Monday, December 05, 2011

Norm's Onion Rolls

My friend and (sometime) fellow blogger, Chris from Rhode Island, recently asked me if I knew about The Fresh Loaf.
Well, in fact, I do know about it, but Chris's note reminded me that I hadn't visited the site for many months. So visit it I did, and came away with this recipe for Norm's Onion Rolls.

People on The Fresh Loaf raved about Norm's Onion Rolls. And I'm going to rave about them too, but I will say that Norm could write clearer recipes. And if I were a good and responsible blogger, I would make these several more times, and I would edit the recipe until it was understandable. But I'm not good and responsible, so I will link to the recipe as is, and if you make them, you'll probably have the same questions I did, but since mine came out just fine, I'll bet yours will too.

This makes a very thick dough. In fact, my trusty KitchenAid stopped dead in its tracks. I quickly turned it off, hoping that it would recover. I haven't re-tested it yet.

Oh, this is bad. After I wrote that sentence, I decided I couldn't keep myself in the dark about whether I had a working stand mixer. So I went to my kitchen to try it out. It's not working well. Now I've put Jim in charge of seeing if he can use his duct tape method of repair to fix it right up. Otherwise I might have to tell him that he'll be getting a new Kitchenaid for Christmas. (I already have my presents picked out, so I'm afraid it will have to go on his list. That's what happens when you're slow to make your list).

But before you get to the dough-rising stage, you have made the onion mixture. Oddly, you don't want to use real onions. Instead, you buy a jar of dehydrated onions, which you would probably normally not consider using in real food. At least this is what Norm recommends, and so it's what I did. You soak the dried onions for a while, then drain them, reserving the onion-soaking water for the bread dough.

Then you divide the dough into 3-oz. or 4-oz. balls, depending on how big you want your rolls. Mine were in the neighborhood of 4 ounces, and I got 13 rolls. At this point, the recipe got a little unclear. You make mini boules, and, at some point, you let the dough rest again. I couldn't tell whether Norm wanted me to let the dough rest before shaping it into boules, or after, or at what point he thought I should cover the dough with the onion-poppy seed mixture. I shaped them first and let them rest for 20 minutes or so.

Also, the recipe says to use your thumb to make a dimple on top of the rolls. I thought that meant I should put the filling inside the dimple. But I think I was supposed to flatten the dough while pressing the roll into the onion mixture and then make the dimple. I now believe that the dimple actually has no utilitarian value (such as serving as a nest for the onions)--it's just the way it is. But I could be wrong. Perhaps if someone who is familiar with these New York-style rolls reads this, they can give me some advice, preferably not beginning with, "Breadbasketcase, don't you know how to read?"

This is what they looked like going into the oven:

And this is what they looked like coming out:

These are not ladylike rolls. Even if you made them smaller, there's something very hefty and satisfying about them. If I had flattened them more, and pressed the onion mixture into the top of them, they would have been perfect for sandwiches. But as long as I didn't wonder how they compared to Norm's rolls, which have reached a nearly mythic stature among readers of The Fresh Loaf, I liked them exactly as they were--round, savory, and toothsome.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Grape Focaccia

Time sure flies when you're not baking bread. I could not believe the last date on a blog entry--it couldn't possibly have been nearly two months since I made the Pan Cubano! And this bread had been on my radar ever since I saw the recipe in the New York Times on September 28, 2011. I picked some wild grapes in anticipation of baking this focaccia from a friend's vacation house, but they withered away in the refrigerator. Then I picked some Concord grapes from the same neighbor's city yard, and they too wrinkled and dried. Finally, I bought some red grapes from the grocery and made the bread the same day.

Really, there's no excuse not to. You're likely to have almost everything you need on hand: olive oil, yeast, flour, cornmeal, and sugar. You may, if you're lucky, have pine nuts in your freezer and fresh rosemary in your herb garden. If not, pick them up when you buy your grapes (or snitch your neighbor's grapes, if you're more organized than I am and you pilfer them at the appropriate time).

First, you gently heat some fresh rosemary in 72 grams (about 6 tablespoons) of olive oil. If you absolutely have to, you could use dried rosemary, but it won't be the same.

Then you simply mix everything but the toppings in a mixing bowl and knead for about five minutes, using the dough hook. Feel free to knead by hand if it makes you happy, but it's easier to knead this wet dough with a hook. You can take it out of the bowl and do the last minute or so of kneading by hand, making sure that you don't add too much flour.

