Friday, July 18, 2014

Delicious and Easy Saturday Night Pizza

A casual trip down the frozen food aisle of any American supermarket or a few minutes of watching network television will show you that we love pizza in the U.S.  My family's no different.  However, we're no longer fetched by TV commercials, Domino's blandishments, or chichi artisan pizzas that cost fifteen dollars for a burnt flatbread with goat cheese and arugula, because I make delicious pizzas to our taste about once a week.  And it's very easy to do.

The recipe I use is taken, in part, from this Quick Rustic Ciabatta Pizza recipe.  I have just altered it a little.

Required Special Equipment
A stand mixer
A kitchen scale

Required Materials
Parchment paper
Spray oil
Olive oil

Equipment That Is Good to Have but Not Necessary
A pizza stone (if not this, a cookie sheet)
A pizza peel (if not this, a second cookie sheet)

250 grams of bread flour (8.8 oz) - King Arthur brand flour provides the best results
7 grams salt (.25 oz)
1 tsp quick-rising yeast
1 cup water

Your favorite pizza cheese
Your favorite pizza sauce
Your favorite toppings


Mise en place

Put the flour in the mixer bowl.  On one side of the bowl, put your yeast.  On the other side, your salt.  Cover them up with the flour a little: this keeps the salt from killing the yeast early in the mixing process.  Add the water, and with the paddle attachment, start mixing on slow speed.

It will look like this after twenty seconds or so

Once the ingredients are incorporated, turn the mixer on as fast as it will go.  This will not burn out the motor.  Keep it on the highest speed until it cleans the sides of the bowl: about five minutes or so, depending.  It will come together, trust me.  As it mixes, get a non-reactive, transparent vessel like a plastic pitcher and put spray oil on the inside.

Dough coming together

As it begins to transform from a batter to a dough, don't leave the mixer alone.  The mixer has a tendency to move a little, and you don't want it to hop off the counter.  Once it cleans the sides of the bowl, turn off the mixer and put the extremely wet, sticky dough into your prepared vessel.

It will look a lot like this

Cover the vessel with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place to rise.  You want it to triple in size.  Depending on the warmth of your rising/proofing place and the warmth of the water you put into the dough, this can take 90 minutes to two hours or more.  

Before the rise

If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit 45 minutes before you plan to bake.  If you don't have a pizza stone, put a cookie sheet into the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit 30 minutes before you plan to bake.  If your oven's temperature goes higher, take it to 550 or as high as it will go.  You want that oven very hot.

Tripled in size

Once the dough has tripled, tear off a sheet of parchment paper large enough to cover your pizza peel or the back of another cookie sheet and pour a tablespoon of olive oil onto it.  Spread the olive oil over the parchment paper at around the size you want the pizza to be and dump the risen pizza dough onto the oiled paper.

The dough on the oiled paper on the peel

Rub your hands on the oiled paper to get them slick and press the dough out into a rough pizza shape with your fingertips.  It doesn't have to be perfectly round.  I occasionally get them into that perfect circle shape, but it's not a big deal when I don't.  This is a homemade pizza, not a professional one.  The imperfection makes it yours.  Once the dough starts to really resist shaping, leave it alone for ten minutes to let the gluten in the dough relax.

Right after the first pressing/dimpling - note the air bubbles

After ten minutes, re-oil your hands and press the pizza out into its final shape.  Then spread the sauce onto it.  I have a delicious pizza sauce recipe that I'll post at a different time.

Saucy dough - yes, it's coming off the paper a little at the bottom there

Slide the sauced dough, along with the parchment paper, onto your pizza stone or cookie sheet in the oven and bake it for about 6 or 7 minutes.  If you put the cheese and toppings on now, the cheese will get very brown and crackly.  Which isn't bad if you like it that way.

Two minutes into the oven, and the bubbles are getting bigger

Get your cheese and toppings ready, and after that 6 or 7 minutes, open the oven and top the pizza.  There will be a good bit of steam that escapes from both the baking pizza dough and the sauce, and it'll be very hot, but if you top the pizza quickly, it's not a bad experience.  Just don't burn yourself.

Nascent pizza ready to be topped

I use a prepackaged cheese blend and turkey pepperoni typically, but we've also made some really delicious pizzas by putting on leftovers like burger pieces, grilled chicken, meatballs, sauteed peppers and onions, etc.  The dough's the canvas and you're the artist, so go wild.

Topped and ready for final baking

Bake for another 7 or 8 minutes, or until the crust gets golden brown and the cheese is melted.  The parchment paper will darken but not ignite.  Probably.  It never has with me, and I've done this in several different kitchens.  Still, be careful.

Done and out of the oven - note the char

A slice - the air bubbles in the crust give it flavor

You'll note that I don't add extra flour or water to the dough: just a little oil in the preparation process.  Despite that the dough is made of only four ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, and water, it's really, really tasty.  Crunchy, chewy, and holds up to sauces and toppings.  It's a pizza you can look forward to.  

Is it as easy to prepare as a frozen Freschetta from a box?  No.  But it's vastly better, and you know exactly what's inside it.  It came out of your kitchen and you made it to your personal tastes.  With rising and shaping times, it can take between 2 and 2.5 hours to make, but it's worth it.  

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