Every now and then I find a new recipe, a new technique, for making pizza at home. I’ve abandoned most of them because they just weren’t all that and not worth the effort. I know I can’t replicate the pizza of my dreams, which lives at La Perla in Amsterdam and photos of which figure heavily in my Amsterdam posts. But that doesn’t mean I should be deprived of halfway decent pizza in between trips to The Netherlands.
Not to say I can’t find good pizza here in Humboldt County. I found pretty good locally made pizza dough from Tomaso’s and used it for a while. Brick and Fire makes excellent pizza but it’s a bit pricey to be visiting too often. And I have heard good things about Headies in Trinidad; it’s a bit of a drive but could be worth the trip. Sometimes I just want to make pizza to enjoy at home while listening to the Giants lose.
This is my latest version that I think is pretty good. The dough is easy to put together. It does take a couple of hours for the rise, but that’s when I do the prep for the toppings. Or I can make the dough and store it in Ziplock bags in the refrigerator four or five days, or freeze it and bring it out later. This makes enough dough for two large (16″) pizzas.
A few things I have learned about making pizza:
- A pizza stone is non-negotiable here. It virtually guarantees a superior crust. They’re fragile – set it down too hard, or subject it to sudden temperature changes, and it’ll break, but it’s worth the extra care.
- Another necessary item: parchment paper, to transfer the raw pizza to and from the stone. Waxed paper isn’t a good substitute; it isn’t made to withstand really high heat.
- Less is more when it comes to toppings. Too much stuff won’t cook well in a home oven and will create a soggy center.
- Some toppings have to be cooked before putting them on the pizza. The pizza won’t be in the oven long enough to fully cook anything but the crust; putting raw pork sausage on the pizza will end up with mostly-raw pork and grease on top. Raw meat (pork, beef, chicken, etc) as well as shrimp needs to be pre-cooked and drained of excess grease. Vegetables like eggplant and zucchini won’t cook through so they also need to be sauteed before baking.
- Put the sauce down, then the cheese, then the toppings. Adding cheese last will create a tent over the vegetables that prevents moisture escaping and will leave a soggy center.
- About gluten-free: I don’t pretend to be an expert on gluten-free baking, but I suspect this could be made with the right substitute. King Arthur Flour has a helpful page on this subject.
- 1 heaping tablespoon dry yeast (about 1 1/2 packets, or buy in a jar)
- 1 1/3 cups warm water (95F – 115F)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 1/3 cups unbleached flour plus extra if needed (if you have bread flour on hand, even better, or add some high-gluten flour to regular flour)
- 1 teaspoon salt
The water has to be just the right temperature. Too cool and the yeast won’t do anything but get soggy. Too hot and you kill the yeast. I like to live dangerously and have it almost- but-not-quite too hot.
Add the sugar to the water, then the yeast. Stir to combine – doesn’t have to be completely blended – then leave in a warmish place. Even though it looks like what you pour out of your shoes after a day at the beach, yeast is alive though dormant, and adding warm water starts to wake it up. The sugar gives it something to eat. Then if you’ve done it right, it starts to burp and fart, causing bubbles and foam. (If you don’t see this happen, the water is too cool or too hot or the yeast wasn’t terribly active to begin with.)
Put the flour and salt in a bowl that holds about, oh, three or four quarts (the size of a gallon of milk, more or less), dump in the yeasty water and EVOO, and mix with your clean ringless hand (getting dough out of the prongs of a ring is a bitch). Scrape up the flour from the bottom of the bowl to incorporate it too.
Scrape the dough onto a clean board, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and knead three or four minutes to get everything smooth. If it’s really sticky you might need a little more flour.
Wash and dry the bowl, pour in a couple of tablespoons of EVOO, and return the dough to the bowl. Turn the dough over a few times to make sure it’s oiled on all sides and that the sides of the bowl are likewise oiled, then cover with stretch wrap. Place the bowl of dough in a warmish place, like the oven that was BRIEFLY preheated. (Again, if it’s too hot, you’ll kill the yeast – too cool and it’ll take forEVER to rise.) Let the dough rise 45 minutes to an hour or so, until it’s doubled, which looks considerably more dramatic than you think.
(My stretch wrap is green – that’s because I got the special Christmas stretch wrap really cheap in January. Wish I’d bought several rolls at that price.)
When the dough has doubled, take the wrap off and give the dough a good punch to deflate it. Divide the dough in half – don’t obsess about getting it exactly right – and put each half in a bowl (oil the new bowl like the first one), cover both bowls with stretch wrap, and let rise again. This second rise will take a bit longer than the first.
This is a good time to assemble toppings. Chop veggies, shred cheese, cook raw meat, whatever. Here I’ve got minced garlic, green onions, red onions, mixed bell peppers, and tomatoes.
And here: shredded cheese (a Swiss type from Holland), pepperoni and sopressata, dry basil, pizza sauce, and anchovies.
Once the two hunks o’ dough have doubled again, take them out of the oven (if that is where they were) and set aside. Put the stone in the oven on the middle rack, and start preheating oven to 500F. I like to preheat the stone at least 20 or 30 minutes.
This is one well-used stone. (Yeah, my oven’s dirty. I would sooner buy a new stove than use oven cleaner.)
Lightly dampen a regular round 16″ pizza pan. Tear off a piece of parchment paper and lay it on the dampened pan. Scrape one of the risen doughs onto the paper, plus any oil in the bowl, and start pressing it out with your fingers. Get it all the way to the edge. Patch holes with dough torn from the edges. It doesn’t matter if it looks like a half-assed job.
Once you have your dough pressed out, add sauce, cheese, and toppings.
Now you have a raw pizza on parchment paper on a metal pizza pan. What to do?
Get a pot holder. Open the oven door and pull the rack out a bit with the hand with the pot holder. Drop the potholder. Lower the pizza pan by the baking stone, grab the far edge of the parchment paper, and pull it with the pizza onto the stone. Push the rack back into the oven and close the door.
Check the pizza in about seven minutes. You want the edges lightly browned and the center bubbling. Don’t overbake! This turns tough if baked too long. When the edges are just right, remove pizza by lowering the empty pizza pan near the stone, grabbing the near edge of parchment paper, and pulling the pizza onto the pan. This sounds harder and scarier than it really is.
If you have some fresh basil on hand, tear up a few leaves and distribute over the pizza, followed by a light drizzle of EVOO. I like this with hot pepper flakes and a balsamic reduction to add to each slice.
Of course this dough can be used for all sorts of pizza toppings – i.e. Asian pizza with hoisin sauce, peanuts, chicken, cilantro, or BBQ pizza with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, Jalapenos, onions, whatever strikes your fancy. Or if all else fails, tear off pieces of the dough about the size of a golf ball, deep- or pan-fry in plenty of oil under golden brown, and flock with powdered sugar.