Classic Lemon Bars

I absolutely adore lemon bars.  Sadly, I have had my fair share of icky lemon bars, both homemade and store-bought.  Sometimes these summery treats are too tart, while others can be sickeningly sweet.  Oftentimes the crust is thick and hard, while the lemon filling is merely a Pledge-flavored film across the top.  The perfect combination of tart lemon, sweet powdered sugar, and butter crust is, apparently, the Holy Grail of baking.

Friends, I’m here to say that if these bars aren’t the Holy Grail, they’re awful close.  I found this recipe at Baked Bree, one of my favorite food blogs.  My criteria for a new lemon bar recipe is based on past experience.  Lemon bars should have a thick but delicate cookie crust.  The lemon filling needs to be curd-like, thick, and rich, without becoming “overset” and rubbery.  The lemon filling must NOT get a tough skin after baking.  And, finally, the lemon filling must be at least equal to but preferably a third again the thickness (height) of the cookie crust.  I have this down to a science, people.

I chose to try Baked Bree’s recipe for two reasons.  First, her lovely photographs hinted that her lemon filling might meet the height criteria.  And second, the use of confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated sugar in the crust promised a crumb more tender than my previous recipes (which all used granulated sugar).

The recipe did not disappoint.  These bars are exactly the right thickness in both crust and filling.  The lemon filling was wonderfully lemony without being too tart or too sweet.  The crust was, as I envisioned, thick but delicate, with a wonderful buttery flavor.  Without question I can tell you that this recipe will now be my go-to for lemon bars.

I only made two tweaks.  I omitted the lemon extract (none on hand) and replaced it with a teaspoon of lemon zest.  Also, I don’t have a food processer, so I made the crust by hand and the filling in my blender.  These technique modifications appear to have had no ill effect, as I made these yesterday and of the entire pan there are only 4 small squares left.  Make that 3…

Classic Lemon Bars
Adapted from Baked Bree
Makes one 9″x13″ pan

Ingredients:
Crust:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
A pinch of salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter

Filling:
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
The juice of two lemons
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking powder

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a 9″x13″ baking pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt.  Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Press crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until light golden.  Remove from oven and let cool a bit.

Meanwhile, place all the filling ingredients except the baking powder in the blender.  Blend until smooth and well-mixed.  Add the baking powder and blend well right before you’re ready to pour the filling into the crust.  Pour filling into the warm crust.  Return to the oven and bake another 25 minutes or until the filling is set in the center.  Let cool to room temperature.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar, cut into squares, and serve.

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Honey Oatmeal Whole Wheat Bread II

After eating store-bought white bread for two weeks, I was ready for a fresh batch of delicious homemade bread.  Despite my best intentions, however, I repeatedly forgot to make the fermented starter the night before I planned to make my standby honey oat bread recipe.  I figured that now might be a good time to find a non-fermented recipe to count on for weeks when I can’t seem to get my act together and plan ahead.

This recipe makes a really, really heavy dough.  At first sight, I was skeptical it would rise at all, but my yeast was up for the challenge.  My Kitchenaid mixer couldn’t handle kneading this dough, so I had to knead it by hand (which is kindof fun, anyway).  I made several tweaks to the original recipe out of necessity.  For example, I ran out of honey, so I used half honey, half brown sugar.  Also, I did not have the nonfat dry milk powder the original recipe called for, so I subbed some milk for some of the water.  Lastly, I doubled the recipe and made 3 8″x4″ loaves.

The finished bread smelled SO GOOD that I could barely wait the requisite 10-15 minutes for the loaves to cool before ripping into one.  When I could control my salivation no longer, I cut myself two small slices for taste-testing: one with butter, and one with strawberry jam.  As the dough was still warm, no toasting required.  So delicious!  This recipe makes a hearty bread that I have since used for toast, sandwiches, and bottom bits for poached eggs.  It’s a pretty easy recipe, and you can work out some stress kneading the incredibly dense dough.  Overall, I’d say it’s a keeper!

