Sunday, March 27, 2011

Best Pizza Dough Ever (so far, at least)

Isn't this a pretty pizza?  The dough was the best ever.  Just look at the bubbles!  Mmm!!
I've been playing with different pizza dough recipes for awhile, and not too long ago, I stumbled across two interesting sites about pizza dough.  The first is a giant article written by the owner of Verasano's Pizzeria, which includes Jeff Verasano's pizza dough experience and final recipe.  He was on the hunt to re-create a New York style pizza in Atlanta and did just that.  The second is a blog called 101 Cookbooks that discussed Peter Reinhart's Napoletana pizza dough, author of Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread and apparently the guy when it comes to bread dough of any kind.

I read both and went ahead and tried to synthesize what was said.  Even though I no doubt did things differently (Verasano swears by having a sourdough culture along with regular yeast...we can't really get that in Visalia), this was the best pizza crust I have made.  They are both onto something here: it is more in technique than in ingredients.  Ingredients are pretty simple and straightforward, but the same ingredients can produce a really great pizza or a really terrible pizza.

4 1/2 c high-gluten flour, like a bread, or AP flour if that's all you have (maybe less flour...go by feel)
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 c ice cold water
olive oil (optional)
cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting (optional)
  1. Stir together 3/4 of the flour, the salt, the yeast, and the water.  Use a large metal spoon (or even your mixer on low with a dough hook), mix for a couple of minutes, then cover and let it sit for 20 minutes.  The reason this is so important is it takes awhile for water to be absorbed, so these "resting" periods really are crucial.  
  2. After sitting, turn your mixer on low and mix for about 8 minutes, going up to medium about halfway through.  5 minutes into start adding more flour, but remember you want your dough to be a wet dough!  This is where I've gone wrong in the past -- my dough has been too dry.  The dough should be sticky and will clear the sides but still stick to the bottom.  If you add too much flour, put in another teaspoon of cold water. 
  3. A test to see if your dough is ready: It should be sticky, but if you sprinkle just a tiny bit of flour on it, it should feel soft.  Remember that your whole dough doesn't have to feel that way.  You'll add a bit of flour to the outside, making it workable but still wetter on the inside.  
  4. Let rest for 20 minutes.  (Yep.  Again.)
  5. Sprinkle a little flour on your counter and "pour" the dough onto the counter.  (Seriously, it should not be a hard dough at this point.  If it is, it is too dry.)  With floured hands and perhaps a sprinkle of flour on the outside, gently mold it into a mound or multiple mounds.  Do not knead it.  
  6. Your dough balls are now going to go in the fridge, so have containers or plastic bags ready.  Glad containers work the best.  Just put a bit of olive oil on your hands and rub it into the inside of the container.  Put your dough balls in individual containers and let them rest again another 10 minutes.  (That's right.  Yet another rest.)
  7. Place in fridge 1 - 6 days.  *Peter Reinhart says you can even freeze them for up to three months.  Just take and put in the fridge the day you want to use them.
  8. When ready to make the pizza, remove dough from fridge 1 1/2 hours from when you want them in the oven.  Most recipes say the dough needs to double in size, but it doesn't.  About 50% is still a good rise, since the yeast has already been working in the fridge.  Plus, softer, wetter dough rises faster.
  9. When you are ready to spread your dough into a pizza shape, use a little bit of flour and do so, but do not knead or use a roller!  Very gently, push the dough out with your fingertips.  If it's springing back, let it rest a bit.  
  10. Semolina flour or cornmeal can be used on the bottom, especially if you're using a pizza peel.
  11. Move oven rack to lowest position.  Place pizza on stone (you can heat the stone up in the oven if you have a pizza peel) and bake as high as your oven goes.  Mine goes to 530, so that's what I do.  Depending on how hot your oven is, your pizza will bake anywhere from 5 minutes on.  **Peter Reinhart says you can put your stone directly on the bottom of your oven if it's gas, but I haven't tried that yet.  Perhaps this would help my get rid of the next step I do.
  12. I have found that my dough cooks through, but the bottom still isn't as charred as I like it.  After it's baked for about 6 minutes, I put it on a plain pizza rack, so the bottom cooks a bit more.  But this is an annoying step I'd rather not do.  It just works for me.
About pizza toppings:
  1. Use less than you think, from sauce to cheese to other toppings.
  2. The best sauces come from crushed tomatoes that are quickly pureed and have just a few seasonings in them.  Jar sauces usually don't work as well because they've already been cooked too many times.
  3. High quality mozzarella does make a difference, but we can only use what we have.  You may find that cutting it into thin pieces instead of shredding it gets you a more authentic taste.  Again, less is best, especially if you do the next step.
  4. When we were in NY, the bakers added a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese, a handful of basil, and a dash of olive oil after the pizza came out.  I really like doing this.
I know this looks like a lot of steps, but the steps aren't difficult.  If you love good pizza, you should give this a try!  Or come over and we can make it together!

2 comments:

  1. Wow! This looks incredible. I can't wait to try it. I'm going to try your orange chicken recipe tonight - but instead of chicken, I'm going to try tempeh (a veggie sub), I'll let you know if it's yummy so you can make it for Roger when we visit. :)

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  2. You might like to read in my Cookwise book on cold rise doughs. I have not had good luck with it yet, but it gives some interesting reasons, including better flavor, for the steps you describe.

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