apple-filled honey challah

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While I’ve always been more Jew-ish than Jewish, it could be argued pretty easily that I’ve hit an all-time low in tribe allegiance this year.  I quietly threw the notion of keeping kosher for Passover last spring, I didn’t fast for Yom Kippur, and I didn’t even take time off of work – much less set foot in synagogue – a few weeks ago for the High Holidays.  The last remaining vestiges of religion here clearly consist of guilt alone.

This is what "craggy dough" looks like.

Since I’ve never been a religious person, I’m sure my dwindling efforts to maintain what I (perhaps offensively) refer to as my “Jewy Jewy life” are generally more upsetting to my parents than they are to me, although the  half-Jewish boyfriend is 50% more Jew than I’ve ever brought home before, and I’m sure they’ve said a few b’rachas over that.

I do sort of miss the traditions, though, and although I’ve never gotten as much of a kick out of apples and honey at Rosh Hashana as a good Jewish girl should have (I preferred the chocolate Mom whipped out of her purse to break the Yom Kippur fast), when Deb posted a recipe that looked like a hybrid challah and apple cake, I knew this was the future of my “sweet new year” tradition.

Spread the apples over the dough.

I use “tradition” loosely, since Rosh Hashana was weeks ago and these loaves just went into the oven this afternoon, but I’m sure the folks at our weekly House/How I Met Your Mother night will appreciate it almost as much.  Other than braiding challah dough in preschool – which I loved, since let’s be honest, braiding was a hugely marketable skill back then, but which left me a little disappointed because no one had deemed it fitting to include me in the baking process – I’d never made it myself.  After talking shop with a fellow tribeswoman, it was time to make this happen.

Braided and ready for the oven.

This recipe is pretty standard, as egg breads go, except of course for the addition of chopped apples.  Deb has a great tutorial on round challah braids on her website; I’ve tried to duplicate some of that below as well.  One tip: When you’re forming your dough ropes, try to push the apples into the dough as far as possible, even re-appropriating some pieces from the doughier parts of the rope if you need to.  This will make the dough easier to roll.

One for work, one for home. You should never go anywhere without challah.

Apple and Honey Challah

Adapted from Deb

For the bread
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 standard 1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast
1/3 cup (79 ml) plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup (79 ml) neutral oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) table salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose (530 grams) or bread flour (578 grams), plus more for your work surface

2 medium baking apples (I used Granny Smith and Fiji, since that’s what was in my fridge), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

One large egg

Whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey, eggs, and yolk. Add flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until you get a craggy mass of uneven dough. Turn dough out onto a floured counter and knead it into a smooth, elastic dough, about 5 to 8 minutes.  I wasn’t at home when I made this, so I didn’t have my pretty Kitchenaid, but Deb has instructions to make this with a stand mixer as well.

Transfer dough to large oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.

Turn dough out onto a floured counter and gently press it down into a flat, oblong shape.  Spread 2/3 of apple chunks over 1/2 of the flattened dough. Fold the other half over the apple chunks and press the dough down around them, flattening dough as much as you can. Spread the remaining 1/3 apple chunks over half the folded dough. Fold the other half over the apples, pressing the dough down again.  Fold the corners under with the sides of your hands so the dough becomes a around. Upend your empty bowl over and set it aside for another 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll and stretch each one as carefully as you can into a rope.  If any apple chunks fall out as you form the ropes or at any other time in the forming of the loaf or risings, just poke them back in with your finger.  Arrange two strands in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a plus sign. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under, where they meet.  Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move them over the leg to their right, i.e. jumping it. Take those legs that were on the right and again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. If you had extra length to your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.

Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet. Beat egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you’re using it. Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if yours starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time.


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cinnamon rolls, redux

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I made cinnamon rolls this weekend, and while I’ve already posted a recipe, I couldn’t not offer up some food porn.  Recipe is here, if you’re so inclined, and stay tuned for cinnamon crumb cake!

soft pretzels

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I’m going to shoot myself in the foot here and expose one of the great secrets of the culinary arts.  There are some things – creme brulee, black forest cake (or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, for the Germans), cinnamon rolls – that I think don’t even cross people’s mind as homemake-able.  But please, allow me just one preachy message: I know they look complicated and I know you’re probably a little scared to try them.  But when it comes right down to it – ready? – it’s really not all that hard.

little dough balls, ready for pretzeling

they're just cute, aren't they?

