Monday, 21 February 2011

Personal Pan-Size Four-cheese Italian-style Thin-crust Pizza... with Fresh Basil

When it comes to making pizza dough from scratch, there are two pretty big hurdles to pass in particular, so as not to end up with a very doughy, and a not-so-very-good crust. The first major hurdle is working with the yeast itself: too cold and the yeast won't activate, whereas too hot actually "kills" it. As could be gleaned from my yeast packet, if the water itself is far too hot but not hot enough to kill the yeast, it's best to mix the yeast into the flour; otherwise, it could be dissolved straight into the liquid. (By the way, for more fun reading on this particular fungi, click here.) The second hurdle is overworking the dough to the point where it will never rise; just think "elastic" and "springy" as adjectives you want your dough to be described as.

I acknowledge I've never actually made pizza dough before and have once again (this time, with much inspiration from this site) come up with a few techniques that yielded a result far better than my own expectations, especially as I don't have a cooking thermometer nor have had much luck with doughs in the past (though I am getting better).

Start off by heating up some water in a pot (about 1 c should do the trick, cognisant that some of this water will evaporate). Just as the first few bubbles appear on the surface of the water (located to the right of the pot in this photo), take the pot off the heat, and into a mixing bowl put 1/2 c plus a little splash. To this (now cooling) water, add 1 tbsp olive oil, and then stir in the yeast (1/4 oz), dissolving it into the liquid. I'm not entirely sure how the water at this temperature compares to, for example, hot tap water, but I imagine it may work all the same. To this, add 1 c sifted flour and about 1/2 tsp sea salt; using the same spoon you used to stir in the yeast, combine the flour and yeast mixture. The dough should form fairly quickly. At this point, and as shown above left, the dough looks elastic, but it's too sticky to work with. Continuing to stir, add 1/4 c more sifted flour; fairly quickly, the dough will start to look like a mangled mess and feel almost too springy. Plop this dough onto a well-floured surface (1/4 c sifted flour), and knead as much flour as you can into this dough. [Check out my other photos, particularly photos 10-15, to get a sense of my kneading technique.] This process will take about 5-7 min.

Into a clean bowl, take your kneaded ball of dough and lightly coat the exterior (of the dough) with olive oil. Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel and place everything in a warm place, allowing the dough about 40 min to proof. As per my yeast packet instructions and online research, the dough should double in size; thankfully, mine was not the same size as it was in the bowl when I first set it aside, but it also didn't double... Still, I know the dough turned out great when I set out to roll it.

Before rolling out the dough, it's now time to take a clove of deskinned garlic, and smash the garlic with a knife. Put the garlic in a ramekin or some other cooking vessel, add 2 tbsp unsalted butter, and about 1/4 c tsp freshly ground black pepper. Cook this in the microwave for 60 sec, checkin in on it about halfway. As this is going, take half the dough you've made* and roll it out as thin as you can without tearing. Literally place this rolled out dough onto a dry (and cool) pan and curl in the sides forming a rustic-looking crust. The crust now prepped, take a pastry brush/paper towel and dab on the melted garlic butter onto the entirety of the crust. [*Lightly oil the remaining dough and wrap up tightly in plastic wrap. This will last for a few days in the fridge. If you don't expect to make pizza any time soon (though I highly urge you to consider midnight snacking), you can also freeze the dough, too. Note you only need half the dough because we're making Italian-style pizza here. For a thicker crust, use all the dough.]

Onto medium heat, cover the pan and cook for about five minutes; as everything's cooks, you'll soon hear the liquid trying to escape and the dough looks like it's slightly bubbling. Turn on the oven to 350°F, and uncover the pan, allowing the dough to cook as is, or just until you start to smell a familiar char. Once you smell the dough (about 5 min longer), add a few tbsps pasta sauce to the pizza and a mix of four cheeses which, together, totaled a little over 1/3 c cheese; in this case, I had a small pinch American sharp cheddar chesse, 1 pinch each grated parmesan and crumbled goat cheese, and 2 pinches fontina. Transfer the pan to the oven and for about 2-3 min, close the oven door and allow that heat to melt the cheeses and finish cooking the dough. Out of the oven, the pizza should more than easily slide out of the pan and should be crisp, holding strong when lifted by the edge of the crust. Cut into the pizza and take in the satisfying sound of crisped dough. Sprinkle the pizza over with a chiffonaded and roughly chopped basil leaf.

Remember, as much as you can help it, don't burn the dough too badly, otherwise you get a bitter taste in your mouth. With this your final hurdle after making the dough itself, it's certainly an avoidable one. Nevertheless, a slight char is key and the crunch of this crust goes very well with the melted cheeses. I thought I needed more cheese when I took it out of the oven, but 1/3 c gets the job done perfectly, and the basil brings a much welcomed freshness to any otherwise heavy-but-light dish. Ah yes, and even though I typically don't eat my pizza crust, I should note I definitely ate all of mine tonight, but maybe that's because I know how much work was put into making it!

Again, for additional photos, click here.

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