Whole Wheat Calzones

I don’t know how the weather is in your neck of the woods, right now, but here on the shores of Lake Michigan we are getting the first few signs of autumn with a refreshing “cool front”. The days have been so sunny and muggy for much of the summer that a day when you can turn the air conditioner off, pull up the blinds, and raise the windows is nothing short of exhilarating.

I’m an autumn optimist, I guess you could say. It is my favorite season, after all. So, it’s no surprise that I find myself — usually around the same time every August — turning a cool front into a change of season. Seriously, though — there are signs that the leaves are changing, already! This is no joke!

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Inevitably, on the first crisp (or even crisp-ish) day that comes along near the end of summer, I find myself reaching for recipes and old standby meals that I don’t bother attempting in the heat of summer. One of my favorite things to do when things finally start to cool down is to bake yeast breads.

For many home cooks, the idea of working with yeast is daunting — bringing to mind a hot, sweaty kitchen caked in flour and sticky dough that never rises. I’ve been there, friends! When I moved into my first apartment in 2002 and began building up my own cooking skills, baking bread was something I aspired to so eagerly that I began attempting it almost immediately. To prove that basic bread recipes can be forgiving, my first attempt was quite tasty, albeit misshapen and oddly textured.

In the years that have passed since that first tiny kitchen and my haphazard cooking style were both phased out, there have been both triumphs and failures in the yeast bread department. Just like any other learning pursuit in life, though, both successes and failures have something to teach us. Maybe you can learn from my fumbles!

When making anything that is leavened with yeast, there are a few essential elements to keep in mind:

    Freshness — Yeast that has gone beyond its expiration date will probably not get the job done. Always check the date of the yeast before buying it. If you buy the large jars of yeast, once you open it, mark the date on the lid when you’ll need to throw it out. There’s nothing worse than mixing together all those ingredients only to have it go flat.

    Temperature — Most recipes have you start by “proofing” the yeast in a little bit of warmed milk or water. Depending on the recipe, this has to be between 100-115 degrees (I always shoot for 110). Any hotter and you’ll kill the yeast dead! (I’ve murdered my fair share of innocent yeast. You don’t need that kind of baggage, trust me.) A lot of cooks can get by using their sense of touch, but I don’t trust mine — I am lost without a thermometer. A basic kitchen thermometer can cost less than $10, so it’s a cheap investment that will go a long way. IMG_1169If your recipe has you mix the yeast into the dried ingredients before adding liquids, you can get away with having the wet ingredients a little warmer without harming the yeast.

    Measurements — Some form of sugar (e.g. honey, maple syrup, granulated sugar) and salt are usually part of the primary ingredients of any bread recipe. Sugar and salt are important since the sugar encourages the yeast to react while the salt sets reasonable boundaries. Omitting either of these ingredients or changing their proportions is risky.

    Climate — Once you’ve made the dough and kneaded it, the yeast requires a warm, moist area in order to go to work. I use my oven (turned off) as a holding area since it’s constantly heated by the pilot light, keeping it a balmy 85-degrees inside. Wherever you put the dough to rise, just be sure that it’s no cooler than room temperature and there are no drafts.

Hopefully these four elements I’ve listed can take some of the mystery out of the process. There’s nothing to fear about making a yeast bread and there’s no better way to learn than to flour your hands and start trying. I find that kneading bread dough is very therapeutic and actually pretty good exercise. Imagine the frustrations and misgivings that you can mash and mold away in just a few minutes of kneading dough, surrounded by the comforting smells of home and hearth! The best part: even a less-than-perfect result is tasty and something to be proud of.

IMG_1170I think one of the techniques that took me longest to master was learning to pay attention to the texture of the dough — this is something only your sense of touch and experience can teach you. While a cake recipe is very rigid and legalistic — each ingredient forming very specific building blocks, the measurements for flour in most bread recipes are actually approximations since the dough you create may take more or less flour depending on the flour itself, your kneading style, and even the humidity! So, for the by-the-letter cooks, it is possible to work entirely too much flour into a dough so that you wind up with a coarse bread or to coat your hands and counter with gluey dough that just needs a little bit more flour. “Listen” to the dough, sprinkling it with flour only as much as necessary to keep it from sticking to the work surface and to you.

