– Editor’s note: Today’s posting is written by D.’s sister J., who is writing from scenic Saskatchewan….
Right now I need no excuse to crank the oven to 500F. Out here on the prairies, your guest food blogger has already found the mittens and toques and lit the first fire in the wood stove. (Please do not start, I have already heard from my British Columbia friends how lovely it is on the west coast). And if one wants a truly good pizza at home, one of the requirements is a very hot oven. So, with all the other “first of the winter” rituals that happen in this household, I was excited to fire up the oven and share some of the pizza-y goodness via this blog.
I do not make sausage pizza for only the national celebratory eleventh of October. I make it at least once a month in the winter. I ‘ll be honest and admit I don’t make pizza for the sausage, but for the crust and I have been practicing – a lot. I have got it down to a science. I thought I would take this opportunity to relay some of my pizza crust knowledge I have either stumbled upon, read about or discussed with fellow food science geeks.
I am definitely a proponent of the “less is more” idea when it comes to pizza. When made with quality ingredients, you might start making pizza a weekly event. Most importantly, the dough and sauce need to be from scratch. My sauce is made with a few chopped garlic cloves sauteed in olive oil, add some good quality canned or fresh tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper and let simmer for at least one hour so it thickens nicely. I always make plenty so I can freeze some for the next month’s worth of pizzas.
Now the fun part – the crust. Lately I have been using Jamie Oliver’s pizza crust recipe although it makes a large amount of dough. This recipe is too large for a standard size Kitchen Aid stand mixer, so don’t try it – you will burn out your machine. If you are incredibly lazy when it comes to kneading dough like me, just make half a recipe. If you like kneading, make the full recipe and you can always toss left over dough in the freezer however it will not be as good as fresh so just invite a few friends over instead. I refer to stand mixer “burn out”because one of the secrets to great pizza dough is kneading it very well. I often let my stand mixer knead for 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth, shiny and very stretchy. The reason for all this kneading? The gluten molecules in the flour need a chance to align – basically they form parallel sheets with some kinks and snags – sort of like a big net. This gluten “net” is what gives you lovely elastic dough that does no tear easily and can hold all the gas filled bubbles when rising and baking that make good pizza dough so chewy and delicious. Make sure you use a high gluten flour! (Like “best for bread” flour,etc.)
I really like a pizza dough with chewy, almost squeaky bubbles in the crust after baking. It was the bubbles that sent me on my pizza journey in the first place. The secret to the chewy crust is . . . . .the fridge. Seriously! For the sake of brevity, the important thing to know is what the yeast are doing long before you start rolling out the dough and throwing on the toppings. As yeast carry out fermentation in a ball of pizza dough, they release carbon dioxide gas. These molecules of CO2 are trapped in the gluten strands and make bubbles. These are good bubbles, yes, but there are BETTER bubbles. Bubbles that are produced when you toss the dough in the fridge for at least half a day and cause the yeast to carry out retarded fermentation. This much slower fermentation involves the creation of ketones and aldehydes through colder temperatures and complex media (the dough). The yeast chew on it slowly and create more ketones and aldehydes and less CO2. As the university friend who explained all of this to me said,” You get more “yeasty” flavor than simple let er rip fermentation at room temp for an hour or more”. God bless microbiology.
So, here is what you do: Make pizza dough recipe. I let the first rise occur on the kitchen counter. After the first time I punch it down, I put it in the fridge. I usually make pizza dough after breakfast, it rises for about an hour on the counter and then into the fridge it goes. I usually have to punch it down a couple of times during the day.
Now you are ready for supper. You need a 500F oven with a pizza stone already inside. You have rolled or hand stretched your pizza dough. Place the dough onto some parchment paper that has been liberally sprinkled with cornmeal (this will allow the pizza to slide quickly onto the stone and you cannot afford to lose precious heat). Place the dough/parchment paper onto something fairly heat proof like a wooden cutting board. Decorate your pizza! Tonight I tried two different types of sausage. I cooked both sausages beforehand on the barbeque outside to give them more flavor along with a portobello mushroom. On one pizza I had homemade sauce, Italian sausage purchased from Soulieo Foods, sliced portobello and Cambozola cheese. The other pizza was dressed with Johnsonville Sweet Italian sausage from Safeway, red peppers, fresh basil and shredded mozzarella. Both were amazing, but the pizza with Cambozola was the clear winner. It only took about 8 minutes at 500F for golden, bubbling perfection and one very happy family. (BTW – I would love to hear of other pizza lover’s topping combos!)
If you liked me rambling on about carbon dioxide and fermentation, then you would enjoy learning about the Maillard reaction. Go ahead, google it. It explains why the pizza only tastes good after it is all brown and crispy. You can go above and beyond just knowing where your food comes from . . . you will know what made it so darn tasty.