Cheezy Pizza Crust

Pizza is a constant in my life; one of my top five favorite foods, and of those, the one I eat most often, almost every week. My pizza dough, on the other hand, is not constant. I make one type for a few months in a row and then decide to change it up. I’ve read Jeff Varasano’s pizza tutorial before and incorporated parts of it into my own pizza making, but a few weeks ago I decided to follow it almost exactly. His page illustrates one of my favorite things about the internet. This guy loves pizza – I daresay as much as Peter Reinhart! – and although he owns a pizzeria that I’m sure he hopes you will come spend money in, he wants to share his knowledge with you for free even if you don’t. His page on making pizza is just stuffed with both passion and information, and I love it!

The first time I made it, I intended to make the dough exactly the way he instructs you to, which is very traditional – nothing but flour, water, salt, and yeast. (Another thing I love about his method is the use of wild yeast, or sourdough. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I am a sourdough fanatic.) But on a whim – I think the reality is I’d just bought a bunch of nutritional yeast and it didn’t all fit in the container I have for it, so I was trying to use the excess up – I mixed a bit of the yeasty goodness in with the flour. Although I (and my cats) love nutritional yeast, I felt a little guilty defiling Jeff Varasano’s very pure recipe with the stuff, especially since as a vegan, I love it when pizzerias use very traditional crusts instead of all those disgusting American things like cheese-stuffed monstrosities. But you know what? I did it anyway and I’m not sorry! I loved the crust! I’ll make it sans nutritional yeast sometime and I’m sure it will be just as if not more extraordinary, but damn it, this was great. But feel free to simply omit the nutritional yeast if you want to be pure or just don’t like or have it; there is no need to adjust the water.

Again, this recipe and technique, other than the nutritional yeast, are from Jeff Varasano’s page and all credit goes to him. I’m just offering my photos of the process and suggesting you read through his very thorough instructions as well for a great background.

If you don’t have a sourdough starter, there are tons of resources online, including my link above, on how to make one. My current starter is from King Arthur Flour, and actually, if you asked me nicely and live in the continental US, I’d probably be willing to send you some of mine. If none of those options are happening, you can try omitting the sourdough starter and increasing the instant yeast.

Cheezy Pizza Crust
makes enough for six 10-ounce/300 gram (about 12″) pizzas

1000 grams (35.5 oz) bread flour (I prefer, as does Jeff Varasano, King Arthur) divided into 750 and 250 grams.
36 grams (1.25 oz) nutritional yeast (optional, though it won’t be “cheezy” without it)
36 grams (1.25 oz) salt
3 grams (.1 oz) instant yeast (optional)
75 grams (2.7 oz) sourdough starter
660 grams (23.3 oz) water

Weigh out 1/4 of the flour (250 grams) and set aside.

Put the other 3/4 of the flour (750 grams) into the mixer bowl and add the nutritional yeast.

Cats and nutritional yeast! They love the stuff! Bad cats, get out of there!

Weigh the salt …

(Torticia would NOT leave me alone!)

… and instant yeast, if using …

… and the sourdough starter.

Put all that stuff in the mixer bowl.

Ugh.

Weigh the water and add that.

Mix on low speed for about a minute, until it’s all combined. Then let sit for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes of rest, start the mixer back up and let it run for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, begin adding the rest of the flour, spoonful by spoonful, over the course of another 3 minutes, for a total of 8 minutes of kneading. On a Kitchen Aid mixer, you can go up a speed when you begin adding the rest of the flour; my Bosch is powerful enough that I don’t bother. After the 8 minutes of kneading, when all flour has been incorporated, it will look like this:

It’s quite tacky, by the way. This is a very wet dough. Don’t be alarmed.

Cover and let it rest for another 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare your containers. If you will be making any pizzas in the next three days, store the dough for them in a container at least three times larger than the dough volume. Ideally you would freeze the dough in the same container you will rise it in, but who has that much freezer space? Not me, so I store the doughs I will be freezing in containers that just fit them. Whether freezing or refrigerating, spray a very tiny amount of olive oil into each container and wipe it around to completely cover the surface.

This is a dough I’ve just removed from the freezer.

I want to bake it tomorrow, so I removed it from the tiny container and moved it to a larger one (which I treated with another tiny amount of olive oil) that will allow it to rise in the refrigerator over the next 24 hours. When you want to bake a frozen dough, just do the same, at some point 1 to 3 days before bake day.

After the dough has rested again, sprinkle a small amount of flour on a work surface and spread it around a bit. I really used way too much flour in the picture below; you don’t need that much. Pour the dough onto the flour.

