Something wonderful happened. I got a surprise night off work! Having already completed my taxes, there was nothing left to do but clean out my closets. Or sit at the computer. And so, here is the Epic of Pizza Making.
Making bread, pizza dough, or really anything with yeast, is a minor miracle. Even if whatever you're making doesn't turn out to be heart-stoppingly delicious, the simple act of kneading dough and watching it rise is worth the time. I love to peak in on rising dough and pat its smooth, cool surface; it's amazing that it keeps growing and changing. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we rarely take the time to experience it.
I have never really made pizza dough; I remember helping my mother make it when I was growing up, but as an adult the only thing I have made with yeast is dill bread (we'll do that soon). A few coworkers and I have recently been talking about getting some pizza dough skill, and, although I had been waiting until I bought a pizza stone, I decided today was the day to start. I perused a few recipes at FoodNetwork.com, and decided to settle on Wolfgang Puck's recipe; he's the godfather of the ubiquitous wood-fired pizza movement, isn't he?
I made two pizzas today, with varying results. I learned a lot from the first pizza and I feel pretty hopeful that I will be able to continue to learn and make better and better pizzas. Read on for the play-by-play. . .
Although I am not a baking superstar, I do know that it is very important to proof your yeast. I am very skeptical of "instant" yeast; it's a living thing, and I don't know how you can guarantee it will wake up. Also, I think it's nice to give the yeast a little snack before it sacrifices itself to your baked good.
Step One was proofing the yeast with water and honey. The yeast is happy; it likes honey.
Next came the mixing and kneading. I used a combination of high gluten (bread) flour and all-purpose flour, because I've heard high gluten was the best for pizza dough, but Puck's recipe called for AP, so I compromised. I used a dough hook in a stand mixer for a few minutes, and then turned the dough out and kneaded it a few minutes before letting it rest. I let it rise for an hour, even though the recipe said 2 hours, but I was impatient, so I broke off one bit after and hour so that I could eat lunch sooner, and then let the larger ball continue its rise. Here's the small ball with the larger dough, before and after the second rise (the forensic wannabe dork inside me says that you can tell time has passed because the light in the kitchen from the sun has faded):
At this point, two paths diverged in a yellow kitchen; fortunately, I was able to to explore both. The first small ball became a pizza. I tried to hand-stretch the dough, but it was very springy and I ended up with a kind-of round with a paper thin center. I also did not put enough cornmeal on the cutting board I was using, and had a hard time transferring it to the oven. Already, I had learned a few things. This pizza was made with garbage from the cabinets and fridge (artichoke hearts, olives, and canned pasta sauce) as I didn't feel like going to the grocery store (this is a recurring theme with me). And here it is, in all of its glory. Or lack thereof:
The dough was okay at best. I could tell that it hadn't had the proper time to rise and develop. You simply cannot rush dough! Then my boss called to offer me the night off work. This rarely happens because they usually need all of us, and furthermore, I am halfway through the seniority list, and typically someone ahead of me takes the option. Now I had no excuse to finish the rest of the pizza dough properly. You can tell when the original lump is ready to separate by pulling it gently; it should stretch and not break off. Here are remaining 3 dough balls, before and after second rise:
I also had no excuse to avoid the grocery store. I decided on sweet Italian sausage, mozzarella (fresh and aged), red onions, and red bell peppers. I rolled the dough out, between 2 sheets of parchment, with a rolling pin. This time I brushed the entire pizza, both sides, with olive oil. I then sprinkled the top with Paul Prudhomme's Pizza magic, a concoction of parmesan and herbs that I could certainly have made myself at home without the $3.50 price tag, but that's how it goes sometimes. I also love cornmeal on the bottom of the crust, so I made sure that there was a nice amount. I slid the pizza, on parchment, into the oven.
Because I do not have a pizza stone, I opted to use an inverted cookie sheet with parchment on top. It worked pretty well; I preheated it in the oven to 500 degrees, just as I would have with a pizza stone. This time, the flavors in the dough had really developed; by now, I had allowed the dough to sit at room temperature for about 5 hours. I even got some nice bubbles around the edges. Although it was pretty darn tasty, this was not the best pizza I have ever had; I like my dough a little sweeter, and I am eager to tweak the recipe to include more honey. That being said, I feel like I've faced something scary and now I can confidently try to make more and more bread, something I've always wanted to do. Here is another picture of the finished pizza. It's a pretty, pretty thing - even Ike wants some: