Here is how I was taught to make a pepperoni pizza

This has nothing to do with the Salish Sea, but a friend taught me how to make an outstanding pizza. It took some practice, but the result is worth the effort. Click Continue for the details (recipe).

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The first day of making this pizza is easy and fast. For real bakers, my long description might be a bit tedious, but I learned how to do this because my mentor was willing to show me everything. I am adding this to the blog so that members of the family who are no longer living at home will know how to make it.

The pizza is worth the trouble. It has become the standard by which my family – including teens – judge all other pizzas. The philosophy is that the perfect pizza has, as its foundation, an Italian flat bread to-die-for. Those of us who have experienced this pizza think that North Americans have been tricked into believing that a pizza is about toppings. So they tolerate a cardboard crust to eat the ‘gourmet’ toppings. You can tell that it is an inferior crust when diners leave the rim of the pizza on their plate. No one will do that with this pizza!

The special tools you will need are a pizza stone and a pizza peel. My peel is 14 inches wide, and the stone is 16 inches in diameter. This recipe will make 2 medium pizzas.

Begin with 1 teaspoon of dry yeast in 1/4 cup of tepid water. Add a pinch of sugar to feed the yeast as it wakes up. Some folks say don’t stir the yeast, but I want to get its attention, so I stir once. This is going to take 5 or 10 minutes to activate, so I do this first and then prepare my kitchen.

Next: some flour, salt and olive oil. And a clean working surface. I really like my 2-1/2 quart Pyrex bowl for starting the pizza dough. I use Canadian all-purpose flour. If you are in the USA, you might find you have better success with bread flour. Sometimes I make the pizza with 1 cup of whole-wheat flour. I like the flavour and texture of the whole wheat, but it has mixed reviews in my family. The pizza illustrated here has only all purpose unbleached white flour.

Measure 4 cups of flour into the bowl. And at least 1 teaspoon of salt. I like salt, so I am very generous. My mentor points out that salt is not good for the yeast; but I make a salty dough, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

You will likely need to add a bit more flour later, so measuring carefully is not necessary. You may even be a bit generous. I use my hands or a big rubber scraper to form a cavity in the center of the flour.

Now there is nothing to do until that yeast and water looks like pond scum. I’ve probably waited longer than I need to in the picture.

Carefully measure 1-1/2 cups of cold spring water (we have our own well, tap water will work okay). I dump the yeast mixture into the flour’s cavity, and then use the measured fresh water to rinse the rest of the yeast out of the measuring cup and into the cavity. To that liquid in the middle of the flour add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Don’t be too careful. Olive oil is good so it is okay if you add a bit too much.

Using the scraper, I begin to add the flour to the liquid in the cavity.

There is no need to mix well, just mix it enough so that there is no longer any wet runny material. When it is like this, I am ready to turn it out onto my work surface. It is okay if there is still some dry flour.

On the work surface, I use a counter scraper in my right hand to scrape towards the ball of dough to bring in any loose flour and dough, and I use my left hand to try to press it together and push it against the counter. I am trying to draw it into a ball that is dry enough so that it does not stick to me or the counter, but is still damp, soft, and tacky. It is much easier to add flour than add water; so at this point more flour is usually required. Here, on Canada’s west coast, we live in a rain forest. Even on dry days, there is some humidity. This means that there is lots of water that has already been absorbed by the dry flour in my kitchen. Since there is water already in there, more flour has to be added. When I have formed a ball of dough, and I find that it is really sticky, I’ll add more flour. For me, it helps to use that scraper to scoop the flour onto the ball of dough, and then cut down through the dough to help the new flour find a damper inside surface. I’ll actually chop the ball several times, and then use the other hand to push and mix. Eventually the ball becomes dry enough to knead. Now I don’t need my scraper, and I can use both hands to knead.

When I reach this point, I glance at the clock, and then knead for 5 minutes. Kneading means pushing the dough with the heels of my hands, rotating it 1/4 of a turn, folding it and pushing again. I am told that pushing the ball stretches the gluten in the part of the dough under my fingertips, and the folding thoroughly mixes the material. There is some suggestion that this process may help bring air into the dough.

My mentor says that it further helps with the development of the gluten to pick the dough up and slam it down on the counter several times during the kneading. I usually grab one side of the dough making that into a sort of handle. This allows me to apply much more force to the other end of the dough as it smacks the counter. If you do this, be careful not to follow through so that your fingers strike the counter too. I quickly turn it 180 degrees and do it again. This violence usually startles anyone in the room (or in the neighbourhood) who is not paying attention.

At the end of the 5 minutes of kneading, the ball of dough should be homogeneous and a bit springy if poked. I clean the bowl with warm water (so the bowl is not cold), and put a dollop of olive oil in it. Then I use the ball of dough to smear the oil on the sides of bowl, and turn the ball over so that the dough is oiled too. I tear off 2 squares of plastic kitchen wrap and put one on the dough and then another to cover the bowl. I am careful with the plastic because I will use those same squares later in the process.

Keep it in a warm room for about an hour, or less if you see it begin to rise. Then the bowl of dough goes into the refrigerator. There, it will rise slowly for at least a day. This process of retarding the dough in the refrigerator results in a magical transformation of taste and texture in the crust. This step is a requirement for making an outstanding pizza. There is no way to rush this. If you are in a hurry to eat, go to a restaurant or just make a grilled cheese sandwich. We are talking about the difference between a cardboard crust, and a pizza to-die-for.

The work for Day One is complete. If you include the cleanup, the whole process takes about 30 minutes. So, it is a nice break from the work at my desk.

To be honest, you can make this pizza after the dough has rested for 12 hours in the fridge, but it will be much better the following day. It will be even better if it can sit in the fridge for 2 or even 3 days. The pizza illustrated here stayed in the fridge for 2 days.

Four or five hours before you bake the pizza, take the dough out of the fridge. It will have risen. Form it into a new ball. This will pop bubbles and make it small again. Handle the dough, but don’t knead it. Now put it into a warm bowl in a warm room and cover again. After a full hour you should see it rising again. Now that it is warm and active, it is time to separate it into the loaves that will become the 2 medium size pizzas.

I weigh the dough so that the 2 balls are equal, but that is not really necessary.

Take each piece of dough and form it into a ball, popping bubbles but no kneading. Then flatten the balls into circular loaves or disks on the counter. You are actually beginning the formation of the pies.

And flour a couple of dinner plates.

The pizza rounds go on the plates. The rounds might be flattened a bit more. Since this is the beginning of shaping the pizzas, I try to keep these loaves circular. Using those 2 pieces of plastic wrap, be sure that they are oiled (olive oil), gently cover the rounds.

Put the plates and the rounds in a warm place. They must rise for at least an additional 2 hours. Longer is okay. Now the dough becomes very relaxed, soft and wonderfully light. At least one full hour before you bake, put your stone in the bottom 1/3 of the oven and turn the oven on to its highest setting. Hopefully it will be above 500 degrees F. It does not matter what the oven temperature indicates, that stone will take an hour to heat. Here is the dough, finally ready to become a pizza.

For cheese, use mainly mozzarella plus some Edam. The quality of the cheese makes a big difference in the pizza, and you will have to experiment with whatever is sold locally. I usually toss my cheese mixture with some grated Parmesan to add a bit of taste and to keep the shredded pieces from sticking to each other. This is when you prepare any of the other toppings. You will want them ready and at hand when you dress the pizza.

Time to make pizza. Flour the pizza peel and your workspace on the counter. Begin to form a pizza with one of the rounds on the floured counter. Poke it rapidly with your fingertips, beginning at the centre and working towards the rim. Toss if you must – but I find this dough too soft to control in the air. Try to make the pizza crust fairly even and flat on the bottom. You will want to leave a small rim, but make it very small because it will rise during the baking. There is no hurry here. So form the pie carefully on the counter.

When the dough is a round pie, gently work your hands under the dough and lift it with the backs of your hands onto the peel. At this point you can shape the pizza a bit to make it more circular – if you care. There is a disaster waiting to happen here: the dough might stick to the peel. There are a few things you can do to mitigate this horror. Have enough flour on the peel. (Flour, not cornmeal! Cornmeal will burn at pizza-cooking temperatures.) Use a wooden peel, not aluminum. An aluminum peel is okay for removing the pizza from the oven, but raw dough likes to stick to the metal. As you assemble the pizza, it is a good idea to pick up the peel and jiggle it to see that the pizza is floating. Be sure to do this before you and the pizza are inside that blistering hot oven! If it does stick, I am told that it can be separated with a length of dental floss. Your best defense against sticking is to work fast. So be rehearsed, and don’t let your friends distract you during this crucial operation.

