The current issue (January 2010) of Cook’s Illustrated magazine offers a couple of terrific recipes to get you bakin’. I started with “Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza,” which CI tells us consists of a buttery,cornmeal enhanced flaky and biscuit-like crust supporting a cheese-first, tomato sauce topped filling. Having cut my pizza teeth on Conan’s (what kind of Cook County native am I?), I wasn’t aware that the Windy City’s famous crust sported buttery layers (I was only 8 when I left for the south.) But I’m not at all surprised to learn that the Midwestern take on Italy’s precious pie boasts butter and lamination. Now that’s cooking from the Heartland.
Chicago’s version of pizza, like its Italian inspiration, is all about the crust, apparently. But second city cooks really give the dough a 180. I don’t mind a bit! If I can find a way to put butter together with starch (we’ll get to sugar shortly), I’m gonna!
Of course I modified the dough some. I enjoy whole grains so I worked in a little white whole wheat flour and that necessitates additional liquid. Filled on the fly with an entire 10-ounce bag of Cora Lamar’s legendary Texas-grown spinach (Central Market, $2.99 a bag, triple-washed and ready to wilt), roasted piquillo peppers, black olives, basil, oregano and just enough organic canned tomato to qualify as a “sauce,” plus a half pound of organic cream cheese blended with a dollop of South River’s organic sweet white miso and plenty of black pepper (we were all out of Full Quiver Farm‘s melting mozzarella—but who am I to stick with tradition anyway?) and adorned with the requisite red onion (anointed with a touch of olive oil) and reggiano, these scrumptious pizzas reminded me of a more refined savory kuchen (see Tongue-in-kuchen).
And kuchen reminds me of butterkuchen, which brings us to this somewhat kringle-y (another Midwestern favorite) coffee cake. I swapped the water for milk, doubled the sugar and added a touch more yeast to yield a cakier bread base. Then I sweetened up my filling and drizzled the finished “pies” with an easy glaze.
WINDY PIES makes 2 9″ cakes
- 3 Tablespoons organic butter, melted, plus 4 Tablespoons organic butter, softened to spreadability. I love Organic Valley and Whole Foods has it on sale right now for $4.99 a pound. Get cakin’ and bakin’!
- 262 grams organic all-purpose flour. Whole Foods 365 brand in the 5# bag generally goes for the lowest price.
- 192 grams organic white whole wheat flour. I buy King Arthur brand in the 5# bag at WF.
- ½ cup organic yellow cornmeal. I usually use Arrowhead Mills.
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt. I like Real Salt.
- 4 teaspoons turbinado sugar. I buy this in bulk at Central Market. .I bring my own container and have the staff tare it for me.
- 2 ½ teaspoons (1 packet or envelope) instant yeast (bread machine or rapid rise)—NOT active dry
- 1 ½ cups local milk. I use either Swede Farm Dairy or Wateroak Farm goat milk.
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 ounces local or organic cream cheese, softened. Light “neufchâtel” style is fine. Full Quiver Farm makes several sweet (as well as savory) flavors plus plain. Organic Valley makes great organic cream cheese and now Central Market sells their own brand of organic cream cheese, regular full-fat style, for only $1.99 for a half-pound block.
- 2 or 3 Tablespoons local honey. I usually use Good Flow wildflower, available in bulk at CM. Don’t forget to bring your own container.
- zest of 1 Texas tangelo, tangerine or orange (plus maybe a touch of lemon), preferably organic
- 4 ounces Texas pecans, about a heaping cupful
- 154 grams (¾ cup) packed organic light brown sugar. Wholesome Sweeteners brand is on sale right now at Newflower Market for only $1.99 for a 1½ pound bag.
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 4 Tablespoons cold organic butter, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
- about a Tablespoon melted butter or ghee
- 3 ounces (¾ cup) organic powdered sugar
- 1 ½ Tablespoons local milk
- scant ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer—this dough’s a little loose for hand-kneading—and whisk together. Be sure the yeast and salt to do not come into direct contact. Sans buffer, salt is toxic to bare yeast. Using the dough hook, start the mixer and pour in first the melted butter (not hot) and then the water. Get the ingredients combined, then raise the speed to nearly medium and let the machine knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until the dough amasses, looks smooth and feels slightly sticky. Turn out into a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until almost doubled. A cooler rise promotes more flavor development, so go ahead and put the bowl in the laundry room or garage while you go pick the kid(s) up from school—wait, school’s out!
Press the dough down and turn out onto a flat surface for rolling out. I prefer using a silpat or other rolling mat so I don’t have to incorporate any more flour into the dough. Roll the dough into a 15″ X 12″ rectangle and spread the softened butter over the surface to within about ½ inch of the edges. Starting at a short end, roll up the dough tightly, jellyroll-style. Pat the roll out into about an 18″ by 4″ rectangle and divide this strip into 2 pieces (cut across the spiral, not lengthwise). Take each strip and fold the ends towards the center, approximately folding into thirds, and smooth each piece into a ball, seam side down. Place the balls back into your buttered bowl and refrigerate for about 50 minutes for the second rise.
For the filling, blend the cream cheese, honey and zest. For the topping, combine the pecans and next 3 ingredients in a food processor and pulse to chop the pecans a bit. Then pulse in the butter just until cut in. Don’t overprocess the topping into a mass, keep it crumbly.
Pat each ball down and roll out (separately) into a 13″ circle. Fit each circle into a well-buttered, parchment lined 9″ X 2″ round cake pan. I recently bought a set of two such pans by Wilton at Michael’s craft store using their 50% OFF coupon. Many cakers already know about Michael’s weekly 40% OFF and occasional 50 % OFF coupons and take advantage of the savings on decorating supplies. But even if you don’t cake or decorate, if you bake, you can score some sweet deals on supplies such as pans, spatulas, whisks and cooling racks. And you might find yourself inspired to embellish your creations on the cheap! So be on the lookout for the Michael’s weekly flyer in your mail or check the Statesman (Sunday or Wednesday, typically) and save a buck.
Spread the the cream cheese filling over the dough and top with the pecan mixture. Bake in a preheated 400º oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350º, until browned and set in the center. Let cool in the pans on a rack for 10 minutes before loosening sides with a metal spatula and unmolding. Brush with the melted butter or ghee and continue to cool until warm, then whisk together the glaze ingredients and drizzle over the cakes. Serve with hot chocolate on Christmas Day!