Honey Oat Wheat Bread II
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
Makes 3 8″x4″ loaves

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup water
2 cups old-fashioned oats
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 packets quick-rise yeast
Directions:

Grease a large bowl, set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat milk and water to simmering (watch carefully to avoid boil-over!).  In the bowl of a standing mixer, stir together milk mixture, oats, butter, salt, honey, and sugar.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

In another bowl, whisk together the flours and the yeast.  Pour flour mixture all at once into mixer bowl with cooled oatmeal mixture.  Using the dough hook attachment, mix until a smooth dough forms.  If your mixer can’t manage this quantity of dough, mix until the dough comes together and then turn out onto a flour surface and knead until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Once dough is mixed (via mixer or by hand), knead an additional 5 minutes on a floured surface.  Place dough in greased bowl and turn to coat.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about one hour.  Meanwhile lightly grease and flour three 8″x4″ loaf pans.

Gently deflate dough.  Shape dough into loaves and place in prepared loaf pans.  Cover again and let rise until nearly doubled, about one hour.  During this rise, preheat the oven to 350F.  Bake loaves in preheated oven until golden brown, about 40-45 minutes.  Fully baked loaves will make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

Double Chocolate (Not All That Bad For You) Cookies

As per my previous post, I have been exceedingly frugal this week.  Frugalness means, in my case (and among other things), no splurging on spontaneous chocolate as I go throughout my weekly routine in town.  With no chocolate in sight, a major craving hit today.  So, I decided to see what I had in my pantry that could be turned into something delicious.

I discovered that I have a nearly-full carton of unsweetened cocoa powder.  I also knew I wanted to make cookies, preferably.  When my internet service finally stopped cutting out on me this morning, I Googled “cocoa cookies” and discovered this recipe on MyRecipes.com.  As a side note, I’ve never used this website before today, but it certainly seems like it’s worth a more thorough browse.

I made several significant changes to this recipe.  Once again, instead of using all-purpose flour only, I used whole wheat for a portion of the required flour amount.  I also added some wheat germ.  Next time I will try adding in some flax seed and cutting a bit of the oil, just to see what happens.  Instead of using butter, I used 3 3/4 tablespoons of canola oil.  I would have tried coconut oil, but alas, my coconut oil jar is empty.  Additionally, I used fat free plain yogurt rather than the low-fat called for in the original recipe, and I also stirred in 1 one-ounce square of semisweet chocolate, chopped.  You know, for the antioxidants. 

Several things to note.  First, these cookies are – OHMYNOM – delicious.  They are soft and chewy, with just a slight crunch on the tops and edges.  The chocolate pieces inside are melty and wonderful.  I actually think the whole wheat flour added something to the texture, something I like.  Each cookie is so rich and dark that one or two should knock any chocolate craving right out.  While these are certainly delicious at any temperature, I went traditional and enjoyed my serving warm from the oven with a mug if ice-cold low-fat milk.  YUM.  Chocolate craving satisfied. 

Double Chocolate (Not All That Bad For You) Cookies
Adapted from Cooking Light via myrecipes.com
Makes about 16 cookies

Ingredients:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 tablespoons canola oil
7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup fat free plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, wheat germ, and salt.  Set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the oil, cocoa powder, and sugars until the mixture looks like wet sand.  Stir in the yogurt and the vanilla.  Pour the flour mixture and the semisweet chocolate into the yogurt mixture all at once.  Stir until a soft dough forms, being careful not to over-mix.  (Overmixing will cause your cookies to come out tough.  You only want to stir the dough until all the flour on the bottom gets incorporated.)

Working quickly, scoop the dough by rounded tablespoonfuls.  Using your hands (quickly) shape each scoop into a somewhat smooth ball.  Place balls of dough on baking sheet about 2-3 inches apart.  Bake 8-11 minutes until slightly puffed and almost set.  (Cookies will still be soft in the center).  Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for about 3 minutes, or until firmed up somewhat.  Once firm enough to move, place cookies on a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with remaining dough.

Note:  If your dough is too sticky to shape with your hands, just place it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes until it firms up.  Then, working quickly, roll tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls and place on baking sheet.  Bake as directed above.

Banana Yogurt Bread

I apologize for the lapse in posts!  The semester ended two weeks ago, and I have been attempting to settle into a routine that does not involve driving 400 miles per week or writing hundreds of pages-worth of papers.  Said transition is not as easy as one would think!  But, that being said, I’m back, and I have an entire summer of posting ahead of me. 

Due to some unforeseen expenses in recent weeks, hubby and I are trying out a new, more frugal lifestyle.  Project Number One in the new lifestyle was to avoid getting groceries until we had truly exhausted our food supplies.  Historically, we had a habit of shopping with regularity every week, often re-buying items we already had (like oatmeal–oh, so much oatmeal).  Thus far, we have gone for two full weeks on only $40 of purchased groceries.  Considering that we typically spend $80 per week on groceries, this is a significant decrease in our grocery expenditures.

