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The Food of Paradise - Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

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Written by Heather Jones   
Wednesday, 16 September 2009

ImageI have read and heard that Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places on earth, as my grandfather would say it’s “God’s Country”.  Vast, luscious, and unspoiled, photos and film just don’t it justice.  Once home to many a literary genius, Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and John Steinbeck to name a few, its beauty is said to be hypnotic and once you’ve visited you are sure to return.  Located in Monterey County, California south of Carmel. Ninety miles long and twenty miles wide Big Sur is no longer just known for its natural beauty.  The Big Sur Bakery located just off Highway 1 is making the perfect food to complement its idyllic location.  In 2001 New Jersey natives Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz along with friend Michael Gilson were working in the Los Angeles restaurant scene when Michael decided to make his dream of owning a restaurant in Big Sur a reality.  He approached Michelle & Philip about his idea eager to show them its location, 24 hours after seeing the locale the three of them became restaurant owners and now Cookbook authors.

ImageDespite Michelle’s initial reservations (For Philip it was love at first sight and Michael was already smitten), the three owners have created something truly special but they didn’t do it alone. In The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, not only do the authors share their remarkable story of getting Big Sur Bakery up and running but we are also introduced to some Big Sur residents who have served as employees, suppliers, and friends.  Jack Koch the Bee Guy whose Honey flavors many of the inviting desserts you see at Big Sur Bakery, Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson the Microgreen Farmers, and Terry “Hide” Prince whose signature “Hide” bread has been a mainstay at the restaurant since its opening. 

To say the authors have found a niche with their simple, sophisticated, seasonal fare is an understatement. Instead they are creating food that is just as breathtaking as Big Sur’s scenic views.  I couldn’t wait to start my own Saturday morning with the Big Sur Bakery Breakfast Pizza (see recipe below), and although my husband did raise an eyebrow at the idea of eggs on a pizza one bite and he was convinced it was the best idea ever.  My mother is still asking for that wonderful multi-grain bread (Hide Bread, see recipe below) that she insists is the best thing she’s tasted outside of a Bakery in a long time. 

Big Sur has now been added to my list of “must visit” places, but until that day comes along I will be content reading my used copy of Jack Kerouac’s “Big Sur”, watching the beach scene from the movie “From Here to Eternity” (which was filmed on Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach), and cooking my way through the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook. 

Breakfast Pizza

From The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook by Michelle Wojtowicz, Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson. William Morrow Cookbooks 2009.

This pizza was born on a Saturday right before our brunch service. As the last loaves of bread came out of the wood-fired oven, Phil walked in the bakery hungry for eggs and bacon and decided to fix himself a little pizza with the leftover dough from the night before. He sprinkled it with Parmesan, mozzarella and bacon pieces, cracked 3 raw eggs from our chickens right on top, seasoned it with minced herbs, salt, and pepper, and baked it until the egg yolks were set but still soft. We generally stay away from non-traditional pizza preparations, but this one was so tasty, we made an exception. It's been a part of our brunch menu ever since.

Makes 2 pizzas (serves 2-4)

1 recipe pizza dough shaped into 2 dough balls, at least a day old
Bread flour for dusting
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups grated mozzarella
6 eggs
6 bacon strips
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

At least one hour before you start baking, adjust the oven rack to the lower position, put your baking stone in it, and preheat the oven to 450°F.

Generously dust the surface of a pizza peel (a wooden or metal flat shovel with a long handle) with bread flour.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the bacon strips, and panfry until crispy. Put the bacon on a plate lined with paper towels, let it cool, and chop it into bite-size pieces.

Working with one pizza dough ball at a time, dip your hands and the dough in bread flour to make them less sticky and, over a lightly floured countertop, pat it down into a disc with the tip of your fingers. Once the disc is large enough, drape the dough over your fists and carefully start stretching and expanding the dough from underneath to form a circle 10 to 12 inches in diameter. (If you're feeling lucky, try tossing the dough over your head in a circular motion to stretch the dough.)

Place the dough on the peel. Sprinkle it with half of the Parmesan, mozzarella, and bacon and crack three eggs over the top. Season it with salt and pepper to taste.

