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Mucho Gusto

Pizza Friday’s

Sizzling cheese, ruby red sauce, and crispy crust. This is pizza for me. My dad, Ed, is New York through and through, so pizza has always been held to the highest of standards in the Kuffner household. A Dominos or Papa John’s box has never entered our house, and we only order from our local pizza place Tony’s. The owners learned the trade from the famous Smileys Pizza in New York, so the pies are up to Ed’s standards, and it is the only place we will order from. As a kid, I remember running into Tony’s with a $20 bill in my hand, saying hi to the counter lady, and grabbing the piping hot box. Every week I would wait for Friday to come because I knew that that meant we were eating pizza. As a family, we rarely ate out since my mom always cooked homemade meals, but on Fridays, we feasted. 

Pizza originated in Naples, Italy, and gained broad popularity in the 1940s when Italians immigrated to the United States. Now, pizza is one of the most popular foods in our lives and the food that I personally associate with my formative memories. Birthday? We had pizza. After winning a soccer game? Get pizza with your team. Fun movie night with friends? Order a pizza. Pizza is a light yet comforting food that excites your taste buds, fills you up, and makes you smile with glee all in one bite. Its simplicity is what makes it perfect. When ordering from a pizza place, my go-to is two slices of plain cheese pizza with extra basil. I love trying new places wherever I travel, and it is a time-old debate in my house over what is the best pizza we have ever eaten. 

For me, nothing will beat the piping hot pie I had while sitting on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in Panza, Italy. I was on the brink of a cliff sitting on a rusty blue picnic table when the owner, who spoke no English, came out carrying the pizza in a century-old iron pan. The pie emulated typical Sicilian pizza found in the states, but its crust was perfectly crisp, and the sauce was bursting with flavor. This pizza was made with love, and I haven’t eaten anything as good since. 

Even though Tony’s will never be up to par with the Panza pizza, I still look forward to pizza Fridays, and now I make flatbreads and pizzas for the occasion. At Tony’s, I stick to plain, but at home, I love to look in the refrigerator and let my creative instincts kick in, enabling me to utilize whatever ingredients I have to make a mouthwatering pie. These four flatbreads offer something for everyone with a classic plain pizza, a hearty meat lovers pie, a fresh greek flatbread, and a sweet fig ricotta flatbread. As I have grown up, my palette has expanded and I enjoy indulging in elevated pizzas while bringing different tastes and textures to our Friday night tradition. 

Classic Plain 

1 package pizza dough 

¼ cup flour 

1 cup fresh tomato sauce

1 cup fresh mozzarella 

½ teaspoon oregano 

1 spring basil for garnish 

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 475℉. Spread the flour on a clean work surface to prevent sticking. Slowly knead and spread the dough using the palm of your hands until it is about ¼ inch thick all around. Spread the tomato sauce using a ladle evenly around the dough. Sprinkle the mozzarella around, and bake the pizza for 10-15 minutes or until the crust is crunchy and the cheese is lightly browned. Once removed, sprinkle with oregano and top with basil.

Meat Lovers Pie

2 chicken breasts 

2 teaspoons pesto

1 package pizza dough 

¼ cup flour 

1 cup fresh tomato sauce

1 cup fresh mozzarella 

½ cup sliced Italian soppressata 

½ teaspoon oregano 

Instructions 

Preheat the oven to 475℉. Cut the chicken breasts into 2-inch pieces and season with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet pan with oil on medium heat and once sizzling, add the chicken. Cook until fully cooked and then add the pesto, ensuring all the chicken is coated. Spread the flour on a clean work surface to prevent sticking. Slowly knead and spread the dough using the palm of your hands until it is about ¼ inch thick all around. Spread the sauce on the dough and then sprinkle the cheese evenly around. Place the soppressata and pesto chicken around the pie. Bake for 10-15 min or until golden brown. Sprinkle with oregano. 

Greek Flatbread 

1 flatbread crust 

1 medium onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup spinach 

½ cup zucchini, sliced 

½ cup yellow squash, sliced

½ cup cherry tomatoes halved

¼ cup red onion, sliced 

1 cup feta cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil 

½ teaspoon parsley 

Instructions 

Preheat the oven to 475℉. In a small skillet pan over medium heat saute the onions until sweated. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant and lightly browned. To assemble the flatbread, spread the onion and garlic on the bread, and top with the spinach, zucchini, and squash. Add the tomato halves and red onion. Sprinkle the flatbread with the feat cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and top with the parsley. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and the flatbread is lightly browned. 

Fig Ricotta Flatbread

1 flatbread crust 

1 cup fresh ricotta cheese

⅓ cup fig jam

8 dried figs, sliced 

Balsamic reduction drizzle 

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 475℉. Spread the ricotta evenly around the flatbread, top with the fig jam. Add the sliced figs and bake for 8-10 mins or until the flatbread is crispy. This flatbread will cook very quickly. Once removed drizzle with balsamic reduction and serve.

