The making of dough, in my mind, is connected with two mutually exclusive, and equally intimidating paradigmatic models of cookery.
The first model, my Grandmother. My mother’s mother grew up on, and reared her own children on, an old-fashioned farm in the Midwest. She was an Earth Mother Homesteader generations after that was considered the norm and generations before it was considered chic. She was an Earth Mother Homesteader precisely during the period of American History when it was decidedly offbeat and unglamorous. Grandma sewed clothes, killed and plucked chickens, fed pigs, threw bales of hay and made every scrap of food that went into her family’s mouths from scratch. She got up early and went to bed late; she ate a heaping spoonful of homemade peanut butter when it all became to be too much, but she never uttered a word of complaint to a soul. (Though everyone ran in the other direction when the peanut butter jar came out). Grandma died 24 years ago, but my mother and her siblings still discuss her perfectly crafted doughnuts, cakes, pies and breads in reverent tones.
My mother uses her mother’s rolling pin every time she rolls out dough; she tells me that one day, I will inherit it.
The second model, one particular croissant eaten in Paris while walking with my mom. One glorious, sun-drenched afternoon in May, we were vacationing in Paris; I was nine — I had no idea how lucky I was. As we strolled aimlessly through the streets, she pointed to a small bakery on a dusty back-corner of the Canal-Saint Martin neighborhood; I ran to the window and gawked at the financiers, petit fours, tartlettes and cakes. We went in, hemmed and hawed over the gem-like edibles. Finally, we purchased two comparably humble croissants and spent the next hour slowly flaking off layers of pastry and savoring the meltingly soft, lush, buttery carb puff. It was the best piece of amalgamated flour, fat, salt and water I’ve ever had in my life.
It was too rich to eat in large bites, too addictive to save for later, too ephemeral to not stretch the experience across as wide a temporal span as possible and too delicious to express in words. My mother and I just existed together, in that sunny hour with our croissants, strolling across the shade-and-sun patched Paris pavement.
Unlike its numerous American counterparts that I’ve greedily devoured since, the quintessential croissant isn’t dowdy with butter; every particle has soaked in the ideal amount of fat and leavening, lending it a sprightly spring and perky joie de vivre its clumsier stateside cousins can only ape. “These are prepared and shaped differently, but I swear, they taste just like the rolls Mama used to make.” I believed her then and I still do now.
I’m not afraid to tackle a souffle or a consomme, but the notion of baking something as simple as shortbread fills me with dread. I realize this is wildly irrational; not only is it probably impossible for any of my most obsessed-over doughs to approach the peerless ideal Grandma achieved as easily as breathing, no matter how split, broken, shattered, crumby or unrisen they are, she certainly wouldn’t think less of me, nor would my mother– she who consistently cranks out hideous, lopsided cakes, holey pies and misshapen loaves (delicious as they may be) can’t afford to point fingers.
This week, I swallowed my fear, prepared a Mediterranean Galette in Honor of Grandma — and a huge batch of Vegetarian Roasted Tomato Soup-Dip-Thingy just in case my worst fears were realized so Stephen and I would have something to nom on while the Eagles battled the Giants. (Go Eagles!)
Mediterranean Galette in Honor of Grandma
Adapted from Eating Well
Makes 8 servings
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Scant 1/2 cup water
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 10 finely chopped and pitted Kalamata olives
- 1/2 head garlic
- 3 sun-dried tomatoes stored in olive oil, chipped fine
- 1 large red pepper, roasted and diced (roast under broiler until skin is charred, cool, peel, seed and dice)
- 1/2 cup roasted tomato sauce (homemade or store bought)
- 1/2 TBSP olive oil
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/2 tsp salt, black pepper to taste
- 2 1/4 oz fontina cheese, grated (or other cheese, any meltable one will do)
- 1 egg lightly beaten with 1 TBSP water (for egg wash)
- Make crust: mix flours, baking powder, sugar and salt in food processor. Mix oil and water in a separate container, and slowly drizzle over dry ingredients. Pulse until blended. Add water as needed. When blended, add olives and pulse to mix. (All of this can be done by hand).
- Press dough into disk,wrap in plastic and put in fridge for minimum of 45 minutes, up to 2 days.
- Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut tips off the 1/2 head of garlic. Place on sheet of foil, sprinkle with 1 TBSP of water, seal and roast in oven until putty soft. (About 40 minutes).
