Don't Lose Your Temper
Jan. 16, 2009 3:31 pm
Updated: Jul. 20, 2009 1:57 pm
We eat a lot of pizza at our house. It's quick, it's versatile, it's fun to eat—what's not to love? We usually make a triple batch of dough at a time, freezing two pizza's worth and eating one crust on the day we make it.
You don't need to toss the pizza dough in the air like a professional pizzaiolo to shape your crust. You don't need a rolling pin, either. My husband, a patient man, used to be brought to a cursing, dough-hating rage by recalcitrant pizza crusts. If he can make a perfect round, so can you. Here are my top 3 tips for making the process a little friendlier:
1. Take off all rings, watches, and jewelry before you begin. Once you've snagged and torn a hole in the dough, you'll have trouble patching it.
2. Shape the dough into nice tight rounds. This will make shaping the dough easier once it has risen.
3. Par-bake the crust on a pizza screen. Not only does this save you from the anxiety of using a pizza peel (and the potential for oven-floor disasters), it also allows you to prepare several crusts ahead of time if you're feeding a crowd. Then you can top and bake them assembly-line fashion.
• Use a stand mixer if you have one. I like to add a tablespoon or so of vital wheat gluten to the bread flour to make a more elastic, stretchy dough. However, if you're kneading by hand, you won't be able to develop the dough enough to make this step worthwhile.
• To determine when the dough has mixed long enough to fully develop the gluten structure, test for a "windowpane." Flour your fingers and pinch off a small piece of dough. You should be able to stretch it until it's thin and translucent before it begins to tear. If the dough pulls apart right away, you haven't kneaded/mixed it long enough.
• After dividing the dough into pizza-sized portions, form the pieces into nice tight rounds. This will make shaping the crust easier once the dough has risen.
• If you're setting aside some of the dough, drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil into zippered plastic freezer bags; oiling the bags before adding the dough balls will make your life easier when you're trying to get it back out again. Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight; transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and let rise at room temperature for two or three hours before shaping.
• Once the dough has risen, lightly flour a work surface and your hands. You want to gently stretch the dough over the backs of your hands, letting the weight of the dough pull it thinner as you work your way around the edges of the round. Try not to pop any air bubbles that have formed. Concentrate on working the outer edges, as the center will take care of itself.
• Bake the dough for about 3–4 minutes at 450° or 500° F until the crust structure is set, but not browned. You can then add the toppings and bake it immediately, or you can set the crust aside and bake it later.
• A pizza stone is essential, in my opinion. Pull the oven rack out slightly to make it easier to slide the topped pizza onto the stone. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.
Note: my favorite crust recipe comes from the Gourmet cookbook, and is adapted from Pizzeria Bianco, a phenomenal restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona. It's well worth the two- or three-hour wait for a table.
"Windowpane" in dough
Placing dough on screen
Ready to par-bake