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Margaret’s CCC Cake

My curiosity for baking started as a meager first-grader intently watching Food Network. I was mesmerized by the enormous cakes Buddy Valastro concocted and the 1,000-piece displays on Cupcake Wars. My eyes were glued to the screen, and I was in awe of how the final products looked so real yet were edible. I studied how bakers frosted cakes or piped roses and would attempt to emulate their work. As a child, I dreamed of one day owning my own bakery and constructing five-tier wedding cakes. So, as a determined little girl, I set out aiming to achieve just that.

At age six, I designed and constructed my inaugural cake for my brother John’s birthday. It consumed me for hours and the final product was a five-car steam engine train sculpted by hand and embellished with candy as mechanical parts. The cake was crumbly, but I still felt unstoppable. I could not have been a prouder sister. Making this cake consumed me for hours and established my love for baking.  Thankfully, my skill has grown from there. 

After years of failed experiments, from burnt bottoms to curdled frosting, I now create original recipes and make the tiered cakes I dreamed of baking as a child. With cakes, I envision the cake as my canvas and the piping bags as my paint. The magic begins when my artistic instincts kick in, allowing me to swiftly pipe designs without a predesigned plan and transform the cake into a showpiece. Designing cakes is an outlet for me in which I am fully present in the moment and can create something that will bring people together and enlightening their taste buds.  Cakes have a deep symbolism in our culture, so I take pride in being the person people turn to for birthdays, weddings, and other celebrations.

Cake is no doubt my favorite food group and will always be present in my life. The possibilities are endless. Today, I’m sharing my chocolate chip cookie cake recipe, which has been on my mind ever since I perfected making the chocolate chip cookie. With no better combination of two desserts, this recipe offers a twist on the quintessential American comfort food. This cake boasts a chocolate crumble cookie crust with layers of fully chocolate chip vanilla cake, smothered in a decedent brown sugar buttercream, and topped with freshly baked cookies. This blend will simply delight your taste buds and the crowd. 

Ingredients

Chocolate cookie crumble 

1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cornstarch 

1 cup granulated sugar 

1 ⅓ cups cocoa powder 

½ teaspoon salt 

12 tablespoon melted butter 

Vanilla Chocolate Chip Cake 

2 ¼ cups & 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour 

2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt 

¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature 

3 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 

Brown Butter Buttercream 

1 ½ cups light brown sugar

⅓ cup water 

2 ½ cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 

9 cups powdered sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 chocolate chip cookies

Instructions

Begin by making the chocolate cookie crumble. Preheat the oven to 300 ℉. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Pour the butter into the dry ingredients and combine until it is a crumb consistency. Grease three 9-inch circular cake pans, evenly distribute the cookie crumble among the pans and use the back of a spoon to set the crumble in place. Bake for 12 minutes and let cool while preparing the cake batter. 

Moving on to the vanilla chocolate chip cake, increase the oven temperature to 350℉. In a small bowl, crack the eggs and add the vanilla, allowing them to sit for 5-10 minutes to enhance the vanilla flavor. In another medium-sized bowl, combine 2 ¼ cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy for 2-4 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla mixture in three additions, making sure it is fully incorporated after each addition. Whip the batter for 3 to 4 minutes until light and fluffy. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk, starting with flour and using three additions of flour and two of milk. Fully incorporate after each addition. Dust the chocolate chips in the remaining 2 teaspoons of flour and mix them into the batter. Once combined, evenly pour the batter on top of the pans with the chocolate cookie crumble. Bake for 20 to 25 mins or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool completely.

While the cake and crumble are cooling, move on to make the brown sugar buttercream. Begin by combining the brown sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until a soft boil, approximately 5 minutes. Set aside and let it cool slightly. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Slowly add the powdered sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Next, slowly pour the slightly warm brown sugar mixture into the mixer. Add the vanilla. Beat on high for 3 to 5 minutes. If the buttercream is too warm, place it in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes. Whip once again before using. 

After all the elements have been created, it is now time for the construction of the masterpiece. Start by placing one cake layer, cookie crumble side down, on your board using a dollop of frosting to keep it in place. Spread one cup of frosting on top, ensuring that it is level. Repeat this process with the remaining two layers. Spread a thin layer of frosting around the whole cake using an offset spatula. This crumb coat ensures that the crumbs are locked into the first layer and will not show for the final product. Freeze the cake for 10 minutes. Once slightly frozen, completely frost the cake, saving one cup of frosting for piping. Once completely frosted, use the Wilton 1M tip to pipe a ribbon along the top. Cut the pre-made or store-bought cookies in half and place them on the top of the cake. Enjoy:)


Recipe Adapted from Cake by Coutrney’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake

Cover Photo courtesy of Margaret Kuffner