The general perception of a food’s difficulty of preparation must, I think, be inversely proportional to its commercial availability.  And, believe me, I’m not advocating an exclusive make-at-home policy; as I write this, I’m eating Red Vines from the bag, so clearly I’m in no place to preach.  I’m just saying that, should you have a Superbowl party to go to (as I did a few weeks ago), and should you have hungry friends who like pretzels, these might not be a bad choice.

ready for mustard

I’ve included a photo tutorial in pretzel twisting below, for those who choose to heed my advice and give these a go.  Although I can’t guarantee instant success with breadmaking if you’ve never baked with yeast before, these will at least make your house/apartment/place of residence smell like a Wetzel’s Pretzels, and that of all things is a promise you should never ignore.

roll into a longish rope

bring ends up and cross over, like those ribbon magnets you see on people's cars

give it one more twist

now just flip it down!

 

Soft Pretzels
I’m copying this directly from Deb, because 1. I didn’t really change anything and 2. they’re long!  Comment with any questions, though, and I’ll be happy to walk you through.

Makes 16 full-sized or 32 miniature

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

1. Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar into bowl of electric mixer fitted with a dough hook* and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour, and knead on low 1 minute more. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions); knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead about ten times, or until smooth.

3. Pour oil into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450°F. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray (parchment paper, ungreased, also works). Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured board. Knead once or twice, divide into 16 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each) or 32 if making miniature pretzels, and wrap in plastic.

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. [I find the pretzels much easier to roll on an unfloured board, oddly enough, but see what works for you.] Twist into pretzel shape; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel. Continue to form pretzels; eight will fit on each sheet (you may need a third sheet if making miniatures). Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, fill large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda (and step back, it foams up quickly) and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 1 minute on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.

7. Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy.

pita bread

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There are some recipes that, I’m ashamed to say, I’m simply too lazy to make.  Not because they’re particularly labor-intensive or because they require lists of specialty ingredients, sadly, because that would at least be understandable – but because there’s just too much waiting.

Okay, so it’s a little counterintuitive.  I just don’t like constraints on my time – I like to complete a task and check it off; anything with a lengthy list of “hurry up and wait” is just anxiety-producing.

So that’s why, despite a substantial, tickling desire to make pita bread that spanned multiple months, I put it off until a week or two ago.  Even then, though, I’m ashamed to say that I cut corners to trim down all that waiting.  If you’re not a lazy bum you follow the recipe, this dough gets an overnight or up to three-day rise – and that’s just the first one.  I cheated and gave it a quick one-hour turn in a warm, draft-free environment.  Sue me.

I’m copying the recipe here almost exactly because while my bread came out pretty nicely, it wasn’t as flavorful as I would have liked – and, well, you should probably just follow the damn recipe.  Deb does a great job of walking you through a process that really seems more complicated than it actually is.  With a bit of freshly made hummus – which is exactly as uncomplicated as it seems – you can’t go wrong.

Pita Bread
Adapted from The Bread Bible (via Deb)

3 cups plus a scant 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (16 oz./454 grams)
2 teaspoons salt (1/2 oz./13.2 grams)
2 teaspoons instant yeast (6.4 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (1 oz./27 grams)
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature (10.4 oz./295 grams)

1. About 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead, mix the dough.

Mixer method: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid) just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds. Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium (#4 KitchenAid), and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (the dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)

Hand method: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for a scant 1/4 cup of the flour. With a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together.

Sprinkle a little of the reserved flour onto the counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 5 to 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.)

Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (The dough will weigh about 27.75 oz./793 grams.)

2. Let the dough rise: Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 2-quart or larger dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days), checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing it down if it starts to rise.

3. Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 475°F one hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before preheating.

4. Shape the dough: Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4 inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, for 10 minutes before baking.

