Thursday, June 19, 2008

How Not to Make a Pizza

Maybe this title is unfair. Given all the things that could go wrong, this pizza was pretty good. The toppings were tasty, and it looked "real" enough that one of my coworkers asked if it came from the pizza shop downstairs. But I had this idea of a perfect thin crust pizza, one that slid effortlessly onto the pizza stone even though I forgot to buy parchment paper, and... that's not exactly what happened.

I should probably mention that my dough was supposed to be foolproof; I figured I'd try to get the pizza baking part right before I tried making my own dough, so I followed path #10 on Deb's list of 10 paths to painless pizza-making. Luckily, since I live in Manhattan, the question I asked myself wasn't, "where can I find a pizza place?" Instead it was, "which of the 4 pizza places directly on the 6-block walk from the train station to my apartment should I get the dough from?" I chose The Pizzeria because, well, with a name like that, how can you pass it up? The guy behind the counter didn't flinch when I asked for a ball of dough, though he did confirm about 10 times that I really only did want dough.

I got home and immediately put the pizza stone in the oven and turned it up to 500°F, since I had read that hotter temperatures lead to better pizza. In the meantime, I thinly sliced some onions and tossed them with a little olive oil, a splash of balsamic, and a pinch each of salt and sugar. Then I spread them on a baking sheet and put them in the hot oven for about 10 minutes to caramelize. Arugula and basil were roughly chopped, then tossed with sliced sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and lemon juice.

And then it was time to roll out the dough. The as-purchased dough lump was sort of round and flat already, but it was also HUGE (2 pounds!) so I cut it in half and started to roll one of the halves out flat.

And I rolled.

And I rolled.

And no matter how many times I rolled, the dough kept springing back on itself.

So I tried another method. I picked up an edge of the dough and held it up in the air, so the rest of it would fall and stretch it out. This sort of worked, but for every inch that it stretched, it immediately sprung back and lost 0.9 inches. However, I wasn't about to give up -- my toppings were ready to go, my pizza stone was hot, and I was going to have pizza for dinner, dammit! I sprinkled some cornmeal on the back of a baking sheet, threw my dough down onto it, and just pushed it outwards with my fingertips as much as possible.

Eventually, I got the dough to a respectable pizza size, but it was still a world away from the thin crust I had envisioned. I spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese (I used the Calabro brand, which was FABULOUS), followed by the caramelized onions, then the arugula mixture. A little parmesean cheese grated over the top, and then all that remained was to slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone.

Sounds simple, right? As you can probably tell from the picture, I was not so successful in my sliding transfer. The only way I got the pizza off the baking sheet was with a spatula, and in the process I lost a few pieces of arugula, which fell onto the stone and immediately started to char. I didn't want the same to happen to my fingers so I left them there... and now I have some lovely burn marks on my pizza stone.

After 10 minutes, I faced a tough decision. The toppings were hot and starting to burn, but the crust needed at least a few more minutes. Either I could wait a few more minutes for a perfect crust with burnt toppings, or I could deal with a doughy crust that left the toppings in perfect condition. I went with the latter option. The crust wasn't raw, really, and it was edible, but it was awfully doughy. For me, it was fine, but there's no way I would have served this pizza to anyone else.

I still have half of my original dough blob in the fridge, so I guess I'll be trying to make pizza again soon. I know I can solve the clean-transfer-to-pizza-stone problem with a piece of parchment paper, but any tips for getting the dough to actually stretch out would be greatly appreciated!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your post sounds exactly like first pizza making experience. Mine are by no means perfect, but through trial and error I've managed to produce some halfway-decent pizzas.

The major change came when I put away the rolling pin. Rolling is the antithesis to a light base with a crisp crust. It squashes the fine air bubbles in a well-risen dough so when you cook it there aren't enough left to expand under heat. The result is a stodgy, doughy dough that never quite cooks all the way through.

Here's what works for me:

Pinch off the dough you will need and form it into a sort of thick circular disc. Not like a pizza base because the dough will be too elastic, more like a CD-sized hockey puck. Let it rise, covered in a warm place (an oven turned on for 5 minutes then turned off is perfect) until it increases in size and doesn't spring back when you prod it with a finger. The exact time this takes will depend on the type of yeast in the dough and the warmth, but it should be 0.5-3 hours. When this is done, dust it with flour and turn it out onto some baking paper. Now gently pull the dough into the shape you want. It will take practice to pull the dough to an even thickness, but after rising it shouldn't spring back too much.

Good luck, and I hope this helps. Baking pizzas at home is extremely satisfying!