March 1, 2017

In the beginning…

It all started at Alinna’s house. She inspires me to try new things a lot, like CSAs, hosting friends more frequently for dinners, baking bread, co-op preschools, and Dorie Greenspan. This visit was no exception. They had us over for dinner, and on the menu: grilled pizzas. By the time we left, I was determined to learn how to make artisan pizza at home, too.

When this family does food, they do food, and their pizza was no exception. Their sourdough pizza dough recipe came straight out of The Cheese Board Collective and I wouldn’t be surprised if they grew the kale in their own yard. I mean, they already have chickens back there.

Ben liked the pizza so much I decided I was gonna learn how to do it. Pizza nights were gonna be a thing in our house. I would sit back and drink some wine while the pizza baked, and we would have something DELICIOUS at the end of it. So I asked Alinna my 131 questions, studied as she built her pizzas, and tried to figure out how I was going to replicate this without a grill in the backyard.

Long story short, after much research and many rounds of improving my oven version, I am ready to share my Friday Night Pizza routine with you!

It does not involve sourdough starter.

Why not sourdough starter?

I could not, for the life of me, figure out sourdough starter and the recipes that were to be made from it. Alinna did generously send me home with a jar of her sourdough starter, complete with instructions for how to feed and wake the dough. She told me, “It’s like having a pet. You have to feed it and wake it and keep it alive.” Oh geez. I was barely staying afloat with two children, and I was not ready to adopt a pet yet. But I went home and diligently researched all I could on what a sourdough starter was, what it meant to feed it, and what to do with all the extra parts I didn’t use.

Confession: Alinna, I swear I tried to maintain it, but it kept overflowing and then finally the lid was more or less cemented closed and I couldn’t open it for the life of me (…or it). I eventually let my pet sourdough starter die. Fail. 🙁

If not sourdough, then what?

But I forged on in my pizza journey and settled for pre-made balls of pizza dough from Trader Joe’s for a while. It was okay. I was struggling to figure out how to get it to turn out consistently crisp, and I think it had more to do with the “Best by” date than anything. It seemed like the fresher the dough was, the better the crust turned out. Which led me to finally try my hand at making yeasted pizza dough myself. What could be fresher than that, right?

It turned out great! Crisp on the bottoms and edges, tasty, and really quite simple. The last two times I made it, I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour, and we are never switching back. The bread flour makes it perfectly crispy and everyone could tell the difference. Even my one-year old nommed especially hard on it!

The crispness of my homemade dough totally beat out the Trader Joe’s dough and we enjoyed it even more than my initial attempts with the sourdough crust (I never completely got the hang of the sourdough thing =/ ). It doesn’t have the sourdough taste, but it will do. It was way easier for me to stretch out than either the sourdough OR the Trader Joe’s doughs, and that makes the whole process even easier!

Get the right equipment

Okay, if you really wanna get into this pizza stuff, you’ve got to invest in a pizza pan. That’s the only way to use your oven to get things hot enough to make a good crust. I researched a bunch and got Alinna’s input, and I eventually decided to get this heavy cast iron pizza stone:

It heats evenly all the way around, stays piping hot for the moment I slide my pizza onto it, and can take the heat. The handles make it handy (har har) to take in and out of the oven so I don’t need a pizza peal (aka huge spatula for sliding pizzas around).

Actually, I’m not sure what the official highest temperature is listed for it, but I use it in my 500 degree oven. DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying it’s okay to. That’s just what I do. Use at your own risk!

