Learning To Cook Again: Pizza - Learning To Cook Blog at Allrecipes.com - 314555

Learning To Cook

Learning To Cook Again: Pizza 
Nov. 6, 2013 9:30 pm 
Updated: Nov. 11, 2013 5:53 am

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.

Nov. 6, 2013 9:31 pm
Not sure why, but I can't add tags or photos to this post. :(
Nov. 7, 2013 5:12 am
Doc, several others said blogs were having issues yesterday. I think I read that recipe you are talking about. I, too, have tried several recipes on that quest for the perfect one. I've got 4 that are all different from Chicago style deep dish which is a pain but the guys like it to a very thin crunchy crusted one. Each very different but good. If the DH would hurry up and get it finished, I will have a wood burning pizza oven to practice with some day.
Nov. 7, 2013 5:30 am
Hello Doc, are you all settled in your new home yet? Just remember with making bread or pizza dough. Your the Boss of it.:)
Nov. 7, 2013 5:40 am
Cat, you are so fortunate! Maybe prefortunate is a better term until the oven is completed, then you will be fortunate. I've been watching videos of people building ovens, from the hippy-dippy cob oven to the prefab kit ovens. Each has a benefit, and each drawbacks.
Nov. 7, 2013 5:44 am
Hi, manaella! Yes, we are settled in, and I am slowly getting back into cooking in this wonderful kitchen my wife and the contractor designed. Also starting to plan out the orchard and gardens. It will be a busy Spring!
Nov. 7, 2013 6:37 am
Hello Doc! Nice Blog! My, I never knew there was so many steps to a good pizza crust. I wish I could see your photos. The blog platform here hasn't worked for about week. I do think photos add so much more to a blog. I tried posting a blog and my photos came up with a question mark.
Nov. 7, 2013 10:47 am
I haven't even been able to copy my blog over, with or without pictures! Have you considered your BBQ grill for a pizza oven? Odds are you can get it cranked up higher than 550F. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/brick-oven-pizza-brooklyn-style/detail.aspx This is my go to pizza dough. I make it in big batches and always have some frozen. We prefer the thin crust style.
Nov. 7, 2013 11:34 am
Hi Lela! I wonder if the blog platform is going to be fixed? I hope so. It is the one reason I chose to be a paying member. It gives me a chance to ramble! The only crust I've had that is better was in Italy. Of course I haven't tried all possible pizzas, so my evidence is lacking.
Nov. 7, 2013 11:42 am
BSM! Thanks for that recipe! It has me convinced that I really need a good pizza stone for my oven, and I have thought about doing pizza on the grill. I'm just concerned that the direct heat on the bottom will result in burned crust and raw toppings. I've seen it done successfully before though. Is there a secret to it?
Nov. 7, 2013 12:41 pm
LOLOL! Prefortunate! gammaray needs to see this word too! So far America's Test kitchen has given me the Chicago deep pan recipe and another which takes less work but it is thicker than I would prefer. Capril (PBS cooking show) had one that I have used but again we are up to 1/2 the day working on it or rather waiting for it. I do have one that we like that is specific for grilling and it is good. I can shoot you the recipe if you would like. I am not sure where I got it but at least it is written down :)
Nov. 7, 2013 2:37 pm
Please, please, please?
Nov. 8, 2013 5:47 am
Hi Doc. I have a big BBQ and place a pizza stone on one side - heat the whole grill so it is really really hot, I have my pizza on parchment on a peel, turn off the heat directly under your smoking hot pizza stone and slide the pizza onto the stone. (parchment and all) Close the lid and let it cook. Works really well - I am not sure how hot my BBQ gets but it is hotter than I can get my oven.
Nov. 8, 2013 9:49 am
Baking Nana I wish I had a grill of that size! Mine only has three burners running across the whole grill. I can turn off the front, middle or back, but that wouldn't help in my case. Until I build that wood oven, or buy a bigger grill, I'm going to have to play in a 550F gas oven! I hadn't thought about using parchment. I would have thought it would burst into flame above 450F.
Nov. 8, 2013 9:52 am
I sometimes make a thick crust pizza in my cast iron pan. It turns out nicely, and I do like Chicago style pizza, but my favorite is still the Tuscan style thin crust, wood oven pizza.
Nov. 8, 2013 12:33 pm
Ahh, pizza. We simply cannot go a week without pizza! Like BigShotsMom, our fave is also the brick oven pizza dough from this site. I do make my own additions and/or subtractions in the way of flour (love a little semolina for the crunch), but it's a great dough. I do have a pizza stone, and it definitely helps, but I REALLY want a wood-fired oven, too! Once we are outta Wisconsin and settled back in the South, I'm going to check into building one. Glad your pizza turned out well!
Nov. 8, 2013 8:15 pm
wisweetp, there ya go playin' with your food again! But that there's where all the fun is doncha know? Ja, that's right. Since I am hoping we are staying put for a while, I will build the oven here. Even though it won't be easy to bake pizza at -30. Ja sure, that's a bit brisk doncha know?
Nov. 10, 2013 1:52 pm
Doc, today I made the grilled pizza recipe. Did it inside though since the grills have moved in due to approaching snow. I would be more than happy to share the recipe with you. It's easy and I have learned from my mistakes which I will share also. Also, fantastic news the DH put the last layer on the wood burning pizza oven. Now I get to learn how to use it!
Nov. 11, 2013 5:53 am
I certainly hope that you do a video or two using the oven once you begin to get a feel for it. That would be very cool, and would be great content for your blog or for FB.
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Doc Simonson

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About Me
I'm old and smelly, kinda like a really good salami with that really nice white mould all over it.
My favorite things to cook
Meat, carbs, meat, carbs, meat, carbs and did I mention meat?
My favorite family cooking traditions
Drop a plate of Pierogis and sausages in front of me and watch my eyes glaze over in pure joy.
My cooking triumphs
Schweinebraten mit Knoedel und Krautsalat. Also Edel Hirsch Gulasch was very nice. I make killer Spaetzle and Knockerl also.
My cooking tragedies
There aren't enough electrons in cyberspace! :) Actually, the tragedies usually involve well intentioned creativity out of control.
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