Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pizza Manifesta

You should make your own pizza. Seriously, you should. There are some very notable premade crusts available, of course. In particular, I'm thinking of a locally-made, cornmeal-based crust that our lovely new friend Diana introduced us to. There are also many many unnotables. Before I discovered the wonders of homemade pizza dough, I usually purchased the frozen, or semi-frozen, premade dough that you just stretch, top, and bake. Sometimes this dough doubles as just about any kind of breadly stuff you can ask for. What a can-do dough, right? But nobody likes a show-off. Also, damned mediocre.

This post, then, is devoted to encouraging you to stop buying premade crust (unless you're Diana and have your finger on the pizza pulse). Stop with the Boboli and the Rustica. Stop with the multi-purpose dough masquerading as pizza dough. Just stop. The only real downside to making your own dough is that it requires something many of us have little of: time. The answer to this is to make it on a day when you're mostly home, but doing other things. Allow about four hours from mixing to eating, though a bit more or less doesn't matter terribly. I like to mix and knead right after lunch. Then I go about my business for a few hours before punching the dough down. A few hours later, I'll have my toppings ready to go and my oven heated up. Make whoever is eating with you put together a fresh green salad and you're done. Well, mostly. C and I are total and complete condiment whores. We always have an array of salty, spicy, cheesy, etc. toppings at hand. On pizza, we like sea salt, nutritional yeast, and Franks Red Hot. Actually, we eat just about everything with some combination of those three things.  

While you're at it, why not double all of these ingredients? That way you can freeze half the dough after punching it down and half the sauce. The next time you crave pizza, you won't need four hours of your life to make it happen. My dough recipe follows. As with all other things, it's cobbled together from a bunch of different dough recipes and my own tweaks. The sauce recipe is under the entry for Portabella Pizzas, as is the recipe for Pepperoni Crumbles, which you see on the photo of my finished product.

 Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

2 1/4 t active dry yeast (you DO buy your yeast in bulk, don't you?)
1 c lukewarm water
1 T raw sugar (a bit more if you like a sweeter crust)
1/4 c olive oil
1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1 1/2 t sea salt
a bit of cornmeal

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. As I've emphasized before in matters pertaining to yeast, make sure your water is lukewarm. If it's too hot, your yeast will die and all your doughy aspirations will come to nothing. Let the yeast mixture sit on your countertop for about 10 minutes. At that point, it should look kind of foamy, which is a sign of life. You want the foam. If no foam, let it sit a while longer. If still no foam, start over with more yeast. Of course you buy bulk yeast, so now you should either feel really guilty for killing your perfectly good yeast or you should be pissed at the store for selling you dead yeast. In either case, get some more. Or give up. Perhaps you weren't meant to make dough.

Assuming that the latter scenario has not occurred, prepare to make dough. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Go a bit light on the flour. I recommend saving out about 1/3 cup for kneading. The basic wisdom applies: You can always add more, but you can't take it out. Mix in the yeasty mixture and oil all at once. When you can manage it, dump the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Don't skimp on the kneading. Knead in the extra flour and as much as you need (knead!) to get a supple, elastic, and only slightly tacky dough. If it sticks to your hands, or the kneading surface, add a bit more flour and knead. Continue until it doesn't stick.

While you're kneading, I highly recommend that you take this opportunity to engage in a bit of relationship maintenance that will have the added bonus of making your life easier. Call your partner into the kitchen. Though he (or she) was probably doing something at the time that she (or he) thought was important, you should complain about your beleagured status as indentured dough kneader. Point to the minutes ticking slowly by on your microwave timer and ask him (or her) if he (or she) could help you for just one minute. Look a little weary, and don't worry about having your fatigued facial expression belied by your otherwise vigorous treatment of the dough. Ask her (or him) to wash the large bowl you used to mix the dough. He (or she) will then need to dry the bowl and dribble a few tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom. Thank him (or her) fondly, gesturing once again to the not-much-diminished time on the microwave. Say something like this: "Thank you so much, honey. I only have to knead this for another 5 minutes." He (or she) will then quickly leave the kitchen, congratulating himself (or herself) on both 1) having gotten off the hook so easily, and 2) having helped to make what seems like a very intimidating food item.

When you're finished kneading, put the dough in the prepared bowl and roll it around so that the sides are coated with oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel, or a lid, or a plate, or whatever (I abstain from plastic wrap), and put it somewhere warm for at least 2 hours. If you're busy, and that 2 hours turns into 3, don't beat yourself up. Punch it down. This is very satisfying and leaves a cool fist print in the dough. Depending on how good of a job your partner did, and how much he (or she) grumbled while helping with the bowl, you might offer this simple pleasure to him (or her). Reshape the dough and either freeze it or let it rest again, covered, for another hour or so.

When the time is up, I like to divide the dough in half and stretch it to fit over two cookie sheets. Sprinkle the sheets, or whatever pan you're using, with cornmeal. This will prevent the crust from sticking and make you happier in the long run, though I'd hate to think of anyone's happiness being contingent on cornmeal. How sad. Don't worry if you rip the dough, just ball it up and start over, or kind of patch it. Nobody will notice, or, for that matter, have shit to say about it.

Spread pizza sauce on the crust, leaving a 1 inch margin all the way around. Top with whatever you want. I like tofu ricotta, roasted garlic, sauteed vegetables--especially chard (thanks again to Diana!), mushrooms, and broccoli, caramelized onions, pepperoni crumbles, capers, fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, and cheese (Daiya is absolutely, hands down, the best vegan cheese on the market. If you can't get it where you live, well, I'm sorry about that.) Bake the topped pizza in a 500 degree oven for 12 minutes.

Finally, to encourage you further, because I am the encouraging sort, I'm including a photographic journal to guide and support you on your (perhaps not so) maiden voyage into pizza making.

This is the newly kneaded dough, anxious to fulfill its potential.  

This is the same dough with a very inflated sense of self-importance. See what a couple of hours in a warm place will do to this stuff?

This is print my fist made, having put the dough in its place.

This is the dough, ready to be topped and baked. See how imperfect, yet, somehow, perfect?


Cael said...

I willingly admit my role in this whole process--I am, indeed, the bowl-oiler and the next-room-over grumbler.

Also, the pic of your little fist punch in the dough is absolutely adorable. That stupid dough ball got what it asked for.

Bourbon Enthusiast Monthly said...

"Of course you buy bulk yeast, so now you should either feel really guilty for killing your perfectly good yeast or you should be pissed at the store for selling you dead yeast. In either case, get some more. Or give up. Perhaps you weren't meant to make dough."

I like to imagine the blog in the voice of Werner Herzog, personally.

b3carmain said...

Have: Next Room Grumbler. Need: Bowl Oiler, Dough Puncher..... Can I use yours??!