Saturday, April 14, 2012

Homemade Pizza

Probably the biggest ongoing disagreement in my marriage has to do with pizza.  Our list of domestic disputes is short.  We don't argue about the proper way to use up a tube of toothpaste, or whether the end of the toilet paper goes on the front of the roll or on the back, or which way the silverware should point in the dishwasher (mostly because we don't use our dishwasher).  However.  I, being a (mostly) rational and intelligent person, use a pizza cutter to cut my pizza, while my husband insists that the job must be done with a pair of kitchen shears.  His greatest triumph occurred when we received a pizza stone as a wedding shower gift, complete with a pair of scissors.  If I ask him to cut the pizza before dinner, you can guess that he doesn't grab the tool designed for the purpose.

Whatever.  At least we agree on the important things, such as the deliciousness of pizza.  And now that we're finally getting the hang of making really good homemade pizzas (after lots and lots of mediocre ones), we're turning it over to you.  If you already know how to make a perfect pizza, keep it up (and tell us how you do it).  If you've turned out some flops like I have, give these tips a try and let us know how it goes.  And if you believe that scissors are the only way to slice your food, just don't tell my husband.

Homemade Pizza
Time:  Begin at least 2-1/2 hours in advance
Yield:  One 14-inch pizza

From the bottom up...

The Crust
After experiments with Jiffy pizza crust mix (quick but lame) and from-scratch yeast dough (tasty but time-consuming), I finally broke down and gave our garage sale bread machine a try.  If you have one, I would definitely recommend using it for pizza dough.  It takes 90 minutes to do its thing, but you don't have to worry about kneading or temperature control or any of that mess.  If you don't have a bread machine, there are lots of traditional recipes out there.  Just don't do Jiffy.  Trust me.

For a single 12" or 14" crust:
3/4 cup + 3 T. warm tap water
2 T. oil
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dry yeast (one packet usually has about 2 1/4 tsp. yeast)

Add liquids to bread machine pan.  Add dry ingredients in order, putting yeast into a small well at the top of other dry ingredients.  Program machine for dough (should take 90 minutes).

When dough cycle is complete, remove and knead 1 minute on a lightly floured surface.  Let rest 15 minutes.  Roll out into 12" or 14" inch circle (depending on your pan).  I like to sprinkle the surface with cornmeal before rolling; it makes it easier to move the dough around and transfer it to the pan, especially if you're working with a hot pizza stone.  Let rise 20-25 minutes before transferring to pan.

The Pan
I honestly think a pizza stone does a much better job than a regular pizza pan or baking sheet.  I just wish I had figured this out a long time ago.  For the first few uses, you'll want to season the stone with oil and cornmeal (the stone should come with directions).  For baking, place the stone in a cold oven and let it heat to 450 F (I put it in after rolling out the dough).  Pull it out of the oven, add the crust that's been rising for 20 minutes, add your toppings, and turn the heat down to 425 F for baking.  It helps to have two people to transfer the dough to the hot stone and quickly arrange the toppings.

If you don't have a pizza stone, you can let the crust rise right on the pizza pan.  Preheat the oven to 425 F while you wait.

The Sauce
If you have a source for homemade pizza sauce, lucky you.  If not, you can still doctor up the canned or jarred stuff for extra flavor.  I use about 1 cup (8 oz.) sauce for a 14-inch pizza.  Regardless of whether it's seasoned pizza sauce or plain tomato sauce, I always add (per cup of sauce):

1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2-3 T. Parmesan cheese

The Cheese
I never believed it would work, but my husband showed me a neat trick that's quite delicious:  put the cheese on after the sauce and before the other toppings.  Just do it.  And don't skimp on the cheese.  It's one of the best parts.

For a basic pizza, I generally use pre-shredded mozzarella, which is usually the same price as chunk cheese; Kroger often has the 1-lb. bags on sale for $3.  They freeze well, so stock up if you see a good deal.

The Toppings
Make sure all your toppings are ready in advance.  You don't want to be rushing to chop olives while your pizza stone sits there getting cold (and/or baking the empty crust as it sits).  Resist the urge to use fifty different toppings all at once.  Go with two or three that compliment each other.  For the one in these pictures, I used pepperoni (Aldi has the best price for that), sauteed onions (red or white/yellow are both good), and chopped jarred artichokes (water packed or marinated, also from Aldi).  Sauteed or (gasp!) canned mushrooms are another favorite of mine.

The.. um... Baking
Bake your completed masterpiece in a preheated 425 F oven for 10-15 minutes.  My oven makes perfect pizzas at 13 minutes; you may need to keep a close eye on yours and do a little trial-and-error experimentation before you figure out the best timing for your oven.

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