Since we bought so few new groceries in the past two weeks, I have been having fun trying to make meals out of the things I find in the pantry, fridge, and freezer (with surprising success!).  Last weekend I discovered that I had (so meticulously) saved 4 large bananas in the back of the freezer.  They were nice and black, perfect for a batch of banana bread.  I found this recipe on the Whole Foods Market website.  Since it included yogurt, another ingredient I was trying use up before its best-by date passed, I decided to give it a try.

I changed a few things about this recipe.  First, I used equal amounts of whole wheat and all-purpose flour.  I will try to squeeze in whole wheat flour wherever possible, for a little extra fiber and nutrition.  Secondly, I did not have ground flaxseed on hand, so I substituted an equal amount of wheat germ.  Third, I used 2 Tablespoons of softened butter and 2 Tablespoons of coconut oil.  Baking with coconut oil is a new experiment I’m trying, since coconut oil has so many health benefits, and it is delicious too!  Third, I stirred about 1/4 cup of softened raisins and 2 Tablespoons of chopped almonds into the batter just before spooning it into the pans.  Thirdly, the pans–I actually made two 8×4″ loaves from this recipe.  I think you could make one if you wanted a taller loaf, but I typically prefer a shorter, less dense loaf when it comes to quick breads.

This banana bread turned out light and flavorful, with just the right amount of banana flavor.  Some banana breads are WAY to banana-y for my tastes, but this recipe was just right.  The raisins and almonds added nice flavor and texture as well.  You could sub out other dried fruits, nuts, or even chocolate chips, too.  The texture of the loaf was substantial without being dense, and the yogurt gave the bread a fine crumb.  We enjoyed these loaves of banana bread for about a week, often warmed up and topped with a little dab of light cream cheese.  Overall, I think this is a fantastic recipe, and I think it will be my go-to banana bread recipe from here on out.

Banana Yogurt Bread
Adapted from Whole Foods Market

Ingredients:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons wheat germ
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup fat free plain yogurt
3 very ripe bananas, smashed (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup raisins, optional
2 tablespoons chopped almonds, optional

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 2 8-inch x 4-inch loaf pans and dust with flour, tapping out excess.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together both flours, baking soda, wheat germ, cinnamon and salt; set aside.

Using a mixer and large mixing bowl, cream together softened butter and coconut oil with sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in yogurt, bananas and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Fold in raisins and nuts (or other mix-ins), being careful not to over-mix.  Spoon batter into loaf pans.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from baking pan.

Quinoa Toss with Sweet Potatoes, Cranberries, and Pecans

It’s Monday, and that means that Josh is at work on his first overnight shift of the week.  On Mondays I am left cooking for one, and usually I fall back on pasta, because it’s easy, quick, and I love it.  Tonight, though, there is (apparently) no pasta in the house as I did not have a chance to get groceries this weekend.  However, I found a forgotten stash of quinoa in the corner of my pantry.  I’ve never had quinoa before but it is all over Foodgawker.  I remember buying a small bag in the bulk section of my favorite grocery with plans to experiment with it.  Well, why not tonight? 

My quinoa dish was mostly inspired by the quinoa salad over at Macheesmo.  I starred this recipe in my RSS feed some time ago and bought a bunch of stuff to make it, but never got around to it.  Thankfully, sweet potatoes, dried cranberries, and pecans don’t go bad very quickly.  I basically made the quinoa with the sweet potato, the cranberries, and the nuts, but left out the dressing in Macheesmo’s original recipe.  I added some salt and pepper and scooped it onto a plate.  I’m not gonna lie, we’re not talking fancy, beautiful food here.  This is some pretty rustic looking eats, but it’s tasty and hearty.  The quinoa has a nice nutty flavor that goes well with the sweet potato.  I really liked the way the cranberries and the pecans played off each other, too.  The flavor blend was great, and the dish is very satisfying.  Also, since there’s nothing terribly savory in it, I plan to reheat the leftovers with milk, some chopped apple, and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup for breakfast tomorrow. 

This is more a method than a recipe.  Really it’s just a matter of mixing stuff into cooked quinoa.  Feel free to swap out your own veggies, fruits, and nuts or seeds.  You can make this as sweet or as savory as you like.

