Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pizza the Hut: Part Two

Alright, so yesterday you successfully made a batch of pizza dough, and now you're ready for phase two. This post will cover the next few steps involved in dough-preparation, then we move on to toppings. 

- Pull your dough out of the bowl, and plop it onto the counter (you shouldn't need flour at this stage, the oil will keep the dough from sticking). With a sharp knife or your mighty axe, cut it into 4 equal pieces. Each chunk of dough will make one sheet pan-sized pizza.

- Form each piece of dough into a ball. Each one of these balls will double in size, so once they've been formed, place them a few inches apart on the countertop and cover completely with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel. 

SIDE NOTE- If you aren't planning on making all four pizzas, you can freeze the extra dough balls! Just toss them in individual freezer bags with a little extra oil, and when you finally stop being a one-pizza wuss who knows what "moderation" and "sensible portions" are, you can thaw them in the fridge a day ahead before continuing with the steps below.

- Let those bad boys rise at room temperature for 2 hours. What are you gonna do with those 2 hours? Get your toppings ready, duh.

HINT! Depending on your oven, it could take a while to reach 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Start pre-heating at least half an hour before you're ready to bake.

We'll talk about toppings next, but first a few pointers on shaping your crust. 

- Don't use a rolling pin unless you've tried and failed to stretch the dough by hand! You don't have to toss it in the air and whirl it around, you just have to gently ease it into the shape you want.

- Ideally, you would shape your crust, top it, and slide it gracefully off a pizza peel or floured sheet pan onto the hot pizza stone already waiting in your oven. Well, if I ever manage to do as such, I'll make sure to photograph the event. If it doesn't come off the sheet pan, don't fret!

- Generously dust the back of a sheet pan with flour. 

- Pick up a ball of dough and gently pull and stretch it in all directions, turning it in your hands until it's almost the same size as the sheet pan. Gravity is your friend here...properly-made pizza dough should slowly droop out of your hands like a clock in a Dali painting.

- Place it on the pan and continue stretching it until it's thin and evenly distributed across the pan. Don't worry about making a "rim" around the edges, it'll form on its own as the pizza bakes.

- Once the dough is flattened to your satisfaction, it's time to dress it up!

Because I the photos I usually try to take of food generally do not do it justice, and because I'm usually more concerned with cooking and eating said food, don't expect any shots of glistening pepperoni or oozing cheese. Instead, here's a chart I made with a few different pizza topping combos you might like! (I make a lot of charts and spend a lot of time thinking about pizza.)

- When you're ready to bake your pizza, if you have a pizza stone then slide it directly onto the stone. If you're me, the pizza will stick to the back of the sheet pan despite all the flour, and you can just shove the whole thing in, pan and all, onto the bottom rack of your oven.

- In such a hot oven, your pizza will only take about ten minutes to bake. Set a timer for 10 minutes, then check it every minute or so after that. 

- When the cheese is bubbling and the crust is golden brown, the pizza should be done! 

- Even though it's tempting to cut into it immediately, BACK AWAY. Let it sit for a couple minutes before slicing, because otherwise the molten cheese will puddle all over the place and possibly fall into your lap. 

Enjoy your homemade pizza! That wasn't so hard, was it?  


Until next time, pals!


Pizza The Hut: Part One

Making fantastic pizza at home is pretty simple. We live across the street from a pizza place and could easily just order up some greasy, cheesy stuff on a whim, but considering the cost of takeout vs. homemade, it's worth a little extra effort to make it at home.

It starts with the dough. You'll need to make it a day in advance, because this will allow the yeast to chill out in the dough and very slowly ferment, creating flavour that only comes with time.

Next, you'll need either a stand mixer with a dough hook, or the ability to spend ten minutes or so punching the shit out of some dough without breaking a sweat or getting sore arms. There's a technique to kneading which I'll explain as we go, but if you can do twenty push-ups no probs, kneading by hand will be easy. (We've got a KitchenAid mixer, and I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than push-ups, so I'm gonna wimp out and use the mixer.)

How hot does your oven get? You're going to want to crank it up as high as it'll go. Most home ovens will make it to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't as hot as a commercial oven but perfect for cooking at home (especially if you're anything like me and occasionally forget that you've got something in the oven because you've been looking at pictures of squirrels on the internet).

Last, but not least, the toppings. Don't overdo it! Making a pizza with six kinds of meat, five kinds of veggies,  globs of sauce and enough gooey cheese to drown an infant sounds great in theory, but your pizza will fall apart into a sloppy thing that you'll have to eat with a knife and fork (not to mention trying to scrape all the bubbled-over burnt toppings off the bottom of the oven). Further on I'll share a few topping combos that I really like.

Alright. Enough rambling! Let's make some pizza. Today's post is all about dough.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough: (from Peter Reinhart's most excellent tome, The Bread Baker's Apprentice)
*Note: this recipe makes enough for about 4 pizzas.

4 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 3/4 tbsp salt
1 tsp (or one packet) instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups cold water

- Stir together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
- With a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the oil and water until the dough clumps together into a rough ball and the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- If you're using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and let it do all the hard work for you, on low speed for about 7-10 minutes.
- If you're kneading the dough by hand, you're about to be rewarded for your work by my crudely-drawn diagrams!

Step 1: Place the ball of dough on a flour-dusted countertop.
Step 2: With the heel of your palm, use your left hand to push down and forward at the same time.
Step 3: Grab the far end of the dough and pull it back over itself, back into a ball.
Step 4: Repeat step 2 with your other hand, pushing it away from you then pulling it back.
The key is to alternate your arm movements, moving your left hand to the right and your right hand to the left.
When you knead dough this way, you'll end up with a heart-shaped area in the flour from moving the dough back and forth in a V-pattern.
Aww. How nice. Now keep going! You're not done kneading yet! Beat the hell out of that dough!

After about 7 or 8 minutes of kneading the dough, it should start to get softer, smoother and easier to manipulate. 

- Take a large mixing bowl and lightly oil the inside of it. 

- Take your dough and form it into a ball. Rub a little oil over it and pop it into your oiled bowl. 

- Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge until tomorrow. 

Until next time!