Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pizza Dough

Dear Kate,

A collection of recipes for you would not be complete without a recipe or two for pizza dough.  Your grandmother often talks about one of your dad's best friends who ate only pizza and peanut butter and jelly for many, many years.  For a while it was looking like you were going to do the same only it was pizza and macaroni and cheese.  It has always been the one food I know you will eat with gusto.

Ok, so this picture doesn't really capture what proofing the yeast looks like, but at least you can see the measuring cup very well!

I used to think that making my own dough meant that pizza night had to be planned well in advance and meant a struggle with unpredictable dough when it came time to make the actual pizza.  Mixing ingredients, rising time, kneading time, it all seemed like a lot of work.  Then you have to get it rolled out in a roughly pizza-like shape.  Will it be too sticky?  Will it be full of holes?  Will it be keep bouncing back into a small circle or will it roll into a nice size crust?  Eventually I just stopped making my own crust.  But with your love of pizza and my dislike of feeding you processed foods like frozen pizza, I began making homemade pizza again.

This pizza crust is so simple I would call it foolproof, except that when I made it recently I forgot 2 cups of the flour before I added the water, which resulted in a bit of mess before I got everything sorted out.  Rather than say it is foolproof, I should say that if you put in the right quantities in the right order, it is foolproof.  The dough is easy to work with and only needs a single rise of 45 minutes.  No major advance planning required.  Put the dough together, clean up, preheat the oven (the longer the better if you are using a pizza stone), get the toppings out, and by the time you are done with that the dough should be almost fully risen.  This dough was designed for a food processor, but I think it would work with a standing mixer and dough hook, or even mixed by hand with five minutes of kneading.


A couple of pointers for this dough, and really any other bread or dough you might make.  First, I like to proof the yeast by putting it warm water or other liquid for a few minutes before adding it to the dry ingredients.  Proofing used to be quite essential and if your yeast is old you definitely don't want to skip this step, as the point is to make sure the yeast gets bubbly and starts working.  If it doesn't, you need to throw it out and get some new yeast (or try again if you might have had the liquid too hot).  Not everyone proofs anymore because the yeast we buy now is more reliable, and particularly in breads with long rising time and plenty of liquid, the results are very much the same whether you proof or not.  However, I have found that proofing has another benefit, namely helping the yeast distribute evenly without yucky clumps of yeast in the dough.  Therefore, even if the recipe doesn't call for proofing I like to do it anyway as it never hurts, but often helps.

Second, before you begin working with a dough that you plan to roll out, be sure to let it rest after you get it onto your floured surface, before you start to shape it.  Resting the dough is supposed to relax it so it isn't as elastic.  As silly as it sounds to let dough "relax," it really does work.  Letting the dough sit can be the difference between a perfect crust of the right size and thickness or an elastic band that springs back to a small, thick round the minute you stop rolling it.

Third, tossing the dough can be a great way to get a nice round shape, so long as the dough is sufficiently tough and thick enough to allow it.  I have some dough recipes that cannot handle being tossed, but this one does well with a little toss in the air.  It isn't required, but looks impressive (at least until you drop it on the floor).

Finally, just like with the calzone, I find it is easiest to put together the pizza on a sheet of parchment paper and then slip it, paper and all, onto the pizza stone.  You can also generously sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel, prepare the pizza on the peel, and slide it into the oven, but I have found that sometimes the pizza sticks in spite of the cornmeal, which is incredibly frustrating.  Further, a lot of cornmeal ends up in the bottom of the oven and you either have to be vigilant about cleaning it up or you'll end up with a smoky oven very quickly.

Pizza Dough
(Adapted from Cuisinart Elite Collection Recipe Booklet)

1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1 Teaspoon sugar
1 1/4 Cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
3 1/3 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 Tablespoon kosher salt
2 Teaspoons olive oil

1.  Proof the yeast by dissolving, with the sugar, in warm water.  
2.  Add flour and salt to food processor (need a large bowl processor of 12 to 14 cups with dough blade) and process.
3.  If the yeast is foamy, with the food processor running, pour the liquid through the feed tube at a steady rate.  A dough ball will form and the sides of the bowl will begin to look clean.  Process an additional 30 seconds.
4.  Place olive oil in large bowl and place dough in bowl, turning to coat with oil.  (The dough may be slightly sticky.)
5.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm spot for 45 minutes (I find that on the stove top with the vent hood light on is just warm enough).  Preheat over to 450 degrees with pizza stone on rack in lowest position in oven.
6.  Punch down dough and place on a lightly floured surface.  Divide in half and form two small dough rounds.  Cover with the plastic wrap loosely and let rest 5 to 10 minutes.  Roll one piece into desired size and thickness.  
7.  Place on parchment paper on top of pizza peel or back of a cookie sheet.  Add sauce and toppings.  Sprinkle with a little of the garlic seasoning, particularly the crust.  Slide onto pizza stone.
8.  Bake 5 to 10 minutes, until cheese is melted and slightly brown.  Repeat with second dough ball.

You can also use this dough for calzones or stomboli.  If you don't have a pizza stone or you want a change, you can press the dough into lightly greased baking sheet sprinkled with a little cornmeal.  Top as usual and place in preheated oven (only needs a 5 minute preheat) on the lowest rack.  It may take slightly longer to bake if the dough is thicker. 

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