Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stone Fired Pizza

They say the hamburger is the number one fast food item eaten in America today, and I’ll begrudgingly admit that they are probably right. But I think it ought to be pizza. Pizza is delicious.  Pizza is ubiquitous. And there's so many ways to get a pizza that you'd think it were some sort of necessity.  There’s dine in, carry out, delivery, frozen, fresh, thick crust, thin crust, stuffed crust, deep dish, Chicago style, New York style, hand tossed, pizza dogs, pizza pretzels, and...well, you get the point.

But whatever happened to good old homemade pizza? And I don’t mean those cute little Chef Boyardee boxes we loved as kids. I mean good ole, make your sauce, make your dough, roll it out, pop it in the oven homemade pizza. Well, thanks to the folks over at The Pizza Forum, I learned a few tips and tricks to make a top notch pizza at home.

First, let’s make the dough. You should do this at least 8-12 hours before you are going to make your pizza, so like, the morning. But if you’re mornings are either the rush off to work variety, or the sleep in late variety, you can make your dough the night before...and it will be better!  This is one of the first tips I learned in reading up on good pizza making. Dough needs time to rise, but also age a little bit, so that it develops some flavor.  Most pizza joints worthy of their pepperoni will make their dough the night before, store it in a refrigerated room, and then pull it out in the morning and let it rise. You can do a similar process at home.

Pizza Dough

3-3½ Cups white flour
1 package dry bread yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp salt
a pinch of sugar

If you’re using a mixer with a dough hook, add flour and salt to your mixer, stir, and then with the mixer running, slowly add your water with the yeast. Let the mixer knead the dough for about ten minutes.

If you don’t have a mixer with dough hook...don’t worry you don’t ‘knead’ it. (har har har). Just add the flour slowly to the yeast water until about two thirds of the flour is mixed, then knead by hand until the rest of the flour is worked in. Continue to knead for about ten minutes, adding flour if the mixture is still too sticky.

When you're finished, place dough in a bowl, and you should have something that looks about like this:

After a couple hours, it will have risen, and look like this (it's a pizza dough miracle!):

Punch the dough down and knead it for a minute or two, and let it rise again for a couple more hours. I know, this seems redundant, but multiple risings allow the yeast to work longer, consuming more of the starch in the dough, and producing more flavor. You’ll thank yourself later for all this extra work.

So, while the dough is doing its thing, let's make the sauce.

We don’t have to get too fancy here and go grinding up fresh tomatoes. You can make a top notch sauce from canned tomato products, olive oil and herbs. (not that you can’t drop some fresh tomato slices on your pizza as’s your pizza...put what you want on it!)

Pizza Sauce

1 can tomato puree.
1 can tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
fresh basil and oregano
salt to taste.

Heat the tomato puree, paste and olive oil over medium heat. Mince the garlic cloves and add. Add the oregano, marjoram and minced fresh basil and stir. Add the balsamic vinegar. Add a bit of salt to taste. If the sauce seems too thick for your liking, add a bit more olive oil to thin. Note, this is just one recipe of a myriad of sauce recipes out there. I like this one as it makes a thick, tangy sauce with a lot of flavor, but it is relatively simple to make.

Now, it's late afternoon, the dough and sauce are ready, we've sipped a nice chianti, so let's make some pies.

Divide the dough in two and roll out into two roughly circular pies. At this point you may be asking, should I be rolling it out into a greased pizza pan? I prefer to use a pizza stone (hence the 'Stone Fired Pizza' moniker on this article).  These stones add another secret ingredient we need for great homemade pizza:  Heat. You see, those fancy pizza joints we all love have special ovens that get hot...real hot. Like 800 degrees hot. And we just can’t replicate that at home. But we can get close, if we get ourselves a pizza stone.

Pizza stones, or baking stones, are available at most stores like Target or similar, or you can drop a few more bucks at a gourmet store and get one that is said won’t crack on you. I’ve had the same Target quality stone for nigh on fifteen years now, and it has yet to crack.

So what we’re gonna do with our stone is get it really, really hot, and then put our pizza directly onto it. This gets the bottom of the pie cooking immediately, while the hot oven does the trick on the other side...the one with all the toppings that we’ll get to in a moment. So I simply roll out my dough only a cutting board, and then make the pie, and move it too the stone. And to get that pizza pie directly onto the stone, we need specialty item number two: A peel.

A peel is just a wide wooden paddle that you see the guys at pizza joints using to slide pies into and out of the ovens. You can have one in your kitchen too...they’re surprisingly affordable. In fact, you can even go the extra mile, and get something called the super peel, which adds a sort of cloth conveyer system onto the peel. It’s really ingenious. The wife got me one for V-day, and I love it. Here’s a little video from the folks that make it, showing how it works.

So, where were we?  Ah yes, let's make those pies and get 'em in the oven.  I'm not going to spend a lot of time on topping here, because you know what you like.  For my first one today, I went for a standard mozzarella cheese with pepperoni, black olives and some capers.

And then let's pop it onto the stone and into the oven.

I use a 500 degree oven (set on bake...not broil!), which is much hotter than most recipes call for, but since we are baking on the stone, we want the top to cook as fast as the bottom, and it is this quick, hot, stone fired method that will best replicate the flavors of a traditional pizza oven.  Just be careful, the pies will cook very fast, so don't leave them unattended to go sip another glass of that chianti.   Check your oven frequently, and when the toppings are melted and begin to get nice little golden brown spots (what the pizza gurus call 'leopard spots') on them, you can pull the pie out, or let it go just a little longer.  (I like the tops of mine dark). 

Let the pie sit for a few minutes, then slice and serve. Hopefully, you will dig these homemade pies as much as we did. We usually do several at a time, one after the other.  They make great leftovers.  Here's a few pics of some of our finished work:

Hope I've made your mouth water sufficiently.  Now go bake a pizza!



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