September 3, 2010

Homemade Pizza I

Pizza.  Everyone loves it.  Seems as if most food bloggers have dabbled with it.  I must admit that when I first started this blog one of my goals was to find a go-to recipe for homemade pizza.  I've been making my own pizza for years, thinking it was more economical than restaurant pizza and appreciating that I had more control over the healthfulness and quality of the finished product.

Fridays are our pizza night. This started a few years ago when we lived in Kansas City with my husband's dear aunt and uncle.  Somehow the tradition of Pizza and Popcorn Fridays started and I think it was something that all of us looked forward to.  As the cook, it was easy for me, because when one makes a double-batch of crust every other week the in-between pizzas are incredibly simple to put together.  I'm sure the Mid-Westerners in the house looked forward to it as "the one night of the week when that crazy Californian isn't trying to stuff us full of vegetables."   If memory serves me correctly, I made two pizzas every Friday.  One had to be Pepperoni-Mushroom, but the other was whatever I wanted it to be:  BBQ Chicken?  Sausage with Caramelized Onion?

Honestly, I don't remember what recipe for pizza dough I used back in Kansas City.  Some time in the last year or so I discovered King Arthur' Flour's Now and Later Pizza Dough recipe, and I haven't looked back.

Well... until my daughter and I were both were not feeling well on a recent Friday.  It was the first time in years that we picked up a pizza at Round Table, and it was so satisfying, that I felt guilty for forcing my family to eat homemade pizza for all these years.  

Don't get me wrong.  This pizza dough is good stuff.  It has an earthy sweetness from the semolina flour and, depending on how long you allow it to rest, a wonderful, character-building tang.  My only caution is that you must make sure to stretch it out well, so that the final crust is not too thick and doughy.  That and, don't try to make it from memory.  I've tried this several times and I always seem to mess up at least one of the quantities, which, needless to say, results in an inferior product.  When made correctly, this makes a great, flavorful crust for a pizza, but I am not convinced that it is the best, so, please, if you have a favorite pizza dough recipe, let me know.

Also, great pizza depends not only on flavorful, crisp crust, but also on a good sauce, which must be thick enough to not make the crust soggy, and which must have an appropriate zest.  

And cheese:  it must have the right texture and flavor.  Lately I've found grocery-store mozzarella boring.

And toppings:   Pepperoni-Mushroom is the favorite combination in our house, and there are definitely differences in the qualities and spiciness of different commercially available pepperonis.

It seems as if the search for "the best" homemade pizza recipe may go on forever, and I suppose that is ok.

Now and Later Pizza Crust
doubled and adapted from King Arthur Flour
Semolina is available in Natural Foods stores.  It has a wonderful flavor, but it is a very practical ingredient as well.  Have you seen bread or pizza recipes that tell you to dust the pan with cornmeal or semolina?  At high temperatures cornmeal burns, semolina does not.  Makes 4 pizza crusts.

3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2 1/2 cups semolina
2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning, crushed well*
2 teaspoons sugar*
2 teaspoons yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 olive oil
2 1/4 -2 1/2 cups lukewarm filtered water

*Original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons King Arthur Pizza Dough Flavor.  I have substituted Italian Seasoning and sugar.

1.  Mix all ingredients using enough water so that the dough holds its shape.  I like to do this in my stand mixer using the dough hook, but you could do it by hand as well (or in a food processor, if yours has a large enough capacity). This dough doesn't need to be kneaded for a long time, just long enough to moisten all the flour and form a stiff dough (a minute or two).

2.  Transfer dough to a greased bowl or pitcher, cover and let rise at room temperature 45 minutes.  Then transfer to the refrigerator and allow to rest and rise slowly 4 to 36 hours.  The longer the rise, the better the flavor of the crust.

3.  Divide chilled dough into 4 balls.  One at a time, stretch balls out into circles: 9" for a thick crust, 12" for a thin crust.  Set dough rounds onto parchment paper.  If dough is difficult to stretch, let partially-stretched dough rest 10 minutes and continue to stretch.  You could also use a rolling pin to roll the dough, but the texture of a stretched pizza crust seems to be superior (read: more craggy).

4.  Preheat oven to 450º.  Let dough rounds rise on parchment 30 minutes to 1 hour.

5.  One at a time, bake rounds (on parchment--no pizza peel required) on pizza stone (if you have one): 6 minutes for a thinner crust or 8 minutes for a thicker crust.  You don't want it completely baked, just partially-baked, enough to stand up to the topping and have a bit of a head-start on browning.

6.  At this point, you can let the crusts cool to room temperature, then wrap well in plastic wrap and freeze for up to a few weeks.  (Ideally remove crust from the freezer and allow to thaw before topping and baking, though I've had no problem topping and baking frozen crusts.)

Or, to bake right away:  Top with your choice of sauce, cheese and toppings and return to the oven (on parchment, but not on the pizza stone) to bake an additional 7-10 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly and browned in some spots.  Cool pizza at least 3 minutes before slicing with pizza cutter.

Pizza Tips
The sauce- should be fairly thick.  To sauce a pizza, use a large serving spoon to spoon room-temperature sauce onto the center of the crust.  Then use a circular motion to spread sauce out to the edges of the crust.  If you have an unseasoned tomato sauce that you feel is the right texture for a pizza sauce, rather than combining the sauce with seasonings (such as sauteed garlic and Italian Seasoning) on the stove top, sprinkle the crust with chopped garlic, parsley, oregano and rosemary, then top with sauce.  Or use a bottled, non-tomato-based alternative such as pesto or BBQ sauce.

The cheese- most cheeses taste good on pizza, but many (such as cheddar) are too greasy or (in the case of asiago) too hard and dry to be a pizza's primary cheese.  Until you are familiar with the textures, flavors and meltability of certain cheeses, use mozzarella (either fresh or regular, whole- or part-skim) for at least 3/4 of your pizza cheese.  Oh, and if possible, stay away from pre-shredded cheeses.  They are coated with a flour-like substance that can hinder their meltability.

The toppings-  in this part of the country, people tend to place their toppings on top of the cheese, but certain toppings may benefit from the protection that a layer of cheese can provide.  Garlic, fresh spinach and parsley are all prone to burning if exposed directly to high heat.  Precooked chicken may dry out if not protected by a layer of cheese.  Conversely, mushrooms, zucchini and other high-moisture veggies, might let off too much moisture if evaporation is stifled by a layer of cheese.  Therefore, those ingredients do better on top of the cheese.  Always distribute both cheese and toppings more heavily toward the outer edges of the pizza, as toppings are prone to slide toward the middle.

Most of all, experiment and have fun.  And please share your winning pizza tips in the Comments section.

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