Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fun with Pocket Sandwiches

As I've been experimenting with the bread recipes from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I've been thinking of all of the cool things that can be done with bread dough in the house. Fresh bread is the obvious one. Dough for pizza, flat bread, and seasoned rolls are all delicious options. And the thing I've been experimenting with this week: do-it-yourself pocket sandwiches :)

Monday I mixed up a batch of olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in Five. I chose the olive oil dough for two reasons: the olive oil flavor compliments the sandwiches very well (and I believe will taste great as pizza dough), second, bread with some oil in it keeps much better than bread without any oil. Oil acts as a preservative. When bread dough is mixed with a little bit of oil, the bread stays fresher longer, and freezes much better. Than means I can make a bunch of pocket sandwiches, freeze most of them, and they should keep very well for a month or so.

When choosing fillings for my sandwiches I went with traditional meat and cheese. I did ham and cheese; ham, salami, and cheese; and ground beef, onions, and cheese. The last one was going to be meatballs, but the beef was frozen when I started cooking, so I just cooked it loose. When working with meat, food safety becomes far more critical than working with bread alone. All fillings need to be ready to eat. Deli meats are fine as-is. Beef, chicken, and any other meat you want to use needs to be cooked before making sandwiches.

Making Pocket Sandwiches
To make the olive oil dough, start with the master recipe, reduce the amount of water by 1/4 of a cup, and add 1/4 of a cup of olive oil. Also add 1 tablespoon of sugar. The rest of the recipe is the same. Mix the dough, let it sit on the counter for a couple of hours, then refrigerate overnight (or upto 12 days). You can use the dough after the 2 hour rise, but, it will be harder to work with. I found that one night in the fridge remarkably improved the dough texture.

To make each sandwich:
1. Grab a handful of dough from the big batch, and cut it off with a knife or kitchen scissors.

2. Place the dough on a floured or greased surface. Either of those will keep the dough from sticking. Flour is traditional, but I actually have more luck with oil most of the time. A little oil on my hands helps the dough not stick to my hands.
3. Spread the dough out to a square which is about 6 by 8 inches. It doesn't need to be perfect. If the dough starts "fighting back", give it a few seconds to relax. When doing the big batch, I worked with two pieces of dough at a time, alternating between them. The picture here shows a spread out piece of dough.

4. Add fillings. The sandwich is going to be flipped over, so whatever you want on the top should be the first filling you put in the dough. I did cheese first, then meat. Here's a picture of a salami, ham, and cheese (left), and a ham and cheese (right), sandwiches ready to be closed. The cheese is under the meat, so it's not visible in the picture.

5. Fold up the sandwich. Start with the ends and fold them over the fillings. Then bring in the edges. Do your best to seal it up.
6. Lift the sandwich, flip it over, and place it in the baking pan.
7. Let rise for 15 minutes. The short rise is once again for food safety. They don't really need a longer rise though, due to the thinness of the dough. Here's the tray of sandwiches ready to go into the oven.

8. Bake at 450 for 22-25 minutes. Here's the same sandwiches after they've come out of the oven. The cheese melted out of the top of one, which is what I wanted to happen, and out of the bottom of the others. I need to work on sealing them better, and providing bigger vents on top, next time! :)

Repeat steps 1-6 for each sandwich, then give them a 15 minute rise once they're all done. Once I'd made a couple, I got pretty quick with spreading the dough and filling the sandwiches. I started the second batch of sandwiches while the first set were rising. They were done in about 20 minutes, and had their 15 minute rise while the first batch was baking.

Here's one of my homemade pocket sandwiches (on the right) next to a Hot Pocket (on the left).

The Hot Pocket was ham and cheese. My sandwich was ground beef, onions, and cheese. I put more filling in mine than was in the Hot Pocket. Mine was delicious :) I can't vouch for the Hot Pocket, geek husband ate it. Husband tasted my sandwich also and suggested it was a little dry. Next time I'll serve it to him with some tomato sauce on the side. The homemade ham and cheese sandwiches are also quite tasty.

Cost Comparison
The Hot Pockets were 2 for $2.50, or $1.25 each. I made 10 homemade sandwiches. I spent about $9 on ingredients, making those sandwiches $0.90 each. Note that my sandwich cost takes into account that I will use all of the left over ingredients in other recipes. I had about 1/3 of the dough, 1/3 of the cheese, and a little bit of meat left over.

Truthfully the savings alone probably would not be enough for me to take the time to make my own sandwiches. The benefit I like far more is that I have control over everything I cook. I know what's in my ingredients. I know what's in the food. I can add more or less filling. I can make sandwiches which have more meat in them for my husband. If I already have dough in the house, it's also a great way to get a quick hot meal.

Filling Ideas
I would love to try these with cooked chicken, bacon and cheese. I'm also curious how they'd do with cheese sauce (homemade or Cheese Whiz) instead of sliced cheese. If I were making pizzas, it would be a great idea to wrap up some extra pepperoni and cheese. Homemade or frozen (and then cooked) meatballs would be fabulous, and far easier to work with than the loose meat. Sliced steak, cooked onions and peppers, and cheese would make a pocket cheese steak sandwich. The possibilities are endless! :)