Round the dough, allowing it to become lightly dusted with flour. You’ll be surprised how easy this is – you don’t need to manipulate it very much. It should feel very soft and well, just wonderful. Don’t go ruining it by allowing a lot of flour to get mixed in – just keep a little bit of flour on the surface to keep the dough from being too sticky to touch.

Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces; you can weigh them or just eyeball it. Form little rounds.

Place each round into a prepared container. Pizza Inspector Torticia is giving my containers the old smell test. I hope I passed.

(By the way, the kittens are not allowed on the island when I’m working with dough, and I thoroughly clean it before and after working dough…)

This has been long, so I’ll do a separate post later this weekend when I bake the pizzas. To tide you over, here’s an earlier photo of a pizza made using this dough:

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Grilled Pizza

Yet another post without a recipe, but I grilled pizza for the first time today and took pictures, so I thought I’d post them in case it inspires anyone else. I know grilling pizza is hardly revolutionary, but I had a lot of fun and would like to share.

First I lit the fire and let the coals burn until they were mostly white. Although it’s in the mid-90s today, which makes slaving over a hot grill a bit ridiculous, one advantage grilling pizza has over baking it in the oven is it takes the oven and baking stone nearly an hour to come up to temperature, whereas the grill took next to no time. I also wasn’t heating up the house, although I am about to turn the oven on to bake a couple loaves of pain au levain, so I’m not doing so well at keeping the kitchen cool after all.

While I was waiting for the briquets to be ready, I got everything ready on the table. Here are our two pizza crusts on peels; I’ve sprayed the tops of them with olive oil. I used my whole wheat version of Peter Reinhart’s New York style dough. I made my normal pizza sauce: saute crushed garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, add crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, salt, pepper, and, sometimes, oregano; cook for 10 minutes and optionally puree. I also had Daiya mozzarella ready.

When the briquets were ready, I spread them out, then put the rack on the lower position. Then I picked one crust up and put it on the grill olive oil side down.

I sprayed the top with more olive oil then closed the grill for a minute or two. When I opened it, the crust was bubbling like crazy!

When the crust was firm enough that it was no longer sticking to the grill, I used an aluminum peel to remove it and flip it over onto the wooden peel. it got a bit darker than I’d intended, but I don’t think it matters – charred is good!

I added my toppings to the grilled side …

… and returned the pizza to the grill, sliding it off the peel.

I closed the grill and let it cook for a few more minutes, checking it every minute or so until the bottom was done and the “cheese” was melted.

It was hard to take a picture of the bottom because it really takes more than two hands to hold a pizza up and photograph the bottom of it, at least when it’s too hot to touch, but here’s my attempt at doing so:

Verdict? This was great! There’s room for improvement: next time I’m going to try to roll the dough out thinner, and I might move the rack to the upper position so the pizza has a chance to bake a little longer before starting to burn. But considering it was my first time grilling pizza and only my 4th or 5th time ever using a grill, the results were very impressive, and very tasty. I’m definitely going to use this method for our weekly pizzas whenever the weather allows.

In other news, I’ve had a very productive weekend. I mentioned in my last post that I recently bought a whole bunch of vintage mason jars to store dry goods in and I even posted a picture of my newly organized baker’s rack. Well, yesterday I found a great rack for storing my jars in my favorite antique store – it’s the perfect size for the jars and fits perfectly next to my baker’s rack – and what’s more it was only $24! How awesome is that?!

And here’s that whole side of the kitchen:

Where I had some of the jars on the baker’s rack, I moved them to the new rack. Then I emptied half of my over-stuffed cupboard onto the newly-freed shelf on the baker’s rack, which means for the first time in years I can actually see what I have. I discovered I have three bottles of apple cider vinegar because I could never see the bottles I already had. THAT gave me plenty of space in that cupboard to spread out my canned goods so I can see THEM and so they are not falling on my head when I open the cupboard door. I always feel so good about life when I organize the kitchen! And now that my dried beans are out on display in the dining room, I’ll see them and think to make them more often, in fact, I’m soaking some right now for dinner tonight!

And finally:

I hope everyone has had as nice a weekend as I have! Apparently Torticia has.

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New York-style Whole Wheat Pizza Dough, and finished pizzas

One of the first posts I made on this blog was for pizza dough, which is appropriate because I love pizza more than just about any food. I’ve been using a different crust than that of my original post lately, though, although it’s still one from my bread-baking hero Peter Reinhart (who is teaching a class I’m attending next week and I’m very excited!), so when I made a new batch this week, I thought I’d write it up for the ole blog.

