Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Dutch Pizza

Everyone has a truly humbling cooking experience. Some people can’t make pancakes. Others are hopeless at making bread or cake. Many are completely flummoxed by gravy, turning out lumpy pastes, or thin flavorless gruel studded with little flour bombs. Scrambled eggs are often a source of frustration and tears.

For myself, I am brought to my knees every time I try to make pizza.

The dough is a cinch—yeast is my bitch. I have no fear of yeast. I can make tomato sauce from scratch, and I laugh at toppings. But when confronted with a fully topped crust, ready to be baked, I crumble.

For the life of me, I can’t get the uncooked topped dough off of the cutting board and onto the stone in my oven.

Short of flattening the dough and topping it right on the peel, I cannot see how this is done. I can flip an egg or a pancake in a pan on the stove with the flick of a wrist, but pizza? I’m totally baffled.

And don’t talk to me about corn meal.

This is why I consider the pizza I make to be Dutch rather than Italian. I always think of the Italian as so passionate, so devoted, especially to their food, which is so effortless. It's lavish and fabulous, without being particularly complex or involved. Whereas the Dutch in my mind are no-nonsense, close with their money, and either products of the 1960s counter-culture, or of the hardships faced in World War II. And really, when was the last time anyone ever said to you, "Wow, you wouldn't believe this fantastic new Dutch restaurant we found!"

My pizza is about as far away from Italian pizza as you can possibly get, which is why I think of it as Dutch.

This past week I thought I would try again to confront what has up to this time been my Waterloo. “This time,” I thought, “it will be different.”

Inspired by a description of a pizza a friend made that was topped with thinly sliced leftover rib eye steak, mushrooms, Gorgonzola cheese, and a hint of mozzarella, I set forth. All I can say is that if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, I guess I’ll be posting my next entry from a padded room (I just hope they have wireless!).

The dough I used was fine, great even. It made four individual pizzas that I topped with some sliced New York strip that I bought specifically as a topping. In one pan I seared the steak, then sautéed some thinly sliced shallot, and some sliced mushrooms until both were soft and caramelized. I rolled out the dough, laid the steak slices on it, scattered it with the shallot mixture, dotted with a little Gorgonzola, and grated a couple of tablespoons of fresh mozzarella over each.

Then I destroyed them as I pushed and prodded and jabbed and poked them onto the pizza peel, and reversed the process to get them onto the pizza stone. *sigh*

As you can see, they look…well, like pizzas made by someone who really sucks at pizza making. And I guess that’s what they are, so it’s fair that that’s what they look like.

I have no happy ending to this story. They taste fine, good even. But they look terrible. Perhaps someday I will confront this problem head on, read up on technique, buy books to guide me (hey! An excuse to buy books? Maybe this day will come sooner than I think!), and practice, practice, practice. But for now I’ll just stick with making things that don’t bring me to tears or make me say words that need to be spelled with asterisks.

Until that day, here's a really good pizza dough recipe. I just hope you're better at getting it into the oven than I am.

Pizza Dough
makes 4 – 6” pizzas
from Bon Appetit magazine

3/4 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

Pour 3/4 cup warm water into small bowl; stir in yeast. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Brush large bowl lightly with olive oil. Mix 2 cups flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add yeast mixture and 3 tablespoons oil; process until dough forms a sticky ball. Transfer to lightly floured surface. Knead dough until smooth, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough is very sticky, about 1 minute. Transfer to prepared bowl; turn dough in bowl to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down dough. Roll out dough into six inch diameter circles. Top as desired.


Anonymous said...

But why can't you peel it off the rolling surface, put it on your stone, reshape it and top it there?

;) "spaz-to-spacey"

Gary B said...

I use the exact same recipe for dough. Delicious. Now, about your problem of getting the pizza off the cutting board and onto your pizza stone: you can probably achieve this by getting a decent pizza peel. (see,7413.0.html). I sound like I have one - but I don't. And remember - homemade pizza does not have to look real pretty - make it rustic! It's how it tastes that matters most.

TD said...

Gary--I actually have a pizza peel, but I guess I just have to shape and top the dough on it. I saw a picture in a magazine of someone using a peel, and that's all I can assume they're doing. Either that, or they're magic...and it does taste fine, you're right. It's just not pretty :/

Spaz (I never did call you that)- By the time it goes on the stone, the stone has been heated in a 450 degree oven for an hour. I could do that I suppose, but I think I'id have to have asbestos hands... :)

Pizza Ria said...

My pizzas are almost paper thin and they are much harder to slide off, notwithstanding dusting the peel with flour or cornmeal. And often, the dough stretches it is slid onto the stone, I end up with a lopsided pizza.

Here are a few things I have learned on how to achieve a better shaped pizza:

Make the crust thicker (something I try to avoid like the plauge)

Stretch and shape the dough in a shallow pizza pan, and parbake it just enough for it to set into shape.. take it out, top it.. and then pop it back into the oven, on the stone without the pan, to finish.

You may also choose to shape and top the dough on parchment paper. Just slide everything, parchment paper included, onto the pizza stone. The same may be done using aluminum foil, or a pizza screen.