Sunday, September 4, 2011

Slow Rising Pizza

I swear there is no reason why a home cook can't make a pizza that will make his local pizzaiolo break down in tears, put a for sale sign on his door, and close up.

I had my first Italian pizza in Rome nearly six years ago and was sure I would never be able to make anything close to that good until I got back to Northern California and missed it so much I knew I had to try!

Unfortunately, we here in Estados Unidos have been raised to think that the most important part of a pizza is the topping and that the more you can load on, the better. That is why we get super thick crusted pies with a mountain of stuff on them which only serves to weigh them down into a soggy-bottomed disc resembling nothing like the pizzas you find in Italy.

I believe the best crust comes from good flour and time. One is equally as important as the other.

If you are lucky enough to live in Sonoma County, California, you can drop into Andy's Produce Market on 116 in Sebastopol and pick up a bag of pizza flour. This is the best flour I have found outside of Italy for making a very fine crust. If you are not so lucky, it is worth the effort to seek out a bag of Caputo 00 flour from Naples. If you don't have an Italian market close by, it is available from several sources online. The difference between regular unbleached and this specially milled flour is remarkable. But even more remarkable is the difference between dough that has only risen for three hours as opposed to one that has taken its own lazy time in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 days. (I suggest a minimum of 4.)After a nice long period in the fridge the dough slowly starts to ferment which changes not only the taste but also the texture. It developes a tangier deeper flavor and a chewy texture that a 3-hour risen dough just can't begin to approach.

I pretty much stick with Marcella Hazan's recipe from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, in which she suggests using 1 cup of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast (I prefer instant yeast if you can find it), 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon salt and about 3 cups of flour.

If you're using instant yeast, there is no need to proof it in warm water first. Merely mix it in with a cup of the flour, add 1/4 cup of water, mix and then add the oil and salt. Add another 1/4 cup of water, some more flour and mix until you get down to the last bit of flour and water. Only add as much water at the end as you feel is necessary then knead as you usually would beating the living hell out of it until it's soft and pliable.

At this point, you may put it in an oiled bowl (turning it once to make sure the top is oiled and does not form a crust) then cover with plastic wrap and let rise for three hours. It is then ready for pizza unless you want a really excellent pizza.

If I am making pizza for just myself, I take a small portion of the dough and stretch it out for a small pizza and put the rest in a Ziploc bag and store it in the fridge for a minimum of 4 days.

Take the dough out about an hour before you plan to make the pie and let it come to room temperature. Make sure the pizza is not too thick and does not have too much on top. This may take a few times but just remember "less is more" when it comes to putting something on pizza.

The only other tip I have is to make sure and use a pizza stone that has been heating up at least a half our at 450°F before you slide the pie onto the stone for 20-25 minutes. Happy baking, my friends!

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