Pizza  blog #2

[I’m taking a blogging break until 5/31, so am putting up favorite food posts from the archives in the interim]

Can we call this national make-pizza-at-home week?  That would make me really happy.  Why?  Because pizza at home is so good, so easy, and so so affordable.  But what I want to focus on here is the EASY part.  This is why I really loved Sam Sifton’s NYTimes mag article on pizza (except for that truly shameless plug of Jay McInerny’s new book—are they pals? Really had to stretch even to make sense).  But: Pizza at home IS so easy it got me wanting to make pizza for breakfast: bacon and eggs pizza?  Why not?!

Pizza blog #1 I loved his stressing the fact that you don’t have to have a stone oven that goes to 800 degrees to make pizza (or even a stone).  When I make pizza for the family, one of the pies goes on a stone but the other goes on a regular baking sheet.  And guess what—it’s just as good!  Want to try a fun method?  Bake it on an inverted cast iron pan! That works great, too!

The basic bread dough ratio, as I’ve said before, as I demo in the promo video for the new book, as I showed on CBS with Harry and Maggie (thanks for linking Bob and for the Plato ref!), as is well known as a baker’s percentage: is in essence this: 5 : 3, flour to water.  Works great for pizza dough as well.

For one decent pie for two, I use 10 ounces flour and 6 ounces water (plus a four-fingered pinch of yeast and a couple four-fingered pinches kosher salt).  I double it if all of us are eating.  Notice the Times recipe, adapted from the lovable curmudgeon Jeff Steingarten.  It uses 3 cups flour to the same amount of water I call for for about 4 CUPS give or take.  That’s 25% more water! What does this mean?!  Which is correct?! Oh no!  What should I do?!  Who’s right?!

Pizza blog #3 All it means is that one dough will be a little wetter than the other.  They’ll both be delicious.  Watch Jill on the Times video. You can see her dough is slack and sticky.  I think that makes it hard to work with, but I know that it will make good pizza crust and will be easier to thin out.  Mine will be easier to work with at first but will need some resting when I roll and stretch it out. I actually think Jill is making it unnecessarily complicated (bread flour? AP flour? both?  Hint: they both work great! Don’t not make pizza because you don’t have bread dough—10 to 1 you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if you compared the two).  But I love her videos anyways because they’re clever and she’s so damned cute in that tiny kitchen of hers.

Yeast.  Is the amount critical?  No.  Which is why I now measure by sight for easy flat breads like pizza dough.  You just need to recognize that if you only use an eighth of a teaspoon it’s going to take a lot longer to rise than if you used a teaspoon (which is just right for 15 or 20 ounces of flour).

So mix all these ingredients together, add some olive oil for flavor if you’re feeling springtime in the air.  Mix it long enough so that it’s smooth and elastic (it needs to be able to stretch with the gas bubbles the yeast produces).  Let it rise for two or three hours.  And that’s it.  It’s ready to go or to be refrigerated till you need it.  That’s another thing I was glad to see the article note.  You can keep this dough in the fridge for a week.  You can probably freeze it (don’t see why not, though I’ve never tried).  So if you want to make the breakfast pizza for your lover next Sunday, mid-morning, make the dough this week. (Or get up earlier–you can actually do the below recipe from ingredients to table in 2 hours if you push it a little.)

After the yeast has had some time to get moving, roll the dough out.  It will resist you and want to spring back.  It needs to rest in between rolling.  When it’s shaped as you wish, cover it with whatever you wish and bake it in a 450 degree oven.  That’s all there is to it. It’s  one of the  easiest dough preparations there is.

One tricky issue: if you’re baking on a stone rather than on a sheet tray you’ve got to get the pizza onto it.  The pizza will be heavy with ingredients.  I don’t have a peel, so I use a cutting board dusted with flour, cornmeal or semolina and those fine grains act like ball bearings.  If you use a baking sheet this isn’t an issue.  Does a baking sheet give you a different crust than the stone?  Yeah, a little bit, but not so much that you shouldn’t make pizza at home because you don’t have a stone, or peel, or a standing mixer.  A bowl, two hands, and an oven work great!