Let it double in size. If you use all the yeast (two teaspoons) and let it rise in a warm place, it takes only about an hour. You can decrease the yeast and let it rise longer, or even let it rise twice. You'll get more flavor from the dough with less yeast and longer rising times, but it doesn't matter much in this focaccia, which has a lot of strong flavors--not just the grapes and rosemary, but also the cornmeal and sugar add different elements not usually in a flatbread.

Shape into a rectangle. No need to measure--this is supposed to be rustic.

And make sure you've dimpled the dough! Don't actually make holes in the dough--you don't want to break the bottom layer. Then scatter on the grapes, pine nuts, the reserved rosemary, a little sugar (I used turbinado), and sea salt. Then drizzle with olive oil (don't be chintzy with the oil), and bake on a parchment-lined pan. Hopefully you've remembered to put a baking stone in the oven and to preheat the oven to 400.

This bread didn't match Rose's rosemary focaccia, the gold standard of focaccia-ness. It was quicker and easier, though, and had a nice sweet/savory balance. The cornmeal was a good addition, and the big grains of sugar and salt made a fascinating mouth crunch, giving out big hits of sweet and salty in the same bite. I started making the bread at 3:15, and took it out of the oven at 5:20, just minutes before people started arriving for a Friday afternoon TGIF gathering. Cheetos and beer for one half of the block; wine and grape focaccia for the other. Who says we can't all get along?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pan Cubano (Cuban Bread)

Although I definitely haven't committed to making bread from every country in the world (in fact, every time I think of it, it seems to be a crazier idea). But I've noticed that ever since my friend David suggested this as a project, I've been drawn to any recipe with pan, pane, brood, pain, or brot in it. Luckily, I don't know how to recognize the word for "bread" in Russian, Arabic, or a host of other languages, so I haven't gone crazy. So far.

There are a couple of things about this bread that are unique, at least to me. First, it's made with lard, instead of butter or oil. The word on the label is actually "lard," not "ard." I checked all the dozen or so containers of lard to look for one that didn't say "ard," but I searched in vain. Apparently Clancey's printer doesn't do ls.

When I read the recipe for Cuban bread more closely, I saw that the recipe is actually for pan de manteca (lard bread) instead of pan de agua (water bread). Apparently pan de agua is more commonly sold in bakeries, but since I'd already bought the manteca, I was certainly going to use it.

Most of the 4 tablespoons of melted lard is mixed in the dough, but a bit is put on the top of the dough when it's put in a bowl to rise.

It's an enthusiastic riser, and takes only about an hour for it to double in size. Its second rise, done after it's shaped into loaves, is only 5 to 7 minutes--really a rest rather than a rise.

Unlike a ciabatta with poolish, say, this bread has no pre-ferment and short rising times, which makes it a good recipe to know about when you have a mid-afternoon urge to make bread and you want it for dinner.

Another thing that makes this bread unique is its decoration with bay leaves, tucked in the slashes. If you don't have bay leaves, you don't have to run out and buy a jar--they're not essential to the success of the bread. But if you have them, you might as well use them, especially if you suspect that they've been lolling around on your spice rack for years and it's probably time to replace them with leaves that smell like bay.

But the most unique thing about this recipe by far is that it starts in a cold, but steamy, oven. That's right--no preheating. Just a pan full of boiling water. For some reason, starting the bread in a cold oven makes it so steamy that the door is covered with condensation and you can't see in the oven. I'd love to know why the Cubans, unlike everyone else in the history of bread, decided to start theirs in a cold oven. Maybe this is just an eccentric recipe, but I'd rather think that there's a good story behind this method.

At some point in the afternoon, it occurred to me that if I had two loaves of Cuban bread, I should use at least one of them to make Cuban sandwiches. I sliced part of a loaf in half (sans the bay leaves), spread mustard on each half, and layered ham, roast pork, baby Swiss, and sliced dill pickles on the bottom half.

I was going to use my almost-never-used panini maker, but I read someplace that a true Cuban sandwich should never be made in a panini maker, so I put it on a griddle and weighed it down with a heavy pan. Then I put another heavy pan on top of the first one. Then I put my tea kettle on top of the second heavy pan. Definitely not authentic, but it worked, although I don't understand why the panini maker is verboten.

