Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pizza: A labor of love and good eats!!

So a reader of mine (thanks to all my readers) sent me an e-mail about making pizza. Now, in our house, pizza is perhaps the most favorite of all foods. Before I got married, there was a spot in the city where you could get vegan pizza but it was not the greatest. I settled for it. A few months ago, I decided to give it a try here at home. And with fabulous results.

Now, I'm not going to front. Pizza making is classified as an "advanced technique" not because it's hard but because it takes practice. The first few times I attempted pizza, it was not pretty. At all. So here I'm going to give a step-by-step tutorial about making your own homemade pizza and encourage you: pizza making can be challenging at first (especially if you're unfamiliar with yeasted doughs or dough in general), but it is well, well worth the time and effort!

Before I start, I'm going to recommend some equipment, namely a pizza stone. You can pick one up at any home goods store. The pizza stone, I have found, is the key to really fantastic pizza. It helps to cook the dough all the way through and makes it crispy. When I went to Bed, Bath and Beyond, I was able to find a pizza making set which included the pizza stone, a pizza peel, pizza cutter and a carrying rack for the stone for about $14. It was the last one. With my 25% coupon, I walked out of there with the whole set for $10. Not bad (although there was a guy also shopping for a pizza stone that looked like he was going to try to beat me down to get the one I was holding--all the others were considerably more pricey but didn't seem to be much different). A pizza stone, when used properly will last for years and years.

Anyway, first step for pizza making is perhaps the most tricky: the pizza dough. The recipe I use is the one that came with my Kitchenaid Mixer. You could do this by hand if you don't have a mixer. For every minute in the mixer, it would be about 4 or 5 mins by hand. Find the original recipe here. I've modified it just a little (and stopped at step 7):

Pizza Dough

1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/2-3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
4 teaspoons sugar
1. Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed bowl
2. Add salt, olive oil and 2 1/2 cups flour
3. Attach bowl and dough hook, turn to speed 2 and mix 1 minute
4. Continuing on speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough clings to dough hook and cleans sides of bowl. Knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes.
Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top.
6. Cover, let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).
7. Punch dough down.

Put the pizza stone in the oven and turn the oven up as high as it will go. Crank it all the way up!! Let it preheat for about 10-15 minutes. *
Do not put the cool pizza stone in a hot oven or it will crack.

Next, you're going to spread your pizza peel or cutting board with coarse cornmeal and roll out your dough using a floured rolling pin. *I only use half of the dough to make a 10" pizza--I like the crust be thin. If you like a thicker crust or want a bigger pizza in diameter, go ahead and roll out all the dough. If you want to get jiggy with it, you can try to spead your dough the way real pizza makers do--I'm not that brave. I roll it out to about 1/2" thick. Anyway, it is important to make sure that your dough can freely slide around your rolling surface.

Add your pizza sauce. You can google and come up with tons of pizza sauce recipes. Basically it will be tomato sauce, garlic, onions and Italian spices. You can also buy ready made pizza sauce r use ready-made pasta sauce. You don't want gobs of sauce . . . a little goes a very long way.

Then for the toppings. This is the part where you can get most creative but remember: *THE TRICK IS TO MAKE SURE THAT THE DOUGH IS NOT TOO WET!!!*** and that your dough can freely slide around your rolling surface. That means you must limit how much you put on top of this dough even though I myself have gotten carried away. Most of the time, I like to use the tempeh sausage crumbles recipe and I saute some onions (sweet red onions are fabulous), garlic, red and green peppers-- that's it. Again, you really don't want to overdo your toppings because you don't want the dough to be so wet or heavy that it doesn't come off your cutting board or pizza peel easily. Trust me, I've been standing there 'nuff times with the pizza peel in one hand, oven open, trying to shimmy the pizza onto the stone and it just will.not.move. Anywhere. So I'm scraping and just trying to keep some semblance of a pizza look.

Anyway, so once you've got everything on top, open your *blazing* oven and transfer the pizza from the cutting board to the peel. You might need a spatula to help it move off but it should not need much help at all. Bake it for 10 mins or until the crust is nice and brown. Take it out (pizza stone and all and set it down on a heat proof surface or cooling rack). Try to keep your people from burning fingers and mouths trying to eat too hot pizza! I know Z1 is all about the pizza--he is never seated at the table as quickly or as enthusiastically as on pizza night. Let the pizza cool down a bit then cut with a nice, sharp pizza cutter. If you put enough cornmeal on your rolling surface then the pizza should not stick to the pizza stone. In the beginning stages of pizza making, I'd put some cornmeal down on the stone too just to make sure it didn't stick. It wouldn't stick but we'd be crunching down on cornmeal. Definitely not good eats!

The pizza is gone in literally 10 minutes. We love it. It took a whole lot of trying just to get up the hill of fantastic pizza making, to be sure. But now it's almost effortless and I don't really need a special ocassion to make it either. Sometimes I make extra dough and freeze it. I always make a lot of sauce and store it in a glass mason jar in the fridge. Sometimes I make extra tempeh sausage crumbles. Because they are spicy, they keep well.

***NB--A word about the pizza stone. The pizza stone is porous like cast iron. You do *not* want to clean it with anything more than than warm water. You do not even want to immerse it in water. Just scrape it down (a stiff silicone spatula works well for this), brush it off and wipe it down. It will get stained and darker over time. But don't use soap or anything else to clean it because it will get down into the stone's pores and flavor your future pizzas. My stained and dark pizza stone irks me because it's stained and dark. My inclination is to bust id down with soap and peroxide. But I just suck it up. It doesn't have to be pretty to make excellent pizza.
Pictured is last night's pizza. Not the neatest or most round pizza but delicious nonetheless. (Notice the pizza stone: oil stains and dark spots--don't worry about it!)

You can experiment with toppings and all that. Have fun!! But the key is a nice dough that's not too wet or heavy with toppings.

I wanted to add that if you just do not want to go through the hassle of making pizza dough, you have options! Many finer grocery stores sell pizza dough (just the raw ball) in the refrigerated or freezer section. You just roll it out, top with sauce and toppings and you're good to go. Alternatively, you can go to you favorite pizzeria and just purchase the raw dough. Many places are now using unbleached white flour not only because it's more wholesome but also because it just tastes better.

There is nothing like homemade pizza. Well worth the time and effort.

Ahhh . . . Pizza! A labor (no kidding!!) of love but wonderfully, fabulously good eats!!


Anonymous said...

I'm not even a vegetarian but that pizza looks good.

Revvy Rev said...

Looks delicious. Is it European or Italian style? Also do you use tomatoes as a topping?

Chi-Chi said...

Thanks guys!!

LoL . . . Revvy Rev, what's the difference?

I've used sun-dried tomatoes (never fresh although I don't know why not!). I love sun-dried tomatoes on top.

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