Category Archives: recipes

Test Kitchen: Baking Pizza at Home

Spurred on by the realization that I haven’t cooked for a while, I’m making the effort to feed myself (and maybe my roommates) like an adult. Melissa’s #2 food is pizza, and I’m always down to make pizza.

I’ve stuck to a recipe my friend Grace gave me for pizza (Mark Bittman’s pizza dough) for almost five years now, but when I saw this pizza dough recipe in the New York Times, I had to try it out.

In the past, I’ve always used a hot oven and a sturdy baking sheet to make crisp pizza crusts, but I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a pizza stone or baking stone. It’s a slab of stone or ceramic that’s used in a regular oven to simulate a brick oven’s heat. You put it in a cold oven and preheat at your oven’s highest setting for about an hour, then surf the retained heat to make crisp pizza crusts and artisan breads for hours. The stone pulls moisture out of the dough, which crisps the crust to perfection.

My brother has a baking stone, and though it cracked pretty early on, he continued using it by pushing the cracked pieces together. Before I dropped $25-50 on my own that might just crack after a couple uses, I thought I’d see what the internet had to say on the matter.

There are webpages out there that have documented their own baking stone adventures. They offered the cheap alternative of finding unglazed quarry tiles from a hardware store. They come in 6″ and 12″ squares, usually at about $0.50-1.50 apiece, which is far less than you’d spend on a baking stone on Amazon.

So off I went to the hardware store. Lowes only had 8″ squares on special order, which would have meant buying about 100x more tiles than I could ever need, cracks or no. They were the same as I’d seen in a blog post, so I knew I was on the right track. I fared better at Home Depot, where they had Saltillo paver tiles — 12″ squares that looked like terra cotta — for $1.19 each. They’re a little over half an inch thick (14mm to be exact), which is about right for sticking in the oven. One of the posts I’d read had mentioned this brand, so it was with slightly more confidence that I bought two and didn’t think I’d poison people.

My Saltillo paver tiles in the oven
My Saltillo paver tiles in the oven

Supposedly it’s important to rinse and thoroughly dry the stones before using, though honestly I have no idea if that would’ve gotten rid of anything toxic on the surface. In my opinion, it’s more important not to use soap to clean them, as the porous surface will absorb the soap and your pizza will taste like soap.

I prepped the pizza dough last night — pretty simple recipe with minimal effort. The dough goes into the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Today when I got home, I took the dough out of the fridge to warm up while I took a shower. Heat up the oven and the pizza stones, stretch out into pizza crust, and add sauce and toppings. I opted for nice and simple margherita pizzas using Roberta’s recipe in the NYT recipe.

Pizza into the oven, onto the baking stone
Pizza into the oven, onto the baking stone

The baking stone worked really well. The oven was HOT for a hot day like today (86 degrees — so Northern California hot, I guess), though the stones probably could have used another twenty minutes of preheating before I shut the heat off entirely. The pizza crust was nice and crisp on the edges, but the centers weren’t quite up to snuff (possibly because the stones weren’t hot enough in the centers either). All in all, the pizza was still delicious. I also haven’t died yet, so the tiles are a success!

Finished pizza
Finished pizza

Recipe: Cornbread

My sister and I always made cornbread for Thanksgiving, and we’ve used a lot of recipes over the years. I think two years ago, this one overtook the others as our favorite. This is a relatively sweet cornbread and tastes amazing straight out of the oven, but the real awesomeness comes on day 2, when it’s STILL DELICIOUSLY MOIST.

Originally from:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8″ square pan.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Quickly add eggs and beat until well blended.
  3. Combine buttermilk with baking soda. Stir into mixture in pan.
  4. Combine cornmeal, flour, and salt. Stir into pan until well blended and few lumps remain. Pour into prepared pan.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.


  • This recipe is on the sweet side, which I like. If less sweetness is desired, use 1/2 cup sugar instead of 2/3 cups.
  • My dad complains of an eggy flavor — not sure where this is coming from, but removing an egg yolk doesn’t hurt the recipe.
  • Buttermilk can be replaced with 1 cup milk minus 2 Tbsp, plus 2 Tbsp lemon juice. Using this combination also usually helps retain moisture.

Test Kitchen: Oatmeal-Cranberry Cookies

So before I mailed cookies to Seth, I was contemplating ways to use up things in my kitchen. The chocolate chips gave me a pretty easy way out — just followed the recipe on the bag as always and sent off the delicious chocolate chip cookies to Seth (who, at the time, had no friends* in Michigan… according to recent reports, he now has more than one! I’m proud!).

But in poking around the kitchen, I remembered my trusty oatmeal-raisin cookie recipe. That, along with the Costco-sized bag of Craisins in the pantry, sparked the idea of doing a little experimentation. So here goes, the first Test Kitchen run of summer 2011.

Continue reading Test Kitchen: Oatmeal-Cranberry Cookies

Recipe: Lemon Pound Cake

Originally from

1 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening*
3 cups white sugar
6 eggs
1 Tbsp lemon extract
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk

* All butter works the same, but has an oilier feel to the pound cake


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in lemon extract and vanilla.
  4. Beat in flour alternately with milk, mixing until just incorporated.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 60-75 minutes (until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean**).

