Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Standard Pizza

Homemade pizza is something I've really been getting into lately, and it all stems from how awesome it is to have a pizza stone. My journey to make my ultimate pizza has been going quite successfully, and I've gotten it down to basically two different kinds that I make. This is the first one, it's basic, but just incredible.

If there's one word I can give to you aspiring pizzaiolos out there, it would be: minimalism. With pizza, less is more. More, is, well, less. Too many toppings and your cooking times get all screwed up, the crust is cooked before the toppings are, and/or you're left with soggy wetness in the middle. Plus, you just spent all that time making your dough from scratch, you want to be able to taste it after all! I have a 2 ingredient max rule, not including cheese. Anything else and I would kindly ask that you leave the room and order from domino's. There is also evidence that too many choices leads to lower overall satisfaction, in life not just with pizza: the paradox of choice. If you are cooking for other people, or if you own a pizza restaurant and are seeking my advice (hey, it could happen...), my advice would be to offer less choice, stick to a few core selections and focus more on making every ingredient great. In essence, it's better to do two things great, than to do five things fairly good.

This is the point where I step down off my soapbox, and step into the kitchen.

Here's what you need:

Pizza Dough

Pizza Sauce
Low moisture mozzarella, the whiter the better (shredded)
Pepperoni (I like turkey pepperoni, don't be weirded out, its actually awesome)

Here's what you do:

1) Heat up your pizza stone in the oven at 500 degrees F, for at least 30 minutes, if not a full hour before cooking. I like my crust thin and crispy, and the hotter the stone, the crisper the crust. Your stone should be on the middle rack, but you can adjust as necessary, (when the stone is cold, obviously): higher = faster melting of cheese and cooking of toppings; lower = faster cooking of crust. Find your happy medium.
2) On your counter or your pizza peel, sprinkle with flour, then take your room temperature ball of dough and squish it with your hand to make a rough circle.
3) Start rolling it out, in all directions with a rolling pin. This is kind of hard to describe properly, without seeing someone doing it, but I'm sure you'll get the hang of it. Again, I like thin crust, so I will roll it thin.
4) Take your dough off the peel (if its not done already) and sprinkle the peel with some semolina flour. This will act like little edible ball bearings that enable easy transitions between peel and stone.
5) Now with your dough back on the paddle, spread out, it's is ready for its adornment. From here on it, if you've ever eaten a pizza before in your life, you know what the drill is: Spread a thin layer of sauce on the dough using the back of a spoon. Put the desired amount of cheese on the sauce, leaving one inch of crust around the edge for strategic thumb placement. Then lay out the pepperoni over top, covering as much or as little as you like.
6) Now it's time to slide the pizza onto the stone. This also take some practice, and I learned the hard way that you cant really move the pizza around for the first few minutes when it's on the stone, the dough is too soft and it will fold. So getting it right the first time is key. I like to slide the peel all the way to the of the oven, then slowly tilt it and bring it forward, leaving the pizza placed perfectly in the middle of the stone.
7) This step is pretty hard to lay down hard and fast rules for, because it all depends on how hot your oven is, and how 'done' you like your pizza. Ignore what your mother said about not opening the oven before the food is done. Just keep checking on it, till you see what you like. Once the pizza starts to cook, you can even slide your peel in and turn the pizza around if you see one half is cooking faster than the other.
8) When the pizza is done to your liking, take it out, and cut it into appropriate shapes with a pizza cutter. Now is the time to bask in the glow of a hard-earned sense of accomplishment. You can eat it right off the pizza peel for that authentic experience.

Now you know how to make a homemade pizza. The heart of this idea is the pizza stone. Without it, in my opinion, a great pizza isn't possible. I have had some pretty good ones, made on a baking sheet, but for your pizza to be truly transcendent (that's what you were going for, right?) the stone is your key to pizza nirvana. From here, the sky is the limit for what kind of stuff you want to put on your pizza, as long as you remember the 2 topping rule.

What to drink: As I mentioned before, I love Fat Tire, especially with pizza. It's got that bread-like flavor that goes superb with some homemade pie. (Fat Tire shares the title of my favorite beer with Guinness)

What to listen to: Led Zeppelin, How The West Was Won, CD1. Seriously. Why not? It's a great live CD, and pretty sure that if you time it right, Stairway to Heaven will come on just as you are about to eat your pizza and experience a truly heavenly experience.


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