Pizza my heart
Special to The Union
Pizza is an interesting thing. Depending on where you were brought up, there tends to be one true Pizza and all others pale by comparison.
Or you ate something for most of your life that seemed lacking, until one day someone dropped a wood fired pizza on the table, then enlightenment occurred.
I’m part of the second group; having grown up in the birthplace of Pizza Hut, I ate that – grudgingly – for many years.
Finally, on a trip to Kansas City, I wandered into a hole in the wall pizza joint that consisted of a counter, cash register and the largest oven I had ever seen in my life. A giant smoking, slightly charred slice of pepperoni was served to me on a paper plate and I have never looked back.
So if you are a fan of chewy, doughy Chicago style pizza, then this week’s column is not for you. Go read the wine column and check back next week. If you like your pizza crispy, crunchy and believe that crust is mostly a means to deliver toppings, then stay with me.
One of the major challenges of making pizza at home is that the typical home oven only goes up to 500 degrees. I say “only” because the giant deck ovens you see in most pizza places can reach temperatures of 800 to 1200 degrees. Those ovens are also made of stone, which holds heat like nothing else and can maintain a constant temperature. Home ovens tend to heat themselves to whatever they are set for, then let the temperature drop. When the interior gets too cool, they fire back up again, giving you an average cooking temperature, but not a constant level of heat. This is fine for making pot roast or bread, where the food will hold the heat, but for pizza – which cooks quickly – it just won’t work.
So how to solve this problem? One solution is to build a wood-fired oven in your backyard. Since this isn’t practical for most people (including me, sadly), the second option is to line the bottom of the oven with unglazed terra cotta tiles. I have reports of this working well. However, it seems extreme and there’s the potential for tile bits to get in the oven’s heating element. The easiest method is to just purchase a pizza stone. They can be had for around $25, come with handles and will last forever as long it’s not washed.
Now, onto the crust. Pizza crust is perfect for people who want to make bread but don’t want to get into all the kneading, rising and proofing that regular bread requires. It is basically bread dough with extra oil and water to keep it soft. Pizza dough is also great for kids to play with, since the main goal is to end up with a roundish, flat-ish surface perfection is neither required or desired.
Another great advantage to making crust at home is that you can flavor it with whatever is at hand. My crust ended up with fresh chopped basil, because that goes well with pepperoni and I had some that needed to be used up. Feel free to use garlic powder, fresh rosemary or whatever else will complement your toppings. I also used 3/4 cup of cornmeal for some extra texture. For a white crust, substitute that amount of flour.
The recipe given below comes from the good people at Cook’s Illustrated. I use it because it’s the fastest pizza dough recipe I’ve been able to find, giving you oven-ready dough in a little over an hour. The amounts given make enough for two large, four medium or eight small pizza. Roll the leftover dough into a ball, store in an airtight container and freeze. The frozen dough will keep for two months, thaw and shape when ready to use again.
Chef Kady Guyton recently graduated cum laude from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also welcomes readers questions and requests.
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