Monday, January 13, 2014

UnRecipe: Tackling Pizza the Hut and Wishing the Schwartz Was With Me

We try to eat mindfully. We try to make good choices when it comes to meals. But sometimes you just have to say the hell with it all: I want deep dish, ooey-gooey pizza. I became literally possessed with the Pizza Demon, more specifically, Deep Dish Pizza Demon from the 9th Circle of Pizza Hell. I was dreaming of the stuff, and I can probably blame a lot of "Best of" food-related programming over the holidays pushing my food cravings into overdrive. Damn you, Food Paradise and Guy-freakin-Fieri. If you've never had deep dish pizza before, it's the masterful American Midwest bastardization of its Italian ancestor, trans-morphing the traditional thin, charred Neapolitan crust into a buttery, fried-dough-pie-crust-bowl, containing layers of sauce, cheese, meats, more cheese, more meats, and maybe some vegetables. God Bless America -- we don't do things half-heartedly, and definitely not when it comes to pizza.

Team America Deep  Dish Pizza - EFF YEAH - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I know we're in the throes of post-holiday diets bereft of gluten, fat, sugar, and basically anything fun. I'm definitely on a more mindful track of eating, after eating so mindlessly over a two-plus week period that was punctuated with holiday roasts, cookies, desserts and way too much time on one's hands, tempting you to make lots of naughty things like this.

But I think there's something to be said for food cravings -- if you want something badly enough, have it, and be done with it. But I also believe it should be an educational process -- if you can figure out how to make that crave-worthy item from scratch, you can not only create this item of desire in your own kitchen, but you can also make modifications, if you're wanting to customize it or try and make it a little lighter on the waistline. Unfortunately, there's no way of really lightening up a deep dish pizza -- if anything, learning about the process makes you realize why it's such a special occasion food, and not something to be eaten on a regular basis. Cooking at home becomes like taking fruit from the Tree of Knowledge -- a little bit of know-how goes a long way towards making you realize there's a terrifying amount of butter in stuff.

But, as we all know, butter makes it better, as I learned from the deep dish pizza experience. I took to the Internets to learn more about the crust, as that's truly the foundation of what makes deep dish pizza so extraordinary. When you have it done right, the crust is like fried dough, all buttery-crispy from the direct exposure to the skillet as it cooks in a hot oven. It needs to be thick enough to hold its pie-like shape when you cut slices, but thin enough to where you get that butter cracker crispness. That's a lot to ask of a dough. I read through multiple recipes and techniques, but the one that interested me the most was from one of my favorite baking blogs, Brown Eyed Baker -- she has a great recipe that uses the method of dough lamination, which is similar to what pastry makers do when making croissants. You paint the pizza dough with softened butter and fold the dough over, like folding paper; you're not kneading the butter, you're intentionally leaving the layers of butter when the dough is rolled out and placed into your pan for baking. Yes, it takes a scary amount of butter (Tree of Food Knowledge - SIN!), but you get a super-rich pizza pie crust that bakes off flaky and pastry-like.

Toppings overload - pan pizza madness - Photos by Wasabi Prime
If I was going to use a stick of butter just for laminating the dough, I was going to go all-out for this pizza. I seasoned and ground my own Italian pork sausage meatballs, picked out all my favorite pizza toppings like fresh mozzarella, green peppers, mushrooms and pepperoni. Seriously -- the works. I ended up going overboard: way too many toppings for even two deep dish pizzas. Whatever you think you want to put into a deep dish pizza, cut it by half, your intentions will always outweigh the depth and size of your cooking vessel.

I managed to come out with two deep dish pizzas, baking a super high-walled pizza using a springform pan, and then a less insane-sized one using a glass pie dish. It was like roasting a turkey -- I had to cover the pies with aluminum foil as they baked, as the tops will of course brown faster than the time it takes to fully cook these thick pizza pies all the way through. For a first attempt, it most certainly less than perfect, but you still wind up with a delicious pile of food composed of all your favorite ingredients. Just maybe not the most picture-perfect photo for a food blog. If anything, it made me think of the 1980s Mel Brooks Star Wars spoof, Spaceballs -- Pizza the Hut, anyone?

A bit of a hot Pizza the Hut mess, but there will be a deep dish pizza sequel, I promise! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
But this is no Food Failure, by any means -- I consider this make-at-home food craving a work in progress. I'm totally psyched to tackle this pizza beast again. But maybe after this last one has a chance to digest and the calorie count doesn't feel like a fresh wound. So until then, I'll be content with rewatching Spaceballs. May the Schwartz Be With You.

1 comment:

Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)