5. Bake the pita: Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before.* (However, those that do not puff well are still delicious to eat.)

* After my first pita didn’t puff well, and I realized I was too lazy to spritz and reroll and rise each remaining pita, I instead spritzed each rolled-out pita with water two or three minutes before baking it. It worked magically — all of the remaining pitas puffed perfectly. Try this method first if yours don’t puff, if it doesn’t work to you, revert to Beranbaum’s suggestion of kneading the extra moisture in.

Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

To cook the pitas on the stove top: Preheat a griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the surface and cook the pitas one at a time. Cook for about 20 seconds, then turn the dough and continue cooking for 1 minute or until big bubbles appear. Turn the dough again and cook until the dough balloons. If the dough begins to brown, lower the heat. The entire cooking process for each pita should be about 3 minutes.


cinnamon rolls

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As much as I love making desserts – brownies, cookies, cakes, pies – well, everyone makes those, don’t they?  I like making things that you wouldn’t necessarily think to try at home.  Especially for something special – like Christmas.

rolled out, after the first rise

...and rolled up, for the oven

I started on yeast breads years ago.  They’re kind of perfect as an intermediate challenge – lots of variables, but not too labor-intensive.  Anything with yeast requires experience, though.  You can go by the numbers (105*-115*F to proof the yeast, rise at 80*F, so many grams or ounces of flour), but when all’s said and done, you’re dealing with a living organism.  And it might not like numbers.

if you use muffin tins, shorten the baking time a bit

just one more thing...

These aren’t as scary as you might think.  They may not come out perfectly the first time (as happened with mine – I was too heavy-handed with the flour), but they’re absolutely worth a few attempts, if for no other reason than how they make the house smell.  And next time, I’m adding bacon.

...frosting!

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing

Adapted from Epicurious

Dough:
1 cup whole milk [*Alli’s note: I used reduced fat]
3 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast (from 2 envelopes yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Filling:
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Glaze:
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For dough:

Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl.  [*Alli’s note: If you don’t have a stand mixer, combine well by hand.]  Add 2 1/2 cups flour, erring on the side of less if dough seems to be getting tough. Beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl [*Alli’s note: you can do this by hand; it’ll just be difficult.  You may have better luck kneading the last bits of flour in on a floured surface]. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball.  [*Alli’s note: You can also do this with the dough hook in a stand mixer.  It shouldn’t take more than four minutes.]

Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.  [*Alli’s note: I put a glass of boiling water next to the bowl with the dough, then overturn a brown paper bag on top.]

For filling:

Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.

Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at one long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide).

Spray two 9-inch square glass baking dishes with nonstick spray. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.  [*Alli’s note: I’ve also baked these in greased muffin tins.]

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls right side up.

For glaze:

Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.

rosemary sea salt and garlic parmesan focaccia

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Sometimes the things I make don’t come out the way I had intended.

fresh from the oven

Not that this focaccia came out badly.  It was delicious, but the texture was more like a  fluffy white bread than the chewy, flavorful focaccia I was looking for.  I was surprised, because this recipe came from the dear departed Gourmet (may it rest in peace), which makes me feel like I must have screwed something up.

that's quite a rise

That’s the only reason I’m sharing this – well, also because it’s still delicious with some olive oil, but because maybe if you give it a shot you’ll get something a little more focaccia-y than I did.  I’m thinking next time I’ll try a longer rising time – this baby has a lot of yeast, and the fairly quick (and single) rise doesn’t give flavor a lot of time to develop.

sprinkle some

and sprinkle some more

But you can’t go wrong with garlic, Parmesan, and rosemary, so I say give it a shot.  And keep some good olive oil and sea salt nearby.

golden and lovely

"it's...so...FLUFFY"

 

Basic Focaccia Dough

Adapted from Gourmet

For dough:

two 1/4-ounce packages (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups warm water (105°‐115° F.)

