Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hurry-Up Pizza from Scratch

My family wanted pizza and I did not have time to find my usual pizza crust recipe. My crust turned out wonderful per the most critical opinions of my husband and mother, both pizza gourmets. I doubled the recipe shown earlier in this blog and added a new skill, hand tossing the pizza. Some of the discussion herein repeats what I posted last year and I have included additional tips and explanations.

My husband's cardiologists had told me to keep him at zero fat. This is almost impossible but he is a special case and a special person who adheres to his dietary restrictions and allergies. My nephew has 37 allergies but luckily, to date, no one is allergic to wheat in my family. I use whole wheat for my husband, mother, and me as often as I can. I do not use whole wheat when preparing products for my nephew, but use unbleached flour.

Herein is a pizza crust that my entire family can enjoy. I made it in a hurry yesterday and did not measure as exactly as I normally do.

Please note that I never use hot water from the faucet but microwave cold water until it is lukewarm to the touch. I am particular about my yeast and purchase in the large (only) package sold by Costco or Whole Foods as the yeast looks finer and never fails. It also lasts a very long time in the refrigerator.

My ingredients and the secret to a crispy, thinner type crust include:

2 teaspoons yeast (I used a real teaspoon as this is fast pizza and my two sets of measuring
spoons were in the dishwasher)
2 cups lukewarm water (cold water heated in the microwave, I use my Pyrex measuring cup)
2 teaspoons sugar (scant but measured with real teaspoons)

Very gently stir the above for a second. Yeast is alive and we want it to bubble and grow. I check for some bubbles before proceeding to the next step. The bubbles come from the yeast eating the sugar. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. If the water is too cold, it will take longer for the yeast to grow and the flour to raise.

4 cups of unbleached flour (a bit more if the dough is too sticky but be cautious as adding too
much flour (especially when using the traditional whole wheat flour, will result in a tough dough. If too sticky, dust with a bit more flour until you can hand toss the dough).

Mix the flour into the dough and I knead it about 10 times, dusting with a bit of flour if the dough is too sticky to handle. I let the dough raise in a warm place but before I do this, I sprinkle a bit of flour over the dough. In the olden days, when my husband was not so fat restricted, I would place the smallest coat of olive oil on the bowl and on the pizza dough. It is important to cover the dough.

Some of my friends make the dough the night before, divide it in three or more portions for individual pizzas and let them raise in individual storage containers or bags in the refrigerator overnight, or all day, before a late evening dinner party of make your own pizza. I have done this and it works too, but I prefer to have the pre-baked crusts ready for my hungry guests.

Once the dough has doubled in bulk on its first raising, I punch it down and begin hand tossing the dough. After hand tossing to fit each pizza pan, I let the dough raise once again in a draft free place, usually in my oven, but I do not cover the dough this time, as it raises in each pizza pan.

I saw a glimpse of the hand tossing of pizza on one of the cooking shows and need to see this process once again. I need to perfect this skill that truly results in a wonderful crust.

For hand tossing, I started with a ball of dough, flattened it a bit and began tossing it from hand to hand. Miraculously, it begins to get larger and thinner. My first one had several holes in it that I patched once placed in the pizza pan, the second ball of dough was better, and the third ball I tossed was the easiest. I did not wear rings while tossing as feared tearing the dough.

I made three different pizza's from the dough recipe. One pizza was a medium pepperoni with lots of cheese for my mother, a pizza lover. It also included onions and sweet red bell peppers.

Another large pizza was made with no cheese as my husband is allergic to dairy products. His pizza included sauce (recipe follows), microwaved fresh onion, slightly microwaved fresh red peppers, and his specially thin sliced, non fat hot dogs.

My own pizza included cheese, sweet red peppers, and onions.

In the summer I add almost anything growing in my garden to the pizza shells that I have pre-baked on cooler spring days. I do not like to bake in the summer. I have added any kind of summer squash, fresh basil, fresh tomatoes, cilantro, any garden peppers, and onions from my garden.

