Monday, March 31, 2014

UnRecipe: There is Method to My Pizza Madness

Pizza seems like one of the simplest things to make, and yet it's always something we go out to have, or get delivered to our homes. Why is that?! I feel like it's a bit to do with the crust, and how most home ovens just don't have the Hulk Smash Strength to get to the blazing hot temperatures of a professional pizza oven. So what can we do to give our home ovens a boost? A pizza stone is handy, but what if you don't have one? My new pizza crust-making partner in crime is the silicone mat, aka SilPat. 

Silicone isn't just for fake boobs - it's great for pizza-making! - Photo by  Wasabi Prime

I can only speak for my personal pizza crust preferences: thin, crispy, with a little char. My preferred pizza crust falls between the Neapolitan and classic New York-style crust, which is to say, not doughy and with a crispy bite. To be brutally honest, I don't even like the crust that much, I put toppings as far to the edge as possible, because I consider bare dough wasted space on a pizza. A pizza isn't reaching its full potential unless it's as covered with as much toppings as possible. It needs to be goal-oriented, and that goal is, quite simply, Toppings. Clearly, I have strong opinions over pizza.

Pizza is like the Western answer to Asia's fried rice -- a great way to get rid of leftovers. You don't need a whole lot of anything to make a pizza, just a handful of this, a sprinkle of that. I still have odd holiday leftovers languishing in the freezer, specifically, leftover holiday ham. I'm  happy to mix the meaty slices into breakfast frittatas, but the flavorful bits of skin and fatty parts are full of flavor and you hate to let that go to waste. I chopped all those bits up and made a Hawaiian Pizza. Yes, yes, the one with the pineapple. I still don't know how the "Hawaiian Pizza" came to be, short of the narrow-minded view of what people eat in Hawaii. But, meh... What-ever, the combination took hold in the junk food collective of America, and it's what we call the ham/pineapple pizza now. Despite disliking the name, I like the flavor combination of sweet and savory, and it was an easy last-minute meal to make.

Easy-cheesy Hawaiian pizza at home- Photos by Wasabi Prime
The only challenge with making pizza from scratch at home, is getting the crust juuuuuust-right. I wanted a thin, crispy crust, which can be tricky when the Power of Gluten wants to curl the dough back up into a ball, even after a good, long proof or two. I know you can successfully stretch dough by throwing it, but I do not possess this skill. The solution was to use the silicone baking mats, which give the raw dough something to stick to, allowing you to stretch the dough into whatever thickness you want, and it's easily removed from the mats after its time in a super hot oven.

I only have jelly roll pans so I flip them upside-down, so there's a totally flat surface area to place the silicone mats, and then I stretch the dough over the mat. These pizzas used a whole wheat dough, so they were more like a cracker crust. I was out of regular flour at the time, no biggie. The next key bit of info is to jack up the heat of the oven. I know most store-bought doughs will say to cook the pizzas at 400-420 degrees Fahrenheit, but I push it as high as 500. Mostly because I know my oven probably isn't cooking at 500 F, and that super-hot temperature is what you need to get that perfect combination of crispy dough char and melty toppings in a relatively short time. If you think about the temperatures of proper pizza ovens, they run even hotter than that, and the pizzas are baked within a handful of minutes. A home oven won't get that intense, but learning to not be shy about cranking up the dial was a big plus for pizza-making at home. Just watch it like a hawk -- it'll be done a lot faster than you think.

Consider this post a Pizza Hack. A way to enjoy a favorite food in the comfort of home, using whatever dough recipe you like, and getting a satisfying crust texture from the oven, since that's half the battle of making your own pizzas. There's nothing worse than making a pizza totally from scratch and baking it under the wrong conditions, resulting in a soggy, lackluster crust. NEVER AGAIN! Use that silicone mat for something else other than holiday baking, crank up the oven with no fear, and don't forget to share a slice with a special someone. Even if she's fuzzy and probably shouldn't have any. Oh, Indy...

"Please... please... give me pizza," says Indy (Of course I did) - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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