- Mix sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper. When garlic is roasted and slightly cooled, squeeze out the cloves into a bowl. Mash with 1/2 TBSP oil, add a pinch of salt. Add all of the tomatoes and half of the peppers, add rosemary, salt and pepper and toss to mix.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, spray with Pam. Roll out dough until it’s about 16 inches long (mine was rolled out to about 12 inches, more on that below) and as wide as the baking sheet. Transfer to baking sheet, top with tomato sauce and the garlic mix, leaving about 2 inches of dough naked. Sprinkle the sauced portion with cheese. Top with the rest of the red pepper. Fold the naked border up and over to form a crust (it should be about an inch wide), crimping all the way. Brush crust with egg wash.
- Pop in oven and bake until crust is golden and cheese is golden in pockets, about 35 minutes. Remove and cool for 5 minutes. Cut and serve warm.
Vegetarian Roasted Tomato Soup-Dip-Thingy
Makes 8 servings
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 1/2 cup corn kernels, frozen is fine
- 1 28-ounce cup of crushed organic tomotoes
- 1/2 cup uncooked long-grain brown rice (cook according to package directions and set aside)
- 1 cup dried black beans, soaked in salty water (the salt helps tenderize them, don’t believe what you hear), drained and cooked according to package directions. Or, 2-3 15-oz cans of black beans.
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/1-1 tsp each cracked red pepper, adobo seasoning, old bay, paprika and cumin, or to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1/3 cup salsa, homemade or store bought
- 2 1/4 oz shredded fontina, sharp cheddar or pepper Jack cheese (or blend)
- Tortilla chips or toasted or fried whole-wheat tortillas for serving
- Heat oil in medium-sized stock pot over medium heat. Add onion, salt, saute until translucent. Add corn and saute until onion and corn are both slightly golden.
- Add tomatoes to the pan and crank up the heat. Boil for a few minutes, stirring, and then reduce to simmer until about 1/3 of the liquid has evaporated. Add cooked rice and beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salsa and simmer for another few minutes. Remove from heat, throw in cilantro and serve. Top with cheese, eat with chips or tortillas and sour cream and guacamole if you like.
Nutritional breakdown for Mediterranean Galette in Honor of Grandma: 250 calories per serving and 9 grams of fat per serving. Great source of letter vitamins, calcium, protein; a decent whopping of fiber and random minerals we can never get enough of (like cancer-busting polyphenols, lycopene and niacin).
Nutritional breakdown for Roasted Tomato Soup-Dip-Thingy: 180 calories per serving and 4.5 grams of fat (chips, wraps and other accouterments are extra). Bursting at the seams with fiber, letter vitamins. Excellent source of low-fat protein.
Cost breakdown for Mediterranean Galette in Honor of Grandma: About $8, or $1 per serving. (I had the flour, sugar, oil, olives and tomato sauce on hand).
Cost breakdown for Roasted Tomato Soup-Dip-Thingy: About $10, or $1.25 per serving (I had the salsa and tomatoes on hand, in addition to the oil and dried spices).
The verdict: I took a bite of the Mediterranean Galette and stifled a dramatic and totally histrionic cry of outrage and self-disgust. I peeked at Stephen and he was suspiciously quiet; he avoided eye contact and focused on eating. I took another bite and reconsidered. The flavor was outstanding — a great balance of fat, grains and salt; I loved the brininess of the olives. But the fact remained: I didn’t roll the dough thin enough. Parked squarely between two cardinal sins of dough-making — a dough that tears because it’s rolled too thin and a dough that’s just a touch too thick for its purpose — sits the ideal sweet spot. In an attempt to avoid one sin, I committed another. “It’s too doughy!” I broke out, glaring at Stephen. Fully aware of my dough-insecurity, he remained non-commital. “This soup-dip-thingy is great!” he squawked. “Perfect balance of heat. It’s zesty!” he added desperately. “Okay, it’s a bit doughy,” he finally admitted. “But I know you’ll do better next time.”
Make them again: I’ve been making the soup-dip-thingy in some form for close to two decades. The combination of flavors and spices does produce a fantastic heat/flavor profile with a minimal amount of effort and a maximum amount of lip-smacking. It will remain in my arsenal until I’m too lazy to stir. The galette? I will try again.
In the future: I will fearlessly roll out the dough! Have confidence in my abilities — and try to do Grandma proud.