Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In Which I Make Some Pizzas

I love making pizza. It's cheap, it's easy, and it can double as a craft for bored children. It's clay, it's finger paint, it's confetti. Pizza dough also freezes beautifully, providing an excellent make-ahead dinner. Just pull the frozen dough out in the morning, unwrap it, stick it in a covered bowl, and it will be thawed and risen in plenty of time for dinner. I'm always a bit bemused when people act like I'm making handcrafted croquenbouche towers from scratch when I mention making my own pizza. Anyone can do it, and for a small investment, you'll have all of the equipment you'll ever need need.

First, a pizza stone. You can spend a lot on a very high end one, you can spend between $10-$40 at a store like Target, or you can get unglazed (glazed ones can contain lead, so ask) terra cotta tile from the garden center for like $2 apiece. They're all fine, but thicker is better. Mine was around $50 and has lasted me a decade. I use it at least twice a week for a variety of baking needs but if I had known about the terra cotta tiles, I'd have one of those.

Next, a pizza pan. I strongly recommend that you get one that lets air flow through, like this one.

Okay! Now you need some pizza crust. There are two recipes I like to use. The first is my own whole wheat crust recipe, and I have never once had anyone complain about the texture. I served it to four children today and they all had at least two pieces. It is chewy rather than dense. The second recipe is based on the (delicious and brilliant) No-Knead Bread craze.

Here's a quick tutorial on dough: dough gets chewy and delicious because of gluten. Gluten is the protein in flour, and it's what differentiates things like cake and pastry flour (low gluten) from bread flour (high gluten). You can think of the gluten as being like chewing gum. It starts out as being soft and flexible but as it gets worked, it gets hard and stretchy, just like your Bubble Yum. It's why dessert recipes will often direct you to mix things until "just combined." Overworking a cake batter builds up gluten and you get tough cake. (Or cookies, or pie crust.)

All-purpose flour has 11% gluten, making it suitable for most day-to-day uses. It's what I buy (King Arthur Unbleached), and I alter as needed. It's too annoying to keep track of a bunch of extra flours beyond white, wheat, and anything specialty like rye. There's something known as "baker's math" but here's a basic approach that is pretty much no-fail. To substitute AP flour when cake flour is needed, remove two tablespoons per cup. So if a recipe calls for 1 cup of cake flour, measure one cup of AP and then take out two tablespoons. For bread flour, use the amount of AP flour called for and then 1.5 teaspoons of wheat gluten per cup. You can get wheat gluten at most grocery stores in the baking aisle and it's a little spendy, but it lasts a long time and comes out way cheaper than paying a premium for bread flour.

But in breads, we usually seek that chewiness and it's why we knead doughs and let them rise. Time and energy make for chewy gluten, and gluten will also give your bread a better rise. The first recipe relies primarily on kneading, the second on time. So! Here we go. I'm going to share the recipes first, then discuss shaping and baking because they're both done the same way.

Whole Wheat Crust

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 2/3 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, more if needed

Mix first four ingredients together, then knead for 5 minutes. (I use the dough hook in my Kitchen Aid.) Dough will be veeery sticky and wet, but do not add more flour. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.

After the dough is done resting, add the next three ingredients and knead the dough for ten minutes.

Coat a clean bowl with the tablespoon of olive oil and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning to coat it with the oil and prevent sticking. Add more if you need it.

Cover and allow to rise for about two hours or until the dough has at least doubled in size.

No-Knead Crust

Follow this link and do what they say.


Both of these recipes generate two pizzas each at our house. There are benefits to both hand-stretching and rolling dough, and I'll just let it come down to your preference. But here's a good tutorial on hand-stretching.

Sprinkle the counter with a little flour - just enough so it doesn't stick because too much will spoil your dough, plop half the dough on the flour, and either roll it out with a wooden rolling pin (the tapered dowel kind are the best in my book) or shape it with your hands. Spritz your pan with a little nonstick spray, then transfer your dough. Repeat with the other half.


So now we come to tomato sauce. There are many options out there. You can make your own from scratch, which I like to do when I can/feel like it/have tomatoes handy, but it's not always an option. There's good stuff available in jars too. But I think the best of both worlds is what I like to call Half-Assed Homeade Sauce.

