Thursday, June 12, 2008

10 paths to painless pizza-making

10 paths to painless pizza-making

As you may have noticed, we’re kind of into pizza in the smitten kitchen. I mean, just a little. I can’t help it–in my mind, it combines the best things on earth: homemade bread, charred-edged ingredients, pairing well with a green salad and wine, and–the way I make it, at least–it never feels like a heavy meal.

Every time I post about pizza, I answer at least five or seven of the same ten questions in the comments, so I thought that it was time to create a FAQ on the topic that will hopefully answer all of your questions (feel free to ask additional ones in the comments) in one tidy URL. Consider this a primer for the new pizza recipe I will tell you about next.

Like the bread-making tips I shared way back in the newborn days of this site, my point of these are not to fill your head with reminders and cautionary tales that will cause you more worry when you get into the kitchen–there are enough sites that do that, I know that for many people, anything yeast-based is scary enough. Instead, I want to impart to you how easy it can be, and how strongly I feel that anyone on earth can succeed in making impressive pizza at home. I hope this helps.

pizza dough, man on moon

1. You don’t need a bread machine, a dough hook or a food processor to get it right.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people having been making bread a lot longer than these fancy machines have been around. Sure, they can knock a few minutes off your prep time (and that dough hook sure creates a smooth and supple dough), but a simple pizza dough takes so little time to make by hand, in our dishwasher-free kitchen at least, it’s rarely worth the extra dishes it will create to bust out the machines. I mix my dough ingredients with a wooden spoon in a large bowl, knead it for a few minutes on a counter, then oil that bowl and use it to let the dough rise. Dish- and drama-minimizing, it’s my favorite way to cook.

2. It needn’t take all day.

That process I described above–stir then knead–takes no more than ten minutes. If your kitchen is on the warm side, the dough takes just an hour to double. It’s certainly not the fastest weekday night meal out there, but it might just be the simplest. Nevertheless, if you’re in a hurry, you can speed up the dough rising time with a stellar tip I borrowed from Simply Recipes: heat your oven to 150 degrees, then turn it off. Place your dough in an oiled bowl in this warmed oven to rise.

how you know it has doubled enough

3. It can be ready for you when you get home.

I’ve been promising you this refrigerator tip for ages, but, sadly, that’s how long it took me to test it out. If you’d like, you can mix and knead your dough ingredients in the morning, plop them in an oiled bowl, cover it with oiled plastic wrap and leave it in your refrigerator while you go to work. The dough will slowly rise–truly developing the best flavor–while you’re away. By the time you come home, it should be doubled. Take it out, let it get back to room temperature, deflate it on a floured counter and you’re on your way.

4. You don’t need a pizza paddle.

This is another one of those tools that are fun if you have them, but are in no way a prerequisite for making pizza at home. A tiny kitchen demands that I don’t even consider such extras. Instead, I slide the pizza dough, prepped with toppings, onto a piece of cornmeal-dusted parchment paper that’s been placed on the back of a baking sheet. With a little shove-and-yank, I slide the parchment paper with the pizza right onto the pizza stone in the oven. It bakes right on the parchment paper, which I use to yank the pizza out to the oven when it’s done.

n'th picture of pizza dough

5. You don’t need a pizza stone.

Pizza stones improve the crust of pizza and breads, no question about it. But it doesn’t mean you can’t make delicious pizza without them. I have more than once baked pizza on the back of a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with cornmeal, just as I described above, and been thrilled with the results.

6. You don’t need a professional pizza oven, but high heat is your friend.

One of the most salient differences between the brick-oven beast at your favorite pizza shop and, say, the smitten kitchen’s diminutive, apartment-standard white-painted oven is that the former gets much hotter than the latter–by even 500 degrees. Your best bet to get the brick-oven effect at home is to turn your oven all the way up to broil for a good ten minutes before you pop your pizza in, and step back from the inferno as you open its mighty jaws, lest you want a high-heat facial!

7. Pizza cooked under the broiler is amazing.

Speaking of broilers, there are a few in-the-know pizza types out there that swear by the broiler for making perfect, Patsys-like pizza (say that three times fast!). The technique, described in full, with a colorful story on SeriousEats.com, involves getting a cast iron skillet hotter than the fires of Babylon and cooking a pizza on the back of it for about 1.62 minutes, and is totally worth checking out.

rolling out dough

8. You can cook it on the grill, but only if you invite me over.

I absolutely love grilled pizza, and it’s a fun way to use the grill at the point in the summer when you’re so sick of steaks-n-burgers-n-skewers. Here’s my highly-refined (ha) method: Brush your heated grill with oil. Have your pizza dough rolled out, and your toppings at arm’s length. Throw the dough over the grill for a minute or two, until you get a bit of coloring underneath (shouldn’t take long). With tongs and a deep breath, flip it out onto a platter, uncooked side down. Top it as you wish, slide it back onto the grill and cover the lid. It should be ready in about five minutes.

9. You can cook it on the stove.

At Mario Batali’s Otto Pizzaria in the Village, the astoundingly good pizza is cooked on the stove, not in an oven. His product line’s stove-top (or oven-friendly) pizza pan mentions this only casually in the description, but I’ve been captivated ever since. Sadly, I haven’t tried it out [See above: Tiny kitchen, filled to capacity, etc.] but I hope to, soon.

10. You can buy pizza dough from your local pizza shop.

Yes, I know I have spent a terrific amount of time preaching the virtues of homemade, dead-easy pizza dough but you know what? Sometimes, even I get tired of eating dinner at 10:30 p.m. in the name of purist cooking pursuits. [I hope you were sitting down for that one.] Go to your local pizza shop and ask to buy a dough. In NYC, this is a cinch, of course, and the doughs run about $3 each. Once you get it home, it’s ready to go. Heck, that’s even faster than ordering one from that Shmomino’s racket!

Pizza Dough Recipes:

Pizza Recipes Here:

Pizza Recipes I’m Stalking Elsewhere:

One year ago: Gateau de Crepes


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