Monday, May 21, 2012

The Pizza Dough FAQ

Previously I figured that to make real pizza dough I needed to plan around making the dough and letting it rise.  I typically went about this by using a breadmaker, but it was tiresome to start the dough an hour and half (or so) before making the pizza for dinner.  It was more of chore than anything else and the results were usually less than stellar.  Kind of accidentally I came across this no-rise pizza dough recipe that I've now been using for years:
http://recipes.robbiehaf.com/T/272.htm
The trick is priming the yeast and just stirring it into the flour.  The resulting product actually tastes much better than the risen variety which has a knack for tasting too much like bread instead of pizza crust.  I'm lucky in that the hot water comes out of my tap at just the right temperature, but before I had discovered this I used a thermometer to figure out the proper microwave time needed to bring cold water up to the proper temperature.

The recipe works great but I have several caveats.  One big fault with this recipe is that it doesn't give a weight for the amount of flour, so your results may be inconsistent when not performing the kneading step that I mention in the next paragraph.  I'll also point out that I use this recipe on both a 16" and 14" pan (I've never done the 12" that's inferred in the recipe).  The 16" comes out pretty thin and the 14" a bit thicker (obviously), however...

Whenever I make the recipe the dough comes out wet so I knead flour* into the dough until it doesn't stick to anything (continually flouring hands and work surface as the flour gets absorbed).  This usually adds another quarter cup or so of flour to the dough (this step is required for the 16" pan).  After kneading I'll put the dough in a bowl that has a little bit of olive oil in it and let it rest for about ten to fifteen minutes so that the dough is workable (otherwise it's like trying to stretch a rubber band out over the pizza pan).  I should note though that Mrs. Sandmich and Sally like the recipe as printed, but the dough is really hard to work with, like a ball of half congealed Elmer's glue.  If you can get it down into the pan (probably using oiled dough and hands), the crust will come out thinner and crispier, if...

I use a two phased approach where I put the pizza in the pan and put the pan on a hot stone that's been preheating in the oven.  So after the pizza has been in the pan sitting on the stone for about six minutes or so (when the dough is done enough not to fall apart) I then transfer the pizza directly to the stone using a metal pizza peal (obviously with some oil in the pan to help it to keep from sticking).  I would suppose a good alternative might be to use one of those pans that has the holes in it, but I've never used those so I can't speak to their effectiveness.  If you cook it in a regular pan with no pizza stone, the pizza will come out as if it was cooked on a giant slice of lightly toasted bread.  I got around this on occasion by putting the pan right on the bottom of the oven for the last minute or so, but your timing has to be impeccable: it worked great a few times, but I gave up on it after burning three pizzas in a row**.

Some other notes:

  • She says to use a "heavy spoon", but I use a wooden spatula.
  • Reading over past missives, it looks like at one point in time I would put a tablespoon of olive oil into the water/yeast mix.  I'm not sure why I got away from this as it really helped the dough as I recall (made it easier to work with and added a level of internal fried crispiness to the crust).***
  • I make a crazy amount of pizzas (Sunday and/or Saturday is usually pizza day, but the crust is so easy to make that I've cranked it out for dinner during the week on the odd occasion) so I keep a big container of yeast instead of packets.  I measure it out to about two and half teaspoons of yeast instead of using the packets.
  • Your skills might be better than mine, but I've never been able to do the 'wooden peal' method where you make the pizza and then slide it right onto the stone.
  • When not using a stone (maybe using the 'bottom of the oven' method), I transfer the pizza to cardboard, otherwise moisture will build up under the crust and make it soggy.
Why this recipe is cool:
  • After a bit of practice this pizza can be cranked out faster than a pizza can be acquired from a local pizza shop, especially if you're having it delivered.
  • It's easy to change up the cheeses and toppings so the variety is much better than a pizza shop as well (ruben, chicken BBQ, and cheesesteak pizzas are constant favorites).
  • It can be cheaper (not by much mind you).
What might not be appealing:
  • If you want something besides pepperoni there's going to be a bit of prep involved.  Vegetables, especially mushrooms, should be precooked.
  • The inevitable kitchen mess.
  • It can be more expensive (putting higher end cheese, sausage, and bacon on the pizza can lead to some sticker shock).
*I no longer do this.  I make the dough in my kitchen aid using a bread hook and work flour into the dough until it no longer sticks to the sides of the mixer.  If it already isn't sticking I just let it run until the dry pieces are absorbed.  I can double the recipe pretty easy in my normal sized Kitchen Aid, three is possible at lower speeds but no more than that.  This method also has the advantage of not kneading the dough as the mixer is constantly tearing it apart so the dough doesn't have to "rest" as long (if at all).

**Another strategy that I've used in the past is to put the dough in the pan, poke many holes in it with a fork and then pre-cook it before assembling the pizza, as even on the lower oven shelves with the thinnest pan the toppings will be done well before the crust gets crispy.  However I consider this a non-starter as the crust usually turns out lobsided and it still doesn't get crispy as the moisture gets trapped between the dough and the pan and the crust winds up self-steaming for however long you leave it in there.

***I still don't add oil to the mix, oh well.

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