11/27/16

ON PIZZA


Do you make Pizza at home? Do you want to? Looking to up your Pizza making level?

When our buddy David D. Wronski (of Wronski's Wramblings blog fame) was a lad he tells us he would make a Pizza Pie from scratch every Saturday evening, consumed while watching the Jackie Gleason Show.

With the de rigueur signature pan, of course ...

His preference for the Cheese/Pepperoni toppings continues to the present era. And, he's still not a stickler when it comes to the Cheese. Mozzarella, of course. But, fancy Importado Buffaloto Supremo Especialito ... he prefers to savor the best as is. When, for melting, get the best Motz you can afford; just don't overdo it. He confided that once in a pinch, slices of a hot dog filled the gap. Moral of the story: always have some Pepperoni on hand.

So, let's say you want to make it at home, and really want to get it done right. You're tired of settling for some poor imitation of what you can get at any corner Pizzeria. Not to mention the works of art turned out by those artisanal, locally sourced, organic, hand crafted, small batch, wood fired brick oven joints currently in favor with the crowd wearing skinny jeans and ironic t-shirts.

So here is the Cooky Cat treatment. If you are the sort that needs a hand holding all along the way ... well, that's what an Internet search is for. You do know how to do that, we pray.

These tips will get you a long way to making a Pizza you can stack up next to anything out there. Got that, buddy? You'll thank us, you better believe it!

Here is the skinny ...

1. The Pan.

Use that tin pan you may have been using to serve with. For a proper crispy, blotchy seared crust you need either a heavy cast iron Pizza pan, a Pizza Steel, or a Pizza Stone. For any of the aforementioned you heat them up in the oven to 500ºF before baking your Pizza. More on how to manage that sitiation later. 

We use a Lodge Made in the USA 14" Cast Iron Pizza Pan. Arguably the heaviest pan out there. Heft means heat retention. A good thing.


There are other makes out there, some enameled on the underside. Pretty. But, we want the option of using our pan on a charcoal grill sometimes. 

There are also Pizza Stones and Pizza Steels. The word seems to be that Stones can break. Be advised. Pizza Steels are probably the very best. But ... they are heavy. Some so heavy manufacturers caution about making sure your oven rack can handle the load. And, not so easy to remove when not in use. You can leave it in all the time; just remember the heft. Also, because of the way we handle the Pizza making process, we come back to the cast iron pan. You'll soon know why.

2. The Dough.

The Dough is arguably the prime factor. We favor the thin, crispy crust type. But, suit yourself. If you know about Bread baking, you know there are infinite variations. If you don't know, then you'll have to get your hands in there and get some experience. 

When it comes to the Dough for Pizza there are a) the ingredients, b) the mixing, c) processing and d) the shaping. We're not going to get into the granular details of all that. Remember, Cooky Cat points a paw in the right direction. There's plenty of detail in an iSearch. 

Aw, heck. We added a recipe below.

Ingredients-wise, you need to have Flour(s) with enough Gluten to build an elastic yet pliable dough. And, tender. "Love Me (Pizza) Tender." No Cake Flour (ever!); it has no Gluten. Bread Flour is good. We also like a 50/50 mix of All-Purpose and Doppio Zero Flour (00). Or 100% 00 Flour; just to be sure the brand has the Gluten level you want. Here's some information on the subject. You'll find your preference with experience.

Ingredients Measured: (Source — Dough, Simple Contemporary Bread by Richard Bertinet, page 84. Modified*.)

Yield ... 2 -14" rounds. 3 - small approx. 9 to10"

Water — 12 oz. / ¾ Cup. Plus 2-3 Tblsp. to activate dry Yeast.
Bread Flour —  18 ounces. (= 3¾ - scant 4 Cups)

Time to AUTOLYSE (see instructions below.)

Yeast — Fresh — ½ oz.; 7 tsp. Dry Active — ¼ oz. (1 small packet; 2 1/4 tsp.; 7 grams.)
Salt — 2 tsp.
Sugar*— 1 tsp.
Olive Oil — 4 Tblsp. / 1/4 Cup.
Wheat Gluten*— 1 Tblsp. 

Fine Semolina — For dusting/shaping on counter top.

Mixing-wise, here we have a world of options. One word to learn: Autolyse. The cognoscenti claim it gives a Dough that's easier to work and shape. Better texture and flavor. Something about building a nice Gluten structure. In a nutshell it's simply about mixing only the flour and water together first, letting it rest (1 hour); then adding in the yeast, salt and sugar.

Here's the A to Z on Autolyse: (*Notice the water goes in first.)