The first step in dressing the pizza is to pour on some olive oil and paint the entire surface.

This will be a pepperoni pizza, and the base to that is Italian sauce. In a future thread we can explore making sauce. If needed, some commercial sauce will do. Not too much sauce! Use your spoon to smear a very thin layer on the rim. It adds flavour there and blackens in the heat of the oven. It adds to the presentation.

Good pepperoni is hard to find. I buy it directly from a supplier to restaurants. It can be fatty (not good), so it should be sliced very thinly. I cover the pizza.

Add the cheese.


In the oven. To control the heat, I snap the oven element off and cook the pizza with only the heat from the stone. When the crust has cooked and the sauce and cheese are bubbling, I turn on the top element to toast the top. This is not necessary for taste, but my family clearly voted for the presentation of slightly blackened tomato sauce on the rim and browned cheese. I then leave the oven on full blast to reheat as I make the next pie.

Just out.


Crumb:

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18 Responses to “Here is how I was taught to make a pepperoni pizza”


  1. 1 Sheila September 10, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Looks yummy Robert. I’ve read your description before, but after talking pizza dough with Travis I thought I ought to review your description and then forward the link on to him.

    Sheila

  2. 2 Robert September 10, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    Hi Sheila. I’m delighted that you found this old posting. Since I know you are in this area I can tell you about some of materials.

    The pizza stone is from Ming Wo. Round or square, that stone is $50. If they had it I’d probably buy the square one. It is actually made of pottery, not stone. As soon as the dough lands on it, it drys the bottom in a way that a baking pan cannot. Remember it will take a full hour to heat up regardless of what the thermometer reads for the air temperature in the oven.

    The best (and also least expensive) peel I’ve found was at Russell Food Equipment. That long handle wooden peel was about $20. Don’t be tempted by a metal peel.

    Lately my family has been eating vegetarian pizzas. The pepperoni in the above pizza is the kind made for restaurants by Continental Sausage, 3585 Main Street at the corner of 20th. I usually buy the 75 mm diameter pepperoni. That is the same pepperoni used by Pudgie’s Pizza in Horseshoe Bay.

  3. 3 André October 30, 2007 at 12:44 am

    Hi Robert, thanks a lot for letting me know the new link. I am now linking to this new site.

    Thanks again for sharing.
    André

  4. 4 Tim Clark (Pizza Mentor) January 31, 2008 at 5:47 am

    Nice going Robert! This is even more detailed than the instructions I gave to you.

    A couple of additions:

    I now use instant yeast. You can get it in bulk packages and store it in the freezer. Use 1 teaspoon and just add it dry to the flour along with the salt. Works perfectly and it’s a lot easier.

    I now start with 3 1/2 cups of flour instead of 4 cups, with 1 1/2 cups of water. When I’m finished kneading the dough, it’s still pretty sticky. What I tell people now is that if your dough is easy to knead, you probably added too much flour. It should stick to everything. You’ll find after it rises that it’s not hard to work with. In the end it makes a lighter crust with more air pockets.

    When I make pizzas in my gas stove I now use the broiler technique as well. However, I don’t see any reason to turn off the oven. I bake the pizza a few minutes on the stone until the bottom browns, then turn on the broiler and take the pizza off the stone and put it on an oven rack right under the broiler. All in all, the faster you can bake a pizza the better it will be. In my wood oven a pizza takes 3 minutes at about 800 degrees. I wish they made gas stoves that would crank up to that temperature.

    Cheers

  5. 5 Robert April 26, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Tim’s advice about using less flour and working with a sticky dough is good, but it makes the job a bit harder. Since the reason for making the pizza is producing something that is amazing to eat, I can put up with the process being a little harder.

