10 January 2009

Perfecting pizza (a needlessly long dissertation)

Our family loves to eat pizza. I love the cheese and bread. Dennis loves the cheese and tomato sauce. Annalivia and Daniel love the cheese. It's always a meal all of us will like and eat.
One of the things we really miss about northwestern Illinois is the plethora of really amazing pizza places. The pizza up there is all very similar, made on a sweet crust with plenty of cheese that is cooked at a very high temperature until the cheese sort of carmelizes. I had never had it anywhere else before I moved there. And it is amazing.
Around here, we have a few pizza places we like, but nothing stands out in a big way. We've tried pizza at the local popular restaurants and...eh. It's ok, but not great.
We have also tried to find decent frozen pizzas, but frozen pizza can be expensive and the cheap stuff is not good, usually. And I have an issue with sausage on frozen pizzas-- I hate it when sausage tastes sweet or has nutmeg in it and sooooo many of them have really icky sausage on them. What is with that?
ANYWAY -- the answer has been to make our own pizza. And I think we have finally perfected the procedure. We've found that when it comes to speed, nothing beats a pepperoni pizza. So we've been eating it a lot lately which is odd because we never, ever order pepperoni at a pizza place. But it's really easy to open a bag of pepperoni rather than brown a pan of sausage or cut up a bunch of veggies. A lot less cleanup, too. And we've found out that our local store brand of pepperoni is just as good as the brand name and 80 cents cheaper, so we're happy.
We also speed things up by using canned or bottled sauce. We think the generic or store brand of "homestyle" pizza sauce that doesn't have corn syrup in it is good and we also like regular canned tomato sauce found in amidst the tomato products. When we use that, we add Italian seasoning and a little garlic powder to it.
The crust that we've settled on, right now, is white flour. In the past we've used completely whole wheat in the crust recipe and it was good, but not totally delicious like this one. I anticipate that soon we will be working the whole wheat flour back in, but we all really, really like the crust recipe we use now. If you're interested, it's 3 cups of Bob's Red Mill Unbleached Flour (other flours just don't seem to taste as good), 1 1/4 cup water, 1 T yeast, 2 T sugar (or honey, but sugar is sweeter, which is what we were going for), 3 T olive oil, 2 t salt. I put it in the KitchenAid mixer and let it knead, then put it in a bowl with about 1 T olive oil spread around it, cover it with a wet towel and set it on the warming oven. It is ready to be punched down in about 30 minutes and we only let it have one rise. It makes a fairly thick, chewy crust -- I think it could even make two thin crust pizzas, but we'll probably never find out because we like it this way.
I make the crust and after it is in the bowl rising, Dennis does the rest. He worked for Domino's back in the day, after all, and he makes a great pizza. I always put too much or too little sauce on or too much cheese or something. He always gets it right.
The other two things we've discovered is that the right pan makes a difference and the right oven temp is crucial. For a while we used a pizza stone, but ours cracked and then the one we got to replace it made everything taste funky. So we bought two pizza pans and the one that makes the best crust has holes in it. Dennis works the dough on the countertop in some sort of semi-pro way and then puts it on the pan, tops it and then sticks it in a 400 degree oven. The crust ends up crunchy and chewy and delicious, the cheese browned. It's great.
Now that we've got the process in hand, I think we're going to branch back out with different toppings. My favorite is sausage with fresh onion, green pepper and mushrooms. Dennis likes the same with pepperoni on top. And I remember being a big fan of ground beef on pizza when I was little. We'll have to see.
We may have to try it again tomorrow night! :)


Anonymous said...

I like your crust recipe, but using a KitchenAid to knead is a bit of a cop-out, isn't ?

April said...

Back in the day, before an auto accident that left me with a ulnar bone shattered in 17 pieces and a subsequent bone graft that left me with permanent nerve damage to my leg and the continued non-union of the ulnar bone, which supposedly cannot take direct stress over 5 lbs, I used to knead bread. I was pretty good at it. That was then.

marlo said...

Sounds great. Um, any chance you could dull your background to gray or something. Reading your blog makes me blind for like 10 minutes afterwards. Oh the contrast!! Just a thought...have mercy!

Cara said...

I use a KitchenAid too, and even did pre-kidlets, so can't blame it on anything other than my laziness. Sugar or honey... That's what's in the 'pizza place' pizza that I like so much. I love Papa John's, but am not overly impressed with my own. Going to add honey to my dough next time and see if that does it, and check the thrift stores for a holy pizza pan ;o) We like a little tobasco or tapatio (butchered those names- hot sauce) in the tomato sauce too. Tuesdays and Fridays are pizza days over here :)

Cara (with a needlessly long comment on your dissertation)

This Heavenly Life said...

Hi there! Jill in Missouri sent me here, and I've been enjoying your blog.

I had a quick question about pizza making. We love to make homemade pizza's but I can't seem to get it right. I have a great dough recipe that's half wheat/half white flour, but I'll try making it sweeter next time, after reading this. My problem is...I don't know in what order to layer the toppings! Lame! We hardly ever order pizza, so I can't look at one and see the order of toppings. If all the cheese is on the sauce, then the veggies on top get burned, but if I hide them under the cheese, they end up undercooked...too crunchy. In my opinion.

So...sorry for the lame question! But since you have a semi-pro pizza maker living with you, I thought I'd ask anyway. Thanks!

April said...

Thank y'all for commenting.

Cara, you make me laugh. Thanks.

Heavenly, thanks for decloaking! I asked Dennis and he said that they always put the ingredients on in this order -- sauce, cheese, meat, and veggies. But, if a pizza had a lot of veggies, while they still put them on top of the cheese, they also put a very thin layer of cheese on top of that. Of course, if y'all aren't big cheese fans, that might not help. Let me know if you try it and it works, though!

This Heavenly Life said...

If we are nothing else...we ARE cheese fans. Thanks for the tips!