The Cook’s Method: Calzones and What’s in a Name?

A calzone by any other name is just a stuffed bread. Call it a calzone, Stromboli, Empanada, or some regional Italian name like Panzerotti and what you have is a savory type of turnover. We could also throw the term pasty in there to really confuse things. Regardless of what we call it, all of them are some kind of dough or bread that is filled with varying ingredients, sealed and baked or fried. The perfect kind of snack or meal: delicious, versatile and simple.

For purposes of this “method” we’ll use the term stuffed bread, even if it isn’t completely accurate. Stuffed breads are a staple at my family gatherings and I’ve employed them at the few parties I’ve hosted myself. They take virtually no effort, can serve several people at a time, and because of their simplicity adapting them to individual tastes isn’t nearly the chore it usually is. Plus, their composition makes keeping them warm and ready to go easy, which is important when you’re trying to guess when those perpetually late guests will arrive.

The chief consideration when making a stuffed bread is the ingredients. They should be cooked prior to assembling the bread. The baking process here is not meant to actually cook anything except the dough. Instead it will serve to melt cheeses and heat other ingredients. Proteins should be fully cooked, frozen items thawed and heated through, and other raw ingredients at least cooked till al dente. Certain exceptions to this rule can be made for ingredients like fresh spinach which will wilt nicely during baking, and fresh herbs.

It should be noted that the method begins after the dough has been prepared, so whether you use store bought or fresh dough is entirely up to you. If possible, call up your favorite pizza shop and ask them if they will sell you dough. (By favorite I don’t mean Domino’s) Some places will be a tad finicky about selling dough to customers, but I’ve had success. If they want to sell it to you for anything well beyond $1.25 just stick with the dough from the store.

How to Make Stuffed Bread

Step 1: Pre-cook and prep all ingredients. Ensure they are all sliced or chopped to approximately the same size. They should be relatively small to ensure even spacing within the bread and so things don’t get overfilled.

Step 2: Allow the dough to come to room temperature before working with it. Kneed lightly with flour to loosen it before rolling it out into a large oval. You want it to be thin, but still strong enough to hold the ingredients (you don’t need to be able to see through it).

Step 3: Distribute the ingredients evenly across the entire surface of the dough, leaving about a half inch border around all sides. Try not to pile them up too high or else rolling will be extremely difficult. Do not overfill the bread. If you have leftovers, simply roll out another dough.

Step 4: Roll by starting at the bottom edge and folding the dough over on itself, along with the layer of ingredients. Make tight rolls and move toward the other end of the dough. Just before finishing the roll, tuck both ends in to seal them. Then fold the top edge over the bottom and pinch closed. Have a little water in a cup to dip your fingers in. Wetting them will help you create a better seal. Turn the dough over so the seal is facing down on a baking sheet.

You’ll notice that this rolling method more closely resembles Stromboli than a Calzone. The reason is that the ingredients will be more evenly distributed through the bread and it makes the final product easier to cut and serve to a large group. Simply folding the dough over the ingredients and pinching it closed is fine as well, but that method words better when it is simply going to be eaten with a fork and knife.

Step 5: Make a few slits in the top of the dough to help vent hot air. If you don’t cut these, the air will find another way out and the dough will rupture all over the place. That or a giant air pocket will form and you’ll have a ton of empty space in the bread.

Step 6: Bake until the crust is brown and crisp, while the inside is fully cooked. This generally takes about 40 minutes but will vary depending on size, oven type and temperature. Allow the bread to rest a few minutes before slicing with a long serrated blade. If need be, keep the bread warm by storing it in a 250 degree oven.

Stuffed breads can be made in advance and stored overnight in a fridge before baking. If that is the case, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to come near room temperature before baking. You can usually bake two or three of these at a time, which makes them perfect for Superbowl parties, dungeon crawls, or just as a starter before dinner. No matter what you call it, or when you serve it, your guests are sure to be pleased. In the end, that’s all that matters.