I love a thick pizza crust too, but my husband and mother prefer one a bit thinner with some crispness. Majority rules in our democratic household.

After forming a circle of crust by hand tossing, I place it on a pizza pan sprayed with Pam.

I pre-bake the pizza crust for 6-10 minutes on the bottom rack of my oven at 425F.
When the top of the crust is set -- springs back slightly to touch, I add the sauce and the other ingredients. Depending upon the preferences of the member of my family, I have two procedures concerning the part-skim Mozarella cheese added to those who may have cheese.

My mother likes a crispy texture to the top and bottom of her pizza, thus I put on all the ingredients on her pizza crust after it has been pre-baked. I place the sauce over the pizza and add the vegetables, cheese, and top it with the pepperoni. I add olive oil to the top of her pizza on those occasions when she does not want pepperoni.

For my cheese pizza, I assemble all the ingredients on the pre-baked crust but do not add the cheese until the last 5 minutes in the oven. I love the cheese just melted to form strings. More baking of the cheese, as I do with my mothers cheese, decreases the strings. My mother can not handle stringy cheese but loves the part-skim Mozarella cheese. I also love Provolone.

A hand tossed pizza makes the difference.

I will use whole wheat flour, especially the newer white whole wheat flour but if I do not have it in the house, I use the unbleached flour. I never used bleached flour as the dough does not come out the way we like it. When using the whole wheat flour I have substituted it for all the flour or for one or more cups of the flour included in the recipe.

What is so nice about the new white whole wheat flour is that the color of the dough is one my family is familiar with and the taste of the crust is not as heavy as the traditional whole wheat flour. My family is happy with any homemade pizza.

When we order take-out, we must emphasize that no cheese or dairy product may land on my husbands pizza. On more than one occasion we have carefully placed our order only to find his pizza smothered in cheese.

Our family pizza sauce recipe is included herein. I have found the cans of pizza sauce sold in the stores to be good but we restrict our salt and have some allergies.

For the dough in the above recipe that makes three pizzas, one medium, and two large I use:

2 small cans of tomato paste
2 cans of water (helps rinse out the tomato paste)
3-4 T of Ketchup (some add a bit of sugar instead to bring out the sweetness of the tomato)
garlic powder (to taste, I prefer lots, I have also roasted fresh garlic from the garden)
basil (dried is fine added to the sauce, if I have fresh basil, I add entire leaves with the other
vegetables but be gentle as basil leaves bruse easily)
oregano (optional, I generally do not use it unless it is growing in my garden)

Both the initial pre-baking of the crust (helps prevent soggy pizza) and the final baking are done on the bottom rack of the oven at 425F. Pre-baked crust usually takes 6-10 minutes and the final baking takes another 10-15. Always preheat the oven. I keep an assembly line going so the oven is not empty until all the dough has been pre-baked and pizzas have been baked.

I watch the oven carefully and check for doness by lifting up a small section of the crust that lifts up easily from the sprayed baking pan (or pizza pan).

Caution: for the second raising, do not use the pizza pans with the holes in them. They are great for a pre-baked crust. However, if you place dough in them, the dough will raise through the holes. It is almost impossible to remove the pizza from the pan as the dough raises through those holes in the pan!

An easy way to cut pizza is to use a pair of scizzors. I devote any type of scizzor that will do the job to the pizza pan but am careful not to scratch the pan as I lift and cut the pizza slices.

One secret to storing pizza in the refrigerator was taught to me by my sister whose inlaws are Italian. Her husband likes cold pizza for breakfast. I too like cold pizza for breakfast in the summer, especially with fresh tomato slices on it.

Here is my sisters secret: to store the leftover pizza in the refrigerator, place the first set of slices, face side up on a plate, cover with a second set of pizza slices face down over the slices that are facing up. The toppings touch each other and the crust surrounds the pizza protecting the toppings, yet keeping the crust from becoming soggy. Cover the entire plate of pizza slices with plastic wrap. When needed, take out a slice or two and microwave for a great snack.

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