I take a number of calculated and practiced steps to making my pizza. I have used the same pizza dough recipe for over 10 years. Tried others, always come back to my whole wheat/white crust. Relatively thin, and if I wait long enough, it has a slightly sour, open texture with a crispy outer crunch and a chewy interior. Many people shy away from yeast breads, but I find them very versatile and flexible.
In culinary school, we were told that bakeries develop a core of recipes, then work to perform myriad variations of the same dough. I thought initially that this must be hoo-haw. When I had my own place, I was sure that my repertoire would consist of unique and effort intense variations – no short cuts for me. In fact, the expert pastry chef who guided me was right and my subsequent experience proved that the concept was incredibly efficient and well planned.
And so it goes with pizza crust. Use the same dough for bread sticks, deep dish and thin crust pizzas, calzones, and once – cinnamon rolls. The dough turned out to be a bit too tough and chewy for the cinnamon rolls, but hey, at least I didn’t waste it. Kids as young as 7 or 8 have successfully made pizza dough in my classes, and last night, a group of college students looking for simple recipes to duplicate when returning to school dorm room and apartment living had similar success.
Everything was going along peacefully until I began topping the demonstration pizza. “No sauce on the pizza?’ There was a hint of despair in the sweet voice.
“Nope, no sauce” I replied. “We’re using our roasted tomatoes instead. This is a different kind of pizza.”
Sure, you could put average (or even spectacular sauce) atop my pizza crust with exceptional results. Tonight, we are artisans of the pizza world. Creating a basic, tried and true Margherita pizza. Named after Queen Margherita of Italy in 1889 when she chose this as her favorite. Studded with the colors of the Italian flag, it is best when kept simple, hot and very fresh. Begin with hand made dough, oven roasted tomatoes, and just picked garden basil. End with heaven in a slice.
Basic Pizza Crust
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached all purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups very warm tap water
1 1/2 Tbls dry yeast
2 tsp brown sugar
2 oz olive oil
Whisk together the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. I prefer stoneware, but glass or stainless steel will work too. Whisk together the water, yeast and brown sugar in a smaller bowl and allow to proof for 5-8 minutes. Add the oil to the yeast mixture, then pour into the dry mix. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to clean the side of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until cohesive and smooth, about 6-10 minutes. Lightly spray or oil the mixing bowl and return the kneaded dough to it. Cover with plastic film wrap and a clean towel. Allow to rise until double, or about an hour. Gently punch the dough down, and allow to rest again for about 15 minutes, covered. At this point, refrigerate until ready to use, or begin making your pizzas.
This recipe will yeild 4 thin crust pizzas or two of the 10″ deep dish varieties.
Suggestions for great pizza:
Heat a pizza stone in the oven to 425 degrees for about 20-30 minutes prior to baking.
Use semolina or corn meal on a pizza peel to help ‘float’ the pizza from the peel to the stone.
Toss, roll or pat a portion of the dough into a round or oblong shape.
Go light on toppings to enjoy a different taste experience with each mouthful.
Use a light drizzle of garlic infused olive oil as the first ‘layer’ on your pizza. This will create a barrier so the toppings won’t make the dough soggy.
Try roasted vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers.
Don’t stick to just mozzarella. Try chevre, smoked gouda, asiago and other local cheeses.
Try these oven roasted tomatoes. Simple, versatile and unbelievably flavorful, they are a wonderful addition to pastas, crostini, and antipasta trays.
Oven Roasted Grape Tomatoes
Begin with a quart of cherry or grape tomatoes. Wash and pat dry and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Slice in half lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher or sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Roast in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Watch them closely and stir occasionally to prevent burning. You want the majority of the juices to evaporate, leaving a syrupy glaze on the tomatoes. Remove from the oven and add 2 or more cloves fresh, minced garlic and a handful of freshly minced basil, Italian parsley and a touch of tarragon. Taste for seasoning, adjusting with a pinch of sugar, crushed red pepper or salt.