This recipe is from Peter’s pizza book, American Pie, which, like all of his books, is amazing and I urge you to buy it if you are anywhere near as obsessed with pizza as I am. One of the reasons I wanted to make this post, though, is this is the only one of Peter’s books I have that does not list weights for all ingredients, and I only bake by weight, so I wanted to finally permanently convert it to weight measurements and write it down. It’s the New York-style crust from that book, although instead of bread flour, I use white whole wheat. Which means I’m eating healthy when I eat an entire pizza every weekend, right?

Because I really want you to buy Peter’s books and because I have a lot of respect for him (and most cookbook authors), I am reluctant to post his recipes, but since it is available here, I’ve decided it’s okay in this case. I’ve tried most of the doughs in this book and they are all good, but this one is probably my favorite because he says it’s the crust you find all college towns across the US, and who doesn’t think pizza never tasted better than it did at 3 am in college? Well, I’m convinced that my pizza does actually beat that of Pizza Palace (my local pizza joint during college) and you don’t need 13 beers to think so.

Whole Wheat New York-style Pizza Dough

Okay, I confess. Another reason I’m making this post is to show off the might of my mixer, Hieronymous. Hieronymous is a Bosch Universal Mixer (and by the way, if this post convinces you you need one, Pleasant Hill Grain, to whom I’ve linked, are terrific people to buy from). After destroying two Kitchen Aid mixers within the course of a single year by overworking them, I made Mark give me Hieronymous for Christmas a couple of years ago. I like to make a triple – yes, triple – batch of pizza dough at a time, which means I only have to make it every couple of months. I’m including the tripled weights for my own reference. Don’t try making that amount in a Kitchen Aid, unless you are looking for an excuse to buy a Bosch. I’ve included the volume and weight measurements for a single batch, but please do yourself a favor and buy a scale if you have any interest in bread baking.

Single Batch, Volume Single Batch, Weight Triple Batch, Weight Ingredient
5 1/2 cups 22.5 oz 60 oz white whole wheat flour (or bread flour)
2 tsp .5 oz 1.5 oz salt
1 1/2 tsp .2 oz .6 oz yeast*
3 Tbsp .8 oz 2.5 oz olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp .7 oz 2 oz sugar or honey (read: agave nectar)
1 3/4 cup (or a little more) 14 oz 42 oz water**

* I replace the yeast for a single batch with the discard from my sourdough starter. I do this more so as not to waste the starter (which would otherwise be thrown away) than for the flavor, although I’ll take sourdough flavor any way I can get it. So for my tripled batch, I used .4 oz. yeast + about 1/2 cup sourdough starter discard.

** Whole wheat flour (red more so than white) absorbs more water than white flour, so you may end up needing to use more than what Peter calls for. I’ve compensated above by using slightly less flour instead of more water in the tripled batch; you may need to adjust the water or flour slightly in the single batch.

Weigh or measure the flour into the mixer bowl. Here’s Hieronymous (or his bowl, anyway)!

Weigh or measure the salt; add to the flour.

Weigh or measure the yeast; add to the flour. Salt kills yeast, so try to add it to the bowl somewhere the salt is not.

Weigh or measure the olive oil; add to the flour.

Weigh or measure the agave nectar or sugar; add to the flour. (Tip: weighing or measuring the olive oil before the agave nectar makes the agave nectar easier to transfer to the mixing bowl.)

Hieronymous’s mixing bowl with the ingredients so far (including my sourdough starter for some of the yeast):

Weigh or measure the water then add to the mixing bowl. Here is Hieronymous heroically handling ingredients nearly to the rim of his bowl, and no, my friends, he will not struggle!

Hieronymous is now ready to go!

Mix on low speed for about two minutes, until the dough starts to form a rough ball.

Let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, find storage containers for the dough and spray each with olive oil. You are not supposed to reuse and freeze containers like these Earth Balance containers, but they happen to be the perfect size for my pizza doughs. Peter suggests making three 12-ounce crusts from a single batch of this dough (which will make three 12″ pizzas), but instead I make five crusts per single batch (they end up being between 7 and 8 ounces each) for individually sized pizzas. So I had to find 15 containers. When selecting containers, keep in mind that the dough will probably double in the refrigerator, however, it won’t grow in the freezer, so to save freezer space, you could freeze them in small containers and transfer them to larger ones when you move them to the refrigerator the night before baking. That’s too much effort for me.

Resume mixing on medium-low or medium speed for 5 minutes, adding flour or water by the tablespoon if necessary to obtain a tacky but not sticky dough.

Sprinkle some flour on a workspace and dump the dough onto it, coating in just enough of the flour to keep it from sticking.

