In Pursuit of Pizza Paradise

We don't have the Travel Channel (or any cool channels for that matter), but we happened to catch the pizza edition of their Food Paradise series while staying at Kristen's parents house last month. My mind has been consumed by pizza ever since. This obsession has led us to discover some new local pizzerias (details forthcoming), and caused me to rethink how I make pizza at home, starting with new dough and sauce recipes:

Neapolitan Style Pizza Dough

• 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
• 1 1/4 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
• 1 cup cake flour (see note below)
• 2 1/2 to 3 cups all purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons salt
• Olive oil for the bowl

Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand for 1 minute, or until the yeast is creamy. Stir until the yeast dissolves.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cake flour, 2 1/2 cups of the all purpose flour, and the salt. (NOTE: You can substitute the cake flour by putting 2 tbsp of cornstarch in the bottom of a 1-cup measuring cup, then filling the cup as usual with all-purpose flour). Add the yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (or electric mixer) and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Lightly coat another large bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft free place and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 90 minutes.

Flatten the dough with your fist. Cut the dough into 2 pieces and shape the pieces into balls. Dust the tops with flour. Place the balls on a floured surface and cover each with plastic wrap, allowing room for the dough to expand. Let rise another 60 to 90 minutes. This makes two 14" pizzas.

Tomato Sauce

• 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano flakes

PureƩ the tomatoes, garlic, and oregano in a blender. Pour into a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes to thicken (do not boil). I thought the flavor of the sauce improved after refrigerating it overnight. This is enough sauce to make probably four 14" pizzas.

After scouring the internet for suggestions, including my brother Rob's post about trying to make New York-style Pizza, here's a few relatively easy tips I was able to apply when assembling and cooking my pie:

Use Your Hands
In the past, while trying to stretch the dough out as thin as possible, I have used a rolling pin. But apparently this pops the bubbles in the dough and results in a flat crust. It is better to stretch the dough with just your hands even though this takes a little more persistence, and doesn't always end up totally even. I guess I need to practice my tossing technique.

Less is More
For my experiments I have been making a basic margherita pizza while trying to master a good ratio of sauce and cheese. After spreading out a thin layer of sauce, sprinkle just enough shredded cheese so the sauce still peeks through. Top with torn basil leaves.

The Hotter the Better
Cook at your oven's maximum temperature. Ours goes up to 550 degrees, and takes about 30-45 minutes to heat up. Put your pizza stone on the bottom rack so the cheese doesn't burn. My pizza usually takes about 5-6 minutes to cook at this temperature, producing a slightly charred outer crust while the inside stays soft and airy.

It's still not quite as effective as an 800 degree brick oven, but alas, I don't have one of those.

All in all these efforts have produced a marked improvement in my homemade pizza, even if I didn't get quite as far as this guy.


Christie said...

That looks delicious. I've been wanting to improve my homemade pizza too (and I agree that less is more..). I will have to put this on the menu for next week.

Jessica said...

the crust on that looks beautiful though!