You wanted more pizza crust posts, right?

I should really change the name of this blog to, “Melissa writes about making pizza crust.”  I just keep coming up with new insights to the process.  And I’m a bit of a pizza crust geek.  And my friends have asked me specifically if I have my pizza crust recipe on the blog.  Add all that together, and it’s a miracle ALL the posts aren’t about pizza.  Besides, it’s so easy to turn most things into a meal just by cooking them on top of a pizza crust.  Plus, if we’ve eaten creative pizzas for a couple of days, I usually only have plates and cutting boards to wash (instead of piles of pots and pans and prep bowls).  Anyway, here’s my newest realization:  instead of using my regular recipe, I think I’ve fully converted to the slow-rising option (below).  The first time we tried it, I thought I might go crazy because the dough just wouldn’t change shape as I tossed it.  It took 5 minutes to get a dough ball ready for the oven instead of 2.  I was hungry and this was slowing up my dinner!  However, I soon realized that the crust shapes we were making were much better than normal.  The dough wasn’t getting brittle and thin in the middle, even after many minutes of tossing.  And then the flavor was lovely as well.  I read somewhere that recipes using less yeast with a longer rising time develop a more complex flavor.  Add to that the fact that the dough rises for 6-8 hours on the counter and can rest in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours before that.  This means that I can start the dough up to 24 hours before I’m ready to make pizza!  Plus, yeast is one of the most expensive ingredients in my pizza crust.  This recipe cuts the yeast from 2 1/4 teaspoons to just 1/2 a teaspoon.  I’d been toying with a cost break-down post idea, and I’m pretty certain that’s coming soon.  Here’s the updated recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for oiling the bowl and brushing the top)
  • 4 cups (22 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface and hands
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
  • fresh basil
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces pepperoni, peeled and sliced thin (it sounds like they expect you to buy pepperoni from the sausage store and peel and slice it yourself, but I usually buy a huge bag of pepperoni slices at Costco and keep it in the freezer for use as necessary.)
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) or more, to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or more, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup.  Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes.  Add the room-temperature water and oil and stir to combine.
  2. Process the flour and salt in a large food processor, pulsing to combine.  Continue pulsing while pouring the liquid ingredients (holding back a few tablespoons) through the feed tube.  If the dough does not readily form into a ball, add the remaining liquid and continue to pulse until a ball forms.  Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer.
  3. The dough will be a bit tacky, so use a rubber spatula to turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Knead by hand for a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball.  Put the dough in an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup and cover with plastic wrap.
  4. At this point, you can put your dough in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours.  When you’re ready to proceed, continue with step 5.
  5. Leave covered dough on the counter and let rise until doubled in size, 6 to 8 hours.  I use the 8-cup measuring cup because it’s really easy for me to see when the dough is done rising.  Press the dough to deflate.
  6. While the dough rises, prepare the pizza sauce (or go to work, or get a massage, or sleep through the night – your time is your own!).  Heat the oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the garlic is sizzling, about 40 seconds.  Add the basil and cook untilo fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Place a pizza stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Heat the oven to 475 degrees for at least 30 minutes.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Use a chef’s knife or dough scraper to divide the dough into four pieces.  From each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball and cover it with a damp cloth.  Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.
  8. Spread a large piece of parchment paper on the counter for shaping and transporting the crust.  Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, flatten the dough ball into a disk (thicker at the center) using the palms of your hands.  Using a combination of stretching the dough on the counter and tossing the dough, shape each of your dough rounds into a flattened pizza shape (more detailed instructions here).  Prick the dough in several paces with a dinner fork.
  9. Lightly brush the dough round with olive oil.  Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the dough round, leaving a 1/2-inch border uncovered.  Scatter a third of the pepperoni slices over the sauced dough round.
  10. Slide the dough onto the heated stone.  Bake the pizza until the crust edge starts to brown, 6 to 12 minutes.  Sprinkle with 1/3 cup mozzarella and a third of the Parmesan and continue baking until the cheeses melt, 2 to 3 minutes more.  Remove the pizza from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, and serve.  Repeat the topping and baking steps for the remaining two crusts.