This sandwich was so good, and so easy to make--assuming you have all the necessary ingredients, it goes together in no time. It's an odd combination of ingredients, but it works. I like to picture the same Cuban grandmothers who decided to bake bread in a cold, steamy oven, also standing around arguing about what to put on the bread. I think that they couldn't agree, so they each just shouted out their favorite food: Mustard! Pork! Cheese! Then they stuffed it in their just-baked bread, heated it up, and ate it. They were in hog heaven. Or, as they say in Cuba (maybe), paraíso de los cerdos.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ciabatta with Poolish

I made another version of ciabatta about two years ago, when I made a very similar recipe from the same book: Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman. Two years ago, I reported this conversation:
Jim looked at the cookbook and asked me if I was making ciabatta with poolish. "No," I said, "I'm making the one with the biga." "What's the difference between biga and poolish?" he asked. "Ummm," I said, "well, you know." "No, I don't," he said. I didn't want to admit I really didn't know the difference myself. I searched my memory. "Well, you ferment them ahead of time and add them to the dough. And poolish means Polish. I think." I finally looked it up, and there's not a huge difference, except that a biga is a more generic term for a pre-ferment and can be soft or stiff in texture, and can be refrigerated up to three days, whereas a poolish is never refrigerated.
So this time I made ciabatta with the non-refrigerated, soft poolish. It was very good. But I see that I reported that the ciabatta made with stiff biga was also very good.  This made me realize why I'm not a true baker: I'm not scientific. I don't keep at a recipe until I've perfected it. I'm haphazard. I make ciabatta when I feel like it, which seems to be about every six months, judging by a search for "ciabatta" on my blog. On the other hand, I get to make ciabatta when I feel like it.

Please don't be intimidated by the foreign, exotic-sounding poolish, or by the make-ahead nature of it. The poolish could not be easier to make: you mix up water, flour, and a smidgen of yeast with a wooden spoon. Then you cover it with plastic wrap and go to bed. (You actually don't have to go to bed. You just have to leave the poolish alone for 12 to 16 hours, so if you are younger than I am and have more entertaining things to do with your time on Saturday night, feel free. I went to bed). When you get up (or get home, if you've had an exciting time of it), the poolish is bubbly and ready to go.

And don't be intimidated by the rest of the bread dough; that's simple too. It's just mixing the poolish into more bread flour, water, and yeast. If you want to be intimidated by something, you can worry about working with the outcome of the easy mixing: a very wet, very sticky dough, that is, according to Hamelman, so delicate that it might collapse if you sneeze. Now those are words to intimidate.

And you get plenty of opportunity to handle it. The first rise is about three hours, but you're supposed to take it out of its bowl, watching it slowly and silently plop onto the counter, and fold it into thirds, then carefully put it back in the container.

Next in the process--shape it into the typical oblong, flour-coated ciabatta loaves. The home version of the recipe makes three loaves. I cut the recipe in half, but made two smallish loaves. I should have made 2/3 of the recipe, but dividing by 3 is harder than dividing by 2, which was already taxing my limited math abilities.

What with the stickiness of the dough and the dire warnings about collapsing, I'm always surprised that the dough manages to shape itself into loaves that more or less look how they're supposed to look. It helps that they're supposed to look kind of rough-hewn.

If you want a super-crispy crust, you can do some kind of steam contraption. Depending on my mood, I toss ice cubes on a preheated cookie sheet, pour boiling water in a preheated cookie sheet, or use my steamer. I always use a baking stone when making a rustic kind of bread. Even if you don't want to do those things, though, I think the bread would still taste better than almost anything that you can buy, which is good because it goes stale very quickly.

Here is the recipe. As I mentioned, I divided it in half and got two rather small loaves. If you make the whole recipe, I recommend either giving some away or freezing at least one loaf because it just won't be as good the second day:

Ciabatta with Poolish
from Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman

9.6 oz. (2 1/4 cups) bread flour
9.6 oz. (1 1/4 cup) water
1/8 tsp. instant dry yeast

1 lb. 6.4 oz. (5 1/8 cups) bread flour
13.8 oz. (1 3/4 cups) water
.6 oz. (1 T.) salt
.13 oz. (1 1/4 tsp)instant dry yeast

1. POOLISH. Disperse the yeast in the water,, add the flour, and mix until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic and let stand for 12 to 16 hours at room temperature.

