Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pizza

What is the perfect pizza crust to you? There are lots of opinions out there, from cracker thin to extremely thick, crunchy, foldy, chewy. When ordering take-out my kids like deep dish, but we prefer the "Brooklyn" type crust.

This pizza is small, with a medium thickness crust. The bottom crunches when you bite, all the way to the center of the pizza, but isn't tough. The inside of the crust is light and soft, not dry or doughy. A slice is sturdy enough to support itself to the tip, when held by the edge. I had been experimenting with technique and recipe, and this one was a real home run. Everyone loved it.

The dough needs to be started at least two, preferably three days before making pizza. I did a comparison once of same-day dough vs. aged dough, and the pizzas looked the same. But taste.... all the difference in the world! Once we tasted the aged dough, the fresh one was simply flavorless. The aged dough had a wonderful, well, yeasty flavor, but unlike using a lot of yeast packs to make it with.

I've started weighing my flour. I find it easier than measuring, and I like my two-pan scales.
Pizza Dough- start at least two days early
Ingredients:
  • 25 oz ( 5 1/4 cup) bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp malt powder (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp instant active yeast
  • 2 c cold water
  • 1/3 c oil (I like regular olive)
  • 3 Tbsp (~1/6 c) honey
Put dry ingredients into mixer bowl, and mix together with paddle on low speed. Add about half the water, then all the oil and honey.

- Tip: measure the honey in an oily cup, and it slips out cleanly. I filled my 1/3 c roughly halfway to get the 1/6 c.

Mix the dough slowly, adding most of the rest of the water gradually.
After the dough comes together and is looking somewhat stretchy or is sticking on the beater (about a minute), switch to the dough hook.

This is very important: Knead on medium speed for about 7 min, adjusting the flour and water as needed to make a smooth, fairly sticky dough. The sides of the bowl should be clean right away; at first the dough will stick to the bottom quite a bit.
video

Towards the end, the bottom of the bowl will be almost entirely clean. The dough should be quite soft and a bit more wet and sticky than a typical bread dough.
Look at the bottom of the bowl in this video. Note that the dough is not sticking to it, the bowl is clean.
video

Put the dough straight into the fridge, cold. The night before you make pizza, pull it out of the fridge and let it warm up about an hour if you have time, or just continue with it still cold.

Throw a half cup or so of flour on a large cutting board or countertop. Spread the flour out some, and mist the top with a little cooking spray. Dump the dough onto the flour, and cut it into four or six chunks. Form each chunk into a ball by tucking the sticky side in, stretching the floured side out, like turning socks inside out (I saw someone on TV shaping fresh mozzarella balls, and it looked about the same as shaping the pizza dough balls). Dip your hands in the flour if it sticks too much, but try not to add much flour to the dough. Keep doing that until the outer surface stretches fairly tight, but don't tear it.
Roll the ball lightly in the flour, then set into a greased pan.


Spray the dough with cooking spray, then put the pan into a large food-grade bag like the bread bags at King Arthur Flour, or cover with plastic wrap. Put back into the fridge.
The next day, pull the pan out of the fridge and let it warm up for about an hour in a warm place. Get the oven hot and pizza toppings prepped while waiting.
Set the oven as hot as it will go, with a pizza stone on the lowest rack, and optionally a second one on a higher rack. This adds thermal mass to your oven, and lets you cook more pizzas at a time. I set mine on "true convection", 550 deg; it should work fine without convection too. Preferably allow the oven to heat for at least 45 minutes, to let it really heat up the oven walls and the stones. 

Hot is important. This plus the moistness of the dough are what create the soft-crunchy pizza, and makes the dough be puffy. We also found out another important affect of a really hot stone: It makes the crust turn brown on the bottom, and taste heavenly. This fact alluded us for weeks. It is the combination of .leaving the dough in the fridge for several days, and slapping the pizza onto a blazing hot stone, that gives you a pizza to remember. Let the stone recover heat for a while (maybe 15 min) before putting another pizza on it. We've also been using the convection feature in our oven to get the cheese bubbly on top at the same time the crust is done.

Shaping: Get parchment sheets and pizza peel ready. The light flouring of the dough balls prevented them from sticking together, even though they are touching.
Flour your hands, and gently start stretching a dough ball on the knuckles of both hands. The dough will have bubbles in it. With careful handling, only a few will break during shaping. Toss it if you're brave enough. Another method is to hold it gently at one edge, allowing the weight of the dough to stretch it out, shifting where you hold to make it round and of even thickness. Make about an 8" round. Be careful not to stretch it too thin in the center. Lay it down on a parchment sheet.
I didn't intentionally make it thicker at the edges. That is due mostly to the bubbles that are still trapped in the dough.
Brush the top with olive oil, cover with thin slices of Provolone, and spread a good sauce on it (I like Bertoli's Tomato Basil sauce mixed with some tomato paste). Add pepperoni, sauteed onions, etc, and top with a little Mozzarella and Parmesan. We think that putting the cheese on before the sauce helps protect the dough from getting too wet; we'll test this notion next time.

These were actually a bit too cheesy. Next time, thinner Provolone, and a finer shred of mozzarella.

Crush a little dried oregano and basil on the very top.
Slide pizza, parchment and all, onto the stone.
Bake for about 6 min, until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is crunchy and golden brown, with a few dark brown spots.

They really poof in the oven. Some of the bubbles are now permanent.


The bottom of the crust is golden brown and crunchy, but not tough.


See? The slice isn't drooping, and he gets to concentrate on the hot, stringy cheese!

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