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Time to take action [Feb. 21st, 2010|10:56 am]
There are times when one realizes that something is horribly wrong with the world, something that makes you come up short, and put a determined look on your face, and have the camera zoom in for a close-up just so you can say, grimly and with finality, "this ends now."

I discovered such a thing yesterday.

I'm not sure how to make a good consistent pizza crust. And I had to ask myself, "Do I want to live in a world where John Palmer can't make a good, consistent pizza crust? Do I want other people's *children* to grow up in a world where John Palmer can't make a good, consistent pizza crust?"

With such drama, with such angst, how can I help but take action?

I started with Joy of Cooking. How else could I start? The secrets of our ancestors, the alchemy of the ages; truly, with my own meager magical talents and the wisdom of the ancients[1], how could I fail?

The recipe is simple[2]:
4 cups flour
1 cake of yeast, equivalent to 1 packet (2.25 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 1/3 cup of water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon of salt

Dissolve yeast in water. Mix with flour. Knead ten minutes, raise two hours. But this was not enough for me - I chose instead to feed the yeast. First I dissolved it in water, then added 2 teaspoons of sugar to grant it greater strength, as it would be battling with both gluten and gravity.

I ran in to my old enemy while making this. I could not get the dough to elasticity - it would always break when stretched. I cursed the foul demons that had attacked my efforts, set the dough aside to rise, and though I felt the whisperings of doom, I nevertheless cast ahead boldly, rolling the dough out, covering the breaks by squeezing it back together. Then - cover with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and bake at 425 - no, 450! first at the bottom rack, and then on the middle, - it took nearly 20 minutes for the infusion of the spirit of fire to take true hold, and then... then... ah.

A nice, crackly crust, Not what I wanted, but perfectly adequate. I ate too much pizza, and drank too much wine, and headed for bed - neither bowed, nor beaten, but determined to continue to do battle.

For truly - this abomination will end; never again shall the spirits of despair try to destroy me by pointing to my inability to make a good, consistent pizza crust. They shall go down in ignominious defeat!

Notes: I think that 2/3rd cup of water per two cups of flour is not enough. The dough wasn't sticky when I first started working it, and that strikes me as a bad sign. When dough is ready, it should be "satiny smooth and elastic" - it should be stretchy - you certainly shouldn't be able to break the skin by pushing in a finger, and it shouldn't feel at all grainy/dry. "Throwing" pizza dough, stretching it out by throwing it in the air and spinning, etc, should be possible.

[1] I do hope there's no age-horror among those who love the original author - but, the first edition was 1931, and "ancient" is no slur on someone who has compiled many resources, and was an adult nearly 80 years ago

[2] And, for the record, halved. This is supposed to make 2 14 inch pizzas. That's a *lot* of pizza, even for me!

[User Picture]From: wordweaverlynn
2010-02-21 07:04 pm (UTC)
Watch out, pizza-making is an addiction.

That said, this is the place to learn all about it.
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[User Picture]From: awryday
2010-02-21 08:23 pm (UTC)
I love making pizza, and I feel your pain in trying to get the recipe right. Fortunately, the practice is fun.

Your recipe list seems pretty close to the one I settled on. I actually ended up with double the amount of yeast, which really makes for some serious dough. But then I use whole wheat flour. Also good adds are honey and minced thyme, about 2 tbsps each.

Damn. Now I want pizza for dinner.
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[User Picture]From: essaying
2010-02-21 08:57 pm (UTC)
With bread doughs, you *always* have to go by feel; there's too much variation in the protein content between brands of flour for a recipe to be very useful. I generally use King Arthur flour, which is very high-protein, and I find that I usually need to add quite a bit extra to get the dough "right" (unless I'm already using one of the excellent King Arthur recipes).

I've done a bunch of pizza doughs, but I prefer the thick Sicilian-style crust -- and the best one of those is from an old Alice Kahn essay about visiting her best friend when the friend's Sicilian grandmother was cooking. It's more of a guideline than a recipe -- it includes directions like "add a shitload of minced garlic" -- but it makes a helluva pizza.

I'll have to do a pizza next time you and Pat come for dinner!
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[User Picture]From: wyang
2010-02-24 10:36 pm (UTC)

Bill's suggested starting point for great pizza crust.

There are five ingredients to pizza dough, in my opinion. Four of them are defined by a strict mathematic ratio by weight, and the fifth is all art.

Bread Flour 1.0
Water 0.6
Yeast 0.02
Salt 0.02

Olive oil is the final component. You add this a little later, to get the sheen and make it possible to work the dough without it sticking to everything. I usually use 1-2 tablespoons when I start with 10 oz of flour, in a liberal dash.

The secret is to work by weight, rather than volume, with the core recipe. That's the only way I've ever been able to get consistent results, unless you've mastered the "feel" of the dough.

(If you omit the olive oil, that ratio is also the recipe for french bread, by the by).
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