KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Pizza Maker Returns
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Monday, October 01, 2007
Pizza Maker Returns

It's been over two years since I first posted here on BAB about the trials and tribulations of making pizza at home and yet not much has changed in my pizza world. I'm still the obnoxiously opinionated, obsessive pizza lover that I've always been, rarely without some kind of criticism. My standards are high, I know exactly what I like and don't like, and I'm quick to pass judgment.

But all that being said, I am still well aware of the fact that despite being a former professional baker and an avid cook, I have yet to replicate my perfect pizza at home. I know that I will never achieve greatness in a home oven, unable to make my oven soar to a blistering 900F, but I'd still like to get as close as I can to a delicious home-baked pizza. I've had lots of advice too, from baking it on a grill to turning on the broiler before baking. But I still feel that before I really start to experiment with the heat (beyond cranking my oven to the max at 500F and letting my pizza stone absorb all that heat for at least 30-60 minutes before I slide my hard-earned pizza in) I need to find a good crust recipe.

I've already got a great sauce recipe (the secret is 6-in-1 tomatoes, seriously), but the dough has alluded me for, well, my whole life. I've tried many different recipes, from Reinhardt's to the one on the side of the Italian '00' flour package to zillions of others, but I'm just never that impressed. Maybe it's me (I do have a terrible knack for being unable to follow a recipe because I always think I know better) or maybe it's just that I haven't found the perfect balance of ingredients.

All that being said, I decided to try the pizza dough recipe in The New Best Recipe, the cookbook from Cook's Illustrated. I've been using this cookbook for over a year now, and I have to say that nearly everything I've made from it has turned out, not only delicious, but one of the best examples of what I was making.

What I learned from my latest pizza experiment:
1) Bread flour is better than all-purpose or '00' flour. It helps keep the crust crisp and still chewy and moist.
2) A food processor works well for mixing a yeast dough (I've been using it for years for my pastry crust, but never for a yeasted dough. Proved me wrong).
3) Following a recipe won't hurt me.
4) My oven gets hotter than 500F. I think it maxed out at about 575F. A hot oven is critical to making a nice bubbly crisp crust. I even tried the broiler trick at the end that extramsg once advised, and it works great.

Sausage and Mushroom Pizza
*dough recipe adapted from The New Best Recipe (Cook's Illustrated)

For the dough
1/2 cup warm water (about 105F-100F)
1 envelope active dry or instant yeast
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for oiling the bowl
4 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

For the pizza topping
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage
About 6 cremini mushrooms, sliced
About 1 1/2 cups prepared tomato sauce
1 lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
About 6 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin slivers (except you will notice I forgot to get it at the store so it's not on my pizza, but I recommend it)

Makes about three 12-inch pizzas

To make the dough, in a bowl or measuring cup, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let stand until the yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add the room temperature water and the oil and stir to combine.

I used a food processor, but you can also use a stand mixer or just a bowl and wooden spoon. If using the processor (which Cook's Illustrated recommends and frankly worked great for me) process the flour and salt together. With the motor running add the water and yeast mixture and process until the mixture comes together and forms a ball.

Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times to form a smooth round ball.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place for about 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan, cook the sausage meat until browned. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pan and add the mushrooms. Saute until just cooked and add to the sausage.

Position a rack in the lower third of your oven. Line the rack with unglazed ceramic tiles or put a pizza stone on the rack and preheat your oven to 500F for at least 30 minutes (this is important, the tiles or stone need time to get really hot and absorb all that heat; it's what will help make your crust crisper and chewier, like a professional pizza oven).

Divide the dough into 3 equal balls. Set two balls aside and cover with a damp kitchen towel. On a lightly floured work surface, flatten the ball into a disk and use your fingers to press it out until it's about 1/2-inch thick. Gently stretch the dough, rotating it as you stretch, until it's about 12-inches in diameter.

Lightly dust a pizza peel with semolina, cornmeal or flour. Place the dough round on the peel. Lightly brush the dough with olive oil.

Spread about 1/2 cup tomato sauce evenly on the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle about 1/3 of the sausage and mushroom mixture evenly over the top of the dough. Place about 1/3 of the mozzarella slices on top of the sausage.

Slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone (or tiles). Bake for about 7 minutes or until the dough is golden brown and the toppings are sizzling. Eat!

Mmmmmmmmmm. This pizza exceeded my expectations. It was crisp yet still moist and slightly chewy. A little thicker than I tend to like, but full of nice big bubbles. It browned nicely, just in time for the cheese to melt and get a few nice brown spots. It maybe needed a touch more salt, and would probably have been better if I'd let it rise overnight in the refrigerator (which gives it more flavor). But definitely one of the best pizzas I've made in a very long time.

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Anonymous Kim said...

You are a woman after my own heart. I spent a year perfecting my pizza dough recipe before I got it exactly how I wanted it. It turned out so well that now I sell it in local grocery stores. I would love for you to try some. Let me know if you are interested.

10/02/2007 8:45 AM

Blogger Kim Laidlaw said...

I was really happy with this dough, but there's certainly room for improvement! I would love to try your dough, I'm definitely interested.

10/05/2007 3:43 PM

Blogger Kim Laidlaw said...

I was really happy with this dough, but there's certainly room for improvement! I would love to try your dough, I'm definitely interested.

10/05/2007 3:43 PM

Blogger Bert said...

Using a grill is one way to ensure that the temperature is high enough. We did that when V's parents were in town. The crust was perfectly cooked! We also did splits between '00' and regular flour (both made the exact same way in parallel). IIRC, the regular was the same or slightly better, but wins easily since it's more readily available...

10/06/2007 7:52 PM


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