Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I wanna pizza all day, and pizza each and every night

I don't know if learning the ephemera and details of making proper pizza will help these kids figure out how to deal with the world at large, but it may help them appreciate good pizza just a little bit more.

I brought two pizza stones from home and immediately started preheating them in the convection oven full blast -- 550˚. Yeast, flour, honey,everything was laid out as orderly as possible to make dough by hand...


Yield: 4 7-8 inch rounds
Warm water 2 ½ cup
Active dry yeast 2 1/2 tsp
Honey ½ tsp
Olive oil 1 ½ tbsp
AP flour 5 ½ to 6 cups
Kosher salt 2 tbsp
1. Make sure water is warm to the touch – not luke warm and not painful to the touch. Sprinkle yeast in water and let the yeast soften for a few minutes. Stir the yeast to dissolve it completely. Add the honey and the olive oil. Mix to combine.
2. Add flour one cup at a time to liquid and mix with spoon, fork or hand until a sticky mass. Add salt and knead to combine.
3. Turn out onto a dry, lightly floured surface and knead until you have a smooth, elastic ball that can be kneaded easily. Place in an oiled bowl, covered with a towel, and put in a warm place and rise until doubled.
4. Deflate dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into 4 equal portions and roll each into a ball. Let rest covered with towel for 15 minutes.
5. Stretch into a round disc about 1/8” thick.

The kids complained about how hard it was to knead the dough, I didn't have the heart to tell them that no one does this by hand -- it's all done in a mixer, either at home in a small kitchen aide or in a Hobart floor-model in a restaurant. Still, it was good to work it to a smooth state.

The dough had to rise, so during that time we mised all the toppings -- sliced and grated cheeses, made some simple tomato sauce (sent canned whole tomatoes through a food mill, seasoned with salt, balsamic and sugar to taste), loosed up some raw sausage, cleaned some raw shrimp, sliced pepperoni, roasted green peppers on the stove top, slowly caramelized onions in chicken fat, and arranged a toppings area that included all that plus prosciutto, red pepper flakes, salt, olive oil and ground pepper.

Stretching is not something that can be lectured about or written about, it must be shown, then repeated. There are many techniques, but there are certain commonalities. NO SLAPPING -- it knocks the CO2 right out of the dough and makes it more wafer like than pizza like. Spinning and throwing is fun and cool, but does not make for good pizza. Stretching, pushing, but not too much pulling, tearing is a no no.

I only distributed one recipe, and demoed it....


Yield: 1 8” pizza
Stretched dough disc 1 each
Tomato sauce to taste
Mozzarella cheese to taste
Parmesan, grated to taste
Oregano to taste
Olive Oil to taste
Salt to taste
Basil to taste
1. Place dough disc on peel. Pour sauce directly on the center of dough disc and spread evenly with back of spoon until there is more sauce towards the rim than the center.
2. Place cheeses on top of sauce, taking care to be light towards the center
3. Sprinkle with oregano.
4. Apply olive oil in a spiral, starting with a big loop by the cornicone and coming short of the center.
5. Sprinkle with salt.
6. Place pizza in a preheated 500˚ oven on a stone. Bake until crust is golden. Check bottom, as it may cook faster than the top. If the bottom gets dark golden first, it is done regardless of the top.
7. Apply basil, either whole, torn or chiffonade. Hit with more olive oil if it looks dry. Serve immediately.

With all the other toppings available, I let them go at it with just a few rules:
  • Less is more.
  • Heavy on the outside, light on the inside. Too much in the middle makes for a wet, uneatable pie
  • Finish with olive oil and salt, unless you're using a fatty, salty topping like pepperoni
  • It's easy to under cook a pie. It's hard to get it to the point where it looks a little burnt but not yet carbonized and bitter.
The school was hosting some representatives from some companies of some sort, so we provided several trays of miscellaneous pizza for the people, about 30 in all. The students did ok -- I had to correct a lot of stretching jobs -- mostly understretched. I let one go in and when it come out, it was a small, fat bready disc with toppings. A few undertopped their pies, leaving patches with nothing on it, not even oil or salt. But by the time each one of them got 7 or 8 under their belt, they seemed to get a feel for basic balance.

The next day, I met the kids and the counselor at the pizzeria I consult at for a tour and a snack. The kids were pretty into seeing a restaurant kitchen and talking to L, the chef/owner who is a bit of a character.

Next up, the final class of this group. I asked the kids to suggest what they want to cook, and we're gonna make a meal of it...