Pizza at home, it’s so good so cheap, and so satisfying.  Bake some this week and post about it!  Honestly, if you’ve never done it before but like to cook, you’ll never want to pay 20 bucks for pizza you can make better at home!

Spring Is In the Air Breakfast Pizza:
Homemade Pizza with Bacon, Egg and Asparagus

This is a recipe for one small pizza to share with your partner on a mid-Sunday morning.  The quickest I’ve done it is in two hours (you can hurry it by doubling the yeast and using warm water in the dough), but you might want to make the dough a day or two before.  Because it’s small—it will give you a ball of dough the size of a softball—it’s quickest just to mix and knead it by hand.  If you want to feed more people, it can be doubled for a large pizza or two small pizzas.

—10 ounces flour (two cups)
—6 ounces water (if it’s warm the yeast will work faster, if it’s really really hot you can kill the yeast)
—Big pinch of yeast (1/2 teaspoon)
—2 big pinches salt (1 teaspoon)
—A drizzle of olive oil for flavor (optional: I don’t know if you can even taste it in small amounts, but you could make an argument that the dough will be more tender if you add it.  Do you want tender pizza dough?)
—3/4 cup grated cheese (I used 1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 asiago)
—4 to 6 thick strips of bacon cut into strips or and sautéed till tender but not overcooked
—6 to 8 asparagus spears (2 to 4 inch tender tops only) brushed or tossed with olive oil
—1 or 2 eggs (cracked into separate small bowls or ramekins to make sure you don’t break the yolk and for easy application)

1. Well before you want your pizza (at least two hours and up to a week), combine the flour, water, yeast, salt (and olive oil if you’re using it).  Mix and kneed the dough till it’s smooth and elastic, about ten mintues (this is easiest to do by hand because there’s so little of it, so if it does happen to be Sunday morning, have your partner read the Modern Love essay in the Times Styles section while you kneed—when he/she is done, so will your dough).

2. Put it in a bowl, cover it and leave it alone for 2 or 3 hours (a finger indentation should not bounce back but nor should the dough be slack with air, but for pizza this isn’t really critical).

3. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

4. Re-knead the dough to redistribute the yeast (or remove your dough from the fridge if you’ve done it ahead of time), form it into a ball, then let it rest covered with a towel for 10 or 15 minutes while you get the other ingredients together.   Using a rolling pin, roll it out on a floured board.  You may want to roll it out half way, let it rest, then roll or pull the dough into its final shape.

5. Transfer the dough to a board or peal dusted with flour, semolina, or corn meal or to a baking sheet if using.  Sprinkle with the cheese, distribute the bacon and asparagus.  Put the pizza in the oven (or slide it from the board or peel onto a baking stone) and bake it for about 10 minutes.  Pour an egg into the center or on either side of the pizza and continue baking until the egg white is set and the yolk is still fluid, about 5 or 10 more minutes.

Yeast Update: one commenter asked about yeast and I thought I should address it here. There are several kinds of yeast available. The ones I want to talk about are the dried kind (not the fresh), Active dried yeast and Instant dried yeast. Active dry yeast has a coating of dead yeast that must dissolve for the live yeast to begin feeding.  Often the yeast instructions ask you to dissolve them in warm water (to make sure they work), but I don’t do this and my doughs are fine.  Some recipes have you dissolve yeast in sugar water to “proof” them, but you shouldn’t need to do this either (unless you’ve left your jar of yeast out in the hot sun for a week). The instant yeast has a coating of live yeast and so is a little stronger by weight than Active. In my experience, both work equally well and I can’t tell the difference so as far as I’m concerned they are interchangeable. Pro bakers I’ve encountered tend to recommend SAF yeast, a brand; SAF acquired Red Star, and it’s now the same yeast, so that’s what I buy (in a jar, and I keep it in the freezer).