Sunday, March 23, 2008

Pizza Party!

This is my weekly baking project post. For all of you BCC noobs, one of my New Years resolutions is to become more comfortable with baking so I am trying to bake something on a weekly basis. So far, it's been pretty fun. I have had a few complete, unmitigated disasters but you live and you learn. Pizza dough is an important step for me because it is the first time in probably 4 years that I've used yeast. The first time was when I had just moved to California and was living at my ex-gf's mom's house. I tried to make bread using a James Beard cookbook but ended up with a stunted brick of flour and water. Happily, my second experience with yeast was far more successful.

I used the recipe from Chef On A Shoestring. The book is a few years old (originally printed in 2001) but the recipes still read really well. And the idea behind the book is right up my alley...some NYC television station went to a bunch of chefs and gave them a 20 dollar budget. With that 20 dollars, they were to design a three course meal for 4 people and the book is a compendium of what the chefs came up with. If you clicked the link, you'll notice the bargain basement price so don't buy the book expecting a bunch of glitzy pictures printed on glossy paper. As far as food porn goes, this book is a study in austerity. However, I've now made two recipes from the book and they've both turned out really, really well. It's a keeper.

Dough...salt, oil, yeast, flour and water:
1.75 cups of lukewarm water...lukewarm means between 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle two 1/4 ounce packages of yeast over the warm water. The recipe mentions that you should let the yeast and water stand until dissolved and foamy. I never got any foam but the dough still turned out great. So, if you don't get foamy water, don't freak out. I waited 15 minutes for foamy yeast water before I grew impatient and continued on. While the yeast/water is doing its thing, measure out your flour. 6 cups worth, or if you're using a scale, 134 grams per cup. Add the flour to the yeast/water a handful at a time...use your other hand to stir the flour into the water and create a dough. After a few handfuls of flour, it'll be pretty sticky but just keep working through it. Once you've incorporated all of the flour, pour the dough onto a prepared, lightly floured surface. I used a clean kitchen counter. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. This is a good chance to alleviate some latent aggression and you'll probably work up a good sweat after the first 5 minutes. Kneading dough is hard but rewarding work. I really enjoyed it! The cookbook says that you're looking for the dough to become "smooth and elastic." Mold the dough into a ball and place in a lightly olive oiled bowl. Tightly wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm area. Since I had been preheating the oven, I placed the bowl next to the warm oven. Let it rest/rise for approximately one hour.

Here's the dough progression. Baby bear:
Mama bear:Papa bear!:
I was amazed. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this result. I punched (*Ka-POW!!*) the dough down and poured it onto a floured surface. We'll continue with the dough after I show you the topping.

While the dough is rising, make the topping. This recipe called for caramelized onions, rosemary and gorgonzola. I purchased crumbled gorgonzola from Trader Joe's because it was affordable and I figured buying the good stuff would be a waste for pizza. For the onions, you'll need 4 onions, butter, oil and rosemary.
4 onions, thinly sliced. Pick two tablespoons of rosemary leaves off of the stems. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large pan and 1/2 cup of olive oil. Toss in the onions and rosemary and cook very slowly. 30-40 want to see the onions go limp and translucent. Add salt. Allow to cool. You might notice that the recipe says caramelized onions and these onions are still pale...I figured that the onions will caramelize when placed in the 450 degree oven. We'll see that while this made sense in theory, it didn't quite work in practice. I also took the time to roast some garlic cloves. 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
At this point, you have prepared onion topping, maybe some roasted garlic, cheese and a ball of dough.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Get it good and hot. If you have a pizza stone, now is the time to use it!

George and I quartered the dough. The recipe calls for two pizzas but we decided to make four because a large pizza wouldn't fit on our pizza stone. Additionally, four pizzas allows you to vary the toppings and have a little more fun.

To roll out the dough, you can do it freeform by stretching and pulling or you can be a pansy (like me!) and use a rolling pin. I used my SilPin. It's a non-stick rolling pin. It's AMAZING. Here's what I ended up with:Underneath is a large cutting board. Because the dough has a tendency to stick, we used a bit of flour and cornmeal underneath. As George put it, "The cornmeal acts like tiny little ball bearings which allows the dough to slide off." Thank you, nerd.

Decorate your pizza with toppings of your choice. Here's pizza number one before it goes in:
A few observations. First, because we were using smaller pizzas, we baked them for only 10 minutes rather than the recipe's 20 minutes. I think the reduction in baking time inhibited any onion caramelization. Second, the dough underwent a second rising in the oven and, because of the larger volume of dough, it changed the ratio of dough to topping. Basically, more topping was needed. We fixed this with the next few pizzas. However, we were pretty happy with the dough and the fact that the pizza tasted pretty good.

Number two with heavy toppings and the addition of roast garlic:
One of George's pies:He used anchovies, some canned spaghetti sauce and some shredded cheese that we had sitting around the fridge. We decided to chuck an egg onto the pizza to see what happened:
Egg was a bit overcooked at 10 minutes in the oven. I like how George got a nice rim around his pizza. George spent a year in culinary school and has some experience with this sort of thing. He told me that the secret was hand tossing the dough and not putting topping all the way out to the pizza's edge. Because there's nothing to weigh the dough down, it can rise more.

Anyhow, I had an absolute BLAST making pizza. It was alot of fun...making the dough was a little bit stressful but sooooo worth it when I saw it in all its glory. Pizza night is definitely something we will do in the future. In fact, we're planning pizza night for guests where we make the dough and toppings and let people make their own pizzas. Sounds like a good time, right?

Time- Probably about 30 minutes of active work for the onions and kneading the dough. Remember that the dough needs to rise for an hour. This isn't something to just whip up for an impromptu dinner.

Food cost-
Dough...uhhhh, cheap? Flour is next to nothing, yeast is $1.60. Onions are 80 cents, a few sprigs of rosemary, $3.00 bucks in gorgonzola. You get the point...turning out 4 pizzas didn't cost very much. Chef On a Shoestring, indeed.

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mark h said...

Hey Mikey!
Budget College Cook indeed. man this stuff looks great! the stuff you cook looks delicious! haha you got to have me over by some time and show me a thing or two. seriously man you could take this thing and become the next 'tila tequila' haha

anyway yeah keep on cooking man. really like you're blog.

Lindsey said...

funnily enough i don't remember the alleged rock bread at mom's...meeeep!