Quinoa Toss with Sweet Potatoes, Cranberries, and Pecans
Inspired by the quinoa salad at Macheesmo
Makes a decent amount

Ingredients:
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
2 cups cold water
1 small sweet potato
Large handful sweetened dried cranberries
Handful chopped pecans (toasted, if desired)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Place quinoa and cold water in a saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat; decrease heat to low and simmer, covered, until quinoa is translucent and tender, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, scrub sweet potato and pierce all over with a fork.  Place on a microwaveable plate and microwave until tender but not mushy, about 3-4 minutes.  Let sweet potato cool slightly, then peel off skin.  Slice potato lengthwise into slabs, then chop into cubes.

When quinoa is cooked, stir in sweet potato cubes, cranberries, and pecans.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

Peppery Bacon Cheddar Scones, and a tea party

My parents came up to visit for Mother’s Day weekend this year.  To celebrate Mother’s Day and the love of tea I share with my Mom, we decided to have a full-on tea party!  My friend Stacey came over as well, so it was a full house.  We even got the menfolk (Dad and Josh) involved!  My Dad took some fabulous photos of our tea-party shenanigans, so for this post he will be my guest photographer.  Also, his photos are so awesome that I decided to use more than one.  This will be the first process post on BeckEverything! 

My Mom brought up a huge white box filled with all sorts of tea cookies from Stash Tea.  Since she had the sweet portion of our menu well in hand, I focused on something savory but still somewhat traditional.  What is more traditional for teatime than the scone?  Nothing, I tell you.  However, these are no ordinary scones.  These scones are stuffed full of all sorts of bacony, cheesy, peppery goodness.

I found this recipe on Ezra Pound Cake via my foodgawker RSS feed.  The original recipe recommended 2-3 teaspoons of ground black pepper but, frankly, that amount scared the living daylights out of me.  So, I started with 1 teaspoon, stirred it into the flour, and surveyed the spread of little black flecks.  I added an additionall 1/2 teaspoon, stirred again, and decided that enough black pepper was incorporated to my taste.  It also smelled amazing.  If you are a braver (and less sneeze-prone) soul than I, feel free to add the full amount listed in the original recipe.  As it was, our scones had just enough black pepper heat to complement the smokey bacon and Cheddar cheese.

I don’t think I have to tell that bacon + cheese = super deliciousness.  These scones were substantial yet not dense, with a nice tender crumb and a lot of big bacon and pepper flavor.  They were the perfect savory complement to the buffet of sweet things on our tea table.  In addition to the cookies, we also had a huge bowl of really delicious fruit salad, provided by Stacey.  See the end of this post for more photos of our tea party! 

Peppery Bacon and Cheddar Scones
Adapted from Ezra Pound Cake, who adapted from “The Pastry Queen”
Makes 8 to 10 scones

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 handful fresh chives, snipped (about two tablespoons snipped chives)
10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped into 1-inch pieces
3/4 to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.

Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is crumbly and studded with flour-butter bits the size of peas.

Stir in the cheese.  Add the green onions, bacon and 3/4 cup buttermilk. Mix just until the ingredients are incorporated. If dough is too dry to hold together, add the remaining buttermilk until the dough can be formed into a ball. Stir as little as possible to ensure a light-textured scone. (I used the full 1 1/2 cups of buttermilk.)

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and pat it into a ball. Using floured hands, flatten the dough into a circle about 8 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. Cut the dough into 8 to 10 equal wedges.

Place the scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Whisk the egg and water together in a small bowl.  Brush each wedge with the egg wash.

Bake for 20-27 minutes, or until golden brown and no longer sticky in the middle. Serve warm.


Baked cheesy goodness.


Cucumber sandwiches (cream cheese, butter, cucumber, sea salt, pepper, and paprika on crustless white bread).


Cookies, cucumber sandwiches, fruit salad (watermelon, apples, orange segments, bananas, strawberries), and scones.


Everyone had their own little teapot…even Dad! 


(Clockwise from lower left) Josh, Mom, Dad, Stacey, and I’m taking the photo.  Look at all that food! 

Pizza Dough Throwdown, Part Two

Part 2 of the Pizza Dough Throwdown has arrived!!  If you remember, the first contestant was my old standby pizza dough, given a slightly healthier makeover with the addition of some whole wheat flour.  The challenger is Peter Reinhart’s Napoletana dough recipe, recommended by my friend Chicago Matt.  Since the Reinhart recipe requires a bit of planning ahead, I made the dough on Friday night and the pizzas on Saturday night.

