27 August 2012

Food Lab 16: Pizza Dough

It's a miracle! Not only do I now feel confident making 'za from scratch, but our postponed-since-May lab finally took place.

It was, of course, never the toppings that were the problem. If you can figure out what to order on your pie in your local gourmet pizza joint, you can figure out toppings.

It was the dough. THE DOUGH!

Hard to believe in someone who bakes as much as I do, I know.

I was raised on homemade pies, but my mom made a "Maryland-style" crust - yeast dough, but thick and somewhat biscuit-y. Not my preferred style, particularly not once I was introduced to the thinner Neapolitan style pies.

Off and on for years, I've tried to make a good dough. I mostly found that my doughs were too springy, so by the time I had coaxed them into being the right size, I'd worked them to the point they got tough.

Did I mention that my favorite type of breads to bake are rustic loaves that don't require a pan?

Spot the problem?

Gluten formation. Particularly after my 2010 resolution to learn to make real French baguettes, I've become accustomed to dough that's worked hard and actively fights back, occasionally with rudimentary weapons formed from ordinary kitchen objects.

But Mad Kitchen Scientist schooled me right. For pizza, particularly thin crust pizza, you need a very soft dough. His recipe?

Generous tsp. of yeast, proofed in 3/4 c. warm water with a little honey

3/4 c. each of all purpose flour, semolina flour, and whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Dump the semolina and whole wheat pastry flour into your mixing bowl. Add the salt. Drizzle in the olive oil. Once the yeast proofs, dump it into the flour mixture. Stir at first (the dough will be pretty wet), adding in the all purpose flour a little at a time. Once the dough starts coming together, knead just until it forms a ball, adding more flour if you need (and you might not need the full 3/4 c. of the all purpose), then pop it into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise at least an hour.

In the meantime, slide your pizza stone or baking tiles into the oven and crank it up to 500. And prep your toppings.

What toppings?

We played with various combinations of:

thin sliced tomatoes
chiffonade basil
fresh oregano
fresh garlic
olive oil
fresh mozzarella
goat cheese
grated Parm-Reg
grilled eggplant
sauted eggplant
lightly sauted zucchini (still crunchy)
roasted red peppers
sauted fennel
sweated fennel tops
fresh figs

We were basically playing rounds of, "What did you get too much of this week from the CSA?"

My two favorite combos were zucchini, tomato, fresh garlic, mozzarella, and basil and fresh figs, Prosciutto, goat cheese and honey (our dessert pizza).

When you're rolling the dough out, treat it like pie crust - a little extra flour to keep it from sticking, roll it thin, don't work it too much.

You will need a peel to get it into the oven. Dust your peel with corn meal, gently transfer your dough onto it, construct your toppings, and slide your pizza off your peel and onto your hot stone "with conviction." That's how Mad Kitchen Scientist described it, and it's exactly right. Don't think you'll do it right - know you will.

10 minutes later, slide the peel back under your pie to get it out, cut, and eat.

A few notes on toppings:
  • Cheese = glue. Make sure you're using enough to keep the rest of the toppings on and together.
  • A little olive oil on the crust as a base layer is good. Too much and no matter how much cheese you use, your toppings will slide off.
  • You know how the chains will give you "unlimited" toppings? That's to cover up the fact that their crust tastes like chemicals and their sauce is mostly sugar. Go for quality and flavor blend, not quantity.
  • Get closer to the edge that you think. Thin crust goes best with thin edge.
We also played around with a sourdough crust, which Chef Spouse thought seemed a little gritty, a gluten-free crust for the IAs, which (no offense, Mama IA) I would not voluntarily eat again (but Papa IA has an allergy, so a cook's gotta do what a cook's gotta do), and grilling pizza, which the Mad Kitchen Scientist declared to be unnecessarily gilding the lily.

Of course, this all comes down weeks after this joint opened in my neighborhood, after 12 years of living in a pizza desert, so I'm not sure how much practice I'll be getting perfecting my pies.

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