2. MIXING. Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl, including the poolish. In a stand mixer using a dough hook, mix on low speed for 3 minutes. Finish mixing on medium for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes, until gluten development is evidence. The dough will still be loose and sticky, but should have some "muscle".

3. FERMENTATION AND FOLDING. Put the dough in a mixing bowl sprayed with baker's spray. Fold the dough twice, after one hour and again after two hours.

4. DIVIDING AND SHAPING. Flour the work surface copiously. Invert the dough onto the work surface and pat out the larger air bubbles. Lightly flour the top surface of the dough. Cut the dough into 3 rectangles, weighing about 18 ounces each. Gently shape into rectangles. Place the dough piece onto floured bread boards (I used floured parchment paper). Cover the shaped dough with baker's linen and then plastic.

5. FINAL FERMENTATION. About 1 1/2 hours.

6. BAKING: Preheat oven to 460 degrees.
To transfer the proofed dough to a baker's peel, spread the fingers of both your hands. With a quick, deft stroke, invert the dough piece so that the side that was touching the bread board is now on top. Place one hand at each end of the dough piece, bring your fingers underneath, and pick it up. Here you will slightly punch the dough for easier transport; there should be wrinkles in the center of the loaf as the transfer it to the peel. [I just picked up the parchment paper and put it on top of a pre-heated baking stone--I'm using his instructions here just to show why I think they're hard to understand.) Fill the oven with steam, load the ciabattas, steam again, and bake for 34-38 minutes. (I used the steam machine; otherwise you can use either an ice cube or boiling water method to get steam. Hamelmans thinks you should use all three: ice cubes on a heated skillet before the bread goes in, boiling water on a heated pan when the bread goes in, and spritzing with water too). Lower the oven temperature by 10 or 20 degrees if bread is taking on too much color, but be sure not to underbake.
Remove the bread from the oven and let cool on a baking rack.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cottage Cheese Dill Bread

The first bread I ever baked was Dilly Casserole Bread, the winner of the 1960 Pillsbury Bake-Off. (This was back in the day, when contestants actually baked things from scratch instead of using cake mixes).

And when my daughter asked me for an easy bread recipe, I found the Dilly Bread recipe for her, because I knew she'd want something 1) with an interesting flavor and 2) that was dead easy to make. So naturally when I saw this slightly more sophisticated (that is, with 8 times as much butter) version of the original recipe, I wanted to try it.

Still dead easy. In fact, if you use instant yeast (a better invention than sliced bread), it's even easier because you can eliminate the process of proofing the yeast in liquid and can just dump everything in one bowl.

My current recipe, taken from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson, uses fresh dill (although you could also use dill seed). The fresh dill gives the bread a cleaner, livelier flavor than the dill seed. Even using 1/4 cup of fresh dill, I could see only traces when I sliced into the bread, but the taste was distinctly there.

The dough takes only about an hour and a half to rise; then it's flattened out, where it rests under a towel for about 20 minutes.

And shaped into a loaf. Maybe if I bake bread for another 20 or 30 years, I'll finally get the knack of making them level. I certainly won't be entering any listing loaves in the State Fair.

Jim asks me why I always want perfection. In turn, I ask him why he doesn't. It's just how marriages work.

I liked the dill taste, although it does limit the number of things this bread is appropriate for. (Breakfast toast with strawberry jam? Maybe not.) We ate it fresh from the oven with slices of cheese and sweet cherries for a mid-afternoon snack. I think it would be a dynamite base for egg-salad sandwiches, and would be good, if unusual, if shaped into dinner rolls. If you don't like dill, of course, you'll just want to move on to the next recipe.

Cottage Cheese Dill Bread
adapted from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland,
by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson

1 scant tablespoon instant yeast
1/4 cup (30 g.) warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup (225 grams) small curd cottage cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking sodea
1 egg
3 cups (375 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the bread hook. Knead for about 8 minutes, until the dough is soft and smooth.

