Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The real challenge

Want to attempt something really daring?

Try to make pizza dough from scratch while my mom -- not just any mom; my mom -- makes cinnamon ice cream from scratch in the same kitchen at the same time.

October's Daring Bakers charge was pizza. And while I do not wish to take away from the challenge of homemade yeast dough...seriously, the actual dough-making was not the difficult part of this month's baking endeavor. Maybe they should call the group the Bakers Daring Enough to Share a Kitchen with Dianne's Mom.

You see, Mom is a excellent cook. She always has been. She is a great influence on my love of the kitchen and I have always admired her willful disregard for recipes. "Oh, I don't need a recipe. Just put some of this in....How much? Oh, I don't know. Enough." Hers is a marvelous way to learn to cook; it inspires creativity and flexibility and resourcefulness and instills a certain confidence in the kitchen.

But as she has gotten older, her willful disregard for recipes has evolved into a certain hilarious hostility toward culinary directives. This recipe-disgust manifests itself in sentences such as, "Martha needs a recipe to make that? I have been making that for years." Or, "It calls for a vanilla bean? You have got to be kidding me. Do you have vanilla extract? Just put that in instead. Some. I don't know how much, exactly. Just give me the bottle."

This past Sunday was the day before my birthday. Mom and Sister were planning a family dinner: Sister was making the turkey chili, Mom was to make the cake (carrot) and ice cream (cinnamon). Mom decided that she would use my kitchen, which is all well and good. However, Sunday was the day I had set aside to complete this month's Daring Bakers challenge. So as Mom second-guessed Gale Gand's cinnamon ice cream recipe in a hysterical fashion, I two-stepped around her with my yeasty from-scratch pizza dough. The situation was made slightly more complex by the fact that my dad is retrofitting our pantry from the laundry closet that it once was to the glorious kitchen storage area that it will be. Dad is hammering away; Mom is cursing at egg yolks and waiting for the "puff of steam" that is supposed to emanate from the custard at 160 degrees; I am trying to find a spot of counter space large enough to divide a sticky dough. No small task considering that the pantry has been emptied to facilitate construction, which means that there are sacks of bread flour and boxes of penne and bags of powdered sugar shoved and stacked in each square inch of the kitchen.

So. This pizza dough? Not that challenging, in and of itself.

The real challenge is the context in which it was prepared. Mom, you are a riot.




Dough recipe adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart

The dough is the focus; however, part of the Daring Bakers challenge this month was to display creativity through the choice of toppings. Though pizza Margherita is neither terribly creative nor groundbreaking, I chose that route because I possess more than 20 jars of home-canned tomatoes from my backyard garden. They are lovely red jewels, lined up above my cabinets, just begging to be used. It makes sense to me to use the bounty I have on hand, even at the expense of creating something totally different and unique. snowed today. Not accumulating snow, but flakes nonetheless. The first snow of the season. Seems like a good time to bust out a jar of preserved summer sun.

(But of course I couldn't just leave it at that. So I whipped up a batch of sage pesto and paired it with some crunchy walnuts and tangy gorgonzola. An easy, quick, yummy departure from the red sauce-mozzarella pizza route.)

UPDATE: Since this post, I have made this pizza dough again, this time reserving one of the six pizzas for a sweet treatment. I brushed it with melted butter, then sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar before baking. It was fantastic on its own for a dessert, but it would be especially marvelous topped with a scoop of homemade cinnamon ice cream (hey, Mom!) and maybe just a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I keep making this pizza dough and I keep learning new things. This dough freezes really well. After it has rested in the refrigerator overnight or up to three days, stick it in the freezer instead of baking it right away. I wrapped each ball in plastic wrap, then packaged the dough balls in a freezer bag. The day I wanted to make the pizza, I moved the dough into the refrigerator in the morning and by the time I was ready to cook dinner, it was ready to go. Best of all: there was no discernible decrease in texture or flavor, and it was a total boon to realize that I had homemade pizza dough in the freezer just waiting for me.

Please note: the dough needs a day or more to rest. So be sure to start at least a day before you plan on feasting on your pizza.

For the dough:

4 1/2 c. unbleached bread flour

1 3/4 t. kosher salt

1 t. instant yeast

1/4 c. olive oil

1 T. sugar

1 3/4 c. water, ice cold (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit)

Cornmeal, for dusting

At least one day in advance, combine the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, sugar and water in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture comes together. Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium-low speed for 5-7 minutes, until the dough clears the side of the bowl but sticks slightly to the bottom. If the dough looks too dry (if it doesn't stick slightly to the bottom of the bowl), add more ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the correct consistency. Alternatively, if the dough looks too wet, sprinkle in a little more bread flour. (When I made the dough, it took a little extra water to achieve the proper consistency.)