Half-Assed Homemade Pizza Sauce

28 ounces crushed or whole peeled tomatoes (info on BPA in cans here, if you're interested)
Fresh or dried herbs to suit your taste (I use rosemary, oregano, basil, marjoram - Italian seasoning, basically)
1 - 2 tablespoons of olive oil, whatever your preference

Okay, this is so easy you'll kick yourself. If you're using whole tomatoes, you can heat them and stir to break up the pieces or just pour the tomatoes and juice into the food processor.

Take your dough, which you have rolled out and placed on your pan ->

Drizzle it with the olive oil ->

Sprinkle some herbs on top ->

Pour on however much liquefied tomatoes you like ->

Use your fingers to paint it all together on the crust ->

Voila! Sauce.


Now what? Well, the best pizzas come from very hot ovens. So I preheat my oven (and the pizza stone, which lives and works on the floor of my oven) at 500F for at least half an hour before I bake. One it's done heating, I place the sauced crust (and pan) on the pizza stone for 8 minutes.

No, I didn't forget the cheese. Putting the cheese on too early will give you one of two results in a home oven because they're nowhere near the temperatures of pizzeria ovens: Either underbaked, bland crust or burnt cheese.

Then I remove it and put the cheese on top. Fresh mozzarella is better, but kids like to sprinkle the grated stuff, so we usually go for that. Okay, now comes the tricky part. You want to get the parbaked pizza off the pan and onto the middle rack of your oven. I do it with a little wrist-flicking motion, but you can also use a spatula or tongs to help. Bake like that for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbling.

Slide the pizza back onto the pan, allow to cool for a few minutes, then slice and serve!

The whole pizza at the top is a no-knead crust. Here's a side view of the whole wheat crust, which you can see has risen almost like a white flour one. AlmondGirl ate 5 pieces today. She has also apparently been sneaking up to Boston because she told me lunch was "wicked awesome."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Which I Am Tired Of Giving A Crap

I care about a lot of stuff. Sometimes it is overwhelming, to be honest. I recycle and compost and buy as much organic/grassfed/locavore/sustainably farmed/humanely slaughtered food as I can. I clean with earth-friendly products when possible and I shop at consignment/secondhand shops a lot to avoid contributing to mass consumption of goods. I read articles about parabens and BPA and sulfates and now even buying shampoo and canned tomatoes can be exhausting. A friend with a fledgeling Mary Kay business reached out to me to see if I'd host a party, but the cosmetics are so full of chemicals I'm trying to avoid that I had to decline, so now I feel like the asshole who stole her pink Cadillac and used it to run over her dreams.

But it all really matters to me. It matters a lot for a whole bunch of reasons and even though my daughter's kindergarten teacher had to have a talk with her about why it is inappropriate to discuss the factory-farmed meat at McDonald's with the rest of the students, I am proud to be raising socially aware little people. (Secretly, I can't wait to hear when happens when she goes to school in November and says, "Mama is out of town deer hunting this weekend because deer are such a sustainable form of meat.")

Honestly, it's a good thing they're pretty kids because they're destined to be weird.

Right now we're having a dilemma over the Boy Scouts. On a local level, I think the Boy Scouts are awesome. AlmondBoy - aside from the nail polish and love of Disney Princesses - is your Classic Model of boy. He likes hitting things with other things and cars and explosions and mud and frogs and...I don't know. Stereotypical Y-chromosome junk. But on a national level, the anti-gay policies of the Boy Scouts repulse and anger me. And so Mr. Marzipan and I are not going to let him join. Which sucks, because AlmondGirl really wants to be a Girl Scout which I support and endorse because they are progressive and inclusive and don't make you mention God, but I just can't let my blue-eyed boy march around in Cub Scout gear.

And the thing is that I really want to. I want to give him this instead of it being one more thing to tell his therapist about his uptight mother years down the road. And I grew up Orthodox Jewish and I have all but completely eradicated all traces of that, so of course now I worry that my kids are going to grow up and eat McNuggets while they drive endangered-animal-fueled Hummers over gay people. I want to sigh and say, "Well, it's not like they protest same sex marriage at meetings or anything," but I just can't do it. And it sucks that this is even an issue, really, but that's a frothing rant for another day.

So we're looking into alternatives and I'm feeling pissed off at the Boy Scouts for being such medieval douchebags and at myself for caring and at the country in general for tolerating this kind of thing in a "well, the back of the bus is still the bus, Miss Parks" kind of way and I really think that if I find one more thing to angst about, my brain is going to liquefy and run out my ears.