Divide the dough into equal parts.

Here are all my individual dough pieces waiting to be shaped:

Round each piece, pinching the dough together at the bottom to create surface tension, as if you were making a roll.

Pop the rounded dough into an individual container and roll it around in the olive oil to coat.

Close each container and immediately place the number of crusts you want to make in the next three days in the refrigerator. Promptly freeze the rest.

The dough will stay good in the refrigerator for 3 days, so move as many as you need from the freezer sometime between the night before up to three days before you plan to use it. I assume that most weekends we will end up having pizza, but it could end up being for lunch or dinner on any day, so I just move two containers to the fridge on Friday night. And if we haven’t eaten them by Monday, we have pizza for dinner on Monday night.

My mother-in-law and her sister are visiting us this weekend. When they were here earlier in the week, I promised them pizza this weekend, so after whipping up the dough as documented above on Wednesday night, I had a little pizza party tonight. An hour before you’d like to serve the pizza, turn your oven up as high as it will go; mine goes to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a pizza stone (which I strongly recommend), preheat it as well. Remove the dough containers from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. This picture shows how much the dough has risen; sometimes it rises so much it pushes out of the container, but this batch has restrained itself a bit. Keep the containers covered while they sit.

Meanwhile, prepare the pizza sauce. Heat some olive oil in a small saucepan, then add a few cloves minced or pressed garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add some crushed or diced tomatoes (I like Muir Gardens fire-roasted crushed tomatoes) and some freshly ground salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, them remove from the heat. You can puree it if you’d like; I always do when I used diced tomatoes and only sometimes do when I used crushed tomatoes.

The toppings I prepared were: Daiya mozzarella, caramelized onions, sliced heirloom tomatoes, vegan pepperoni, ground vegan Italian sausage, sliced jalapenos, and various herbs and spices. Usually when we have company, I do a prepare-your-own-pie thing, so here I’ve made a little assembly line of the various toppings.

After the oven has been heating and the crusts have been resting for an hour, dust a pizza peel with semolina or cornmeal. If you don’t have a pizza peel, you can use the back of a cookie sheet. I once read somewhere that cornmeal acts like little casters, rolling your pizza off the peel and into your oven, which was an image I liked. You can’t actually see the semolina I used in this picture, but believe me, it’s there. Don’t use too much because it’ll just end up burning in the oven, but use enough to keep the dough from sticking to the peel or cookie sheet.

Sprinkle a moderate amount of flour on a work surface. Remove a single pizza dough from its container, flatten into a small circle, and place in the sprinkled dough. Flip it over to coat both sides in flour, but try to only use as much flour as you need to prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface or your hands. If the dough springs back after you roll it out, let it rest for 5 minutes then try again.

Use a rolling pin to roll out a pizza crust to your desired thickness and width, flipping the dough several times and rubbing it in the dough to prevent sticking on both sides.

Transfer the rolled-out dough to your prepared peel or cookie sheet; you can pick it up and place it there or just sort of drag it onto the peel.

Top with some sauce, leaving room at the edges for holding. My sauce was pretty thick tonight for some reason; often it is much thinner than this. Don’t worry about thinnish sauce – it will thicken as it cooks. You may need less sauce than you think, as well. Don’t add so much it makes the dough soggy. This is really almost too much sauce.

Sprinkle with herbs like oregano, red chili flakes, dried basil, etc.

I like to bury my toppings under the “cheese” because they tend to burn if you put them on top of the cheese. I’m usually a minimalist when it comes to pizza. Even before I was vegan, I preferred a simple cheese pizza, light on the cheese. As I was entertaining tonight and had prepared several different toppings, I ended up piling some of all of them on my pizza, but I don’t really recommend this as it makes the pizza too heavy.

Transfer to the oven. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can bake the pizza on a pizza pan or the back of a cookie sheet – the same one on which you built the pizza if you don’t have a peel. I’m a snob and don’t think I could ever go back to baking pizza on anything other than my Fibrament baking stone. I use it for bread as well, and in fact, it never leaves my oven. It does take a long time to heat up (45 minutes, at least), but it makes for a perfect crust.

Bake until done. That’s pretty nebulous, I suppose, but how long it takes will depend on the size and thickness of your pizza, the type and amount of toppings, how hot your oven gets, and probably a host of other factors. It’s a quick process, though, possibly a lot quicker than you think. Mine usually take 5 minutes.

Commercial vegan cheese probably isn’t the healthiest thing in the world for you, but other than that, if you use whole wheat flour for the crust, this not the diet nightmare that most pizzas are, so feel free to indulge every weekend!

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