Monday, October 11, 2010

Pizza Night

Ever since Hey, Babe and I were married we have been having my four brothers over pretty regularly for game night once a week.  When this first started we would just orders pizzas as it was easy, relatively inexpensive, and we really liked the one across the street.  Unfortunately when we moved we no longer had inexpensive, tasty pizza around the corner, and so I started making dinner myself.  There was no point in shelling out big bucks every week for mediocre pizza, and even if the pizza was great, it would still start adding up as a big expense.

I usually end up making things that are easy to put together but will still feed a bunch of men with very good appetites, which usually translates to things like pastas, pizzas, chilis, and stews.  As my menu plan shows, we were supposed to have lasagna this Friday when they came over, but I realized that I was going to be making pizza dough earlier in the week anyway and was going to have extra.  So we switched with next week's pizza and everything was fine.  That is the beauty of having done all my grocery shopping at the beginning of the month, in this case lasagna and pizza have very similar components but if I had been switching out a stew instead, I would have all the ingredients on hand. (Unless of course it were an atypical produce item, then I may not have had it, but that is besides the point). 

I make pizza often, and have a pizza dough recipe that I use most of the time because it is ready in about 90 minutes, which means I don't have to plan it the day before, or early in the morning.  That was great when I was going to my sister in law's house to watch her kids during the day, I got home in time to throw it together and get it in the oven.  However, now that I'm a full time stay at home mom I can try some other varieties.  That is exactly what I did this past week choosing instead of my tried and true pizza dough to go with the recipe the Daring Bakers used by Peter Reinhart.  It went together very easily and as long as your hands were well floured was very nice to work with.  In fact, this is the only dough I have ever been able to make a thin crust pizza with.  I found that it didn't have a lot of flavor and I think next time I may tweak it, maybe adding more salt or some pizza seasonings (basil, oregano, grated parmesan, etc.) to the dough.  I'm not sure, but I will be making it again and I'll take note of what I find.

This recipe needs to be started the night before you want to use it so if you want to try it, be sure to give yourself adequate time before you hope to eat it.  I never remembered to start it the night before until this time.  For toppings this time I went with Mild Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions, and Mushrooms.  (This is also the dough I used for the Italian Sausage Bread, I ended up using 1/4 of the dough because I halved the recipe.  Take my advice and don't ever half that recipe, it is too good to only make half.)

Basic Pizza Dough
from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled 
1 3/4 Tsp Salt 
1 Tsp Instant yeast 
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it’s better with) 
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C) 
1 Tb sugar Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.  The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. (I divided it into 4 pieces and found it to be just right for thin crust pizzas that serve a few people.  If you are going for personal pizzas, feel free to split it into more pieces. I ended up with around 36 ounces of dough and was able to split it evenly using my scale.)

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a generously floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours. 

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C). (NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan. )

10.  Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal, (or get out a piece of parchment paper as I did).  Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.

During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan (or parchment paper, which does not need to be floured), making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 8 minutes or until done.  NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

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