Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Pizza!

Growing up in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, N.Y., I was surrounded by Italians and, consequently, excellent pizza. Outside New York City, pizza wasn't always so good, but with this Daring Bakers challenge I've learned to make a darned good one in my oven! True, Joe the Residential Pizza Maker had made this exact one many times before, but I'd always been a spectator and consumer, never the maker. This time, I watched and learned and tossed dough.

When it comes to pizza, I'm a less-is-more gal. Friends who know me as a meat lover may find it strange that I don't like meat on my pizza, but chicken or beef weighs it down. And I sure don't want servings of baked ziti on top, and I prefer the traditional sauce-and-mozzarella version. I like a topping of tomato slices with fresh basil, or my other favorite, which I made here -- Roasted Eggplant & Caramelized Onions. You may say you don't like eggplant (eggplant parmigiana seems to be everyone's exception), and I used to say that, too. But try eggplant roasted, slightly caramelized and well done, and it's nothing like that spongy, underdone stuff that restaurants sometimes serve up.

I roast a skinny Chinese eggplant (peeled, sliced, and tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper) in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes. I also caramelize some onions in a saute pan with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper until they're translucent and slightly brown at the edges. Toss them on top of your pizza before it goes into the oven.

From Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter)
4½ cups (20¼ ounces/607.5 g) unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all-purpose flour, chilled
1¾ tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
¼ cup (2 ounces/60g) olive oil (Optional, but it’s better with)
1¾ cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 tbs sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2. Add the oil, sugar, and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.
NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.
3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.
4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).
NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.
5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.
6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.
NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.
8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly two hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about ½ inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F).
10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/ in diameter for a 6 ounce piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.
13. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for 5-8 minutes.
14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.


  1. That looks like a delicious pizza!
    I live in Bensonhust...
    Shirley, when's lunch?

  2. Your pizza sounds great, and looks delicious! Well done!

  3. I agree that meat weighs a pizza down. I love the idea of roasted eggplant and caramelized onions. I can imagine a lovely rich flavour with that combo!

    Tossing the dough is fun, isn't it?

  4. Never thought of eggplant on pizza, though I have to say it looks good here.


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