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Making Pizza, the Good Eats way

Good Eats PizzaOn the few occasions per year that all the siblings are once again under our parents’ roof, there are a few recurring activities in the kitchen. When my brother is returning home, there’s going to be lasagna in the oven and sorrel in the freezer. He’ll make statements about how nobody making brownies – real fudgy chewy brownies, not cakey ones, no experimenting, you hear? I’ll get charged at some point with the job of making a pelau, Lilandra will get the urge to bake cookies that no one says they want, but everybody eats. Mom will make a biriyani, or two. And much lamb. Sister-the-elder likes to encourage roasting a turkey, and if no takers, she’ll settle for a chicken, complete with stuffing. She’s not always successful though; it helps to be the youngest. Mom uses the opportunity of additional people and helpers to make things she’s ignored for a while and Dad makes not-so-subtle comments during mealtimes about how happy he is when we visit…

One thing all 4 of us always plan on making when we’re home – pizza. We’ve learned a long time ago that nothing beats a homemade pizza (once we passed the early years of ketchupy sauces and overbaked cheese). We used to make minced beef and sausage pizzas all the time, especially since we couldn’t buy those (not halaal generally) but we lean towards veggie pizzas at home – it tastes better and allows you to really taste the sauce, cheese and crust. We’ve also experimented with lots of cheese-less pizzas (Dad is one of those unfathomable beings who does not like melted/cooked cheese. Seriously. ???), topping them with pesto/soy cheese combos (definitely no gooey there!) or just sauce and toppings, with varied success (and much frustration). At some point, Dad helpfully realised he didn’t hate pizza, in face he liked veggie pizzas, as long as it wasn’t too cheesy. Sigh. Now THAT we could work with.

I was home for Eid ul Adha (fortunately, it was celebrated on the 20th, which was a holiday in Guyana, so I went home from then to Boxing Day) and the house was filled with the 4 of us, parents, 1 sister-in-law, 2 newborns and a toddler. Joy 😀 So, the sorrel  was already being enjoyed, with more being bought and cleaned (since the brother was actually home during December, when it’s in season). Lasagna, lamb, turkey were all being planned and some executed. We knew we had to make pizza. And with my brother being a recent convert to the Alton Brown methodologies, we knew it was time to make pizza the Good Eats way. Lilandra had always wanted to try this, which involved making the pizza dough, letting it rise for 24 hours in the refrigerator, then baking it quickly at high heat. The problem with that in previous times, was the pre-planning element. You needed to know 24 hours in advance you wanted to make pizza, and not ketch a vaps at 4 pm and want to make pizza for dinner. Plus, pizza is always a production when you’re making for at least 6 people, half of whom need to have leftover pizza the next day for breakfast, even for lunch if possible. For once, we planned.

Good Eats Pizza Good Eats Pizza

Letting a yeast dough rise overnight in the fridge is not a concept created by Alton Brown. There are numerous bakers and breadmakers who have talked and written about  the virtues of taking it slow with yeast and dough, citing vastly superior results for crust and texture. While I have done quite a bit of reading in the past couple weeks on bread and yeast and treatment of dough, starting with Dan Lepard’s posts on The Guardian’s Word of Mouth food site, I am not in a mental position to explain any of it – there’s a reason I begged to drop Chemistry in Form 4! My forays into the baking world have been few and far-between and while I intend to work on that, because nothing beats having fresh bread, this post isn’t going to do that :-) Trinifood has declared her resolution to work on becoming a better baker for 2008 and she might share some more informed knowledge along the way. In the meantime, if you are not already a baker and want to know more, I suggest you start with this post from Mr Lepard. It’s really a question and answer segment, but he gives great tips, information and links.

But back to the pizza. Since it wasn’t an Alton Brown innovation, we did look at other recipes from reputable sources. But in the end, we decided that if we really wanted to accept Alton Brown’s wisdom, we needed to follow his recipe and then move forward from there. This is the recipe as taken from the Food Network website, complete with update:

Pizza Pizzas
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown
Show: Good Eats
Episode: Flat is Beautiful

2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt*
1 tablespoon pure olive oil
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups bread flour (for bread machines)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil
Olive oil, for the pizza crust
Flour, for dusting the pizza peel
 

Toppings:
1 1/2 ounces pizza sauce
1/2 teaspoon each chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, for example
A combination of 3 grated cheeses such as mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and provolone

* Place the sugar, salt, olive oil, water, 1 cup of flour, yeast, and remaining cup of flour into a standing mixer’s work bowl. Using the paddle attachment, start the mixer on low and mix until the dough just comes together, forming a ball. Lube the hook attachment with cooking spray. Attach the hook to the mixer and knead for 15 minutes on medium speed.

