Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Homemade Pizza

Daring BakersIt's the first time I've baked pizza completely from scratch - well actually I didn't make the mozarella and pepperoni - but other than those I made ones from raw flour, yeast, etc. to make the dough. I especially like the dough kneading and rising. One tick in my list of things I wanted to do all my baking life plus one less block off my phobia of yeast.

I love the texture and billowy softness of the dough after the overnight rising. It was like a baby's bottom. Though it's also this quality that makes it a bit tricky to stretch and toss since the softness makes it so easy to expand it too thin. My dough actually suffered holes in the first two times which reminded me not to do too much stretching. Only one toss is for me is enough. More than one toss and you're really stretching it too far.

The Daring Bakers are the 'culprits' in this latest experimentation. This month's theme is currently hosted by Rosa and is also done in memory of Sherry who was supposed to be the co-host until her untimely death last July of a massive heart attack. Here's to you Sherry wherever you are.

It's funny, we were asked by Rosa to take pictures of ourselves tossing the pizza but my kids were more afraid of me dropping the dough on them or worse on the floor. Nothing of the sort happened of course but no picture materialized.

I know what you're gonna say - why make a boring pepperoni pizza? Well it's the topping that my family likes so I don't really care what anyone says. Also, for me to experiment I have to start from the most basic before moving on to more adventurous pastures. Avoiding waste was also in mind since I was wary that it would all go wrong so I don't really want to buy exotic pizza toppings for now.

I don't have a pizza stone so I thought the next best thing would be to use the smooth underside of my cast iron grill. It worked particularly well if I must say so, turning out crisp evenly baked crust.

My problem was in the transferring of the assembled pizza to the hot cast iron pan in the oven. I didn't have any semolina or cornmeal to slide it in easily. So I used a lot of flour on the chopping board though it doesn't work all the time which sometimes make the pizzas into odd shapes. Well, rounded or not the pizzas were gobbled up as soon as they come out of the oven. So the irregular shape really does not matter as much as the all important taste.

I'd just like to say thank you for the great dough recipe which is adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. It's something that me and my family would definitely have again and again.

Basic Pizza Dough

4 1/2 cups white bread flour, chilled
1 3/4 tsp fine salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1/4 Cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups water, ice cold (4.5°C/40°F)
1 Tbsp sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

*Day One
  1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl.

  2. Add the olive oil, sugar and cold water and mix well with a wooden spoon to form a sticky ball of dough.

  3. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are well distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

    NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 10°-13°C/50°-55°F.

  4. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a baking sheet with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

  5. With a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. You may weigh them to divide them equally. Each piece should be about 180 gm in weight.

    NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

  6. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

    NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

  7. Transfer the dough balls to the lined baking sheet and mist or brush them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

  8. Put the pan in the frige and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

    NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

*Day Two
  1. Exactly 2 hours before you make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

  2. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone or a cast iron pan upside down (you will use the underside of the pan for baking) on the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (around 260°C/fan 240°C/500°F).

  3. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan or chopping board with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

    NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time. During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping. In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully, then try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

  4. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 180 g/6 oz  piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

  5. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

    NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

  6. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 4-6 minutes.

    NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

  7. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. Rest it for 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving to allow the cheese to set a little.

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