It’s official, I’ve finally joined the Daring Bakers! And of all things, my first Daring Baker challenge was…pizza!
Pizza? That’s supposed to be a challenge?? Those were my first thoughts when I started reading about this month’s daring baker challenge. And then I got to the part about how we would have to toss the dough in the air. Ah yes, I thought. Therein lies the challenge!
You see, I make pizza all the time, but I refuse to toss the dough. In fact, I pride myself on not tossing the dough. I developed a method of pressing out the dough on parchment paper that creates a nice, round, perfectly thin pizza crust. And once I perfected my method, I never thought I would have a reason to do it any other way.
And then I joined the Daring Bakers.
I will never again underestimate a Daring Bakers challenge. I made the dough, I tossed the dough, but it wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t pretty. Perhaps I’d become a better pizza dough thrower if I practiced a few more times, but now that this challenge is over, I’ll gladly go back to my favorite method of shaping pizza dough. No more tossing for me!
With the assistance of my husband, I tried to get photos of some pizza tossing action. But, we never seemed to be able to get a shot of the pizza in the air. Here’s the best we could do:
I promise the dough did go up in the air. The dough also flew off to the side and landed on the counter in a crumpled mess a few times. Did I mention that I hate tossing pizza dough??
The biggest problem I had was that the dough stretched too much, too fast. I love thin crust pizza, but when I tossed the dough, I ended up with a pizza crust that I could see through in spots! But in the spirit of the challenge, I used that super extra thin dough and turned it into pizza!
And despite the fact that it had a few holes here and there, it turned into some mighty fine pizza!
Now let me go back to the beginning and tell you a little more about this month’s Daring Baker challenge.
The rules were that we had to follow the recipe exactly and that we had to try hand tossing the dough for at least two of the pizzas.
The recipe is a two day affair because it uses a cold fermentation method for maximum flavor development. In short, you want the dough to sit in the refrigerator overnight because it will taste better. If you want a scientific explanation of why, you should buy the book, it’s a great one!
Here’s the recipe we followed:
~ BASIC PIZZA DOUGH ~
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).
4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled –
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting
~ Day One ~
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.
NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.
3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.
4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).
NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.
5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.
NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.
6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.
NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.
~ Day Two ~
8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).
NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.
10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time. During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully, then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.
11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter – for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.
NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.
13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.
NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.
If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.
14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.
So far, I’ve made three of the six pizzas, and they’ve all been really great! Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve had problems with the dough becoming too thin when I toss it, but the flavor of the crust has really been superb!
I normally bake on parchment paper directly on the baking stone. I use parchment paper rather than dusting the peel with cornmeal because it just seems less messy! But since the recipe specified using cornmeal or semolina to dust the the pizza peel, I did use that method for my first pizza:
This dough was hand tossed but it had to be tossed several times because it kept flying off to the side and landing in a crumpled mess. I eventually got something that resembled the shape of a pizza and quickly transferred it to the cornmeal-dusted pizza peel. I topped it with a garlic cream sauce, grated mozzarella, goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and toasted pine nuts. These were ingredients that I just happened to have on hand.
I slid the pizza onto the stone in my oven that had been preheated to 550 degrees. I’m pretty sure my oven never reached 550 degrees, but it was pretty hot. Here you can see the pizza on the stone, viewed through the dirty glass on my oven door!
It took only about six minutes to bake, and the result was gorgeous (and delicious)!
The second and third pizzas were baked this afternoon and my husband got to help out this time around! He opted for pepperoni and pineapple and I decided to make a traditional Pizza Margherita. For the tomato sauce, I just heated a can of crushed tomatoes with one clove of minced garlic, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, salt and cracked black pepper.
I tossed the pizza dough then my husband got busy with his toppings:
As you can see, I opted for parchment paper this time around. The cornmeal worked fine but it gets all over my oven and eventually burns. We slid Justin’s pizza in, parchment and all, and baked it for about 7 minutes.
As you can see, the paper turns brown, but the pizza bakes so fast, the parchment doesn’t have a chance to burn. That was some greasy pepperoni! Justin actually blotted it with a paper towel after I took this photo!
Next up was my pizza! This time around, the dough got so thin, it actually tore in a couple of places. I just pressed it back together and added my toppings:
For my pizza margherita, I used the tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, a quick dash of olive oil, salt, and a bit of dried oregano. I baked the pizza for about 6 1/2 minutes and then topped it with chopped fresh basil.
Bellissima! Now, that’s my kind of pizza!
Yes, the crust was a little too thin in parts, and this last pizza did end up with a hole right in the middle. But it was honestly the best pizza I’ve had since I left Italy!
Although I don’t foresee any pizza tossing in my future, I will definitely be using this pizza dough recipe from now on!
Thank you, Daring Bakers!