* Tear off a small piece of dough and flatten into a disc. Stretch the dough until thin. Hold it up to the light and look to see if the baker’s windowpane, or taut membrane, has formed. If the dough tears before it forms, knead the dough for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

* Roll the pizza dough into a smooth ball on the countertop. Place into a stainless steel or glass bowl. Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the bowl and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours.
Place the pizza stone or tile onto the bottom of a cold oven and turn the oven to its highest temperature, about 500 degrees F. If the oven has coils on the oven floor, place the tile onto the lowest rack of the oven. Split the pizza dough into 2 equal parts using a knife or a dough scraper. Flatten into a disk onto the countertop and then fold the dough into a ball.

* Wet hands barely with water and rub them onto the countertop to dampen the surface. Roll the dough on the surface until it tightens. Cover one ball with a tea towel and rest for 30 minutes.

* Repeat the steps with the other piece of dough. If not baking the remaining pizza immediately, spray the inside of a ziptop bag with cooking spray and place the dough ball into the bag. Refrigerate for up to 6 days.
Sprinkle the flour onto the peel and place the dough onto the peel. Using your hands, form a lip around the edges of the pizza. Stretch the dough into a round disc, rotating after each stretch. Toss the dough in the air if you dare. Shake the pizza on the peel to be sure that it will slide onto the pizza stone or tile. (Dress and bake the pizza immediately for a crisp crust or rest the dough for 30 minutes if you want a chewy texture.)

* Brush the rim of the pizza with olive oil. Spread the pizza sauce evenly onto the pizza. Sprinkle the herbs onto the pizza and top with the cheese.
Slide the pizza onto the tile and bake for 7 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. Rest for 3 minutes before slicing.

* This recipe’s been on the web for some time now and although most of the reactions have been darned positive, some of you have commented that the dough was way too salty. At first we chalked this up to personal preference; some folks are just not as sensitive as others to this basic flavor. And of course salty toppings would definitley change the dynamic. Still, we didn’t want to leave it at that. We went back to the lab and found that the flake size of kosher salt differs quite a bit from brand to brand. This could easily result in a too salty crust. So unless you’ve had success with the recipe in the past, we suggest you cut the salt by one teaspoon, from a tablespoon to two teaspoons. So that the yeast doesn’t go crazy, you should also cut back on the sugar by half a teaspoon. Thanks, AB

Now, of course, we don’t have a pizza peel, nor do we have a baking stone. Sigh. We thought about trying to buy at least the clay tile, but we were a bit busy. So, we didn’t completely follow his wisdom, but we did our best. If you haven’t seen the episode Flat is Beautiful, have a look at the transcript on the Good Eats Fan Page.

Findings:

The dough needed more flour in order to handle it properly, both before and after refrigeration. It might be my inexperience with handling a wetter looser dough, or that it’s really humid this time of year in the tropics.

I really need to practise the art of stretching out pizza dough… I think I actually WATCHED this episode, so I kinda knew vaguely, what movements I was supposed to do, but I couldn’t mimic them in practice. Hence 2 oval pizzas and one almost round one.

At 500 degrees, these bake QUICKLY. You better have an assembly line of ingredients and sauce and cheese to maximise the hot oven. At some point we were only managing one pizza at a time in the big oven. Not good for energy usage. We were somewhat hampered by the fact that the toddler wandered downstairs with her bear and needed to be kept busy and away from knives and graters. She got a ball of dough to make roti with and seemed happy enough, but you HAVE TO WATCH children in the kitchen, especially intensely curious-about-cooking ones who insist they need to see inside pots and ovens, even though they know about HOT and danger. Sigh.

This recipe makes about 3 medium sized, thin crust pizzas (not paper thin) – those are the 3 pictured on this page. We needed to supplement with a pizza dough from the Naparima Girls High School cookbook.