1 tablespoon table salt

about 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons cornmeal

For flavored focaccie:

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves

1/4 cup olive oil plus a tablespoon or two for brushing

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan

coarse salt for sprinkling

For basic dough:
In a standing electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment beat together yeast, sugar, and water and let stand 5 minutes, or until foamy. In a bowl stir together table salt and 5 cups flour. Stir 1/3 cup olive oil into yeast mixture. With motor on low speed, gradually add flour mixture to yeast mixture. With dough hook knead dough 2 minutes, or until soft and slightly sticky.  [*Alli’s note: I don’t have a KitchenAid (I know, first world problems) so I did this by hand and it came out fine.]

Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead in enough remaining flour to form a soft but not sticky dough. Form dough into a ball and put in an oiled large bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and divide in half. If using, knead rosemary into one half.   Knead plain half 1 minute. Form each half into an oval and invert bowl over them. Let dough rest 5 minutes for easier rolling.

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Oil two 13- by 9-inch baking pans {*Alli’s note: I used cookie sheets and went free-form] and sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon cornmeal. On lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll out dough halves into 13- by 9-inch rectangles and fit into pans. Cover each pan with a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 20 minutes.

Sautee 1/4 cup olive oil with garlic.  Set aside.

If using, brush plain dough with garlic oil; sprinkle with Parmesan and a pinch of coarse salt.  Brush rosemary dough with plain olive oil and sprinkle with more rosemary and sea salt.   With lightly oiled fingertips, make indentations, about 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart, all over dough rectangles and bake in middle of oven 12 minutes, or until golden. Remove focaccie from pans and cool on racks.

sausage and bell pepper pizza

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As much as I talk about the many things I want to try to bake, it’s amazing how often I stick to the same few genres: cookies, brownies, cakes, etc.  I suppose I just have an affection for licking butter and sugar off the beaters creaming butter and sugar together.

 

prep the peppers (pep the preppers?)

 

When I have good people around me, I cook for them.  When they mention that they like a certain food, I’ll try to throw it together.  If someone makes me happy, I want to return the favor; this is the best way I know how.

 

cook the sausage

 

It also gets me to try making new things – nothing inspires me like someone staring off into the distance and mumbling hungrily that they could really go for a pizza, or a croissant, or a soft pretzel, or a madeline.  Drool is so poetic, I know.

 

sprinkled...okay, heavily sprinkled

 

I don’t know that that was the specific turn of events here, but I do know pizza was mentioned.  And, since the recipient was a carnivore, this project ended up marking an even bigger departure from the norm for me: I actually cooked with meat!  Even though I don’t eat too much of it, I really want to be competent; although I definitely didn’t have to go with sausage on this pizza, I thought it was a good opportunity to give it a shot.

 

melty

 

Although I didn’t end up tasting this one, the recipient proclaimed the crust “chewy and perfect,” and he hasn’t keeled over as of now, so I’m fairly certain that I did a decent job on the meat.  It smelled like heaven, though, and it’s endlessly adaptable, so give it a shot.  Now for rosemary focaccia…

Really Simple Pizza Dough

Bet you can’t guess where this came from (barely adapted)

Makes enough for one small, thin crust pizza. Double it if you like your pizza thick and bready.

1 1/2 cups flour (can replace up to half of this with whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (may need up to 1 or 2 tablespoons more)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Toppings (I used thinly sliced yellow and orange bell peppers, Italian sausage, mozzarella, and Parmesan)

Stir dry ingredients, including yeast, in a large bowl. Add water and olive oil, stirring mixture into as close to a ball as you can. Dump all clumps and floury bits onto a lightly floured surface and knead everything into a homogeneous ball.

Knead it for just a minute or two. Lightly oil the bowl where you had mixed it, dump the dough in, turn it over so all sides are coated, cover it in plastic wrap and leave it undisturbed in a warm-ish (slightly above room temp) for an hour or two, until it has doubled in size.

Dump it back on the floured counter  and gently press the air out of the dough with the palm of your hands. Fold the piece into an approximate ball shape, and let it sit under that plastic wrap for 20 more minutes.

Sprinkle a pizza stone or baking sheet with cornmeal and preheat your oven to its top temperature. Roll out the dough and sprinkle on toppings.  Bake for about 10 minutes until lightly blistered.