Onion Jam and Grueyere Melts and Thin Crust Pizza

I realized midweek that I had some cave aged Gruyere left in the fridge that needed to be used up over the weekend. I figured what better way to use it than in a grilled cheese sandwich. However, after also noticing I had a couple of onions that needed to go, that idea quickly evolved into onion jam melts.

I didn’t want to use any old grocery store bread for a meal like this, so I woke up a bit earlier than usual on Friday and started the process of making some no-knead bread. The dough is high hydration, and when combined with a long fermentation, leads to a nice airy loaf.

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Although I love making all types of bread, I find myself returning to this recipe most often. When you’ve got a busy schedule it can be hard to find the time to go through a very involved bread recipe, and this offers the perfect solution to that problem. I started the bread on Friday morning, let it ferment for an hour in my kitchen which is usually around 18C. I folded it over a couple of times to redistribute the yeast and various nutrients in the dough, and then stuck it in my attic, which was a cool 10C. The dough sat there to slowly ferment until the next morning. By keeping the dough in a cold room, I was able to slow down the fermentation process considerably, which allowed for better development of flavour.

This part takes a bit of experimentation. Depending on the ambient temperature of the room you’ve got you’re dough in, the fermentation time may need be shortened or lengthened. The colder the room, the longer you can let the fermentation to go on. This can take anywhere from 12-24 hours for a no-knead loaf. Luckily this dough has a large margin for error before it becomes completely unusable.

After the bulk fermentation period, while my oven and Dutch oven were preheating, I brought my dough back into the kitchen and let it warm up for half an hour, making it easier to shape. Warming up the oven for an hour prior to baking is very important, as it lets the walls and everything in the oven to come up to temp, rather than just the air inside of it.

After shaping the loaf I left it on the counter, covered it up with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 45 minutes. You can tell the dough is ready to bake by using the finger dent test. It’s ready when you go to poke it and the indent your finger leaves slowly fills back up, and not quite completely. If it springs back immediately, you need to let it keep rising. If the indentation stays, your dough may be over proofed and you need to bake it immediately!

For no-knead breads, my preferred method of baking is a Dutch oven. By using a Dutch oven with the lid, you simulate the environment you’d find inside of a steam injection oven that professional bakers use. This keeps the outside of the dough hydrated for a bit longer, preventing a crust from forming too soon and helping increase oven spring. I baked the bread at 475F for 20 minutes with the lid on. Then I removed the lid, dropped the temperature to 450F, and let it continue to bake until it had the nice golden colour I was looking for, which took another 40 minutes or so. Through the lid-less baking stage, I tend to rotate the bread a couple of times to ensure even baking and colouring.

When baking a crustier loaf, like this no-knead recipe, you’re looking for the internal temperature of the bread to reach around 205F. However, I’ve found there is more to judging the doneness of bread then just the temperature.

In his book, ‘The Bread Baker’s Apprentice’, Peter Reinhart discusses the effects of the baking process on the dough, and all the reactions and transformations that occur within it. One part in particular that has stuck with me is his encouragement to push the baking process as far as possible. He compares the evaporation of moisture in the dough to a reduction, and explains that this helps concentrate flavours. It also extends the amount of time the bread undergoes both caramelization and the maillard reaction on the outside crust, and improves the structure and texture of the crumb as it allows more time for the gelatinization of the starches.

If you are interested in baking bread I highly recommend this book. Reinhart does a fantastic job of walking through the bread making process, and his book is filled with great recipes.

Since learning about all of this, I’ve allowed my crusty breads to continue to bake even after they’ve reached the target temperature. I judge the doneness by the colour instead. I’ve found that the part of the bread that cooks the quickest is the bottom, so 30 minutes after I remove the Dutch oven lid, I start checking the bottom of the loaf for signs of burning.

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For the onion jam I slowly cooked down some onions in olive oil over low heat, adding salt, sugar and thyme leaves. Once the onions were cooked to the point of falling apart, I drizzled in a little bit more olive oil and some champagne vinegar to cut through the sweetness of the onions.

From there it was just a matter of tossing all the ingredients together and then frying up the sandwiches in a cast iron pan. I had some parsley and dill pesto left from earlier in the week which I used to dip my melts in. It brought some much needed freshness to the meal.

You can make your own no-knead bread using this recipe here.

For Sunday dinner Kaleigh and I decided to try ChefSteps pizza dough recipe. We’ve made homemade pizza’s before, but we’ve never been completely satisfied with the outcome. Particularly the crust. Part of the issue has been our inexperience in working the dough, which we struggled to get into a circle with uniform thickness. This time things went much better.

I found the dough recipe itself much easier to work with. I’ve tried a variety of hydration levels and different rise times for pizza dough and I’ve yet to come across one that’s cooperated so well. Perhaps that’s just a matter of having more experience now as well.

In either case, this process for baking pizza yielded some great results. Like suggested, we placed our pizza stone on the top rack of the oven, and used the broiler to help finish off the top of the pizza. Although we didn’t get the same level of marbling that is shown in the Chefsteps recipe, we did end up with an extremely crunchy crust, with a wonderfully chewy crumb. The dough was both thin and crispy, yet it maintained its’ structural integrity.

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For toppings we kept it simple. Instead of a cooked tomato sauce, I crushed up some canned San Marzano tomatoes, adding a little bit of salt to help coax out the flavours. We topped the pizza with spicy Sopressata salami, fresh mozzarella, and basil soaked in the brine left from the cheese. To top it all off we mixed equal parts honey and hot sauce, heated it up, and drizzled it over the baked pizza. Sounds a little bit strange but tastes absolutely amazing; The sweetness pairs well with the spiciness of Sopressata. If you have yet to try the ChefSteps method for pizza, I highly recommend it.

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