Saturday, June 6, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: Facing our Pizza Fears

Confession: we have PTSD from making pizza.  It is the one thing that we irrecoverably failed at in our kitchen a few years ago.  The shame and heartbreak from that unfortunate incident still burns to this day.  The failure was multi-staged.  We couldn't figure out how to stretch the dough, it kept springing back in on itself.  Finally, we decided to just top it anyway and try to bake it.  The toppings looked great and concealed the half-flattened crust, so we allowed ourselves to hope again.  Alas, upon attempting to slide everything onto the pizza stone inside of the oven, our pizza skidded in its tracks, tripped, and turned into a quesadilla.  That was, an inedible quesadilla, because the dough never did quite cook all the way through.  The most pitiful part of this story is that the pizza dough wasn't even handmade...we were using a Trader Joe's pre-made dough!  What should have been totally foolproof was our worst nightmare.

So... pizza has been the last thing on our list of things to make for ages.  We've had some success with making it on a grill during a group trip to Bamfield, Canada, but somebody else had made the dough and flattened it for us.  Wes pre-grilled it, then we topped it, and he grilled it again with the toppings and removed it one piece unscathed.  Still, it didn't seem worth reattempting on our own, until the pandemic hit.  Maybe we were craving some suspense in our lives, a much-needed adrenaline rush after weeks of being stuck inside.  Maybe others on social media had made pizza successfully and I was getting FOMO.  Whatever the case, we tried again and triumphed!  There are no photos from the first attempt because we were too afraid to document another round of pizza-fail, but we did it again.  This second time, we made an olive and anchovy pizza (we love anchovies!) as well as a Peking duck pizza.  We had leftover Peking duck from one of our takeout dinners, so why not try to imitate the famous CPK one? The results were fabulous for both!

We have decided that it's simply not worth moving pizzas onto a pizza stone without the proper tools (a pizza peel), so we used some pizza-specific baking sheets and molded the dough directly onto them, utilizing the lip of the circular sheet to help evenly press in and stretch the dough.  No, we didn't get a nice, charred crust because these don't get as hot as a pizza stone, but what we did get were two perfectly intact pizzas that were perfectly round, and that we could safely cut and consume.  The taste and texture of the dough was delicious, I even ate all of my crust!

Roberta's Pizza Dough
We used the Roberta's pizza dough recipe from NYTimes cooking.  I recommend watching some Youtube videos of people demonstrating how to stretch pizza dough before attempting!  And again, utilizing these circular pizza baking sheets was pretty helpful.

  • 153 grams 00 flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
  • 153 grams all-purpose flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons)
  • 8 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
  • 2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
  • 4 grams extra-virgin olive oil (1 teaspoon)
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams (a little less than 1 cup) lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)
  4. To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it.  We sprinkled the pizza baking sheets with cornmeal before stretching them down onto them. 
  5. Top and bake.  We baked the pizzas on the highest possible temperature in our oven (550 F) for 8-10 minutes.  It was important to keep an eye on them because every oven is different.  When the cheese starts to bubble up and the crust browns, you know it's getting close!  

Toppings for Napoli pizza: hand-crushed canned San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, olives, sundried tomatoes, anchovies, basil, Italian sausage

Toppings for Peking duck pizza: Hoisin sauce, roasted duck meat, mozzarella cheese, chopped leeks, shiitake mushrooms, red onions, green onions

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