Thursday, January 31, 2013

Easier, Thinner, and Tastier Than Ever

No, I'm not talking about myself.  Stop that.  

Today I tried a new pizza dough recipe, and readers, I am hooked.  It's another recipe from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss, (with the technique modified by me to make it even more simple, using a stand mixer). In her book Luisa prefaces this recipe with a sweet story about falling in love (with her now-husband); my story is simply that I love pizza, I love making pizza, and now, I have newfound love for this pizza dough.

I was experimenting with this dough as a trial run for a pizza lesson tomorrow, so I hadn't given any thought to toppings.  But once you've made pizza dough from scratch and stretched it out you can't just leave it there.  That would be you, and to the pizza.  The recipe makes enough dough for 2 sheet pan-sized pizzas, so I had room to play.  Improvising, I topped the first with a handful of baby spinach, some sliced kalamata olives, roasted onions, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese (because I am that person that has all of those things on hand...).  I also wanted to see how this dough would stand up to a more traditional, saucy pizza, so for the second I pilfered some marinara sauce, green bell peppers, and shredded cheese from the dining hall.*  With such a thin crust a little goes a long way--I used less than a cup of sauce spread sparingly over the pizza, distributed half a cup of green pepper slices over it, and covered with about a cup of shredded cheese (I supplemented the pilfered mozzarella with some grated cheddar that I had leftover from chili).  

Most pizza dough recipes I've tried, even "thin" ones, tend to puff up too much in the oven for my taste.  This dough, on the other hand, stayed delightfully thin under the toppings, becoming crisp and chewy, and puffing on the edges, as all good pizzas should.  (I'll keep using my former go-to, from the Gourmet cookbook, for grilled pizzas and calzones, because in those instances a dough with a little more heft is beneficial.)

In such a smokin' hot oven (the thermometer in mine read 550°F), these pizzas only took about 9 minutes apiece.  Hastily sliding them off the sheet pan and onto my counter, I went to town with my pizza wheel, and greedily dug in.  All I will tell you is, many hours later, my stomach is still protesting because I ate SO MUCH PIZZA.  Because it was just that good.  Why is it that when you don't plan a meal at all--literally don't even plan on making the meal--it comes out better than your most carefully thought out menus?  I wish that was something I understood.  Nevertheless, I chalk most of the success of these pizzas to this awesome new crust recipe.  With some yummy toppings and a light hand, I am sure that future pizza experiments will continue to please.

*I work for, and live in, a dorm now...I don't know if I've ever mentioned that.  But I do, so if ever I make reference to the dining hall, that's why.  

Thin Crust Pizza Dough (Adapted from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss)
Makes dough for 2 pizzas, roughly 12 x 16 inches each, serving 4-6 people

* 3½ cups All-Purpose flour, plus a bit more for kneading
* 2 teaspoons kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon instant yeast
* A pinch of sugar
* 1¼ cups warm water (110°F)
* 2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* Cornmeal, for sprinkling

* Toppings of your choice

1. Add to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, the flour, salt, sugar and yeast; whisk around with a fork to mix.  In a liquid measuring cup, combine the water and oil.

2. With the mixer running on the lowest speed, slowly pour the liquid into the dry ingredients.  When it's all combined, increase the mixer to medium speed and knead the dough for 4-5 minutes.  The dough should be smooth and pull away from the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom.  If the dough is sticking to the sides, add some more flour, one tablespoon at a time (allowing it to mix completely), until it clears the sides of the bowl. 

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it a few times until it comes together in a ball.  Lightly grease a medium-large bowl with cooking spray and place the dough in the bowl.  Lightly spray the top with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap or a damp dish towel, and place the dough in a warm spot until it's doubled in size, about 1 hour.

4. Heat your oven as hot as it will go.  Line 2 sheet trays (approximately 13 x 18 inches) with parchment paper and sprinkle them with cornmeal.

5. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, deflating it, and divide in two.  Put one piece of dough back in the bowl and cover it while you work with other.  Luisa says to roll the dough, but I'm more of a stretcher--I hold one edge of the dough in two hands and let gravity stretch it out, rotating it steadily so that it doesn't just stretch and tear, and so that it turns out roughly oval.  Once it's somewhat stretched, I lay it down on the cornmeal-sprinkled sheet and continue to pull the thicker parts towards the edge.  The dough's gluten--which is what gives it its stretch and structure--might fight back, so just work around, knowing that it'll take a few tries before it reaches its final shape.  If it's being particularly stubborn, start stretching the second dough ball while the gluten relaxes.  The dough is ready to top when you've stretched it to a rough oval/rectangle and it nearly fills the sheet tray.  Leave the edges a little thicker. 

6.  Top your pizza with your toppings of choice, leaving an inch or so around the edge.  Less is more here--if you're using a sauce, you should see streaks of dough under it, for example.  I eyeballed everything, but I'm pretty sure I used about ¾ of a cup of marinara sauce on my "traditional" pizza, and no more than a cup of shredded cheese.  Don't let this fantastic crust become soggy and wet under too much stuff!

7. Slide one sheet tray into the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, until the pizza is bubbly and the crust is golden brown.  Slide the pizza, along with the parchment, onto a large cutting board, and slice it with a pizza wheel or a large chefs knife.  Pizza is best hot, so dig in!  Repeat with the second pizza.

Enjoy, and please share your favorite pizza toppings--I can always use more inspiration!

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