Food is Love, Love is Food.

A blog devoted to the connection between meals, memories and the special moments in our lives.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Lots of Reasons to Love: Pizza Dough

There are a lot of reasons I love my husband.  He is one of the most intelligent and curious people I know.  He has a wicked sense of humor, keeping the rest of us laughing much of the time.  He is the sweetest, and most loving father I could ever imagine, staying far more calm than I as our daughters enter the teenage years.  He is fiercely loyal, and loves to cook.  In addition, he is persistent to a fault, rarely getting frustrated at the many jobs there are to do around the house.  He is an amazing partner and friend.  His many wonderful qualities, however, have made my Michael a man who loves a good household project.  Over the years, we have relandscaped, built a stamped concrete walkway, knocked down interior walls, built closets, painted, gutted and retiled a bathroom.  I am just the cheap labor; I often cannot see the forest for the trees, as they say, and Michael is the one with the vision, the knowledge and skills to carry out the plan.  It is one of the few times that I just do what I am told. 

A few years ago, we ripped out a brick patio in our backyard to prepare for a large deck.  Michael is not one to discard any useful things, so we stacked the bricks in a large neat pile in the side of our yard, knowing that down the line, we would find some way to use them.  A friend casually said to Michael, "If you just pulled a few of the bricks out of the center, you'd have a brick oven to make pizza."  An obsession was born!   From that point on, Michael spent all his free time researching, planning, drawing, and getting ready to build the brick wood-burning pizza oven that now stands in our backyard.  To be fair, we had been talking about the fact that there is no good pizza to be had in the town in which we live.  But still, there were people who called us crazy.  Sometimes it was me.

We dug, poured a cement base, spent the Spring of 2007 building the structure of the oven out of cinder block, then I channeled the spirit of my grandfather, who was a bricklayer when he first came to the U.S. from Italy, and mastered the fine art of bricklaying.  We spent that summer sweating in the backyard laying brick over the cinder block structure, then building the barrel arch from firebrick.  While I would not want to build another pizza oven, I will say that working on such a project together was a rewarding experience.  Our kids would swim several yards away in the pool while we worked, so the hours we spent working, we also spent talking.  There was nowhere we could go, and nothing else to do but sing along to the music playing on our ipod and talk.  So although I ended that summer far more exhausted than I started out, we finally got some good pizza. 

Making pizza in this manner is a project in itself.  The fire needs to be built in the oven three hours before the pizza is made, because the mass of the oven needs to absorb the heat from the fire until it is saturated and can reflect the heat back to cook the pizza.  It is perfect for a lovely late summer or early fall evening with friends and a few bottles of red wine. 

This dough is very versatile.  It makes a great calzone, good bread, and works very well in a traditional oven jacked up to the highest temperature.  Let the oven preheat for at least 30 minutes, and if you are using a pizza stone, make sure it is in the oven while preheating.

Pizza Dough (adapted from Alton Brown)

1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus more to coat the dough while rising
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups bread flour
1 tsp. active dry yeast

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the water, sugar and salt.  Mix well until the sugar and salt are dissolved, and then taste to see if it is balanced.  This is essentially what your pizza dough will taste like, so if it is bland, add some sugar or salt.  Add the yeast, stir and let sit for a couple of minutes for the yeast to activate.  Add the flour, then using the dough hook, start the mixer on low, as the flour and liquid become incorporated.  Add more flour if necessary to form a sticky but smooth dough.  Knead the dough (continuing to use the stand mixer and the dough hook) for 15 minutes  Alternately, the dough can be mixed and kneaded by hand.  Cut the dough in half, and roll each half into a ball.  Coat each piece of dough with olive oil and place in a large bowl covered with a clean damp dishtowel.  Place in a warm place to rise.  Dough can be made a day in advance and left in the refrigerator. 

When the dough has risen, stretch by hand into a medium sized circle.  Top with your favorite pizza toppings, and bake on a pizza stone at the highest temperature your oven will reach.  When the cheese on top is golden brown, and the crust is crisp and browned, pull the pizza out with a pizza peel.  Slice and enjoy!

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