You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six..Yogi Berra
While I do enjoy eating pizza from a pizzeria, I must admit, I have relished the pizza more for the taste of the cheese and the toppings. The crust is not really the thing I have remembered a pizza eating experience by. I have probably 'made' pizza at home ages ago with the thick pizza base we get at our local super-markets. Needless to say, it was never remembered for its taste or made again. Since I am now friends with yeast, a pizza from scratch is an idea which appeals immensely.
When it comes to baking a pizza crust at home, Peter Reinhart's Napoletana pizza crust is undoubtedly one of the most raved about ones. If you haven't read about him yet, he is an acclaimed master bread baker and author. While you could find a number of recipes for pizza dough, Peter Reinhart's Napoletana dough is special as it is made with ice-cold water and allowed to ferment in the fridge. This of course is not a quick recipe which can give you pizza in a couple of hours as the recipe calls for overnight fermentation of the dough in the fridge. The slow fermentation helps get more flavor in the crust. This particular recipe calls for chilled flour and water and if you are like me you are unlikely to have either on hand at all times.(Then there is also his Neo-Napoletana dough which uses flour and water, both at room temperature, both ways give great pizza says Peter Reinhart, I shall be trying this soon)
The crust is simple - chilled flour, salt, instant yeast, oil and cold water, mixed in a stand mixer or by hand. Easier and simpler when you have a stand mixer. If making by hand, a bit of elbow grease help from your (forced-to-be) chivalrous better-half. On mixing, the divided dough portions can be refrigerated (if you plan to use it within 3 days) or frozen up to 3 months. You could make your own sauce or use ready pizza sauce (Pompous as it may sound, I think a home made crust pizza with bottled sauce is fine, but not home-made sauce and store-bought crust!).
The dough was quite easy sounding, but I was unsure about the baking temperature and time.( I had of course not noticed the maximum temperature till I tried baking breads which needed this). Pizzas are supposed to be baked at a very high temperature of about 287 degrees C / 550 F for a short period of time. But since the maximum temperature in our microwaves and ovens (no idea about gas ovens though) is 250 degree C / 500 degrees F, I had to settle for a longer baking time and a very special, slightly browned cheese topping. But don't let that deter you, it was still very tasty.
With inputs from Champa, she has adapted it from Heidi's 101 Cookbooks . Here is how you go about. You could halve the recipe as I did, but I plan to make the entire recipe next time and freeze half of it for future use.
4 1/2 cups (20.25 ounces) / 567 grams/ unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled ( I used APF)
1 3/4 (.44 ounce) teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant yeast (Can't interchange with Active Dried yeast)
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil (optional)
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour OR cornmeal for dusting
Procedure: Line a baking tray or a flat box with a lid with baking parchment, grease lightly. You will be keeping portions of dough on this later.
1.Stir together the flour, salt, yeast, mix well with a metal spoon to distribute all the ingredients evenly (I sieve). Stir in the oil and the cold water, mix till all the flour is absorbed. With a strong wooden spoon, beat the dough for about 5-7 minutes ( I did for 6) or till the dough is smooth and sticky. I would not recommend using a hand mixer with dough hooks as my experience has not pleasant with this. (The recipe says you need to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand, reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. This would be difficult, so I did not do it)The dough should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn't come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour (little by little) just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. (The above quantities worked fine for me and I did not have to add flour or water). The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.(If you are like me, just so that you don't lose sleep over this - mine was 65F and this was not disastrous) Champa says, the temperature is to make sure the stirring has induced heat enough for the yeast to grow.
2. Dust your work area with flour, transfer the dough onto it. Using a dough scraper or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (for the recipe proportions above). The size of the pieces would depend on how thin and large you would need your pizza to be. Cutting the dough into 6 equal portions will give you 9'' pizzas with a medium thick crust. If the dough sticks to the scraper, dip it in cold water in between. Make sure your hands are dry, sprinkle flour over the dough. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the prepared pan, mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag. The dough did not seem to rise or expand much at all in the fridge, so you don't need to space them so much apart.
(Note: At this point, right after dividing the dough, if you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.) Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days.
On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. I have greased the back of my 9'' round tin very generously with oil ( hoping and praying for a crisp crust), placed a ball of dough on it, pressed the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5'' inches in diameter. Yes, multiple pizzas, multiple tins, the dough will be too sticky to lift and transfer later, I would not do this. If you want to flip to shape the pizza like a pro - you need to dust your counter very generously with flour and place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Mist the dough with oil, place a much larger and tall dish on the tin so that it does not touch the edges of the pan. If you have good plastic wrap, cover with it. Now let rest for 2 hours. At the end of 2 hours, the dough will have some bubbles, and would have expanded to some extent.
5. Towards the end of 2 hours, pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees C (sigh!) . For lucky people with gas ovens and baking stones - at least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800F (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550F, but some will go higher). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.
After 2 hours, if you have placed the dough directly on the baking tin, just push the dough around gently with your fingertips to cover the pan. Spread the sauce and the toppings and cheese. Pizza comes with - less is more philosophy, 3 or 4 toppings including the sauce and cheese is the best, more is said to make the crust more difficult to cook. Ooops, I seem to have forgotten this bit!
I baked for about 17 minutes when the crust was golden brown. I did not want to reduce the baking time as I did not want to risk an undercooked crust. But the flip part- the cheese gets a bit over-cooked and brown, but still soft and not chewy as I had feared. The next time, I shall try baking the crust with sauce and toppings for about 12 minutes, then add the cheese and bake for the remaining time. The white cheese you see around the edges in the picture was put the last few minutes.
(If flipping the pizza and baking using a stone and pizza peel read this part otherwise skip - Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and re-flour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208. If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn't as effective as the toss method.
When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction ,about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough, lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Put the toppings.
Slide the topped pizza onto the stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan) and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes.)
9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Not quite the Domino's ad pizza, but may I try to distract your attention with a picture of the crust..
The pizza was very tasty and quite crisp (though not very much so, which is fine by me), the pizza fresh-fresh tasting with the home-made sauce! Am happy with my pizza, shall be making it again. Guess making good pizza is also a matter of practice, but will try not to complain too much! More updates as I repeat my attempts.
The pizza is Yeast-spotted.