Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Season, New Dough, New Pizzas

It's been a while since I've updated this blog, mostly due to the lack of oven use in the rainy season and winter. Now that spring is here and the rain has stopped, it's pizza time once again.

The biggest news is the evolution of my dough recipe and technique. After making all my pizzas using a Caputo 00 flour, I decided to try something suggested by Jeff Varasano's on his excellent pizza website. I have incorporated quite a few of his suggestions into my pizza making. They are as follows:

1. I Switched from 100% Caputo 00 flour to 50% King Arthur Bread Flour and 50% King Arthur Italian-Style Flour.

2. I'm using his wet kneading technique with my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

3. I'm allowing my dough to cold rise in my fridge for several days in small, individual re-usable containers.

These three changes have made a marked improvement in my dough. I liked the 100% 00 dough, but it didn't have much chew to it, and the middle of the pizza was often lacking structure. The Bread Flour addition seems to remedy this, and the cold rise in the fridge has added a a lot more structure and bubbles - both of which are very nice. The cold rise also seems to have added a lot more color to the dough once it's cooked - much more browning without any hint of burning. For the first time since I starting making pizza I am experiencing a brand new feeling - a lack of desire to mess with my dough recipe. I'm sure at some point in the future I'll be tinkering and changing things, but for now, I'm really happy with my dough.

I know a lot of people swear by a sourdough starter for their pizza dough. At this point in my life, I'm just too busy and sourdough starter seems like one more thing to take care of. I read Ed Wood's book, and while it's all straight forward and simple enough, it still just seems like more time than I'm willing to invest in dough. I love the results I'm getting, and now that I'm making the dough several days in advance of baking, it's extremely convenient. I can knock out a weekend's worth of dough balls on a week night with very little active time in the kitchen.

Salt seems to be a subject that generates a great amount of passion. I had some very nice high end sea salts that my mother gave me for Christmas a few years back. I used them in my first few batches, but they soon ran out, and the prospect of spending $10-$20 for a tiny bit of sea salt seemed silly to me. If I've got some really nice salt on hand, sure I'll use it, but I've been using Diamond Kosher Salt for the last few batches, and I have to say I can't notice much if any difference. I'm sure if I put two pizzas side by side with different salts and really tried hard I could find some difference, but really, I'm not going to spend $10 on salt every time my friends come over for pizza. Pizza should be simple food.

Two new pizza recipes to share, both of which I think are excellent.

Roasted Crimini Mushrooms with Gruyere and Truffle Oil

Remember how I said pizza should be simple food? Okay forget that for a minute.

For 3 ~255 gram dough balls

20 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced (that's two containers worth from Trader Joe's)
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped fine
Gruyere cheese, sliced
olive oil, salt
white truffle oil

Roast the mushrooms and sage with some olive oil and salt in the oven. This is a nice thing to do while your oven is heating (if you have a covered pan so coals/ash doesn't get in) or while you wait for guests to show up. Get them really cooked down with the lid on, and then remove the lid for the last 5-10 minutes to get some nice color. Check for salt at the end and adjust if needed. Put 1/3 of the mushrooms, 6-8 thin slices of the Gruyere cheese, a swizzle of olive oil a sprinkle of salt on your dough. Bake until done and then drizzle with some truffle oil.

Caramelized Onions with Blue Cheese
From the Mugnaini Website
For 3 ~255 gram dough balls

3 cups yellow onions, sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped.
Crumbled blue cheese - I used Point Reyes
Salt, olive oil

Caramelize the onions on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour in a saute pan with some olive oil. When done, take off the heat and then stir in the thyme. Salt to taste. Put the onions, blue cheese, a swizzle of olive oil and pinch of salt on your formed dough ball and bake until done. Remember that the blue cheese easily overpowers the onions, so it's better to go long on the onions and short on the blue cheese. Between one to two tablespoons is enough for each pizza. When I make this again I'm going to make more onions - maybe start with 4 cups instead of 3. It's a delicate balance, but very tasty.