Alternate preparation method:

  1. Follow steps 1-5 and 7-8 above, skipping step 6. 
  2. Lightly brush the dough round with olive oil.  Slide the dough onto the heated stone.  Bake the pizza for 2 minutes.  Remove the pizza from the oven, cool on the counter for 30 minutes or so, and wrap with plastic wrap to store.  While the first pizza crust is cooking, you can shape the second crust (with practice).
  3. Par-baked crusts will last for up to a day on the counter, up to a week in the refrigerator, or for up to two months in the freezer (wrapped in plastic wrap AND foil).  When you are ready to prepare a pizza, make the sauce.  Since the pizza will already be par-baked, you’ll put the sauce, pepperoni, and cheese on all at the same time, and bake until the cheese is bubbling and staring to brown.
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Hand-tossed Pizza Crust

I went over the recipe I use for hand-tossed pizza crust here, but I have worked out the technique a bit, so I thought I’d share my tips.  I found a tutorial online  (look for the “tossing tips”) that really helped me get going with the whole pizza tossing technique, and now I toss all my pizza doughs.  I’m still not an expert, but I get consistently roundish pizzas (I actually make them oblong so they fit better on my parchment paper), and I can usually get them the thickness I like pretty well.  Here’s what I do:  after dividing the dough into 6 pieces and letting it rest for 10 minutes, I work with one piece at a time and press it into a disc shape.  Because the act of tossing the dough automatically makes the edges of the crust thicker than the center, I make sure that I leave the middle thicker than the edges as I flatten the rounds:

Then I follow the guidelines in the tutorial and toss each disc into the air.  I tend to get into the whole process, getting my knees into the program and keeping a close eye on the dough (because I hate when it lands on the floor or the sink because I wasn’t paying attention).

Sometimes the dough gets really pretty and manta ray-like in its motion in the air. 

After I toss one piece, I put it on a piece of parchment paper and stretch it a bit more.  It’s important to hold the stretch as you’re arranging your dough.  If you stretch and let go of it right away, it will just go back to its original shape.  So you need to stretch, wait for the dough to relax, and then set it down.  I then proceed with poking the dough with a fork, brushing with olive oil, and parbaking for 2 minutes each.  As one piece is parbaking, I can usually toss the next piece so that there’s little delay between baking times.  I tend to get into a sort of zen baking state as I’m processing my pizza dough, and I love looking forward to the creative toppings we’re going to use!

Pizza Bread

Yes, this is pretty much as far from CSA-inspired food as you can get, while still cooking something at home. It’s not really what this blog is about, but since we’ve been getting home at 9pm or so each night for the last week, it’s going to have to do. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s tasty.

Ingredients:
French bread, sliced in half (top half & bottom half, not left & right halves)
Pizza sauce (our favorite is leftover pasta sauce, but you can used jarred sauce that you’ve put through the food processor as well).
Shredded Mozzarella cheese
Pepperoni slices
Shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

Turn oven on to broil (we use the low setting, with racks in the medium/low area).

Spread sauce on the cut sides of the bread, and stick them in the oven for a minute or two (this step is important if you’re taking sauce straight out of the fridge to cook the meal). Remove the bread from the oven and sprinkle with mozzarella. Spread pepperoni slices over the surface and sprinkle with parmesan.

Put the pizza bread back in the oven and cook until the cheese is all gooey and melty (yes, those are the technical terms). If you like your pizza a little more well-done, leave it in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and begins to turn golden brown.

Don’t forget to let the cheese rest a little before you take your first bite, otherwise you’ll end up with those awful burns on the roof of your mouth.

For times when you just don’t have time to cook, this is an awesome recipe to keep on hand. I find that all of the ingredients will also keep well in the freezer for a month or so, althougth you’ll need to take the bread out in time to thaw for dinner that night (the cheese & pepperoni you can spread while frozen, and you can thaw the sauce in the microwave if necessary). Enjoy!

Monday: Frozen Pizza with Lela

“Frozen Pizza?  What’s that doing on your blog?”  Yes, yes – I can hear you now.  Don’t worry; this was not grocery store frozen pizza.  This was a frozen pizza kit I’d made for friends so that they wouldn’t need to cook during the first week they had their baby home from the hospital.  Of course, between when I froze a kit for them and when the baby was born, I ended up making a new batch of pizza dough, and made a pizza for them to just heat in the oven instead of making them build it themselves.  So when it was time to babysit, out came the handmade crust, the frozen sauce, the shredded, frozen cheeses and the frozen pepperoni (although truth be told, I do just keep my pepperoni in the freezer anyway).  Frozen pepperoni lasts longer, and since we purchase in bulk at Costco, it’s beneficial for us to stick the bag in the freezer once we’ve opened it.  I’m not sure what exactly (presumably the high fat-content) makes frozen pepperoni so easy to work with, but it actually comes apart in slices better straight out of the freezer than it does at refrigerator temperatures. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 parbaked pizza crust made sometime within the last month and frozen
  • 1 cup pizza sauce made sometime within the past month and frozen
  • 1-2 oz. frozen sliced pepperoni
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella, frozen
  • 1/4-1/2 cup shredded parmesan, frozen

Note: recipes for many of the above ingredients can be found here.

