pizza bake for about 8-10 minutes, remove from the oven, let cool just a bit and eat up!