Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Time for Pizza

I have talked about homemade pizza before but I don't think I really covered the subject as well
as I should have. With this unseasonably cold weather a fresh homemade pizza right from the oven
is just the ticket. (the dough is rising as I type) The original post made enough dough for a single 12-14 inch pizza. This is the same basic dough but the recipe makes enough for 4 pizzas. The great thing about this simple
dough is that you can make it ahead as much as two days and keep it refrigerated or you can even
freeze it for a month and just let it thaw for 24 hours in the fridge.

Basic Pizza Dough
This is the classic Neapolitan pizza dough. It is a fairly low yeast dough that doesn't rise
quickly but it has a nice texture and is very easy to work with. I've tried a bunch of variations
for pizza dough but this is the one I always come back to.

    5 cups all purpose flour
    1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
    2 teaspoons salt (or 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
    1 package of instant yeast or highly active yeast
    2 Tablespoons olive oil
    1 3/4 to 2 cups room-temperature water (when it is humid use the lesser amount and when it is
      dry use more). Depending on the quality of your water you might want to use filtered water 
     or bottled water. If there is a lot of chlorine in your water it will retard the yeast.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon or mix in
an electric mixer. After everything is mixed well set the dough aside to rest(autolyse) for 15
minutes. After the rest turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead for 3 or 4 minutes and
if you have to add more water or flour so that you get a dough that is wetter and stickier than
your typical bread dough. Keep your hands well floured and work with your fingertips to keep too
much dough from sticking to your hands. Kneading a 'slack' dough takes a little practice and
don't worry if it seems to stick to everything...just use a scraper or other flat tool(spatula)
to scrape it up and keep going. We aren't going to knead this as much as we would a bread dough
as we don't have to build the gluten structure as strongly.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Place each one into an oiled 1 quart zip bag. I just put a
few drops of olive oil in the bag and squish it around a bit. We are just trying to make sure we
can get the sticky dough out of the bag later.

Now you have enough dough for 4 12- 14 inch pizzas. Depending on how many pizzas you are going to
make in the next day or two you will want to throw the extra bags in the freezer where they will
stay for at least a month with no harm.  The day before you intend to bake them, move the frozen
bags of dough to the refrigerator to thaw.
The dough that you are going to use now or tomorrow needs to go into the fridge until two hours
before you are ready to use them. Just remember to take them out and let them warm to room
temperature a couple of hours before you are ready to bake.
When working with yeast doughs time is your best friend. The longer and slower the rise or
fermentation the better the flavor. This dough would actually prefer to be made the day ahead and
spend the night in the fridge but if you don't have that kind of time it is no big deal. As long
as this dough has a couple of hours fermentation it will be fine. Ideally, you want the dough to
double in size but most of the leavening in pizza making comes in the oven so even an hour rise
will still produce a nice crust.

Now let's talk about sauce. You can buy sauce but I really prefer to make make my own. If you
already have a favorite sauce, by all means go right ahead and use it. The quick little sauce
recipe below is simple and easy and the ingredients are always on hand(at least in my house).
There is also no reason in the world why you can't use anything else for topping the pizza. Pesto
is good or even a nice salsa or BBQ sauce....whatever. I won't tell the pizza police if you

Quick pizza sauce

    1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
    2 tsp dried basil
    2 tsp dried oregano
     1 tsp kosher or sea salt (this depends a little on the amount of salt in the tomatoes)
    1 TBsp garlic powder or 4 or 5 cloves of crushed garlic
    2 TBsp red wine or balsamic vinegar
    red pepper flakes to taste
Note: if you want an interesting taste substitute Herbes de Provence for the basil and oregano

Don't get hung up on the recipe though if all you have is whole canned tomatoes...use your
fingers to break them up. All you have is tomato sauce? Use it. Of course you can always use
fresh tomatoes and herbs and when they are in season. I do.

Round or square, thick or thin
If you are going for round pizzas then all you have to do is stretch and work the dough slowly
into a big circle. You can do this with a rolling pin or you can gently stretch it into a circle.
This usually takes a couple of steps since working the dough strengthens the gluten and it has to
relax somewhat before you can get it stretched fully. I start by gently pressing the dough on a
flat surface with my fingers until I have a circle about five inches across. I let the dough rest
for a few minutes and then I just hold it up by the edge and slowly turn the dough letting the
weight of the rest of the dough pull it down to stretch it out. When it starts to resist I let it
rest again for a few minutes before stretching a little more. I like my pizza very thin but you
can stop anywhere in the process to suit your own tastes as to thickness.

If you are going to make a big square pizza then the rolling pin is the answer. You can make a
really big rectangular pie by combining two of the dough balls.

I always cook my pizza on a baking stone and I always use parchment paper under the dough...it
makes life a lot simpler. I spread the dough right on the parchment then use a peel to slip the
whole thing onto the stone. If you don't have a stone then the back of a baking pan works fine as
well. Transferring a sticky pizza dough from the prep surface to the oven without parchment can
result in a disaster, especially if the pizza is piled high with toppings. I have learned the
hard way that the investment in parchment is well worth it. Trust me on this.
I like to let my dough rest for 10 - 15 minutes before I top it as it gives a little more rise in
the oven.

Like I said I use a stone and a 450 degree oven and I like the results. Professional pizza ovens
usually run to 600 or 700 degrees and you aren't going to get there with a home oven. I cook my
pie on the lowest shelf of the oven as it allows the crust to cook properly before the toppings
are burnt to a crisp. I also make sure my oven and stone have pre heated completely before I
slide in the pie.
As for toppings I am of the simple is better school. A little tomato sauce, a little cheese maybe
some shaved onions and or some sauteed mushrooms. There are no rules but I think piling on a
bunch of stuff hides the essential flavors of the crust and tomatoes. In the summer when I have
fresh tomatoes I will just spread thin slices over the crust and add some dried basil and
oregano, a dash of garlic and red pepper flakes and it makes a fine pie. Like I said there are no
rules. I also really like a simple tomato and cheese pie piled with baby arugula or spinach when
it just comes out of the oven. Nice contrast of textures and flavors.

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