Good Eats Pizza - Golden CheeseThe crust was wonderful. Wonderful. A crust that has actual flavour, without adding anything to it. Who knew? Who knew that slow rise would result in flavour? I was just hoping for texture. Texture was great too – chewy, but crispy on the exposed parts. But the overall taste was just so good – you can see why there’s no need to overload a pizza with toppings or sauce. Making the 2nd Naps dough was good in retrospect for comparitive purposes, as while it was a decent crust, it had no taste to it apart from the toppings.

I have no pictures of cross-sections of the pizza for you to see the crust and the little holes and the texture. With 7 adults and 1 toddler, when we sat down to eat, by the time we looked around, there was no more Good Eats pizza left!

We made 1 plain cheese pizza – bottled Barilla sauce, with a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar cheeses – and 2 veggie with onions, tomatoes, pineapple and mushrooms. The plain cheese in my opinion, especially with an arabiatta sauce, was the very best.

As for Alton Brown, his not-quite-guru status (we tend to lean away from the notion) has been maintained in our household. We’ve done the burger, the chewy and the thin chocolate chip cookie, and the brining of the turkey (more about that later), Lilandra’s tried the french toast…which leads to the obvious question – which fundamental recipe do we need to try next?

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20 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Chennette, hats off to you for always writing such thorough posts that one learns from. This has been educational. Thank you.

    (Dad is one of those unfathomable beings who does not like melted/cooked cheese. Seriously. ???) – yes Seriously, I so get what he means. It is one of the reasons that I don’t like pizza, I always want a no-cheese pizza, I know, I know, don’t say it (lol)

    For my own kitchen experiements, I need to make pizza, I just need to plan to have people over to eat it because after a slice just to taste, I won’t be having any more.

    You should try making Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. Just google no-knead and you’ll come up with the recipe. I’ve made it several times and if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.

    Looking forward to all your baking excursions this year.

    1. Cynthia on January 7th, 2008 at 8:26 am
  2. Thanks Cynthia!
    And you are now the 3rd person I know with this aversion to melted cheese :-) My world is changing!
    Actually, a couple of the pesto pizzas we’ve made, without much or no cheese, have been pretty good.

    2. Chennette on January 7th, 2008 at 9:07 am
  3. Chennette, that was brilliant. You’ve both inspired me and made me very hungry at the same time, and it’s 8:30 in the morning. I’ve never made Alton’s pizza, probably because I never think that far ahead. But I agree that nothing beats homemade pizza.

    3. Mark on January 7th, 2008 at 9:39 am
  4. Thanks Mark – yeah the pre-planning element kept us back forever :-) While it will still be important to have a now-for-now pizza crust, we’ll definitely be using this one more often!
    When you do make it, keep in mind I wasn’t the only one to find it a sticky dough – http://karavshin.org/2007/03/25/pizza-an-occasional-quest/
    Hope you think far enough ahead one day soon 😀

    4. Chennette on January 7th, 2008 at 11:02 am
  5. the naps recipe just seemed so tasteless and bland in comparison
    *sigh*

    by the way
    I MADE BROWNIES!!!
    they actually came out pretty decently
    i just have to figure out what makes them chewier

    oh
    and now we have the cookbooks so i’m sure we’ll find *something* of Alton Brown’s to make.

    I’m not sure about the brownies tho. He lists eggs in his recipe but I can’t find it in the instructions anywhere. I must be blind or going crazy. Off to check an errata or something.

    Oh
    steak?

    5. Lilandra on January 8th, 2008 at 1:44 am
  6. i meant the butter not the eggs…

    6. Lilandra on January 8th, 2008 at 1:51 am
  7. Brownies!
    Pictures?
    Sending with big sis, or making again for month end? you know, to send with the boy?

    7. Chennette on January 8th, 2008 at 5:13 pm
  8. Sounds and looks fantastic.

    Pizza is its own food group, you know, and probably my favorite. 😉

    8. ewe_are_here on January 8th, 2008 at 5:33 pm
  9. ya mekkin me hungry now.

    on another note I always thought all sorrels were create equal. that was until I bought my Christmas sorrel at the Chinese supermarket this year. Here I was thinking dem import the sorrel from the Caribbean only to find out from a friend that sorrel plentiful plentiful in china and is used for tea.
    Anyway long story short I use the same exact recipe I always use and found out that this Chinese sorrel a lot weaker than our Caribbean version

    9. jdid on January 8th, 2008 at 5:57 pm
  10. Ewe – food group – essential food – all that 😀

    jdid – On the Wikipedia entry they comment about the quality of sorrel produced worldwide (I think from FAO info):
    “China and Thailand are the largest producers and control much of the world supply. Thailand invested heavily in roselle production and their product is of superior quality, whereas China’s product, with less stringent quality control practices, is less reliable and reputable.”
    So I guess that may be why it so weak.