You do have the option of kneading the dough, or not. Once ingredients are combined you can mix in a blender with a Dough hook, or hand knead. If you look there is probably lots of discussion about the merits of each approach. Even, in a food processor. You're on your own on that one, pally. 

Here's a treatment on no-knead Pizza Dough. It'll also deal with using Parchment Paper for easy to and from the oven.

Processing-wise. Dough has to rise. We like the idea of the cold ferment. Mixing and kneading (if, at all) the dough, then letting it slow proof in the refrigerator. Over night, or for a few or more days. Look it up and decide for yourself. The cold ferment is said to produce better flavor and texture. Very Important: Do not attempt to knead dough proofed in the refrigerator right away. Let it come to room temperature. Or, you'll be dealing with rubber.

Shaping-wise. Oh boy! Even more options. Here's a video we follow. You can take or leave our Eric's pizza stone approach. More on our's in a bit. A key point from this video is to use fine Semolina Flour for turning out your proofed room temperature dough ball. Do that!

If'n you don't already know from about shaping the Pizza, it's the same as how to get to Carnegie Hall: Practice ... practice ... practice.



3. The assembly. So now you have your dough stretched out all round and all (it doesn't HAVE to be round, really) and ready for some toppings. 

Toppings-wise. Have them ready to go. "Mise en place". 

If you are adding Pepperoni, consider cutting it into quarter bits.


See our excellent treatise on that fine point here.


As for the Pepperoni itself. Our Pepperoni junkie friend David D. Wronski (of Wronski's Wramblings blog fame) is known in his locale among the purveyors of such as always insisting on aged Pepperoni. The drier the better. And, if you want to try some of the very best, here's a source where you can order Ezzo Pepperoni online. If you have a Salumeria near you making their own homemade, better still. 


If you lika da spicey, try adding some Nduja. It's a Calabrese dried spreadable sausage incorporating roasted hot red Peppers. Here's our source.


Cheese: As previously mentioned, Mozzarella is de rigueur. We don't think it's necessary to use the very, very top of the line variety. That's best eaten as is. For melting, get what you want. A finishing dusting of grated Pecorino Romano is a must here in New Jersey. We've also been adding a block cheese to the mix. Recommended is a white type like Monterey Jack or Colby, or a blend of the two. A world class most excellent purveyor of Pizza (Buddy's Rendezvous in Detroit) we understand uses only Wisconsin White Brick Cheese. Delicious. If you want to really get the flavor up, one word: Gorgonzola. But, not by itself, in combo with the others. Maybe also, try some Gruyère?


Sauce: To your taste. We suggest using top quality whole (which you chop to dice) or diced canned Tomatoes. The presence of Tomato pieces adds that extra level of taste and mouth feel. Check out Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted.


And, that's it for the sauce. If you want, maybe some ground Black Pepper and/or Oregano.


4. Baking.


It can get tricky. The crucial decisions seem to be about  a) where do you assemble the Pizza Pie and b) how do you get it into the oven.


You will need to consider this for yourself. Do like the Pizzeria's do and transfer into the oven on a peel? You first have to be sure there's something in there like a steel, or a stone, or a cast iron pan preheated. Getting it off the peel ... that could be a skill unto itself. In the link above for no-knead dough they recommend using parchment paper to facilitate easy transfer to the oven. (Then there's the matter of whether to leave the Pizza Pie on the parchment paper for the entire bake, or remove it as soon as the bottom is set. Seems there's no difference.)


Here's what we do. We take the 500ºF preheated cast iron pan out of the oven and place it on the stove top. THEN, we place the formed dough, followed of course by the toppings. Sauce first, nuggets of whatever you choose, then the cheese. Do this quickly, but carefully. You got a hot pan there, pay attention! Lately we are even putting the heated pan on a flame on the stove top to keep the temperature up. Nice results, crispy-wise. 


Bake for how long? 8 minutes at 500ºF. Done. Maybe a little longer, to your preference.


5. Eating. The issues just keep coming. First, though, take the pizza off the hot pan after it's out of the oven. The great debate seems to be over just how you handle your slice of Pizza. In Bella Roma, they dig in with a knife and fork. Here in God's Country we eschew such fussiness. The real argument is over whether it should be a) folded one-handed or b) kept flat using two hands. Here's something on that from Wronski. (That'll be David D. Wronski, of Wronski's Wramblings blog fame.)


Probably more than you were bargaining for. Yes? But, we only [Cooky Cat] scratched the surface.


Let us know how you're doing. 


In case you might ask, no we're not getting into all the kinds of ovens and oven contraptions out there. Seriously, if you make a lot of pizza for a lot of people, then sure, get a wood fired brick oven. Our thinking is keep it simple. No need for heavy investment if you make 1 or 2 Pizza Pies a month.