Put the dough into a greased bowl and cover loosely with a towel. Let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Put the dough on the counter. Stretch into a rectangle and give two business-letter turns. Let rest for 10 minutes. Shape and place into a lightly greased 8- or 9-inch loaf pan, and let rise for another 30 minutes. Put the bread in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Take the bread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

R'ghayef (Moroccan multi-layered breads)

In the spirit of my planned trip to Morocco in November, and with a bow to my friend who suggested that I bake a bread from every country in the world, I tried my hand at r'ghayef, a Moroccan layered bread. Apparently, this bread is a traditional street food in Morocco. If it is, good idea! I hope to look for it when I'm there, although, as Jim pointed out, it might be helpful for me to learn to pronounce it.

Not only is this bread mighty tasty, it's also the quickest yeast bread you'll ever make. So quick that we're missing a few process photos. Jim kept wandering off with his camera in tow because he expected he wouldn't have to take a picture for another hour or two. Little did he knew that this bread happens fast.

It's one of the few breads I've made where I didn't bother to get out my stand mixer, or even my food processor. Instead, I stirred the few ingredients together (AP flour, semolina (or durum) flour, yeast, and water; kneaded it for a few minutes, and topped it with the mixing bowl to give it 15 minutes to rest.

After it rests, you divide it into four pieces. (I halved the recipe so I could make just enough for dinner. They're best when they're just off the griddle). The pieces of dough rest while you're making the filling.

Since I'd already made the filling, I didn't let them rest. This was a mistake, since the dough is much more malleable after it's rested for about 10 minutes. So even if you're itching to get going, take a deep breath and go cut a bouquet of flowers or something. If you don't wait it out, the dough won't stretch nicely and will tear.

After it's patted out into a thin, oiled circle, put a dab of filling in the middle. The filling is made with chopped onion and parsley, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt. I found that the dried spices gave the filling a raw flavor, and I think I'd substitute harissa for the spice mixture next time. But the flavors were great (and hot! I was liberal with the pepper flakes), and the onions (be sure to finely dice them) and parsley tasted fresh.

You fold the sides over so you have a rectangle, and then fold the top and bottom over to form a square.

Then you flatten them quite emphatically. You want them very thin because they're only going to cook a few minutes. They're ready to fry in a frying or griddle pan at this point, but I had to let them rest while I grilled some yogurt chicken with Moroccan spices. No harm seemed to come to them by their 10- to 15-minute rest.

These little breads are amazingly quick to "bake." They're cooked for a minute or two on each side in an oiled frying pan on medium high heat. They rise and bubble just a tad while they're cooking, and should be eaten as soon as possible. They're crisp, chewy, spicy, and absolutely delicious. While I served them with Moroccan-style chicken, they would pair with something less spicy--a quick summer salad with feta and olives or a winter vegetable soup. And they'd make toothsome appetizers too. You could certainly pare down the heat level by lessening or eliminating the red pepper flakes--I didn't measure, but I'm pretty sure I used about twice the recommended amount.

When I'm in Morocco, I'll have to make it my mission to search out various r'ghayefs and see whether mine came close to the authentic thing. I do love to have missions that involve tasting food.

R'ghayef (Moroccan Multilayered Breads)
--from Savory Baking from the Mediterranean, by Anissa Helou

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup unbleached AP flour (120 grams)
1 cup semolina (or durum) flour (120 grams)
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water

1/2 onion, very finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)

Combine the flours, yeast, and salt in a large bowl andmake a well in the center. Add the yeast and mix with the flour until you have a rough, sticky dough.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the dough with flour and knead for about 3 minutes. Invert the bowl over the dough and let rest for 15 minutes. Knead 2 to 3 minutes more, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest about 10 minutes.

Combine all filling ingredients in a medium bowl.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Oil a work surface and your hands. Flatten a ball by hand on the work surface into a very thin circle. Spread about one-eighth of the filling over the center of the circle. Fold the left third of the circle over the filling, then fld the right third over to omake a rectangle. Fold the top third over the bread and the bottom third under the bread to make a square about 5 inches on each side (mine turned out smaller than 5 inches at this point). Let rest while you make 3 more squares in the same manner. Flatten the squares of filled dough until they are quite thin.