My regular pizza-making routine

  1. At least 2 hours before dinner time, I start working on the dough, which takes about 1.5 hours to make (including “let sit 1 hour in a warm place.”). If I make it much earlier in the day, I stick it in the fridge after it has doubled in size, then take it out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before I want to use it. If you buy from TJ’s, then just take the dough out of the plastic and let it sit on the counter 30 minutes before you’re ready to build your pizza. You might want to just start with the pre-made dough until you’ve got the hang of things and then venture into making your own dough.
  2. Put the cold cast iron pizza pan into a cold oven. Set the oven to 500 degrees and let the pan heat up along with the oven. My oven takes a long time to heat up, so I start this at least 30 minutes before dinner time.
  3. Meanwhile, I lay a sheet of parchment paper onto my cookie sheet (the kind that only has one lip, so you can slide the paper + pizza off easily later).
     I stretch my dough on top of the paper into a 14″ circle/blob.
  4. Build the pizza on top. One key thing I learned was to NOT OVERDO it with the sauce, cheese or toppings. Heaping piles of cheese makes an extra cheesy pizza… and a soggier crust. Heaping piles of mushrooms leads to a lot of water… and a soggier crust.
    Even this is too much (pesto) sauce. 
  5. Once oven has hit 500 degrees and pan is hot, carefully remove it from the oven with oven mitts and place on stovetop. Slide pizza and parchment paper onto hot pizza pan. Carefully place the pizza pan and pizza back into the hot oven.
  6. Let it bake for 10-15 minutes (I bake mine for 15 mins). Some people suggest removing the parchment about 2 minutes into the baking process. Supposedly you can just snatch it right out, because the crust will already have hardened. I actually forgot about this step until now, but it might be worth trying? I think it might make your crust crisper. (Or maybe you’re not supposed to leave parchment paper in a hot oven for that long?).
    While the first pizza is baking, I build my second pizza, which goes in as soon as the first one is on the cutting board.
  7. Remove pan from oven and use cookie sheet as a pizza peal to transfer the pizza onto a cutting board. (Some people like to serve it straight off the cast iron, which keeps it hot for longer… but boy that pan is REALLY HOT and I am not putting that ANYWHERE near my kiddos! Or… myself haha). I usually transfer it with the parchment paper, and then pull the parchment paper out once it’s on the cutting board.
  8. Slice and serve!

Here are some of my favorite recipes

Pizza dough
Adapted from Bobby Flay’s recipe

  1. Combine 3.5-4 cups bread flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 envelope (or 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant dry yeast, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. While the mixer is running, add 1 1/2 cups of water (110 degrees F) and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Beat until the dough forms into a ball. If the dough is sticky, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a solid ball. If the dough is dry, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
  3. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a smooth, firm ball.
  4. Grease a large bowl with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and put it in a warm area to let it double in size, about 1 hour.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cover each with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.

Note to self: Alinna suggested this recipe for yeasted pizza dough. Next time!

Ben’s Favorite Kale and Sopressata (Salami) Pizza
Note: This recipe is not the one pictured in this post. The one pictured has like 2 torn stems of kale scattered about. A proper bunch of kale will look like you dumped a huge salad onto your pizza, which is the way we usually do it (because that’s how Alinna did it!).

  1. In a large bowl, wash and dry a bunch of green curly kale (curly kale crisps up better). Tear it up into smaller pieces, and season with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. Mix and then set aside.
  2. Stretch out pizza dough onto parchment paper.
  3. Spread a couple tablespoons of pesto evenly on pizza.
  4. Sprinkle on a thin layer of mozzarella cheese. Top with a few slices of sopressata or salami.
  5. Once the pizza pan is ready, slide the pizza crust with the cheese and sopressata onto the pan. Then pile on the kale, spreading evenly. (You could put the kale on before sliding it onto the pizza pan, but I find it easier to add the kale after it’s on the pizza pan). Sprinkle some grated Parmesan on top.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until crust is browned and kale is beginning to brown.
  7. Optional: If my kale is really piled high and the tops are starting to get burnt, I use a long pair of tongs to flip the crisped parts to the bottom, exposing the wetter pieces to the top for browning. This prevents burning and also allows more kale to get crisped. It also wilts everything a little more evenly and makes it easier to shove in your mouth when it’s time to eat :).
  8. Remove from oven and onto a cutting board and enjoy!

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