Spanish Coca with Candied Red Peppers and Pulled Beef
Today’s post introduces the Spanish ‘coca’ which is similar to a pizza, but different. A Spanish style flatbread, a coca can be served savory or sweet., as a small meal, or as tapas. A couple differences from pizza are cocas are typically served without a tomato sauce base or with a cheese topping But if you love pizza (and who doesn’t?), then you owe it to yourself to try the a coca.
Like a pizza, there are two basic components to the coca -- the dough, and the topping. The same dough can be used for virtually anything you can think of to top the coca. A coca is served with a thin and crispy crust, and the shape is more free-form, but typically more of an oblong than a circle.
Of course, the easiest way to make a coca is to start with a store bought pizza dough. You’re certainly welcomed to do that if you’d like an introduction to coca without spending time on a dough. Just about any store bought pizza dough will work, but avoid anything in a cardboard tube. Go to the bakery counter and ask for the dough they almost always have available there.
But what kind of blog would this be if all I did was tell you to go to the store, buy it and heat it up. Not the kind you’d probably want to read. You’re here because you want to learn and experiment.
While a store bought dough will be ‘fine’, the real fun is in making your own. It’s quite easy -- it just takes some advanced thought.
Here at mezze & tapas World Headquarters, anything that involves a batter or a dough is the domain of the Elegant Baker -- and rightly so. She is an absolute wizard with flour/water/yeast/salt/sugar mixtures -- and I am pure muggle all the way. Not an ounce of dough magic in me. None. So normally, making coca dough would be the Elegant Baker’s contribution to mezze & tapas. But this time I decided that if I was going to tell you how easy it was, then it had to be easy enough for me to master.
I scoured in internet to find a dough that I could make without the assistance of a wizard. (Strictly speaking, that's not entirely true -- there were several “does this look rights?” tossed out for the Elegant Baker to reassure me). I found the dough I ended up using at Hola Foodie. I had to make a few adaptations and I’ve converted the ingredients to imperial. But it was quite simply the easiest dough I’ve worked with.
Although Hola Foodie makes the dough entirely by hand, I adapted it to be made in a stand mixer. I put all dry ingredients in the bowl first and ran it for several seconds with the paddle attachment to fully combine them. Then I added the water and the oil and started the mixer on the lowest speed for about 30 seconds until the I began to see a cohesive dough. Next, I switched to the dough hook, and with the stand mixer on “2”, I ran it for 5 minutes. The dough is ready for the next step when it is smooth and elastic.
Spray a bowl with some cooking spray, cover the top with a towel and put in a warm place until it doubles in size, about an hour.. Here’s a trick we use all the time in our kitchen -- use the microwave to keep the dough warm while it rises. Put the bowl with the dough in the microwave, and put a cup of boiling water in there next to it. Close the door, and you have what bakers call a “Proof Box” for your dough to rise in.
When I was ready to use the dough, I divide it into 4 equal pieces, then dusted my work surface with a bit of flour. The dough rolled out really quite easily. Get it nice and thin (about 1/4 “ in/1 cm) for a crispy crust when you bake it. I transferred mine to a wooden pizza peel coated with cornmeal before I topped it so it would be easy to slide onto my pizza stone..
Now let’s talk about toppings. Once my dough was in the proof box, I was able to use the time it was proofing to put together the candied pepper topping. A little sweet, and little savory, you’ll be looking for other ways to use it after you’ve had it just once.
I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve used this recipe, and every single time it ends up stealing the show. It is the only recipe I use that I have been questioned about by a Federal Judge. I catered a bridal shower for an attorney, and one of the guests almost single handedly cleaned out the candied red pepper appetizer. She cornered me and began asking me a litany of questions about it -- how I made it, where the ingredients came from, etc. Only later did several other guests, including the bride, tell me that my inquisitor was a prominent Federal judge who didn’t impress easy.
The recipe for the candied red pepper topping comes from one of my very favorite cookbooks -- The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen. Everything I have made from this book has been excellent. Anya captures the vitality of Spanish food and adapts it quite successfully for the typical modern, North American kitchen. If you want to start a collection of books on Spanish Cuisine, you can’t go wrong by starting here.
In my opinion the one ingredient that ‘matters’’ in this recipe is the sherry vinegar. It is the vinegar that performs the magic that combines all the flavors together here into a wonderfully nuanced blend of otherwise common peppers and onions. Don’t substitute something else, and buy the best sherry vinegar you can afford. I use a brand from my local Whole Foods and I always have a bottle of it in the cupboard.
The other topping here is my own recipe for a pulled beef. If you’re going to give this a try, I would make this topping before beginning the dough since it cooks for several hours..