    10. Chennette on January 8th, 2008 at 8:07 pm
  11. I tried a recipe for pizza dough I found on the net a few times and it called for a sprinkle of dill seeds but I think I lost that recipe. I am not too sure how much the dill affected the taste. The main problem I had in making consistent dough was using the same amount of flour and water every time.

    I never liked ketchupy sauce and I know some people like barbecue sauce on their pizza but I don’t. The best pizza I ever had was from Lou Melnati in Chicago (http://www.loumalnatis.com/) and I would share their recipe but i don’t have it yet :) I am going to give the chennette recipe a try.

    11. aka_lol on January 11th, 2008 at 3:35 pm
  12. That pizza looks so good. I would like a piece right now.

    12. Hélène on January 11th, 2008 at 10:59 pm
  13. Hi aka – yes, we do crave more complex tomato based, and pesto sauces now, long past the ketchup phase (if ever really there). Haven’t ever tried making a white sauce pizza though.
    The most interesting pizza I’ve eaten was at Antonio’s in Amherst, Massachussetts when Lilandra was studying there – pizza with tortilla chips and guacamole was delicious. You could get pizza with tortellini. Yum. If a bit high on the starch content.

    Hélène – hi and welcome! Yes, pizza-making is on the cards for this weekend for me too, as there’s no real pizza in Guyana.

    13. Chennette on January 12th, 2008 at 12:19 am
  14. the reason it’s supposed to sit in the fridge overnight is to develop the flavour and gluten without overworking the dough. lovely pizzas. i like them the way your dad does.

    14. bee on January 16th, 2008 at 10:51 am
  15. dear chennette, an error from statcounter shows after i post the comment. try posting a comment after deactivating it and see if you get the same error. also, do yo have google sitemap generator? deactivate that next and see if teh error goes away.

    15. bee on January 16th, 2008 at 10:53 am
  16. Thanks Bee. Statcounter announced a wordpress plugin. I activated it last night and then could not log in to my wordpress admin at all. I didn’t even see your comment until after I deleted the plugin from the server. I kept getting the same error when I tried to log in. Sigh. Maybe if I posted more regularly, I would be ontop of these administrative errors…

    16. Chennette on January 16th, 2008 at 11:48 am
  17. That pizza looks so yummy!!!! I would love a piece right about now.

    I also tried brining my turkey. It came out really REALLY good. I altered his recipe a little though, adding some Trini staples – shadon beni and green seasoning – you know the bundle they sell in the market that you grind up with pimentos and garlic?

    Everyone who tasted my turkey wanted to know how I got it to be o juicy. The meat was literally falling off the bone!!!

    Dee:)

    17. Dee on January 18th, 2008 at 12:46 pm
  18. Hi Dee -was hoping my sister was going to blog about the Great Turkey Brining, since I was stuck upstairs with a bizarrely-strained-knee when it was actually roasted. But we did consider doing the Trini green seasoning thing, but that is a story in itself worth blogging.

    Welcome by the way :-)

    18. Chennette on January 18th, 2008 at 4:39 pm
  19. Well I been busy.
    No computer.
    And nieces and nephew.

    19. Lilandra on January 21st, 2008 at 7:14 pm
  20. If y’all like Alton Brown’s pizza, you should try mine(http://www.aimlessmovie.com/pizza.html). For the most part, I haven’t “dumbed down” the process, but I have strayed slightly from my usual routine in a few places to make things a little easier for beginners.

    I experiment with pizza dough on a daily basis, so I could add many dozens of additional pizza pages (if I wasn’t so freakin’ lazy). For example: Lately I’ve been using a naturally leavened starter instead of yeast, so my recent dough consists only of flour, water, and salt. Nothing else. (Oh, and it’s real good.) Maybe I’ll get around to creating some new pages someday.

    Anyway, I hope someone finds my pizza page helpful.

    20. Ryan M. Powell on February 23rd, 2008 at 5:24 pm

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  1. […] doughs before – specifically, the best flavoured and textured pizza, which we* have tried – Alton Brown’s pizza recipe. His method requires planning a day in advance to get the full development of flavour, but it gives […]

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