Before you put the pizza in the oven, do the "stick test" -- shake the peel slightly to make sure the pizza is not sticking (if it is, carefully lift the section that is sticking and sprinkle a bit more flour underneath). Then slide the pizza directly onto the baking stone and bake it for 8 to 12 minutes, checking on it after 5 minutes and rotating it if necessary to ensure that it's baking evenly. When the crust is golden, the cheese is melted, and the egg yolks are cooked to medium, use the peel to remove the pizza from the oven and place it on a cutting board. Sprinkle half of the parsley, chives, scallions and shallots on for granish. Let it cool for 2 minutes, slice and serve immediately.

Prepare your second pizza the same way.

Hide Bread

From The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook by Michelle Wojtowicz, Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson. William Morrow Cookbooks 2009.

Terry "Hide" Prince is known up and down the California coast for three things: his hand crafted leather sandals, his homemade "Hide bread," and his uncanny ability to look at the bright side of life. Terry has been making this bread for over 25 years, basing the recipe on his knowledge of nutrition and his love for toast. The result is an unfussy, simple loaf that's somewhere between an Irish soda bread and a grain-filled English muffin. Terry packs patties of Hide bread with him when he goes camping, and has even been known to carry one on his pocket, pre-toasted and buttered, as a snack.

When we first moved to Big Sur, we were fascinated by Terry's habit of feeding his friends with a constant supply of these little breads. He would toast them up, make us the best cup of tea we'd ever had, and inspire us with stories of his adventures. These quickly became our favorite bread to snack on, and Terry's patties powered us through out our long days of work as we started the Bakery. A few months later, we drew inspiration from his recipe and created the nine-grain whole-wheat baguette that we serve on our daily bread plate.
Terry buys his flour and seeds in bulk and creates his own bread mix, which he stores in a 5-gallon bucket. Every morning, he scoops out a portion of mix and combines it with water, milk, buttermilk, or beer. The bread patties keep for several days, but when they get too hard to munch on, Terry butters them and gives them to his dog. No Hide bread is ever wasted.

Terry's recipe uses a nutritious blend of oat bran, flax, sesame, quinoa, amaranth, and seaweed. Rather than adding salt, Terry gathers kelp from the beach in Big Sur, dries it, pulverizes it in a coffee grinder, and adds it to the bread. If you don't have access to fresh kelp, you can replace it with dulse flakes, available at most health food stores. Another alternative is to add brown sugar, honey, chocolate chips, and a little butter to the mix and turn it into cookies. The idea is to take the recipe and adapt it to your tastes and nutritional desires.

Makes about 15 four-inch patties

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
  • 2 cups oat bran
  • 1/2 cup flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup amaranth, quinoa, millet, poppy seeds, or a combination of any of these
  • 2 tablespoons dulse flakes or 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons beer
  • 2 1/2 cups buttermilk, half and half, milk, or water

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add the beer and the buttermilk or liquid of choice. Mix with the handle of a wooden spoon until a thick, wet batter forms. Sprinkle the top with a layer of flour. Turn the batter onto a floured surface and roll into a loose log 2 inches wide. Cut into 1 1/2-inch slices and pat them down with your hands into patties. Place the patties on a sheet tray and bake them for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Let them cool completely. To serve, slice each patty in half, toast well, and smear with butter. (Seriously, make sure to toast it -- Hide bread is similar to an English muffins in that if you don't toast it, it'll taste raw.)

ImageThis is simple, wood-fired American cooking at its best, executed in a way that lets the ingredients—seasonal and often locally produced—shine. Weekend brunches feature thick, nine-grain pancakes and savory breakfast pizza topped with crisp bacon, fresh herbs, and pasture-raised eggs. But this is more than a cookbook; it's a yearlong glimpse into what it's really like to live in Big Sur, introducing the people and places that make the restaurant's renowned food possible. With its outstanding photography, lively profiles, and dozens of must-make recipes, this book helps bring the experience of Big Sur home.

Available at Amazon.com

Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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