Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pizza The Hut: Part One

Making fantastic pizza at home is pretty simple. We live across the street from a pizza place and could easily just order up some greasy, cheesy stuff on a whim, but considering the cost of takeout vs. homemade, it's worth a little extra effort to make it at home.

It starts with the dough. You'll need to make it a day in advance, because this will allow the yeast to chill out in the dough and very slowly ferment, creating flavour that only comes with time.

Next, you'll need either a stand mixer with a dough hook, or the ability to spend ten minutes or so punching the shit out of some dough without breaking a sweat or getting sore arms. There's a technique to kneading which I'll explain as we go, but if you can do twenty push-ups no probs, kneading by hand will be easy. (We've got a KitchenAid mixer, and I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than push-ups, so I'm gonna wimp out and use the mixer.)

How hot does your oven get? You're going to want to crank it up as high as it'll go. Most home ovens will make it to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn't as hot as a commercial oven but perfect for cooking at home (especially if you're anything like me and occasionally forget that you've got something in the oven because you've been looking at pictures of squirrels on the internet).

Last, but not least, the toppings. Don't overdo it! Making a pizza with six kinds of meat, five kinds of veggies,  globs of sauce and enough gooey cheese to drown an infant sounds great in theory, but your pizza will fall apart into a sloppy thing that you'll have to eat with a knife and fork (not to mention trying to scrape all the bubbled-over burnt toppings off the bottom of the oven). Further on I'll share a few topping combos that I really like.

Alright. Enough rambling! Let's make some pizza. Today's post is all about dough.

Neapolitan Pizza Dough: (from Peter Reinhart's most excellent tome, The Bread Baker's Apprentice)
*Note: this recipe makes enough for about 4 pizzas.

4 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 3/4 tbsp salt
1 tsp (or one packet) instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups cold water

- Stir together the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
- With a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the oil and water until the dough clumps together into a rough ball and the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- If you're using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and let it do all the hard work for you, on low speed for about 7-10 minutes.
- If you're kneading the dough by hand, you're about to be rewarded for your work by my crudely-drawn diagrams!

Step 1: Place the ball of dough on a flour-dusted countertop.
Step 2: With the heel of your palm, use your left hand to push down and forward at the same time.
Step 3: Grab the far end of the dough and pull it back over itself, back into a ball.
Step 4: Repeat step 2 with your other hand, pushing it away from you then pulling it back.
The key is to alternate your arm movements, moving your left hand to the right and your right hand to the left.
When you knead dough this way, you'll end up with a heart-shaped area in the flour from moving the dough back and forth in a V-pattern.
Aww. How nice. Now keep going! You're not done kneading yet! Beat the hell out of that dough!

After about 7 or 8 minutes of kneading the dough, it should start to get softer, smoother and easier to manipulate. 

- Take a large mixing bowl and lightly oil the inside of it. 

- Take your dough and form it into a ball. Rub a little oil over it and pop it into your oiled bowl. 

- Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge until tomorrow. 

Until next time!

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