Does anyone really need a recipe for garlic bread? I mean, garlic + butter + bread = it’s impossible to imagine a bad outcome. And yet I do use one. I mean, prior to today it was in my head and did not include baguette weights because despite the impression this site might give you, I’m not that crazy upstairs. I use a recipe because like most people in the year 2016, I don’t take carb consumption lightly, and garlic bread is even more of a rare luxury. Because of this, if I’m going to make it I don’t want it to be almost right but could use a little more salt, or too much garlic and too little butter, and absolutely not pale and soggy or crouton-hard. I want each time I make it to be like the best time I ever had it, a beacon of bronzed edges, lightly drenched with garlic butter with a whiff of herbs and a kiss of salty heat.
I have been holding out way too long on giving one of the great Roman pizzas, pizza con potate e rosmarino (which, like most things, sounds much sexier in Italian than the thudful translation of “potato pizza with rosemary”) the adoration-driven revisit it deserves on this site. I first talked about potato pizza here in 2008, but I never felt that the recipe did it justice. Jim Lahey, who had recently blown up everything we knew about making bread with his brilliant no-knead boule, was preparing to open a pizza place and had shared his potato pizza recipe with Martha Stewart, but I’d had trouble with it — the proportions seemed off (not enough potato, a persnickety dough), it was low on details I needed (like how big it was supposed to be), and it had pesky steps (like soaking the potatoes in several changes of ice water, so not fun if one lacks one of those fancy fridges with icemakers). But it wasn’t until went to Rome in 2013 that I realized exactly how far off it was from the ideal. (Don’t worry, Lahey is going to come rescue us in a bit.)
It’s a shame bread has taken a beating over the last decade or so, because there’s little on this earth — I mean, save the obvious stuff, babies in hippo onesies, world peace — that makes me happier than the aroma rolling off a slice from a freshly baked loaf. So when I went on my bender of frenetic-nesting-by-way-of-freezer meals this summer, I also made a couple loaves of sandwich bread to stash away.
There are kitchen discoveries that lead to nothing but trouble. The first time I caramelized sugar, I knew I was ruined. Why would anyone want to eat drab white sugar if they could eat it cooked to a 100x as delicious toasty amber syrup? The first time I tried browned butter, I went on a butter-browning bender (cookies! breadcrumbs! crispy treats!) which, frankly, shows little sign of abating today. So, it should be no surprise that when I finally cracked the authentic pretzel-making code six months ago, I didn’t know where to stop. Everything comes up pretzel now! I’ve made pretzel scones and pretzel challahs. I’m dreaming of pretzel shortbread and popovers, pretzel bagels and grissini. I might need an intervention.
Guess what we’re making this weekend?
I have been obsessed with make soft pretzels at home since about 16 seconds after I learned that you could, 7 years ago. For something that looks so twisted, dark and complex, they’re actually simple to make, requiring only a basic bread dough (flour, water, salt and yeast), formed into pretzel knot (a rope with the ends twisted together, then folded back over itself), dipped briefly in a baking soda solution, salted, and baked until pretty. This is almost exactly the way they are made in southern Germany and surrounding pretzel-loving regions, save one bit: instead of a baking soda bath, the pretzels are dipped in a lye solution. Lye, as in the poison. As in the stuff used in oven cleaners, drain openers, the kind of thing you shouldn’t touch without a mask and latex gloves, the kind of thing no sane cook would bother with at home.
A couple weeks ago, when we lamented the fact that the people who raised us and claimed to love us still didn’t find it in their hearts to provide us with the specific food products we yearned for (basically, we are all the Honest Toddler on the inside), I remembered yet another item on the denied list which was quickly added to my Writ of Grievances with my progenitors that I will carry with me to the grave and blame for all of my misfortunes, like that Amazon reviewer who said my cookbook was “tantamount to culinary fanfic.” Just kidding, I just took too many melodrama pills this morning.
My mother’s standard party donation is a boule of pumpernickel bread with the center scooped out and filled with a spinach dip that includes water chestnuts because, of course. The sides are cut into fingers that remain attached at the base (as “severed fingers” would be unsettling, yes?) and can be torn off when the urge comes to swipe one through the center. The urge will come often, so I try to position myself in any room that the boule is not. Nevertheless, I hadn’t considered that there were other approaches to party bread until I came upon this 1998 recipe for one in Taste of Home, the belly full of dip forwent for a multi-pronged attacked of butter, cheese, scallions and poppy seeds, all toasted until melted and crisp.