When I first started to blog on AR, I did it to both help me learn to cook, and to relay my experiences to other people who are at my level. It was a way of forcing me to learn. If you try to teach, you had better
know something about the subject, right? Somehow I got way off that path. That's ok. I enjoy a meandering path anyway. Here's my attempt at crossing the "Learning To Cook" path again:
Baking skills have pretty much eluded me all of my life. I do bake during the course of the year, but I'm not particularly accomplished
at it. Christmas cookies are probably my forte in the field of baking. Bread, on the other hand, is my foil.
Maybe it is because bread is more of a living thing than is pastry. Not that there aren't forms of pastry that are difficult to master,
but those darned little yeastie beasties keep me from success more often than not. It is one of those challenges to which I must rise. With that said, no more loafing around! I have work to do!
Pizza and flat breads must be some of the simplest breads to bake. I've made any number of pizza crusts from scratch, but they were always
fairly blah, tough things. I always went for the bready crusts. Frankly, they were pretty good, but more like bread with sauce and toppings. I want to make real pizza.
I can't take a course in baking, at this time, but I can read. I bought the book, “Bread: A Baker's Book Of Techniques And Recipes,” by
Jeffrey Hamelman. Mr. Hamelman is a certified Master Baker, and the Director of Baking for King Arthur Flour. The book is very detailed in instruction, and as such will make a fine guide to home baking. The pizza dough recipe is very simple, but the technique
requires quite a lot of time. There are seven steps to making this crust.
The first step is to make a
biga. A biga is a prefermented lump of dough that has undergone a gentle, overnight ferment. The recipe for a biga for two one pound crusts is: 3.6 oz of bread flour, 2.2 oz of water, and .001 oz (a very small pinch) of dry yeast. Mix it all together
to form a very stiff dough and let it ferment at around 70F for 12 to 16 hours.
Next comes the mixing step in which you incorporate the biga into the rest of the dough. To the mixing bowl of your stand mixer add: 14.6
oz of bread flour, 10.2 oz of water, .3 oz of salt (½ Tbs), and .13 oz dry yeast ( a scant 1 ¼ tsp). Turn the mixer on the lowest speed for 3 minutes to incorporate all of the ingredients. As the dough begins to come together, add the biga in chunks. If the
dough looks too sticky or too dry add flour or water in small amounts to adjust the consistency of the dough. Turn the mixer to a medium speed (I used the third or fourth notch on my Kitchen aide). After 3 more minutes of mixing, slowly drizzle in .9 oz of
extra-virgin olive oil. That's about 2 tablespoons. The complete dough will weight about 2 pounds.
The third step is a two hour bulk fermentation. Pretty simple. Just cover the dough to keep it from drying out and leave it alone. The
next step actually interupts the fermentation step about halfway through.
Step four is called folding, and should be done after the first hour of the two hour fermentation. It is a simple process where you place
the dough ball on a lightly floured surface, and fold the dough over on itself, pressing out the large air bubbles. I did it this way: Place the dough on the floured surface, and using both hands grab the right side of the dough, lift it up and stretch it
part way over the dough ball and press flat using your fingers. Then bring the left side over and press, followed by the top and bottom.
The fifth step is to divide the dough into one pound pieces and shape. When shaping the dough, initially round it lightly and place the
seam side down on a floured surface. Sprinkle a light coating of flour over the tops and cover with plastic. Let the dough ball rest for 20 minutes. Shaping it further makes it the familiar crust shape. Take the dough, press it a bit flat to work out remaining
bubbles and then pick it up with both hands on one side of the disc. Begin stretching and rotating. The dough should not tear. It will start to stretch into an amazing, thin disc of pizza dough! I use a large, perforated pizza pan that is about 16 inches in
diameter. If I had a large pizza stone, I would have placed the dough on a peel that was dusted with cornmeal or semolina.
Step six, oddly enough, is included in the book, and called final fermentation, but Mr. Hamelman states that no final proofing is needed.
Here is where he addresses toppings. The gist of it is use fresh and few for best results. Oh! And leave the edge of the crust free of toppings.
Finally, comes the baking step. A wood fired oven would be best, or a commercial pizza oven. The key to great pizza is a very hot oven,
in excess of 700F. My oven can only hit 550F. If I had a baking stone, it would be pretty good, but without it, I just make sure I have the best pan I can find and preheat the oven as hot as I can. I don't time the baking, rather I look at the pizza to see
if it's done. Is the cheese bubbling and starting to color? Is the crust golden brown? If yes, then done!
I am not a pizza pro, but this recipe has brought me a lot closer to that end. I am sure that if I had a wood fired pizza oven, it would
have been a few tweaks away from perfect.