Oil a large frying pan and place over medium-high heat. Place the squares in the hot pan, drizzling a little additional oil over the bread. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on each side, until golden. Remove to parchment paper or a wire rack. When all breads from the first batch are cooked,kk shape, fill, and cook the remaining 4 breads. (I was able to cook 4 at one time, but I think the author envisions them as bigger and flatter than mine). Serve immediately.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Meini o Pani de Mei (Italian Sweet Corn Buns)

A friend of mine asked me recently if I was still doing my bread blog. When I said I was, he asked if I hadn't made every possible kind of bread by now. I said there were many, many left to do. Then he suggested a new project: making a bread from every country in the world. I'm intrigued by this idea, but not enough to commit to it. And does every country have a signature bread? Andorra? The Seychelles?

But I have made breads from a fair number of countries already: Turkey, Puerto Rico, Norway....and, of course, France and Italy, the king and queen of bread-baking. This week, I turned once again to Carol Field's The Italian Baker for inspiration. Although I wasn't even thinking about making sweet corn buns, I was so taken by the description that I had to try them:
These sweet buns are a very delicat e cross between a corn muffin and a scone.... Meini are definitely a Lombard specialty, and the Milanese traditionally eat them on April 24 as a celebrfation of the liberation of their contryside from the assaults of a ferocious highwayman and his brigands during the Middle Ages.

Oh, how I love Italy! A country that celebrates being liberated from a highwayman by making a big batch of sweet, buttery, crumbly rolls! I just hope I remember this recipe next April 24, and that I make them again to mark Highwayman Liberation Day.

As a scone-ish, muffin-ish, cookie-ish hybrid, these are easy to mix up, especially if you use the whisk attachment to your stand mixer. With just over half a pound of butter, they really can't be bad, can they?

The ratio of white flour to cornmeal is about 3 to 2, which I figured should keep it from being too grainy. I like to taste of cornbread and muffins, but not if they're overly sweet, not sweet enough, not too crumbly, not too dry, not too insipid. It's a tough. but not impossible, bill to fill.

It ends up coming together a little like scone dough--rough and buttery.

A few seconds of kneading turns it from rough and buttery to smooth and buttery.

The dough is divided into about 15 90-gram pieces. I love weighing out pieces of dough. I'm not obsessive about it--if they're 89 or 91 grams, that's okay with me.

Form each piece into a ball, squish it down, and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You'll need two). Brush the tops with water, then sprinkle with granulated sugar. Finally, sift some confectioners sugar on top.

After about 15 minutes in the oven, or until the tops are cracked "into a pattern that looks like the land after a long dry summer, they're done.

These are really nice. You could Americanize them with the addition of, say, fresh blueberries or dried cranberries, but why bother? The Italians have been making them this way for about 500 years, and there's no need to mess with tradition. Not surprisingly, they go well with tea or coffee. More surprising, at least to me, was how good they tasted with a glass of wine. Have one with afternoon tea, another with a pre-dinner glass of wine, and freeze the rest for later. And be thankful your town isn't overrun with highwaymen.

Meini o Pani de Mei
--The Italian Baker, by Carol Field

•2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (250 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
•1¼ cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
•2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons honey
•1 egg
•1 egg yolk
•½ cup plus 2 teaspoons milk
•3¼ cups (450 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
•1¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (300 grams) fine yellow cornmeal
•3½ teaspoons baking powder
•1/8 teaspoon almond extract
•About 1/3 cup (70 grams) granulated sugar
•½ cup (70 grams) confectioners’ sugar

Using the whisk attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and the honey for 1 to 2 minutes at low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg, egg yolk, and 2 teaspoons milk and continue beating for 1 minute. Mix in the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder. Add ½ cup milk and the almond extract and mix at the lowest speed until blended. The dough should be stiff but not heavy. Knead briefly by hand or mixer, sprinkling with additional flour as needed, until buttery, soft, pliable, and slightly sticky.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the dough into 15 equal pieces (90 grams each). Flour your hands and roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each ball into a ½-inch-thick patty, the size of a hamburger and the width of a woman’s hand. Place on the paper-lined baking sheets.

Brush the tops with water and then sprinkle with granulated sugar, making sure a thin layer of sugar covers each bun. You can shake off the excess sugar by holding on to the paper and shaking the sugar up and over the edge of the pan. Place the confectioners’ sugar in a sifter or sieve and sift the sugar heavily over the buns so that they look as if they’re lost in a blizzard of sugar. The excess powdered sugar can stay on the paper because it will not caramelize.

Heat oven to 375ºF. Bake until the sugar on top has cracked into an irregular design, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on racks.