Saturday, December 23, 2006

Approaching Pizza Perfection

I've been working on my pizza skills for some time, looking for the perfect crust. I tried deep dish dough, cornmeal dough, Alton Brown's dough, you name it, I tried it. Finally, I'm approaching the pizza I've been searching for.

I adapted a recipe from Peter Reinhart's book American Pie, Napoletana Pizza, simplifying the process considerably, and adapting it for my oven. I cook the pizza directly on heavy clay tiles I bought at Home Depot for a fraction of the cost of a pizza stone. I had two tiles cut so the that I have a large surface area on which to bake the pizza or bread. If the tiles get too stained, I heave them and start over. The tile cost me less than $6 total. Here's my version of the recipe.

Nirvana Pizza Dough
4 1/2 c flour
1 3/4 t salt
1 t yeast
2 T olive oil
1 3/4 c water
flour for dusting

Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed. Stir or knead with the electric mixer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should be smooth and sticky.

Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Work into a log, then divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Sprinkle flour over the dough. With dry floured hands, round each piece into a ball, dust with flour and transfer to a plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, (will keep for up to 3 days.)

Remove dough from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Dust the counter with flour place the dough on floured breadboard and sprinkle with flour. Flatten disks gently to about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Don't get it too thin or it will be hard to handle later. Sprinkle with flour, cover loosely with plastic and let rest for 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450F. Generously flour the peel.

Gently stretch the dough out to about 9 inches in diameter, lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough flour to allow the pizza to slide off the peel. Add 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese.

Slide the pizza onto the stone. Bake about 5 to 8 minutes, until the cheese and crust have browned. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Now the hard part: Cool for 3 to 5 minutes and serve. YUM!

I generally use a simple red sauce of whole Roma tomatoes, chopped, cooked with a little garlic and olive oil. Other favorite toppings include ricotta and spinach, Italian sausage, mozzarella and parmesan, pesto and parmesan.... the options are as unlimited as your imagination.

Although finding the right crust recipe has been difficult, in my experience, the real challenge is getting the pizza onto and off from the peel successfully. Somehow, I always seem to end up with the kitchen windows wide open, fans blowing the smokey air out as the shriek of the smoke detector pierces my skull and smatterings of pizza toppings 'caramelize' on the oven floor. Clearly, I need to build an outdoor Italian brick oven for breadbaking and pizza, don't you think?


Kate said...

I was on a quest for the perfect pizza crust, too, until I found the sourdough recipe in the
Cheese Board Collective book
- it does require a sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast, but that's easy to do and it's SO YUMMY. Far and away the best pizza I've ever had.

I like the stones you use - I think we'll be taking a trip to Home Depot soon!

As for getting the pizza into the oven - I assemble my pizzas on the back of a baking sheet, bake it for about five minutes on that until it firms up and then just slide it off onto the stone for the rest of the time. Gets the benefit of cooking on a pizza stone without the hassle of smushing up a nice pizza.

Ali said...

Thanks for the tip, I'll try that! Do try the tiles, they work great and the price is right. I'll look at the Cheese Board Collective cookbook, too.