I understand that baking is much more of a science than cooking. The ratios need to be just right so you have a cake that doesn’t sink in the center, cookies that don’t spread to the size of a dessert plate before they set, or bread that isn’t a heavy, dense brick.
I’m not too bad with cakes, cookies, scones and the like…but bread…well…that needs work. But I think I’m getting there. Let’s talk about pizza crust. Think of all the varieties…thin crust, thick crust, deep dish crust. So many opinions, so many recipes, so hard to satisfy everyone’s needs. Depending upon my mood, I like it really thin, thick and chewy, and yes, I do like deep dish every once in a while. I admit, more times than not, I’ve taken the easy way out and bought the ready-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. It’s the easy way out so I don’t have to try yet another pizza dough recipe and be disappointed. I don’t know where the problem comes in. Maybe I don’t let it rise enough. Is my kitchen not warm enough? Did I not let the yeast bloom long enough before mixing the dough in? Did I knead it too long or not long enough? I’ve used recipes from the other bloggers blogs, from sites like Food Network, and from more than one cookbook from my own collection. I’ve used instant yeast, rapid-rise yeast, and even no yeast. All to ‘okay’ results.
Once again I found myself wanting to make pizza, but not wanting to go out and pick up the Trader Joe’s dough again. So I perused the bookshelf one more time and pulled out a slim book I picked up a year or so ago at The Iliad in North Hollywood (and conveniently enough…in my neighbourhood). The book is called ‘The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking’ by Carla Capalbo. It’s like having an Italian cooking primer. Straightforward recipes, easy to understand, and photos of most of the dishes.
Having wheat flour on hand, I tweaked the recipe for Basic Pizza Dough (despite there being a recipe for a Whole Wheat Pizza Dough). I ended up using less flour than the recipe calls for. A couple of years ago, I had a discussion with a friend over the quantity of flour in some dough and he said his grandmother once told him that if the dough stops absorbing flour as you’re gradually adding it, there is enough in the mix. I’ve kind of stuck with that thought process. If I find myself with the last 1/4 cup of flour still waiting to be mixed in, yet the dough absorbing less and less, I don’t force it.
There is still work to be done. I heard about the cold rise dough that Peter Reinhart uses and my curiosity is piqued. That will be the next version to try.
(Adapted from the Basic Pizza Dough recipe in The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking)
1 package dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
pinch of sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
In a medium bowl, empty the contents of the yeast. Add the water and sugar, mix to combine and let sit for 5-10 minutes so the yeast begins to foam. Gradually add in the first cup of flour and the salt, mixing with a wooden spoon. Add the second cup and stir until the dough comes together and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Sprinkle some of the remaining flour onto your work surface and begin kneading the dough adding the remaining amount of flour while you knead. Knead for 8-10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Lightly oil a large mixing bowl and place the dough in it. Cover with a damp dish towel and place in the warmest spot in your kitchen. Allow to rise until doubled in volume (about 45-50 minutes).
After the dough has risen, punch down the dough to release the air and knead for a minute or two. If you want a thinner crust, divide the dough in half. Roll out to the thickness you want, top with your favourite toppings and bake in a 475 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.