Some notes:

  • This thing is HEAVY but delicious. It’s best to use an electric mixer from start to finish, but if you have amazingly buff arms, go ahead and use a whisk or wooden spoon. Good luck with that.
  • **During baking, the cake usually cracks in a ring in the center. The toothpick may not come out clean when you test these spots — it’s a little gooey here, but continues to cook a little while the cake is cooling. I’ve found that baking longer to get this area baked through will result in burnt edges or generally dry pound cake. My philosophy with this one is better gooey than burnt/dry.
  • While plenty awesome alone, I like to make a strawberry topping for this pound cake. For the strawberry topping: slice as many strawberries as you like, let sit in a bowl with some sugar sprinkled on top until they release liquid.
  • I’ve also split it into two large (approx. 9″) loaf pans, but check them around 55 minutes to make sure they don’t burn.

Recipe: Snickerdoodles

For TiffHu, who had a spastic episode in the comments of the post in which I had a photo of these cookies.

Yummy puffy deliciousness!

Originally from:

1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
3/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon


    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
    2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly.
    3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Blend into butter mixture until well-combined. Shape dough into 1″-2″ balls.
    4. Mix the 2 tbsp of sugar with cinnamon. Roll balls of dough in mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
    5. Bake 8 minutes. Remove immediately from oven and let cool 2 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to wire rack to cool.

    (Makes 3-4 dozen)


    • The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup shortening, but all-butter worked fine for me.
    • One of the reviews I saw recommended using room-temperature eggs and butter, which worked excellently.
    • Supposedly, using an electric mixer will give different results — I used a wooden spoon to cream the butter and do the rest of the mixing. It wasn’t difficult at all, but then again you’re talking to someone who’s mixed a ridiculously heavy (and delicious) pound cake by hand.
    • Years of snickerdoodle-making has taught me that a good sugar-cinnamon coating method is as follows: put the sugar and cinnamon in a tupperware container, drop the dough ball in there, put the lid on the container, and shake it around like a maraca (but maybe a little more gently than that).
    • These snickerdoodles puff nicely without spreading too much. Unlike the recipe I used in my childhood, these don’t need any pre-flattening.
    • Also as recommended in one of the reviews, bake for 8 minutes exactly — they’ll look a little rotund in the upwardly-puffy direction, but after cooling for a minute or two, they’ll calm down a bit. 8 minutes will also keep them from getting too dry or burning.
    SNICKERDOODLES (in case you missed this photo last time around)

    The Recipe Files

    What with having friends who love baking, and living on my own all summer with my own kitchen, the avid cook/baker in me has now assembled a fair collection of recipes. A few of these have been requested by friends/family, and others I just want to have around for permanent reference. So I’ll start posting recipes under their own separate category.

    A few things about my recipes:

    • I use improper fractions for ingredient lists. I consider it good practice to avoid misreading numbers when my hands are covered in flour and my computer screen is dimmed. If you have a problem with it, consider it good practice with fractions.
    • Also for clarity’s sake, I fully type out tablespoon and teaspoon, and often use the Tbsp vs. tsp convention.
    • Many are taken from other places, in which case I cite the source at the beginning. I often alter the instructions or add notes on easier/alternate ways to do things.
    • My instructions are generally very straightforward and basic, but I add notes at the end to describe changes in the ingredients and tips for parts of the process. If you’re going to follow any of my recipes, I’d recommend reading through to the end.



    I score another point! I fixed up the PHP form so it inserts itself into the index page. Succès! Less manual labor for me. I’ll get around to the archiving process eventually. I think I’m slowly just coding WordPress for my own purposes. Oh well, I like the versatility I give myself this way. POWER.

    Ben gave me a five minute tutorial on SQL today and pretty much summed up the basics for me. Having him across the hall is definitely one of the better parts of my living situation. Throw in the couch/futon, good music, and amazing people in 107 and I’m pretty much set. We just submitted housing preferences today, and hopefully Tessaly and I will be able to live in 717 Dolores with Bens, Seth, and Lucas next year. Tessaly and I got a really good draw number, but the guys are a little under 300 behind us. Welp, we’ll just cross our fingers.

    Tonight, I feel like making biscuits. I have not worked at all today, but I plan to make biscuits. Although… there’s a big frat party tonight, and I’ll probably go just to check it out. Then make biscuits and make sure no one drinks too much. BISCUITS. Here’s the recipe for prosperity…


    (recipe from my sister)(makes 6-8 biscuits)

    1. Grease a baking sheet and heat oven to 450 degrees F.
    2. Mix together well:
      – 1 cup all-purpose flour
      – 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
      – 1/4 tsp salt
    3. Then rub in 4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, until mixture is crumb-y. (For flakier biscuits, leave pea-size chunks of butter intact.)
    4. Mix in any optional ingredients for flavor, like:
      – grated parmesan cheese (<–not my favorite)
      – bacon bits (OMG FANTASTIC)
      – chopped chili peppers
      – rosemary
    5. Then add 3/8 cup milk (just under 1/2 cup) and stir until JUST moistened, and knead until dough JUST holds together.
    6. Roll out and cut biscuits with a floured drinking glass, or break off chunks and pat them into rounds. Or, just smoosh the whole thing into a baking dish and cut it into squares later, like cornbread.
    7. Bake 10-12 minutes. Voila.

    These are incredible because you can make them in one bowl, one baking pan, and maybe one knife. And your hands. Also, these come out really well in a toaster oven, which is one of the more fantastic inventions of mankind.

    Now I need to procure flour, baking powder, butter, and milk. Later.