Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Now on to Pizza

by Wesley Hatch Co-op Produce Clerk
Click here to read Part 1.

Pizza: in my mind the word conjures bubbling cheese and… Oh just shut up and tell how to make a sourdough pizza already.
First, you need to make “the proof,” which gives your pizza dough its flavor.
1 cup sourdough leaven culture
2 cups flour
1 cup warm water
In much the same way we fed the leaven, we will create a larger mixture with — you guessed it — equal parts flour and water. This mixture, called, according to Ed Wood, a proof, or a poolish, is where much of the flavor of the final dough will be derived. Although varying times of fermentation are offered across the sourdough world, it is safe to assume that any time beyond 5 hours is probably enough time for the flavor to form and to begin fermenting.
Mix the ingredients and leave the proof covered with cloth for five to 12 hours. You’ll only need 2 cups of the final proof for your pizza recipe; you can use the remainder for something else or compost it.
Now, to make your pizza dough...
2 cups of your proof
1 to 2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups of flour
Cornmeal or semolina
Combine 2 cups of the proof in a new, large container with salt, oil, and warm water. Mix thoroughly.
Now, one cup at a time, add the flour to the main mixture. Try to incorporate as much of the flour into the liquid as possible, scrapping down the sides as you go. By the second cup, your dough should begin to take shape: lumpy mess of flour. In my experience, whenever I add all the suggested flour, the final dough is too dry. Therefore, try adding the last cup a bit at time to ensure a moist dough.
After the dough has formed and you’ve added all the flour the dough needs, sprinkle some flour onto a cutting board or countertop.

Use 1/4 cup of flour measured out so that you do not keep going back for more four as you knead the dough. Knead the dough on the flour-covered surface by pressing down firmly with the palm of your hand, folding the dough onto itself, and pressing down again, turning the folds so the dough is kneaded evenly (check out videos online for kneading tips. Youtube has plenty).
Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, soft to the touch, anywhere from three to ten minutes depending on the hardiness of your flour. Place the dough in a clean bowl with enough space for it to double as it rises. Cover with moist cloth, leave in warm area, and wait for the dough to rise. This may take quite a few hours.
After the rise, some people like to deflate the dough and allow to rise for a few more hours, but I find in the early dough's I make with a fresh leaven, the yeast is not powerful enough to rise the dough a second time.
Place the dough on the cutting board or countertop, cut into 3 to 4 equal pieces, and set aside all but 1 piece.
No matter what your dough looks like or rises like, if it’s somewhat flat and covered in tasty bits, mostly it’ll taste good. Hope for solid dough all the way through and people will be happy to eat your pizza.
(Here I must confess, I most often use frozen dough. As you’ve seen so far, sourdough is a lengthy process that is not perfectly attuned to a busy life. Therefore, I compensate by creating large batches of dough at once and freezing them for later use. This provides two benefits: first, convenience to have tasty sourdoughs whenever my hand dares reach into the cold confines of the freezer. Second, to provide a chance for the dough to fully form. Call me crazy, but I have found time and time again that the unthawed dough I use for my pizza to be more whole, to be bounded together tighter than the dough I use fresh. I remain strong by my words: freezing the dough is more convenient, less wasteful, and lends solidification to my otherwise amateur dough. But onward, bakers!)
Gather all your pizza toppings together, pre-heat your oven and your baking stone to 450, and roll out the dough. With the dough on a floured surface, begin flattening the dough from the center, making sure you distribute evenly. Use a rolling pin to flatten further. If you’re chancy, try tossing the dough in the air in a circular motion to help flatten it out. Shape to desired thickness, keeping in mind the rising of the dough will change increase the thickness.

If you don’t have a baking stone, any flat pan big enough to hold the pizza will do, though it is not necessary to preheat other pans. When you are ready to assemble your pizza, dust the pan with cornmeal or semolina to keep the dough from sticking. Many recipes call for a pre-cook of the dough before the toppings are added. Although I did not do this, it would have been a good idea as my dough was slightly undercooked. If using fresh mozzarella, which tends to be much wetter, a pre-cook for the dough can help ensure against a soggy middle.
Assemble your pizza. Cook until the cheese begins to brown and bubble, the crust becomes crispy, and the bottom is browned.
Carefully take out of the oven, meanwhile taking in all those enticing smells. Let cool for five to seven minutes, resisting the urge to gobble it up, thereby allowing the pizza to rest.
Cut it up and share with someone you love.

And there you have it, a fully formed ready to eat pizza, risen by yeast you invited to your home and feed and kept comfortable until you called upon them to do you a service. The world is a mysterious place, indeed.
Now to the philosophizing: I say at this point in time, pizza is a near universal concept, like books and cars. I mean pizza’s been round, in one form or another, since the Neolithic age. In human years, that’s a ways back, like, imagine the not-yellow, Greek Homer sitting on a break from reciting war at the Gates of Troy eating a slice covered in melted sheep’s cheese given by a passing shepherd and olives and olive oil drizzled over the top baked under a starry night, the same stars we see now. Pizza’s been there for us, through thick and thin these meals of ours, these moments of departure from the daily grind. And what more ancient way to enjoy pizza than with yeast invited from the air around us, baked with as many local products as possible, and shared with friends and family? I’d say pizza’s about as human as it gets.
Thanks for reading, and happy eating friends.

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