Preparation:

  1. Place pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 475.
  2. Take all ingredients out of the freezer and place on work surface.
  3. Put frozen sauce into a prep bowl and microwave for 2 minutes, pausing to stir and break up semi-thawed chunks after the first minute.
  4. Meanwhile, unwrap foil and plastic wrap from pizza crust and break up any large chunks of frozen cheese by smooshing them against the counter.
  5. Once sauce is thawed, spread it evenly on frozen crust, avoiding the outside 1/2″ to make it easier to hold while eating.  Add the pepperoni, slightly overlapping, until the pizza is covered.  Sprinkle mozzarella and parmesan to cover pepperoni.
  6. Cook pizza until cheese has thoroughly melted and begins to brown in spots (begin checking after 5 minutes).
  7. Remove pizza from oven and allow it to rest for 3-5 minutes (this is the best way ever to avoid burning the top of your mouth with the first bite).
  8. Slice and serve (enjoy)!

Wednesday: Pizza!

Although we sometimes have regular pizza from Papa John’s or take-and-bake from Papa Murphy’s, my favorite pizza is from a home-made crust.  My family has made pizza crust from scratch for almost as long as I can remember, and I distinctly recal my mother showing me where on her regular mixing bowl to fill the warm water to, how much yeast to add and how much flour gets added to that.  We kneaded the dough by hand on our kitchen counter and pressed the resulting dough in pans that were handmade by my Uncle Doug, a metal-spinner by trade.  I now use America’s Test Kitchen’s food processor method, and I’m working on my crust-tossing techniques (I haven’t gotten to a full toss yet, but we’re getting close).  I use our pizza stone and parchment paper to develop more of a brick-oven style crust.  Anyway; here’s the recipe!

Pepperoni Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for oiling the bowl)
  • 4 cups (22 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface and hands
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • fresh basil
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces pepperoni, peeled and sliced thin (it sounds like they expect you to buy pepperoni from the sausage store and peel and slice it yourself, but I usually buy a huge bag of pepperoni slices at Costco and keep it in the freezer for use as necessary.
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) or more, to taste
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or more, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  After 10 minutes, turn the oven off.  You now have a perfect proofing box.
  2. Measure the warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup.  Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand until the yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes.  Add the room-temperature water and oil and stir to combine.
  3. Process the flour and salt in a large food processor, pulsing to combine.  Continue pulsing while pouring the liquid ingredients (holding back a few tablespoons) through the feed tube.  If the dough does not readily form into a ball, add the remaining liquid and continue to pulse until a ball forms.  Process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 30 seconds longer.
  4. The dough will be a bit tacky, so use a rubber spatula to turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Knead by hand for a few strokes to form a smooth, round ball.  Put the dough in a deep oiled bowl an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  I have special dough-rising talents.  I have to check my dough after about 1/2 the time, and it’s often done rising at that time.  I use the 8-cup measuring cup because it’s really easy for me to see when the dough is done rising.  Press the dough to deflate.
  5. While the dough rises, prepare the pizza sauce.  Heat the oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the garlic is sizzling, about 40 seconds.  Add the basil and cook untilo fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Place a pizza stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Heat the oven to 500 475 degrees for at least 30 minutes.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Use a chef’s knife or dough scraper to divide the dough into three pieces.  From each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball and cover it with a damp cloth.  Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no more than 30 minutes.
  7. Spread a large piece of parchment paper on the counter for shaping and transporting the crust.  Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, flatten the dough ball into a disk using the palms of your hands.  Using a combination of stretching the dough on the counter and tossing the dough, shape each of your dough rounds into a flattened pizza shape.  Prick the dough in several paces with a dinner fork.
  8. Lightly brush the dough round with olive oil.  Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the dough round, leaving a 1/2-inch border uncovered.  Scatter a third of the pepperoni slices over the sauced dough round.
  9. Slide the dough onto the heated stone.  Bake the pizza until the crust edge starts to brown, 6 to 12 minutes.  Sprinkle with 1/3 cup mozzarella and a third of the Parmesan and continue baking until the cheeses melt, 2 to 3 minutes more.  Remove the pizza from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, and serve.  Repeat the topping and baking steps for the remaining two crusts.

Alternate preparation method:

  1. Follow steps 1-4 and 6-7 above, skipping step 5. 
  2. Lightly brush the dough round with olive oil.  Slide the dough onto the heated stone.  Bake the pizza until the crust starts to turn golden-brown, about 3 minutes.  Remove the pizza from the oven, cool on the counter for 30 minutes or so, and wrap with plastic wrap to store.  While the first pizza crust is cooking, you can shape the second crust (with practice).
  3. Par-baked crusts will last for up to a day on the counter, up to a week in the refrigerator, or for up to two months in the freezer (wrapped in plastic wrap AND foil).  When you are ready to prepare a pizza, make the sauce.  Since the pizza will already be par-baked, you’ll put the sauce, pepperoni, and cheese on all at the same time, and bake until the cheese is bubbling and staring to brown.

The Verdict:

We love this pizza.  We especially love to make several crusts and have a potluck-style dinner party where guests bring their favorite toppings to use during the final preparation stages.