This topping is Inspired by a Spanish Oxtail stew that I had in Granada, but “dressed down” a bit for a coca topping. Oxtail is a bit too pricey for a tapas though, so I’ve substituted a top round steak (often sold as “London Broil”) which is a good balance of tough and tender to respond well to slow cooking. I was able to get about a pound of this for just about $3.00, so it is definitely an economical option.
For a braising liquid, I created a puree of sauteed vegetables, beef stock, seasoning and tomato sauce. I cooked onion, pepper, garlic, and carrot in a saute pan until they softened and began to brown. I transferred them to a large measuring cup, added the liquid, the seasoning and the tomato sauce. Using an immersion blender, I pureed them into my braising base. A food processor or traditional blender would also work (although I would watch this video on how to safely use a blender with hot food)
Brown the meat, and then put the meat and the base in a baking dish together. Covering securely with a sheet of aluminum foil, slip it in the over and let it cook at 300°F/165°C for several hours. A nice bonus is that the cooking base can be used as the “sauce” for your caco later. It is the perfect flavor complement for the beef since they cooked together.
When it comes time to complete the cocas, preheat the oven 450°F/230°C. Roll each of the doughs out and spread the toppings on them.. Slide them in the preheated oven and cook for them for about 10 minutes each, until the crust is crispy and just beginning to brown around the edges.
A couple of garnishes finish these tapas off. With the candied red peppers, just before cutting and serving, sprinkle with confectioners sugar. When the beef is pulled out of the oven, toss some chopped green onion over the top for color and flavor.
One mistake that I made was to put the pulled beef on before I put the coca in the oven. By time it came out, the beef was over cooked. In the future, I think I will cook the coca for about 7 minutes then add the pulled beef for the last 3 or so minutes. That should heat it through without drying it out.
Pull the coca from the oven and cut it into 8 - 10 thin wedges to serve as tapas or an appetizer. I do hope that you give a coca a try. Once you master a couple of basic steps, you end up with the foundation for an endless variety of topping. And you will always have a delicious appetizer or two that aren’t like everyone else’s!
4 tsp Yeast
2 tsp Kosher Salt
4 cups A P Flour
2 ½ cups water
2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Candied Red Peppers
2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium sized onion, sliced thin
3 cups Roasted Red Peppers
(Personally, I use my ever present piquillo peppers, but you can use any roasted red pepper for this.)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 Tbs granulated sugar
2 Tbs Sherry Vinegar
2 Tbs water
Kosher salt to taste
1 lb london broil
½ cup canned tomato sauce
½ cup beef stock/broth
¼ cup red onion, roughly diced
¼ cup carrot, roughly chopped
¼ cup Red Pepper, roughly diced
2 Cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
1 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ cup chopped green onions
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine flour salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk together until thoroughly combined
Add water and olive oil to the flour mixture
Using the paddle attachment turn the mixer on the lowest speed until the dough just starts to combine
Switch to the dough hook and turn the stand mixer on to medium low for five minutes or until the dog is smooth and elastic
Spray the top of the dough with cooking spray. Cover with a clean cloth and place in a warm location to rise.
Allow the dough to rise until it is doubled in size approximately one hour
When ready to use the gel cut it into four equal pieces and roll out one coca from each piece
Candied Red Peppers
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat
Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally until very soft but not browned, about 6 minutes
Add the roasted peppers, stir to combine with the onions and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes,
Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the top of the peppers and onions
Add the sherry vinegar and water and stir until the sugar is dissolved
Bring the liquids to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquids are almost completely evaporated, stirring occasionally
Remove peppers and onions from the heat and let cool before adding to the coca
Preheat the oven t0 300F/150C and Spray an 8”x8” baking dish with cooking spray
Heat 1 TSP of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat
Add the onions, carrots, peppers, and garlic and cook until just beginning to soften, stirring occasionally, about 5 - 8 minutes
Transfer cooked vegetables to a large (at least 2 cup) measuring cup
Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining TBS of Olive Oil
Add the tomato sauce, beef stock, paprika, and cumin
Using an immersion blender, process until smooth and combined
Cut london broil into 6 - 8 large chunks. Season with salt in pepper
Add to hot pan, and cook on each side until brown and crusty, about 3 - 4 mins per side
Place the browned beef into the baking dish.
For the tomato sauce over the browned beef and spread it evenly
Cover the pan tightly with foil and put it into the 300° oven for three hours
Remove from oven, let cool slightly, then using two forks, pull the meat apart into shredded beef
Makes 4 cocas -- two of each variety. Serves 2 -4 as dinner, 8 - 10 as tapas.