Friday, October 12, 2012

The Tradition of Homemade Pizza

One of my favorite meals to entertain with is homemade pizza. I get this pretty honestly. Nanna and my mom would both make homemade pizza for us kids as a special treat. In fact, my brother Justin still requests pizza quite often when he visits our parents. (Okay, I might have been known to request pizza a time or two myself!) Nonetheless, homemade pizza is a time-honored tradition in our family. It is even something that friends of mine and my brother's will mention that they remember about our house when we reminisce over childhood memories.

I started making my own homemade pizza in college with a very simple pizza dough, but I have tried several different recipes over the years. I prefer a relatively thin crust -- one that has a good crunch but is still nice and chewy on the inside. My go to favorite is Alton Brown's overnight dough, which benefits from a slow rise in the refrigerator. It’s an extraordinary recipe and has great flavor, but it requires a fair amount of preplanning. Last night, I was just not in the mood to prepare the dough for tonight’s dinner, so I decided I would just make a more traditional one that rises in only an hour or two. I tried out Smitten Kitchen’s “gussied-up” crust, which author Deb Perelman adapted from a Mario Batali recipe.

Let me just tell you, I have a new favorite pizza dough recipe. It was absolutely fabulous! I can’t wait to make this dough for my mom. I know she will love it too. The dough was easy to work with and after an hour and a half of rising, was so soft and pillow-y… an absolute joy to roll out into my favorite free-form, amoeba-shaped pizza. Best of all, it got great color in the oven and the crust had an ideal chewiness in the middle. Love it! 

Choosing different toppings is one of my favorite parts about entertaining with pizza. It’s interactive and guests can help make their own pizzas, or at the very least give some input as to what they’d like on their pizza. For tonight’s dinner, I made his and hers pizzas: a four-cheese pepperoni for him and a prosciutto and date for her. Will is a traditionalist and does not like to experiment with topping choices like I do. It’s okay though, more deliciousness for me!

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Homemade Pizza Dough
Adapted from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen

Yield: Three small, thin crust pizzas.

1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of warm water (may need more)
6 tablespoons white wine
1 packet of active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
1 ½ teaspoons honey
Scant 3 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups bread flour
2 ½ cups all purpose flour

Mix together wine, water, and yeast on medium speed in a stand mixer until yeast has dissolved. Add honey, salt, and olive oil; mix well. Add all of the flour, "pulsing" the stand mixer by quickly turning the stir function on and off until the flour is incorporated and a dough ball has formed. [Pulsing the switch will help prevent flour from flying up and out of the bowl.] If the dough won't come together, add more water, one tablespoon at a time, but this is rarely necessary.
Mix the dough on medium speed for another few minutes in order to knead it. Once kneaded, place the dough into a well-oiled bowl in order to rise. [To save time on dishes, you can use the same bowl that you made the dough in, but be sure to oil it liberally before letting it rise.] Cover the dough with a tea towel or plastic wrap, and let it rise for one to two hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Meanwhile, while the dough is rising, prep any toppings you'd like for your pizza.
Once the dough has doubled, preheat your oven to its highest setting [550°F for me]. If your oven has a convection option, use it. It's great! Also, if you have a pizza stone, remember to place this in your oven before you turn it on.
Turn out your dough onto a lightly floured counter top and gently deflate it by pushing down with the palm of your hand. Shape your dough into a ball and let it rest with a tea towel or plastic wrap over it for an additional 15 minutes. Divide the dough into three equally sized balls; keep the ones you are not working with covered until you are ready for them.
Roll the dough to your desired thickness (thinness?) and then gently transfer it to a lightly greased baking sheet or floured pizza peel. Add desired toppings and place pizza in the bottom rack of the oven.
Bake for 7-10 minutes. Slice and serve!
Prosciutto and Date Topping
Adapted from Alton Brown
3-4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into thin slices and drained*
Olive oil
Romano or Parmesan cheese
4 whole dates, pitted and finely chopped
3 slices prosciutto ham, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Brush a small amount of olive oil onto rolled out pizza dough. Grate a thin layer of Romano cheese over the entire pizza. Top with the drained mozzarella slices, dates, prosciutto, and thyme.  
*At least twenty minutes before you plan to pop your pizza in the oven, lay mozzarella slices on a paper towel-lined plate in a single layer. Cover with more paper towels and then lay another plate on top of the mozzarella. Weigh the plate down with a can. Let the mozzarella drain for at least twenty minutes.

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