A few of my first posts were on pizza, espousing the virtues of making it at home. That was, I can hardly imagine, 3 years ago. I still believe that you should be making pizza at home. However, in those 3 years, I've made probably 200 pizze, and my methodology has been tweaked and refined. It took that 3 years to get to the point where I thought I had something halfway meaningful to share, but I think I'm actually there. The biggest change: I now make the dough instead of buying it from a pizza shop.
Making dough gives me a sense of satisfication that I cannot fully put into words. The next step would be to make my own mozzerella, and I suspect this isn't far behind. But on to the dough...
In my attempts to make Neapolitan-style pizza, I tend to make a dough that's quite wet; dough with a "high hydration", as they say in the pizza-making world. This means a higher ratio of water to flour.
I use King Arthur bread flour. Let us not forget that we're making bread here.
- 2.25 cups King Arther bread flour
- 1 cup water at 100-110 degrees
- 1 teaspoon instant active yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Add the water and yeast to a mixing bowl and mix briefly to get the yeast mixed in. After a few minutes, if the yeast is alive, you'll see some froth. It's better to find out if the yeast is alive now, rather than the next day when you see that your dough didn't rise.
- Add 1 cup of the flour and mix for two minutes. And then let it stand for 20 minutes. This step is sometimes referred to as the autolyse step. It gives the flour a chance to absorb the water, which apparently helps in the creation of glutens (which makes dough chewy and wonderful).
- After 20 minutes, starting mixing again (low speed) and start adding the flour 1/4 cup at a time. You can add the salt, sugar, and olive oil now as well. Mix for 10 minutes or so. Your dough should be pretty tacky, so when you handle it, flour your hands.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and work it a bit (because that's fun), and then portion into 2 pieces, each of which will be about 10 ounces.
- Roll them into tight balls, plop them in tupperware, and put 'em in the fridge for a day minimum, and up to 5 or even 6 days. This slow, cold, rise really helps in the development flavor.
- 3 hours before you want to make the pizza, take the dough out of the fridge, and let sit at room temperature. Preheat your oven on its highest temp for at least 1 hour, and more likely for 2 hours. Your oven has a pizza stone on its floor, obviously. Both of these points are very, very important. The highest heat possible, and preheat the cooking stone for the longest time possible.
- 30 minutes to an hour before you are going to cook, punch the dough down, roll back into a ball, and let rise a bit more.
- You should be able to form a 10/12 inch disc with your hands, and no rolling pin. A rolling pin is going to crush all of those great air bubbles out, and is going to create a very flat dough. You want there to be a decent crust that will rise when cooking.
As for topping a pizza, it really cannot be stressed enough that less is more (Chicago, please cover your ears). You should be able to see the dough through the sauce. And don't over-do the cheese.
Sauce, you ask? Listen, don't make a cooked sauce (and it goes without saying that you shouldn't be buying something in a jar that says "pizza sauce"). PIzza sauce to my mind should be raw. It's going to cook in the oven. I use Pomi brand strained tomatoes (the stuff in the box). Sprinkle the dough with salt, and then add some spice/herbs to the sauce after it's applied (s/p/oregano/thyme maybe).
Into the oven, and in 5 minutes or so, you should have a great pizza. I've been trying to get pizza out in 4 minutes, and to do this I start on the pizza stone on the bottom of the oven, and then after about 3.5 minutes, I turn on the broiler, and place the pizza on some unglazed tiles which are on the top rack. This gets the top of the pizza done quickly, and really helps in forming a nice crust. You'll notice that pizzaioli using wood-fired brick ovens will lift the pie to the top of the dome during the final seconds of cooking. That's the effect I'm going for here.
After 3 years of focusing on a basic margherita-type pizza, I'm starting to branch out, since I'm now more comfortable with the foundation. I'm generally of the mindset that you should master the basics first, in any venture.
I recently found inspiration from the folks at Rosso Pizzeria in Santa Rosa, CA, and tried to duplicate their awesome funghi pizza. Mushrooms, cheese, artichokes, and fresh thyme. Oh, and an egg in the middle.
There was a bit too much cheese on this pizza, but in the end it didn't make it inedible.
If you check back in a few months, you'll probably find that I've changed everything around again, and this whole approach will be shit-canned. But until then...
Make dough. Make pizza. Eat pizza. And if it's not working out as well as you'd hoped, just add pepperoni.