I have a friend who reads cookbooks the way I read novels. In other words, she devours them. The recipes appeal to her analytical sense, and she can actually taste what happens when reading about, say, roasted apricots with fresh lavender, honey and Sauternes.
But I’m not sure what she would make of “The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook: A Year in the Life of a Restaurant” (William Morrow, $40) by Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson with Catherine Price. It’s filled with a host of intriguing recipes (Hazelnut Flan With Roasted Cherries, Shrimp Bisque With Basil Toast), but it’s also packed with stories of the people behind the recipes, the owners of the California restaurant and the people who provide them with the freshest ingredients in season.
Too much storytelling, I can hear her say as she headed off to the kitchen to make Brown Butter Rhubarb Bars or test the Parker House Rolls against her own recipe.
Yet the stories of the people who own the restaurant off Highway 1 were what made me want to make the Breakfast Pizza or the Salmon Trout Wrapped in Prosciutto. I found myself more attracted to the recipes knowing about the people who created them and the land that inspired them than I did merely flipping through the pages and glancing at recipes. (My breakfast pizza may not have looked as spectacular as Sara Remington’s luscious photograph in the book, but the flavor was incredible and the recipe easy for follow, even for someone who had never made pizza dough before.)
It helps that some of the stories convey the universal truths of a Jane Austen, albeit in culinary terms: “If you’re friends with a pig farmer and a butcher and a couple of beer connoisseurs, at some point you’ve got to have a party,” one piece begins.
“A perfect Thanksgiving comforts; it brings people together. It forces you to slow down, even if only because you’ve eaten too much,” another says.
I haven’t visited the Big Sur Bakery. In fact, I haven’t been to Big Sur. But one read through this cookbook and I’ve added it to my list. Even if I never get there, though, I do appreciate the taste I’ve been given with this book.
One caveat: As much as I loved reading the recipes, in which each step has been explained in great detail so that it all seems easy to follow, the $40 price of the book is hefty. So you may want to peruse it carefully to see that it is to your taste as well.
Bread flour or all-purpose flour, for dusting
6 bacon strips
Your favorite pizza dough recipe, shaped into 2 balls
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 whole scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
At least 1 hour before you start baking, adjust the oven rack to the lowest position, put a baking stone on it and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Generously dust the surface of a pizza peel (a flat wooden or metal shovel with a long handle) with flour.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the bacon strips and pan-fry until crisp. Put the bacon on a plate lined with paper towels, let it cool and then chop into bite-size pieces.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Working with one ball of pizza dough, dip your hands and the dough in the flour to make them less sticky, and pat the dough down into a disk shape with the tips of your fingers. Once the disk is large enough, drape the dough over your fists and carefully start stretching and expanding the dough from underneath it to form a round that is 10 to 12 inches in diameter. (If you’re feeling lucky, try tossing the dough over your head in a circular motion to stretch it.)
Place the dough on the prepared peel. Sprinkle it with half of the Parmesan, mozzarella and bacon, and crack 3 eggs over the top. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
[amazon-product]0061441481[/amazon-product]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 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 transfer it to a cutting board. Let it cool for 2 minutes and sprinkle with half of the parsley, chives, scallions and shallots. Slice and serve immediately.
Prepare your second pizza the same way.
Makes 2 pizzas (2-4 servings).
Adapted from “The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook: A Year in the Life of a Restaurant” by Michelle and Philip Wojtowicz and Michael Gilson with Catherine Price