Today’s recipe is great for a Friday night dinner to kick off the weekend. Why order out for pizza when you can make healthier, tastier pockets of pizza goodness right at home?

The dough is a basic whole wheat bread recipe that I’ve developed. IMG_1167I’ve given a simple meat sauce recipe and some very basic filling ingredients, here, but we usually mix it up from time to time, depending on what we’re in the mood for. The nice thing about calzones is that you can cater to individual tastes without the hassles of splitting up a pizza pie into territories — everybody gets their own little pocket.

Whole Wheat Calzones
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 4

    Dough:
    2 cups whole wheat flour
    1 cup bread flour (approximately)
    1 tablespoon honey
    2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one packet)
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 cup buttermilk
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

    Filling:
    4 ounces mild Italian sausage
    1 cup plain tomato sauce
    1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
    1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
    1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
    1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
    2 ounces pepperoni
    1/2 cup chopped roasted bell pepper
    4 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

    In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour and kosher salt. In a small bowl, measure out 1 cup of bread flour.

    In another small bowl, add the yeast and honey. Stirring constantly in a saucepan over medium heat, warm the buttermilk and olive oil to 110-degrees (using a thermometer is highly recommended). Pour the warmed buttermilk mixture into the yeast; stir until yeast mostly dissolves. Allow the mixture to sit for 7-10 minutes or until foamy.

    Pour the yeast mixture into the whole wheat flour mixture, stir vigorously in a single direction until a uniform dough begins to form. Add enough of the bread flour while stirring so that the dough ball comes away from the sides of the bowl. Dusting the work surface with the bread flour, turn the dough out onto the floured surface and knead for 7-10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic adding just enough flour to keep dough from sticking. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm location; let rise for 45 minutes to an hour or until dough has doubled in size.

    While the dough is rising is a good time to assemble the sauce and other fillings. Remove the casings from the Italian sausage. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage; crumbling it as it cooks. Remove all but about 1/2 tablespoon of drippings from the skillet; add the tomato sauce and bring to a low simmer, add the herbs and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Allow sauce to cool slightly before filling calzones.

    Punch down the dough and let rest for 5 minutes. Divide dough into four equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (keeping the others covered), roll each into a 9-inch circle. In the middle of the circle, add about 1/4 cup tomato sauce and an equal part of the remaining filling ingredients. Carefully fold the circle into a half moon with the top edge just short of the bottom edge. Fold the bottom edge over the top and crimp all around the edge to seal. Place on a large sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Repeat steps with remaining three dough portions.

    Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Cover filled dough pockets loosely with a clean kitchen towel; let rise for 20 minutes or until puffy. Bake at 350-degrees for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.

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If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use milk or even water, but I find the buttermilk adds a tenderness and taste that substitutions can’t quite provide. I’ve provided very modest measurements for the fillings, here, since James and I are perpetually keeping track of our calories. If, however, you’re having a party or just feel like throwing caution to the wind, these babies can hold a lot more toppings than this! Go wild!

I apologize for the lopsidedness and bad lighting in this recipe photo. The natural lighting I normally depend on was gone and I didn’t bother fidgeting to set anything else up. I suppose I was so hungry that I just couldn’t concentrate on taking a decent photo with all that pizza goodness staring me in the face! I promise to post a better picture, here, the next time I make these.

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~ by Jason on August 26, 2010.

2 Responses to “Whole Wheat Calzones”

  1. […] tacky in texture and can be tricky if you’re not comfortable kneading dough. As I mentioned in a previous post, the trick to kneading is adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to you or the […]

  2. […] If you are afraid of cooking with yeast or you’ve never tried it, check out this post for some tips about yeast breads and […]

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