Pizza Cake (or, happy birthday to me)

This is a monstrosity and absolutely worth your time. For my birthday get-together (which involved wine, quiplash and the five people I know in London all coming to sit in my front room), I made Pizza Cake. 

Pizza Cake is not cake but a stuffed, generally slightly soggy bread cooked in the confines of a cake tin. It is glorious but still very much a work in progress. 

I first read about this on James Morton’s site, and I think I tried it a few weeks later. This first time I made it, I followed Morton’s method pretty much to the letter. I was still quite new to bread baking – this was over 2 years ago now – but it was good. The middle was a bit too undercooked and I think I’d used way too much sauce, but it was good enough that I tried again (here is a picture of attempt one). 

A year later I revisited pizza cake. This time, I reduced the sauce a whole lot more and cooked it for a whole lot longer, and the result was better. The innards were still a little bit gooey, but it was more successful. There’s a picture here

This was my third pizza cake and I think I accidentally stumbled into improving it. There were some things I did deliberately, though. Firstly, I reduced the sauce for about an hour and a half until it was thick. In his recipe, James mentions that you could just use tomato puree which I think would work, but I feel like you won’t get the richness of flavour, so instead I just boiled it down until was nearly the thickness of tomato puree. Secondly, I decided to use pre-grated mozzarella instead of the ball stuff, as it carries less excess liquid. 

It’s important to note that during the assembly of this beast, my flatmate Alice was deep frying blocks of macaroni cheese (which I would say you should also do because holy shit, it was good*). Our kitchen is tiny – we have very minimal surface space, so trying to roll out dough, spread sauce and assemble a ridiculous pizza into a tin is challenging when you’re also trying to avoid knocking over a pan of hot oil. Since we were also doing fried mac and cheese (which seriously I cannot recommend enough), I took a cupful of the sauce out, added a splash of water and this became the mac and cheese dip. Due to the crowdedness of our wee kitchen and the slightly lower quantity of sauce (plus I didn’t buy enough pepperoni), this particular iteration was maybe 1 or 2 layers thinner than past versions (I think I had 5 including the lid). But actually I think this meant it retained the thick, meaty juiciness of the thing, but it did help with making sure it was cooked through. The recipe’s sauce and dough quantities here will allow you to cook one with more layers (you’ll need more pepperoni and cheese, possibly), but in retrospect I think thinner is ok. 

Also important – by the time this was in the oven, I was basically half cut on red wine. So between trying not to get oil burns and being just a tiny bit smashed, I did not even think to check my camera settings. Normally on this blog the photos are not great, but that’s why on this occasion they are **particularly** bad and really quite orange. Fortunately, the method is still very much the same as James Morton’s recipe (as are the ingredients, let’s be honest) – so you can use his for instruction. 

This is the most ridiculous show piece and so I think worth doing. It’s that kind of unholy but satisfying food, you know – like, when you eat a full spoonful of proper cake mix, not even waiting until you scrape the bowl, or the fried chicken you get at 3am on a drunk walk home and then eat ravenously in front of Netflix, knowing you won’t remember what you watched in the morning. It’s messy and gooey and gorgeous and I can confirm it’s also good the following morning when you are a little hungover. 

*As a bonus, here’s how to do this: make 1.5x the quantity of Anna Mae’s original mac and cheese recipe (or your preferred macaroni recipe), spread it over a pan and refrigerate for a few hours. Once cold, cut into strips, dip in beaten egg and then coat in breadcrumbs, before frying in a deep pan of sunflower oil until golden and crispy. Serve with a little cup of the tomato sauce used in pizza cake for dipping. Picture of the finished product here

