Making pizza has been a bit of an obsession between we sisters. Twenty years ago, while Juliette and I and her son were living together in a new apartment complex in suburban Phoenix, we made pizza for the first time shaping the homemade dough on a perforated pan and baking the sausage and vegetable pie in an electric oven. I made the yeasted dough in a food processor using a recipe from Abby Mandel's Cuisinart Classroom (Cuisinart Cooking Club 1980) and prepared a cooked tomato pizza sauce from "The New Basics Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing 1989). Much has changed since then, but what has stayed the same is cooking pizza at home is a rewarding and fun experience.
You can probably tell where this story is going... it wasn't long before we began experimenting with sourdough pizza. I'd usually just add sourdough to my regular yeasted dough for extra flavor. It was Juliette who made the jump to cold fermentation - a long, slow rise in the refrigerator - for an extra tasty dough. She also happened to stumble across Jeff Varasano's website that introduced her to a process called autolyse (rhymes with analyze.) The way Jeff lays everything out is somewhat confusing, but all the information is there and explained in detail - just Google his name to find his site. The good news is that the autolyse technique works wonders with both yeasted and naturally leavened doughs and works just as well for pizza as it does for French bread.
After further investigation, we discovered that the autolyse technique was developed by the late chemist and baker, Raymond Calvel who was a mentor to Julia Child. The method is used by bakers to make better bread with less work. It couldn't be simpler. Vigorously mix a portion of the flour and water together, and then let the mixture rest giving the flour time to absorb the water. The result is the dough develops long strands of gluten and is more pliable. The dough requires less flour creating a wetter dough that is beneficial for baking pizza in an incredibly hot environment whether it is in an oven or on a grill.
|Light, but chewy crust, with big air pockets and it crunches when cut. Take a big bite, it's delicious!|
Juliette continued on with developing her own incredible sourdough recipe that took a year and a half of diligent testing to perfect. She is now a pizzaoili in Bisbee, Arizona and cooks and bakes professionally for a living. We on the other hand, may wake up late on a Saturday and want pizza for an early dinner. If you are a patient person, the following recipe can also undergo a 24-hour rise in the refrigerator to maximize flavor. The choice is yours. Ready, set, go, let's cook pizza.
Freshly Made Thin Crust Pizza Dough
This recipe was adapted from "Trattoria Grappolo" by Leonardo Curti and James O. Fraioli (Gibbs Smith, 2007). The lively bistro is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, our former home, nestled in the central coast of California, directly over the hills from Santa Barbara. "The Valley", as we refer to it, was brought to larger national attention by the film "Sideways". If you find yourself playing tourist in the area, walking through the windmill dotted village of Solvang, or wine tasting in the surrounding vineyards, seek out Trattoria Grappola for a meal. Chef Curti's Italian creations will surely make you swoon like us. The food is simply superb.
1-1/2 cups warm water about 115°F
1 pound + 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour, divided - King Arthur®, preferred
1/2 cup warm water about 115°F
1 package dry active yeast
1 pinch granulated sugar
2 Tbsps olive oil
2 tsps sea salt
Semolina flour for dusting
|A bread baking technique called autolyse is the key step in successfully making pizza dough.|
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, add 1-1/2 cups warm water and 1/2 pound flour; mix vigorously for 3 minutes on medium speed. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
2. In a measuring cup, with 1/2 cup water and a pinch of sugar, proof yeast until foamy and fully activated, about 15 minutes.
3. Add the yeast mixture, the olive oil and 1/2 pound flour. Mix vigorously for 3-5 minutes on medium speed until well combined. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
|A second autolyse period includes the addition of activated yeast.|
|The dough will be sticky, which is a very good thing.|
|Transfer the "sticky" dough to a floured, flat surface.|
|Knead for 2 to 3 minutes until a smooth, springy dough forms.|
|The dough will come together into a smooth ball.|
|Let the dough rise in a covered bowl, gently deflated with a folding motion, then divide dough.|
|Swirl together all-purpose or Mochiko sweet rice flour and fine corn meal on a pizza peel.|
|Stretch dough and then place on floured pizza peel; lightly brush olive oil to avoid a soggy crust.|
10. To grill the pizza: Using the peel, immediately transfer the prepared pizza to the Pizza Que stone with a quick jerk (or two) of your arm and quickly close the lid. Check progress after about five minutes. Using a spatula, rotate the pizza to ensure even cooking. Cook until crust is golden brown, perhaps showing some leoparding, and the top is cooked. Turn again with the spatula, if necessary. With the assistance of a spatula, slide the cooked pie onto a perforated pizza pan. Cut slices and serve along side your favorite salad. Remember to offer chili flakes for extra seasoning. Buon Appetito!
Yield: Three 12-inch Pizzas