This dough (in its unbaked form) is very, very moist…DO NOT place it on a surface unless that surface has been liberally sprinkled with flour.  And, chances are, it will eat up that flour and demand more.  If you work quickly, you’ll be fine.  If you get distracted by your cat doing something funny in another room, you may end up with a glob of dough clinging fiercely to your countertop.  Not that that happened to me, or anything…

The finished pizza from the Reinhart recipe was, in my opinion, well worth the overnight fermentation and advance planning it required.  I am a sucker for a medium-thin traditional pizza crust that is crunchy on the outside, a little chewy in the middle, with a good mild yeasty taste that does not overpower the toppings.  This is that crust.  And so, I must give credit where credit is due: Chicago Matt, you were right.  I am hooked.
Another thing I like about this recipe is that it gives instructions on how to store the dough and use it later on….I have had pizza two nights this week, and there are two more dough balls in in the freezer.  This makes for a super quick, super yummy dinner, which is a good thing for my schedule.

I topped these pizzas very simply, just cheese, a light sauce, and some chopped stick pepperoni (the deli sliced pepperoni is icky, in my opinion).  As the hot pizzas came out of the oven, I quickly sprinkled some torn fresh basil leaves on top (no time for a chiffonade this time!).  As a side note, I have adapted my sauce recipe since my last pizza post.  Now I use a much simpler list of ingredients: 1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes, 1 peeled clove of garlic, and a handful of fresh basil leaves.  I whiz that all in the blender, and it’s ready to use.  I find that there is enough salt in the diced tomatoes, the cheese, and my toppings that the sauce itself does not need any additional salt or seasonings.

The verdict:  Between hubby and me, it’s a tie!  Hubby prefers the old standby recipe for its more substantial, nuttier crust thanks to the addition of whole wheat flour.  He is not a huge fan of thin crust pizzas, and I made these pizzas pretty thin.  I prefer the Reinhart dough’s more traditional flavor and texture and the absence of the whole wheat flavor, which I felt overwhelmed the toppings a bit on last weekend’s pizza.

Since I am the meal-maker in our house, I think this dough recipe will be my new standby, though I will still turn to my old whole wheat dough from time to time.  Also, why limit yourself to traditional pizzas?  I think this dough would work beautifully as a base for all sorts of interesting flatbread flavor adventures.

I liked this pizza crust so much that I am posting TWO pictures of the finished product.  And yes, that is my cat, Beansprout, nonverbally communicating to me that if I turn my back, that pizza is his. 


Peter Reinhart’s Napoletana Pizza Dough Recipe
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Ingredients:
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon quick-rise yeast
1/4 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold (40°F)
Cornmeal, for dusting the pan

Directions:
1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment.  Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment; lightly oil the parchment. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas).  Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently shape it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan.  Oil the dough balls gently (I use a paper towel dipped in oil) and cover the pan with plastic (I use a clean trash bag, and put the entire pan inside!).

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough.  The dough will keep at this stage in the fridge for 3 days.  To save dough for a longer period (up to 3 months), freeze it.  To prepare for freezing, shape into a ball and dust ball with flour.  Put a sprinkle of flour inside a ziplock freezer bag.  Place 1 dough ball in each bag and press out air to seal.  The day before you want to make pizza, put the frozen dough in the fridge to thaw.  Once thawed, proceed as follows.

4. 2 hours before making the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the fridge. Dust the counter with flour.  Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Now let rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

5. 30-45 minutes before baking the pizza, preheat your oven to 475F (500F if you feel comfortable).  Prepare a cookie sheet by lightly oiling and sprinkling with a light coating of cornmeal.  On a floured surface, shape dough with your fingertips.  You can also use the backs of your fists to stretch the dough.  A rolling pin can be used but is not the preferred method.

6. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the prepared pan.  Top as desired.  (Remember that the more toppings you use and the heavier your hand with sauce and toppings, the longer it will take to cook and the less likely it will be that you’ll get a nice crunchy crust.)

7. Bake one pizza at a time in the preheated oven, until crust edge is golden brown, cheese is melted, and toppings are sizzling (about 7-9 minutes, longer if your dough is thicker).

8. Remove the pizza from the oven and wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.  Top with torn fresh basil leaves, if desired.