Monday, April 5, 2010

The Great Pizza War of 2010.

Let me just preface this post by saying that my sweet wifey K can't cook to save her life. She can burn boiling water. Don't feel bad for her, she has a million other amazing talents but the culinary arts is not one of them. When I had walking pneumonia a few years back she panicked and bought me a can of chili for dinner. I thought perhaps I was going to die. I love her dearly but when I can't cook for some reason, the rule is, we get take-out. Our go-to delivery option tends to be pizza. If only we had real deal NY pizza around here. Being from Queens, pizza is in my blood. I like my slices to be somewhat floppy with a good amount of grease that drips down your arm as you fold it in half and eat it. Don't get me wrong, Seattle has some decent pizza including several places that claim they are New York "style" but we just don't have the real thing.

So recently K asked me to teach her how to make pizza.  The task seemed daunting but I felt up to the challenge (challenge being the key word).  K is a very competitive girl.  One minute you're teaching someone how to make pizza and the next minute you're hearing things like "your pizza is going to suck and my pizza is going to kick your ass!" and "after you eat my awesome pizza you'll be asking me to show you how to cook pizza!"  And that my dear friends is how the Great Pizza War of 2010 started.

We made the dough from scratch, the sauce from scratch, and we thoughtfully picked out our toppings.  Both K and I ended up making "ultimate" style pizzas with way too many toppings but during a competition you tend to pull out all the stops.  There is no room for losers in this house!!!  Oh sorry, I get carried away when I'm having to prove myself.  It must be all those years as a girl playing little league baseball.  I used to eat like a whole pack of Big League Chew during practice.  My cheeks would be obscenely bulged out and purple drool ran down my chin onto my little sporty mesh half shirt.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, Pizza:  Judges, prepare to be blown away.

In this corner, the Monarch of La Mesa, the Countess of Cali with her super vegetarian (she can't help it, she's from California) explosion pie.  Topped with artichoke hearts, crimini mushrooms, black olives, kale, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese.

In the opposite corner, the lovely and talented Queen of Queens, the Empress of New York with her Spanish coca style breakfast pizza topped with bacon, chorizo, olives, manchego and fontina cheeses and fried eggs.

...And the winner is... The truth is they were both very delicious and ridiculously filling.  I'm surprised we didn't have heart attacks that very night.  We had a great time making tasty pizza and neither of our feelings got hurt.  K can now make pizza and I lived my dream of making the most unhealthy pizza I could think of.  Perhaps I'll teach her how to make tacos next.  I bet mine will taste better...

Napoletana Pizza Dough

4 1/2 cups (20.25 ounces) unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 (.44 ounce) teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce) instant 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

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment), If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, 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. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. 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 just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil (or lightly oil the parchment). Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas), You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it, Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. 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 sheet pan, Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: 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.)

4. 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. Before letting the dough rest at room temperature for 2 hours, dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Now let rest for 2 hours.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The American "kitchen sink" approach is counterproductive, as it makes the crust more difficult to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.

8. 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, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.

Recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press)

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