    Since I wrote this I’ve made one major modification. I use the same quantities of ingredients to make 3 pies instead of 2. The balls of dough are smaller, so it helps to weigh them to be sure that each is a third of the batch. Next, I want the dough to rise enough so that it is really light. When I put it on the counter to poke it and shape the flat round base for the pie, I try to poke gently, quickly, and with some economy of poking. I am trying not to hurt all of those little bubbles that were created by the yeast. When the pie is flat and round, I make it bigger by tossing. I am not trying to have big air here… what I am attempting to do is put it on the back of my hands and stretch the dough to make a bigger pie. The ‘air’ part happens when I give a gentle toss to rotate the dough over my hands. It is more like an IMAX rolling loop of film than a pizza-toss. I end up with 3 pizzas that are almost as big around as when I was making 2 pizzas, but the bubbles are bigger and the dough is lighter. And I can eat more pieces. Yummy.

  6. 6 Paul September 28, 2008 at 2:29 am

    Hi

    I’m in the UK and spent the last 20 years trying to make a real italian pizza with air bubble and still haven’t managed it.

    I have the stone, peel and pizza caputo 00 flour from Naples. I have an electric fan oven with a max setting of 250 (not sure is this F or C)

    I tried this recipe and it didn’t work out – I ended up with a very oily wet dough that when cooked had very few air pockets.

    Any advise would be very welcome including exact measurements in ml or g (not cups – I have some very large cups).

  7. 7 Robert September 28, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Hi Paul,

    If you have spent 20 years trying to make an Italian pizza with air bubbles, you may actually be close to success. I have no idea what flour is available in the UK, and here in Canada we are very fortunate that our ‘all-purpose’ flour – right from the supermarket – is outstanding for making breads. So, I suspect that obtaining the Caputo Pizza flour was a good idea (but probably expensive).

    In making your dough, did it look like the pictures in this article? The recipe for most bread is simple: flour, water, salt, maybe some oil, and yeast. Once you know how a ball of dough is supposed to feel, your hands will tell you if you have enough flour or water. When you knead the dough, it should be soft, slightly sticky, but not too difficult to handle as you knead. My point here is that the ‘recipe’ is not as important as having that ball of dough feel right. When you learn to knead quickly and fluidly, you will be able to mange a stickier (wetter) dough, and that will contribute to larger ‘bubbles’ in the pizza… but don’t worry about that now. That said, you still should begin with the quantities suggested here: 4 cups of flour, 1 tsp of salt, 2 tbl of olive oil, 2-1/2 cups of water, plus 1/4 cup of water and 1 tsp of dry yeast. There are not large and small cups – those are specific measurements; go and buy some exact measuring utensils.

    Your greatest problem is probably the temperature of your oven and your stone. The absolute minimum temperature of the stone must be 450 degrees F. I can raise mine to 550º F. Buy an oven thermometer! You have to know the temperature of your oven. Remember that the stone will take at least an hour to heat, and it cannot be rushed — regardless of the temperature in the oven. So, even with the oven at its highest temperature, leave the stone in there for over an hour before you bake. BTW, if your oven is at 250º C that is the same as 482º F. That is barely hot enough for this pizza. Some of the folks who make the pizza you are trying to emulate have wood fired stoves with the brick floor over 800º F. If your oven is only at 250º F, you cannot successfully bake this pie. I suspect that is your #1 problem. I am also not sure about how the “electric fan oven” will affect the top of the pizza. If it is burning the top of the pizza before the bread is baked, you may have to turn it down while the heat from the stone bakes the dough.

    Thanks for writing, and best of luck.

  8. 8 sgt.turmeric September 9, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Hi,

    This guy (http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm) gets his electric oven up to 800F — he uses the oven’s self-cleaning cycle after having seriously voided the warranty by clipping the self-clean lock. It’s probably a little dangerous.

    The long fermentation time and wet dough are very similar to the “no knead” bread recipe popularized by the NY Times.

    • 9 Robert September 12, 2009 at 5:17 pm

      Hi sgt.turmeric, that’s a good link. Varasano seems to make a great pie. High heat is part of the trick. The best way for that is still probably a wood-fired oven. This system of rewiring a standard oven is interesting if it is not dangerous. And I’ve wondered about this gadget: http://www.2stonepg.com/. I’d like to read some independent stories and reviews about it.

  9. 10 Robert November 1, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Are you still reading through these comments? Thanks, I’m delighted you are interested. I’ve been making versions of this pie for over 3 years now. There are a couple of new techniques.

