Food Nerd for Aug 24-30, 2006

Andreae Prozesky gives us the lowdown on "the dough."

…No, not that kind of dough.

Every person has his or her signature. A distinctive hat, perhaps, or an open-mic night tune. If overused, the signature becomes tiresome, and damned irritating. But in the right measure, it can bring brief bits of joy and a sense of comfort. You walk into a room and there’s that guy in that hat. Or there’s that girl singing that song. All is right with the world.
My signature is known to my friends and loved ones simply as “the dough.”

I am not a fabulous baker, but I have things that I do well. About ten of them, and they’re all made from the same biscuit dough. Once upon a time any home cook knew how to whip up a batch of biscuits. Now, I think it might just be me. I have given my biscuit recipe to a dozen friends. Although it’s not so much my recipe as my mother’s recipe. Okay, it’s really Irma “The Joy of Cooking” Rombauer’s. But it’s not like Irma actually invented biscuits. So there.
“Andreae, how’d you make these strawberry shortcakes?” people ask. “The dough,” I reply. “This chicken pot pie?” “The dough.” “These cinnamon buns?” “The dough.” “This cherry and cream cheese brunch braid with toasted almonds?” “The dough.” “These cardamom-scented orange-currant scones?” “The dough.”
 “This… what is this?” “It’s a balsamic caramelized-onion, goat cheese and globe grape ‘faux-caccia.’ It’s ‘faux’ because a real focaccia is a yeasted bread, but this one is made from, you know, the dough.”
Perhaps this is the point where the signature tune gets damned irritating.
But my point is that once you have mastered the dough, you can use it for just about anything. That’s what makes it awesome. It’s a vehicle for your fancy. If you want to smash it out and cover it with peaches and brie, then give’r. Roll it up with sundried tomato pesto? Rock on.
Throw ½ cup of raisins in with the dough, voilà, you’ve got raisin buns (soak the raisins in hot water for about 10 minutes first, so they’ll be nice and squishy). Replace half of the milk with cream and one beaten egg, and then you’ve got scones (brush the tops with more beaten egg to make them shiny). Flatten the dough into a rectangle, spread it with softened butter, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon, roll it up into a snake, cut into 1-inch rounds, place those rounds on a baking pan spiral-side up, and you’ve got cinnamon buns (make a glaze with icing sugar and milk to drizzle on after they’ve cooled 10 minutes).
Or press the dough into a 6”x12” rectangle on a baking sheet, then take about ¾ cup thinly-sliced onions that you’ve caramelized in olive oil and balsamic vinegar (about 4 whole onions to start) and spread them on top. Sprinkle on some ground rosemary and some rubbed summer savory, about 1/3 cup of goat cheese, and a handful of sliced red grapes. Season it all with sea salt and black pepper, bake about 20 minutes and eat when cool. Call it “faux-caccia” and applaud yourself on being witty and a good cook at the same time.

– Andreae Prozesky