Thursday, December 31, 2009

Not rocket science: making pizza at home

I've always wanted to make pizza at home that had crust as good as they do at a take out place, but have never been able to do it.   I figured it was because I didn't have a pizza oven that got up to 800 F, but I thought I'd give it my best shot.   So, I asked around on chowhound and on the AnnArborFood group  to see what I'd find out.  What I did find out is that there is a lot of macho talk out there about how to make good pizza.   Probably the most entertaining is this guy's blog about all the techniques he's tried to perfect a NY style pizza since he moved to Atlanta.   Locally, I appreciated reading John Wilkin's blog, which is all about library science and making pizza at home.   Great reads, both of them! 

Getting past the Pizza Doublespeak

Given that I am an engineer, I think I understand men better than most women, because I work in their native habitat and get to observe them on a day to day basis.    Think of me as your "Jane Goodall" of male behavior.   Some day I will write a book about it, but for now, let's focus on pizza.  For some reason, men have been attracted to making good pizza at home more frequently than women, I have noticed.  Just look at the forum discussion on  (it's a veritable "sausage fest", if you will pardon my pun).  The fact is, men are given to using fancy terminology to impress others, and it seems they have applied this to pizza making as well.   Double speak is one of men's charms, but at best, it can get in the way of sharing information and at worst, it can be used as a shield as defense for what they don't know.   So, to combat this, I have this Mark Twain quote framed on my desk:

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please"

which I am prone to gesturing at when I catch my fellow engineers in an argument when they are bluffing by using lots of doublespeak.  (some day, I will write a blog post about the "Columbo" questioning techniques that helps get to the bottom of such discussions)  Not that women are immune to this kind of talk - look at cosmetic advertisements, for heaven's sake!   What the heck does "clarifying shampoo" supposed to mean?  How about paying extra for foundation that contains a "patented blend of hexapeptides and botanicals"?  But in the pizza making world, there is all kinds of fancy talk like autolysing, proper hydration, and Lehmann pizza dough calculator.  Here's the rocket science demystified....

How did my first shot at pizza making go?   I have to say it went pretty well.   After reading through a million pizza dough recipes, I had to lay down some ground rules.  First, I was not going to mail order any ingredients.   That meant buying only flour I could buy locally, no sourdough starter, etc.   Also, I was going to stick to kitchen gadgets I have in my house already.   Against my better judgement, I had purchased a pizza peel last year.  I didn't want to do it because a) I knew it would be a pain to store and b) it's a unitasker.   But there really is no substitute for one, so I bit the bullet and bought one at the Kitchen Port going out of business sale last year.   It's short handled, so I was able to store it with the cookie sheets.   It still is a unitasker though - I guess it could be used as a spanking paddle, if you are into that!    I also have a couple pizza stones that I have gotten over the years at Pampered Chef parties.    But I wasn't going to buy a brick pizza oven or cut the lock off my oven so I could use the oven self cleaning temps.   My max oven temperature was going to have to be 550 F.   Some people recommend grilling, but my grill is propane fired and I wasn't sure if I could get much higher than that, given it is winter here in the Mitten State, and the outside temps were about 20 F and it was snowing to beat the band as I type this.   The grill is out for winter pizza making for me.

There's much talk about proper hydration and weighing your ingredients online.   I am not sure that's totally required - I weighed mine because I have a scale, but I have to think that measuring would work fine if a measuring cup is all you have.   I wanted to try real pizza flour (tipo 00) and was able to find it at Busch's, so I went for it.    I put my stone on the floor of my oven, but it made the kitchen really smoky when the flour I used burnt off.   I think next time I might try putting the stone on a rack and using parchment paper instead on the peel.    Online, there's lots of talk of "autolysing", which is a French breadmaking term that just means to mix your water and flour first, and then let it sit for 20 minutes.   Why not? 

Here's how I made my pizza:

500 g Napoli CaputoTipo 00 flour
325 g water
10 g kosher salt
3 g bread machine yeast

Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, add about 3/4 of the flour and the water and mix it.  Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes.   Add salt and yeast and mix for a couple minutes, and then start gradually adding the remaining flour.   Keep mixing until the dough forms a nice blob - about 5 minutes more.  Let it rise for 1 1/2 hours.  Punch it down and divide dough into 4 blobs, I used my bench scraper but a sharp knife ouwld work.  Roll it into a sphere and pinch the seams to the bottom.   Place the 4 blobs pinch side down on a cookie sheet and cover with Saran wrap.  Let rest for 1 hour.   (from reading, I understand that at this point, you could put the 4 blobs in an oiled covered Tupperware container in the fridge for future use - they can be kept up to a week there).  While the dough is resting, heat up the oven to the max temp you can go with the pizza stone on the floor of the oven or on the lowest rack.   On my oven, that's 550 F.   It takes almost an hour for my oven to preheat to that temp.  

To roll out the dough blobs, put some parchment or flour on the peel and flip the blob over, pinch side up.   Press it into a flat disk, picking it up and let gravity help make it flat.   There's no need to leave a fat lip on the outer rim.  Wherever the topping stops, the lip will form naturally.  My pizzas got to be about 12 inches in diameter.  I made them as thin as I could without making a hole in them.  Place them on the peel and top them as you see fit.   Use less pizza sauce and cheese than you think you should: you should be able to see doughy spots through the topped pizza.  Add pepperoni if you like, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil.   My favorite topped pizza was with olive oil, a minced clove of garlic, mozzarella cheese and some rosemary leaves.   Put pizza on hot stone, and bake it until the bottom is charred nicely - mine took 4 minutes.   Use the peel to take the pizza out - I used a metal spatula to help get it on the peel.  Put the pizza on a cookie sheet to cut and start making another pizza. 

I could see how having another pizza peel would be nice, but I don't think I want to buy another unitasker!  It's bad enough that I have one already.  The pizza came out great!  I could see making the dough on the weekend and putting it in the fridge for weekday use.    I am looking forward to making pizza again, and this time trying the parchment.   It's more work than calling Classic Pizza (my favorite nearby pizza joint) but it came out really well.



Kate said...

I found that using parchment paper reduced my desire for a second peel and the pizzas never get stuck on the peel (which occasionally happened despite my heavy hand with the cornmeal). If you have enough counter space you can get all your pizza's ready to go on parchment and then just use the peel for sliding them on and off the stone. I've heard other people use a rimless baking sheet as their "second" peel.

Catalina said...

Mmmmmm yummy pizza!
Can't wait to see what you make for the CanJam!

Sandy said...

I make my homemade dough in the bread machine. I like to add a bit of extra sugar. We like a sweeter crust. After the dough is ready, I sauce it and prebake at 500 for about five minutes. Let it cool a little then dress it and bake. We always prebake the dough at Buscemi's - Cheese piled high on really good dough, I'm a pizza taster and I ought to know....

Anonymous said...

Saw you in (Way cool)

Thought I would pass along a link from my pizza class

I never used 00 flour, but I plan to give it try.