    The sticky dough.

    This really makes a difference. I start with 3-1/2 cups of Canadian unbleached white flour and turn that out on the counter. That’s much too sticky, but it becomes manageable as I add whole wheat flour. I add it carefully because I want the minimum necessary to be able to knead the ball of dough. To be able to knead the sticky ball, I find that it helps to move my hands quickly.

    I am back to making only 2 pies from the quantity of dough described here. I really like the extra thickness of this wonderful bread.

    Because the dough is sticky, the final pillows are very light and hard to work. So, I’ve added an extra step. When the pillows of dough on the plates have risen enough, I put them in the fridge. They stay there until the moment I am about to form the pies. The stiffer, cold dough is easier to work. I gently poke the dough to spread and flatten it, pushing outwards a bit. I want to be gentle because I am trying not to hurt the little yeast-made-gas-bubbles in the dough. This is done until there is an untouched rim about the diameter of my little finger. To make the pie larger I gently toss and stretch the dough, especially the outer part of the pie. I was finding that if the dough was not chilled it was so limp that this was almost impossible to do. The advantage of tossing is to enlarge the dough by stretching, not by poking and hurting the bubbles.

    Salt. This began as an accident.

    My daughter, eating a freshly baked slice once complemented me on my almost-pastry like texture. She sniffed the somewhat glassy hollows in the rim of the crust and said that it seemed to smell salty. And then added, “But that’s not possible.”

    Here is what had happened… and I like the results enough that I’m doing it every time.

    As you know, the list of ingredients for making the dough is very long and complicated. And I was more than half way through kneading when I realized I’d forgotten one of the myriad of ingredients: the salt.

    Have I mentioned that I like bread to be flavoured with salt?

    So I measured out a palm-full of salt and put it on the dough, and on the counter, and kept kneading. By ‘n’ by the salt was nice and evenly distributed throughout the dough. That’s it… really.

    Well, that was the accident. The practice is that I now withhold the salt until there is about one minute of kneading left. Then I add it. Nearly 2 teaspoons! I knead until it is all absorbed and stop.

    Here is what I think is going on. In that minute-or-so of kneading the salt crystals become evenly distributed in the dough. They probably have actually dissolved. But I suspect that the saltiness has not penetrated most of the dough… there is just a tiny region of intense saltiness around the original location of each salt crystal. Probably there are a few furious yeast cells in that region that have just awakened to this saline nightmare. Most of the yeast throughout the ball of dough are happily having a party, begetting, consuming, burping carbon dioxide, and peeing alcohol. For them, there are only rumors of salt.

    I seem to end up with a pizza that has the awesome texture resulting from sticky, retarded, unsalted dough, and yet full of the tastiness and aroma of a salty pie.

  10. 11 teleskopy astronomiczne December 29, 2009 at 4:48 am

    Very nice blog, your article is interesting, i have bookmarked it for future referrence

  11. 12 Robert June 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Thank-you for reading all the way down to this comment!

    I think anyone who makes bread is always fiddling with their recipe and technique. Lately I have been trying to make a pizza from very wet dough. It is much harder to work, but the results seem to be worth the effort.

    Here is a video of my latest experiment…
    http://www.youtube.com/user/MountGardner#p/a/u/0/HZVe4tz54fc

    Edit 2011 Sep 4: This wet dough makes a great pie! But it is hard to handle. After it rises in the fridge it is very soft. I bring it to room temp and then divide into two rounds to go on plates. Lately I’ve been flouring the rounds and the plates. The rounds rise for about 2 hours. This wet dough rises quicker than the old 4-cup recipe. When there are nice pillows of dough (and it is ready to make into a pie) I pop the plates into the fridge for at least an hour… or longer, until I’m ready to bake. This almost stops the rise, so it gives me control of the time the pizzas will be served. The chilled dough is easier to work to make the pies. When forming the pies, I am very gentle poking to make the general shape of the pie, and don’t touch the 3/4″ that will be the rim. The final size is done by stretching. This dough is so limp that tossing is not really possible. Yes, it is awkward, but the crumb and texture seems worth the bother.

  12. 13 pizzeria częstochowa October 30, 2012 at 6:53 am

    Admiring the persistence you put into your website and in depth information you
    offer. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed information.
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