Friday, May 4, 2012

Fermented Friday: Pizza Crust

Fermented Friday: recipes featuring yeast, wine, beer or some form of fermentation

These pictures do not do justice to this pizza crust.  Nope, not even close.  But since you're on the other side of the screen and the pizzas have already been eaten, they'll have to do.

Pizza making is a longstanding tradition at our house.  Traditionally we've made personal pizzas in pie tins so each person can customize a pizza to their liking.  After using the same crust recipe for quite a while I've realized it just doesn't cut it anymore.  The flour and liquid ratios were way off in the recipe I was using and I always ended up just dumping in more flour until it felt right.  So I'm on a hunt for the perfect pizza crust recipe. One that turns out just right every time.  You wouldn't think there would be that much variability in pizza crust.  Flour, water, yeast, salt, mix, knead , let rise, etc.  Guess again, there are tons of recipes claiming to be the last crust recipe you'll ever need. Some have only flour, water, yeast and salt and others add in sugar, oil or herbs.  The baking technique also seems to be key.  You could go for a pizza pan, pizza stone, bake it right on the rack, grill it, broil it, there's even a way to do it on the stove.  Which recipe and method is best? Only one way to find out, try it!

This week I tried this crust recipe from Annie's Eats.  Her post also gives lots of great tips and techniques for achieving the perfect crust. You should read her post and follow her tips, you'll never want to buy pizza again.  I don't have too much to add to her advice just some more pictures.  When I made this the first time there was only a tiny bit of light left coming through the window.  I'm still trying to figure out lighting and all the settings on my camera so I snapped a few shots changed the settings and took a few more.  Then I decided there wasn't enough light so we dug into the pizza and I made another one the next day and fooled around with the camera settings even more.  Oh darn, pizza again, what a shame.

I did use bread flour (as opposed to all-purpose flour), but I might try all-purpose next time and add a little wheat gluten.  As written the recipe uses a stand mixer.  Since I don't have one of those I used the dough cycle on the bread machine.  While I do find kneading by hand quite relaxing, I didn't feel like it this time around and took the easy out.  If you use a pizza paddle be sure to sprinkle it with plenty of cornmeal before   laying out your crust.  This allows the pizza to slide onto the hot stone quickly and in one piece.  Don't skimp on the cornmeal, its there for a reason.
Umm, remember how I like to try weird?  I used the Spicy Asian Sriracha Dip from my post on Wednesday  as the pizza sauce.  Then going with a sort of Asian theme pizza (think stir-fry) I topped it with spinach, mushrooms and broccoli.  Actually I just like that stuff on pizza anyway.  The broccoli gets roasted and crispy, you should try it some time.  
You can make your crust thick or thin.  I usually go for thin but I was worried about sliding it off the pizza peel and went a little thicker.  The dough did get pretty thin in a few spots and it still held the toppings without drooping.  

Using a pizza stone is the key here.  You also need to preheat the oven to 500 for at least 30 minutes, not just until the oven-ready light goes off.  The combination of the high heat and hot stone bakes the pizza from the top and the bottom at the same time.  

The entire bottom is golden brown and crispy from the hot stone.  This means you can pile on the toppings and still pick it up with one hand without having everything slide off.  The high oven temperature bakes the pizza quickly making it crispy and crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside.
It had the perfect balance between a crisp but not too hard outer shell and a soft, airy, chewy, bready interior.  In the past I've had problems with the center being soggy. If the crust doesn't bake fast enough the liquid from the sauce can soak in and leave you with a dense, wet crust. That was not an issue here in either the thin or thick crust portions.  My experience with homemade pizza has been a crust with a texture that reminds me of homemade bread topped with tomato sauce and cheese.  It can get a little dried out around the edges but the center still gets soggy from the toppings.  It was either rock hard and dry or under-baked.  I think that had to do with the metal pan trapping moisture and steaming the bread rather than a stone that crisps the dough giving it that perfect crunchy yet chewy texture.  It is still possible to over bake using a stone. The crust below got a little harder than I prefer, but no one complained.
Those look like two different crust recipes don't they?  Actually it's the same recipe with slightly different baking times.  The main difference was the temperature of the pizza when I snapped the picture and the lighting (late supper on a cloudy day vs lunch on a sunny day, back light vs front light).  I know there's a way to adapt to the weather with my camera, but I haven't mastered that yet.  Or it could be fixed in a photo editing program, but I haven't figured that out yet either.  I'm too busy making pizza. I've still got a few more crust recipes and techniques to try out (not to mention all the topping combinations).  Somehow, I have a feeling this crust may be hard to beat.  

Here's the link again for the technique and recipe.  I froze half of the dough (you know, just to make sure it works) and will let you know what happens.  Mmmmm, more pizza. I could eat pizza everyday, the possibilities are endless.  

So if you ever want homemade pizza, I know someone who would be happy to make it for you.  I'll even let you choose your own normal toppings if you don't make fun of my weird ones. 

Food for Thought: "To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing." -Leo Buscaglia

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