Sprinkle a work surface with bread flour. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. If you are using parchment paper, lightly oil it. If you are using a Silpat, skip the oil.

Place the dough on the floured surface. Using a bench scraper or a knife, divide the dough into six equal pieces. Sprinkle some bread flour over the divided dough. Shape each dough piece into a ball and place on the baking sheet. Mist the 6 dough balls with spray oil (I have an olive oil spray bottle, but you could use Pam). Wrap the entire baking sheet with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Let the dough rest overnight or up to 3 days.

About 2 hours before you are ready to eat pizza, remove the dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with bread flour and place the dough on the work space. Dust the top of the dough balls with additional bread flour. Using your fingertips, press the dough balls into rounds that are about 1/2-inch thick and about 5 inches across. Lightly mist with spray olive oil (or Pam) and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for 2 hours.

While the dough rests during this 2-hour period, prepare the toppings. Note: about 1 hour and 15 minutes into this period, place a baking stone in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. (If you do not have a pizza stone, you can use the back of a baking sheet as a baking surface. However, DO NOT preheat the baking sheet.)

For the pizza Margherita:

28 oz. can of peeled tomatoes, drained (or 28 oz. of your own home-canned tomatoes)

1 T. dried basil (or 2 T. fresh basil, chopped)

1 t. flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 t. fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 t. fresh oregano, chopped

1/2 t. kosher salt

1/4 t. freshly-cracked black pepper

8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese

Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon, smashing the tomatoes with the back of the spoon to create a chunky sauce. Set aside. Slice and set aside the fresh mozzarella.

For the pizza with sage-walnut pesto and gorgonzola:

2 oz. fresh sage leaves (about 1 c., packed)

1/4 c. fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, packed

1 clove garlic

1/3 c. walnuts

1/3 c. grated Pecorino cheese

2 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 c. olive oil

3 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

1/2 c. walnuts

Combine first 6 ingredients in a food processor; pulse to roughly chop. Stream in the olive oil to form a smooth puree. Set aside. Also set aside the gorgonzola cheese and walnuts.

So now...time to make the pizzas. Make 1 pizza at a time.

Generously sprinkle the back of a baking sheet with cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Lay 1 piece of dough across the back of your knuckles and carefully stretch it by bouncing it on your knuckles, giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss. If the dough doesn't stretch, place it back on the counter for about 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. Then, resume the stretching/tossing.

When the dough is about 8-10 inches in diameter, place it on the back of the baking sheet, making sure there is enough cornmeal on the pan so that the pizza slides around freely. Top the pizza with the tomato sauce and sliced fresh mozzarella, or with the sage pesto and crumbled gorgonzola and walnuts.

Carefully slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone, using a wide spatula to facilitate the process. Bake for 6-8 minutes. Remove the pizza to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 3-5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Makes 6 pizzas.


Ruth said...

Both of your pizzas sound great. I love the sage walnut. The story that went along with it was hilarious. Family Fun!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Very well done! Your pizza looks fantastic!



Anonymous said...

I love your tossing picture! Your walnut+pesto topping looks amazing!

Anonymous said...

You are lucky to have a mom that cooks. No matter what her method. I think your pizza looks yummy!

Anonymous said...

You left out the part about your husband working on a laptop in a corner of the kitchen.

But you know, it was worth it. Those were REAL good.

Anonymous said...

happy belated birthday!
also i am curious about the homemade cinnamon ice cream...sounds amazing.

Dragon said...

My mom is the same way in the kitchen only maybe a little less cranky. :) Your pizzas are lovely. Great job!

Anonymous said...

so far you win for the funniest story! :)

maybelle's mom said...

hey another NE Ohio blogger. Cool. I definitely agree that sometimes the challenge is not in the recipe.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful pictures and pizza. I loved your commentary! Cooking with your mom-how fun!

allison said...

I love your story. Your pizzas look great!

Dianne said...

Thank you all for the lovely comments -- she is a trip, that mother of mine.

Mandy, the cinnamon ice cream, which was AMAZING, is Gale Gand's recipe from Food Network. You can find it here:


Thanks, all, for reading!