Monday, March 22, 2010


Over in the sidebar, I proclaim my obsession with yeast. Yeast baking came into my world about two months ago. I had seen a recipe for no-knead bread on a blog, and decided that I had the time to try a new ingredient. My first attempt was a bust (everyone's first attempt is), but with a little bit of internet research, I figured it out and started baking different kinds of breads and even started altering recipes to make them my own. What I love about yeast (besides warm, fresh bread and butter) is the sheer amount of things you can do with it. It can be used to make food savory or sweet. It can form a shell for a whole meal. It can make healthy snacks (whole grains!). It is very versatile. One of my favorite things thus far is calzones. You can shove whatever you want in a piece of dough, bake it, and chow down on a good meal.

Yesterday, I made calzones for my family. My mom and I are very different eaters when compared to my brother and dad. They eat anything, where we boast more discriminating palates. Making calzones allowed us to exercise our preferences without a big fuss, or anyone missing out on something they really wanted as a topping. Because calzones are merely stuffed dough, the key to success is in the ingredients. This includes preparation. The first time I made calzones, I failed to precook my ingredients and ended up with soggy dough and a pool of liquid on my plate. This time, I precooked everything to remove most of the moisture, and ended up with restaurant-quality calzones. So, my advice is that if you are going to make a calzone, cook your non-cheese toppings first! It's as simple sautéing your fruit, veggies and meats in a skillet, and patting them dry. Also, if you plan to use marinara sauce, heat it in a saucepan until it is thicker and loses much of its water, otherwise it will separate during cooking and cause a mess. Sauces like BBQ, pesto and alfredo don't require this step because they don't have much water content.

One other comment before I get to the recipe. Instead of ricotta, I use cottage cheese. We never have ricotta in the house, unlike 2% Knudson cottage cheese (this specific brand is a necessity for me, I hate all other brands). I also tend to find ricotta very dry and have issues with its texture even when cooked. Thus, I replace ricotta with cottage cheese in recipes, including lasagna. I find that the result is a creamier and moist dish. And it's better for you.

Calzone Dough (Makes 4)
1 c lukewarm water (approximately 100F)
2 1/4 t active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 t salt
1/2 t sugar
3 c all-purpose flour
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
Whole wheat flour for dusting/kneading (if you don't have any, all-purpose is fine)
1 egg beaten + 2 teaspoons of water (egg wash)

1. Heat your water in the microwave, or if you're lucky, just use hot water from the tap. Pour it in your mixing bowl, adding in the yeast and sugar. Stir it around a little so yeast dissolves. Add in your EVOO.

2. Sift together your flour and salt. Salt kills yeast, so it is very important not to pour the salt directly into the water.

3. If you are using your mixer (I love my KitchenAid for dough), attach your paddle. Slowly add in the flour-salt mixture until combined. If you're doing it by hand, I feel sorry for you. You should slowly add the flour to the bowl as well. You may get to a point where it's hard to mix more in with a spoon, so use the rest to knead instead of the whole wheat flour.

4. Switch to your dough hook (or start kneading) and place the mixer on 2, or low. Let it knead for 5-7 minutes, until smooth and a little wet. If you think the dough is too dry, add a Tbsp of water. In the alternative, if your dough is too wet, add a Tbsp of flour at a time until you get a good consistency.

5. Spray or oil a bowl, place the dough in, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let it rise until it doubles. If you make this the night before, or earlier that morning, you can simply just stick it in the fridge until you need it. If you choose to make this an hour or two before you make calzones, place it in a warm draft-free place to make sure it rises in time.

6. While your dough is rising, prepare your toppings as I discussed above. We used pepperoni, mushrooms, spinach, onions and pineapple. I precooked the mushrooms, spinach, pineapple and onion in a dry skillet while my oven was preheating. I wish I had precooked my pepperoni so it would have come out a bit crispier. Also use this time to reduce down any tomato sauce.

7. 10 minutes before you decide to start the process, take your dough out of the fridge (if it is in there) and let it sit on the counter. Also preheat your oven, with pizza stone if you have one, to 450F.

8. Flour your rolling surface with whole wheat flour and split the dough into 4 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and roll each one until about 1/4 inch thick. You don't want your circle of dough to be too thin because doing so makes them harder to transfer into the oven and may result in tearing when sealing.

9. To fill your calzone, place sauce down on half of the circle, being careful to leave at least half an inch of space between it and the edge. Add your ingredients in any order you like. I usually do meat, cottage cheese, veggies, mozzarella. 

10. Brush the edge lightly with the egg wash, and seal well. Use a fork to press down, or pinch with your fingers. When sealed, make a slash or poke holes in the top to let steam escape. Brush with egg wash and move onto the next. 

I poke holes in the shape of our initials to help differentiate.

11. Put calzones in oven on pizza stone or baking sheet for 10-15 minutes. Watch closely, as every oven is different. The calzone should be golden and crisp. 

Puffed up and chillin' in the oven. 

12. Serve with a cup of tomato sauce (or whatever sauce you used) or by itself.

As a side note, I made a pesto, chicken, mozzarella and cottage cheese calzone for myself last time. It was a delicious combination. Next time, my brother wants his non-cheese toppings to include meatballs, jalapenos, and onion. Anything is possible.


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