Pizza Cake
Serves 6
Layers of pizza, cooked in a cake tin. Gooey, sloppy and tasty.
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For the dough
  1. 500g white bread flour
  2. 1 x packet instant yeast (about 7g)
  3. 10g table salt
  4. 40g olive oil (cheap and cheerful is fine)
  5. 325g tepid water (this is about 325ml, too)
For the sauce
  1. Two tins of chopped tomatoes
  2. Some oil
  3. 4 -5 cloves crushed garlic
  4. 2 tbsp tomato puree
  5. Some finely chopped fresh basil (optional, I just happened to also be making bruschetta so had some)
  6. Splash balsamic vinegar
For the other filling
  1. 200g grated mozzarella
  2. A pack or 2 of Pepperoni slices
  3. Anything else you want to put in but try to keep moisture to a minimum
For the dough
  1. In a bowl, measure out the flour. On one side of the bowl, add the yeast, then add the salt on the opposite. Tip in the oil and flour and mix to form a shaggy dough.
  2. You can then do one of two things - the first, leave the dough to rise for one hour, unkneaded and covered with cling film, then return to it an hour later. When it is risen, wet two fingers, slip them into the side of the bowl and fold the dough back in on itself. Rotate the bowl, repeating the finger slip technique until the air has been knocked out. Recover, leave for a further hour. The alternative, knead the dough for ten minutes until smooth, then leave to prove for one hour (I did the no knead method, mostly out of laziness).
  3. If using the first method, put your sauce on after the first prove, if using the second, put sauce on after kneading.
For the sauce
  1. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and add the garlic. Stir a little and cook until fragrant, then add the tomato puree. Stir again, and let cook for a minute or two.
  2. Tip in the tomatoes and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and leave to cook for an hour or so, or until thick.
To assemble
  1. Heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Line the bottom of a loose bottomed cake tin with parchment paper.
  3. When the dough is risen, knock it back. Roll out a small piece of dough (a piece that is slightly smaller than a fist is a good start) into a large circle a little wider than the cake pan. It should be thin sheet - so thin you can see light through, but not so thin it breaks. A good way to do this is to roll the ball out a little bit, then hold it at the top and let it's own weight stretch it, moving your hands around the edge so it stretches evenly(ish). Lay it on the cake pan.
  4. Spread a small amount of the tomato sauce across the dough. Add pepperoni and a small amount of cheese.
  5. Roll out another piece, and repeat, always leaving some excess dough around the edge of the edge of the pan. Essentially, lay a bunch of pizzas on top of each other. Continue until you have two small pieces of dough remaining and a few tablespoons of sauce.
  6. Take one piece of dough, roll out as before, place on top of the pile but do not add sauce or toppings.
  7. Grease the sides of the cake pan with a little butter.
  8. Cut the excess dough off the sides of the pizzas you have built up.
  9. Take your final piece of dough and roll it into a long strip. Wrap this strip around your existing layers, creating sides. Tuck it under the base if you need to and fold it slightly over the top, or trim it if it's way too wide.
  10. Put the sides back on the tin, then put the cake into the oven for one hour.
  11. Take out the cake, add a final layer of sauce to the lid, plus your toppings, then return to the oven for a final 15 minutes. Once it's done, cut into slices and dig in.
Adapted from James Morton
Adapted from James Morton
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/

Lemon and Honey Hot Cross Buns (or, sun’s out, bun’s out!)


Happy Easter and happy hot cross bun season! 

Quite often, this blog is a bit doom and gloom; self care, cooking for colds, Rory Gilmore is terrible. But not today! Because let me tell you: everything is coming up Millhouse. 

It has been 3 and a half years since I moved to London, which means it’s been 3 and a half years since I needed somewhere to live and lied about how good I was at baking to get people to like me enough to let me live with them. 3 and a half years since I had to learn to bake to come good on that lie (my first Easter in London I made creme egg brownies which did go down well). 

Without wanting to sound like a total wang, I am SO PROUD of how far I have come in those years. I’ve gone from working in a bar for minimum wage (in some ways the most important experience of my life) to someone who has to go to management team meetings in a big-ass theatre. I got a job I like that pays me enough money to live in and enjoy London, and I worked hard to get there and I am so happy about it all. 

Perhaps most importantly, I am allowing myself to be publicly proud of myself. To think (know?) I am good at things.

See, I have also gotten good at the baking thing. No longer a lie, I can knead with the nearly-best of them, and these hot cross buns are a sunny celebration of the fact that I am a vaguely successfully human being. And of the fact that in the last two weeks there has been actual sunshine and drinking in parks and generally good things. They are laced with a lemony flavour, which makes them taste a bit fresher, lighter and sunnier. 

Lemon and Honey Hot Cross Buns
Yields 8
Fresh and zesty buns for a celebration
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Total Time
3 hr
Total Time
3 hr
Ingredients
  1. Half a cup of lemon juice (fresh or the bottle kind), plus another few tbsps for the cross)
  2. A few good fistfuls of raisins and candied lemon peel (I had about a cup and a half full)
  3. 250ml milk
  4. Zest of 2 lemons
  5. 50g butter
  6. 500g bread flour (plus another 100g for the crosses)
  7. 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  8. 85g caster sugar
  9. 30g runny honey (plus 2 tbsp for glaze)
  10. 10g salt
  11. 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  12. 1 egg (plus another for an egg wash, if desired)
Instructions
  1. In a wee bowl, soak the fruit and candied peel in the lemon juice. Set aside.
  2. Gently heat the milk until warm but not hot. Take off the heat and add in the butter and lemon zest. The butter should melt without needing extra heat. Set aside to cool a little.
  3. In a big bowl, add the flour, cinnamon, sugar, salt and honey. Then add the yeast on the opposite side of the bowl to the salt (if you dump it right on there and kill the yeast). Add the egg and the milk mix and bring together into a dough.
  4. The dough will be shaggy and quite loose, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 - 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Don't add more flour if you can help it.
  5. Lightly oil the bowl (I tend to use sunflour oil), pop the dough back in and cover with cling film. Leave to prove for 2 hours or until doubled in size.
  6. When proved, add in the soaked fruit and knock back for a minute or two.
  7. Shape into buns (I did 8 big ones, but do however many you like at what size you like). Prove for 1 hr or until doubled in size.
  8. Prehet oven to 180°C.
  9. Mix the other 100g of flour with 2 - 3 tbsp of lemon juice until you get a paste that is pipeable.
  10. When the dough is proved, do a quick egg wash and then pipe crosses onto each bun (I cut the corner off a sandwich bag. I m terrible at piping).
  11. Bake for 30 mins (adjust depending on size - smaller buns will need less time), or until they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  12. While they are still warm, mix 2 tbsp honey with 1 tbsp water, then brush on the buns to make them shiny and sweet.
Doughs and Don'ts http://www.doughsanddonts.com/