Sunday, February 19, 2012

Things Don't Always Work Out in the Kitchen

You know this to be true. You can get the best ingredients, prepare ahead of time, have great music on and be in the right mood and still, things don't always work out in the kitchen.

Last week I saw Tipo 00 flour sitting on the "fancy food" shelf in the food coop. I had only recently learned of Tipo 00 - a very finely ground flour that apparently makes the best pizza dough and pasta. I don;t bake much (read: never), but it seemed like something worth trying. Why not make pizza dough and have fun with the daughters? We could each make our own pizza. How hard could it really be?

I emailed an Italian friend who is a good cook and has made pizza dough on many occasions. She said to use good yeast, not the kind that comes dry in the packets. She said that in Italy pizza sauce is not cooked, it is simply pureed uncooked tomatoes. She also said that the oven must be as hot as possible so that the dough cooks quickly, and the mozzarella should be warmed and melted, but not browned. She described the process of making dough as a craft, not a science. "Use 300-500 grams of flour and about half that weight in water, mix in the yeast, some salt, a tablespoon and no less of good olive oil, kneed it and add more flour or water as needed." Loose directions, but I like that - get the feel for it by doing.

So I bought fresh yeast. and I dissolved half of it in a bowl of warm water. I added about a half teaspoon of sugar to the bowl.

Bought a box of tomatoes, planning to puree them, but they came out of the box basically pureed already. That was it for the sauce.

I mixed about a cup and a half of flour and the salt, added the yeasty water (after giving it a few minutes to activate), added the olive oil and about 3/4 cup of water, and was thrilled to feel the mixture get doughy in my hands. But it was too sticky, so I added some more flour - maybe another 1/3 cup, and it integrated easily and was no longer very sticky.

Covered the bowl with a wet towel and left in on the counter near the stove. Two hours later it had doubled in size. It worked - yeast works!

The girls came home, we washed hands and got ready to stretch out some pizza dough. We could have used a rolling pin but I like the idea of working with our hands here. I took the dough out of the bowl and learned lesson number 1: dust the bowl with flour before leaving it to rise. Very sticky. And it was immediately clear that I had not used enough flour. The dough was elastic, but entirely too sticky, too moist, and just not of the right consistency. I was tempted to ditch the plan and make something else quickly, but there were two daughters standing on footstools at the counter who were quite intent on working with this dough and putting sauce and cheese on top.

So we worked the dough and lost at least 20% of it because it stuck to our hands. But we shaped those pizzas. I decided to cook the dough for a minute or two in the 550 degree oven, just to firm it a bit before adding sauce. It was too moist otherwise. This helped, and they spooned some sauce on their pizzas, and then added cubes of cheese. Slices of cheese would melt quickly and then burn quickly in a 550 degree oven.

Their pizzas came out okay and they ate them, but the dough was just wrong. It smelled good but it didn't really crisp up, even though I cooked them long enough for the smoke alarm to blare. And the taste was more like a bread roll than pizza dough.

It says a lot that the daughters were more excited about the broccoli and peas with sliced radishes and garlic than they were about the pizza. Pizza is one of those very simple foods in which the quality of each element must be right - there is little room for error. The dough just wasn't right, and even a three year old could tell.

I decided to make a sliced fennel and dry sausage pizza. I rubbed my pre-baked dough with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, and topped with slices of fennel and dry fennel sausage. This actually tasted very good, although again, it was like eating a fennel and sausage bread roll.

I feel good about this, in spite of the bad dough. Next time I will use more flour and I think I have a better idea of what the dough should feel like before leaving it to rise. And if not, if I mess it up again, I'm sure the daughters will be cheerful either way.


Do Bianchi said...

Brooklyn Guy, I'd eat your pizza anytime! 00 or no!

Brooklynguy said...

Jeremy - Although I know that you are the proud father of a new baby, and happily married, I'm going to elect to take your compliment in a sexual way. It just feels right to me. You're cute too!

Giacomo said...

Hey, nice effort!

Pizza, like many Italian foods, is easy to start but difficult to master. There is almost no upper bound to the amount of effort you could expend on it.

It's very much like wine in that regard, it can be life time's worth of learning.

Check out this guy's work. Probably the best documented pizza aficionado on the internet:


Lori said...

I just stumbled upon you while looking towards tomorrow's dinner..Osso bucco- then saw the pizza dough post. The bread IS the pizza(as I was told by my first pizza mentor) the rest is over the top. It just sounded to me like your dough was a little wet. And I recommend adding a little molasses to the wet ingredients.Cold water,Yeast..and molasses.then add to the dry ing. then have fun balancing the flour needed.Start wet. then dry out.Think of it as an AA meeting...without the pity. Thx again for the gremolata osso bucco.

Customonit said...

Its good to know about the process of making the pizza because i found difficulties to make it when i newly came in foreign country and had not idea. Today, i am more comfortable with it as i have read plenty of blogs and your one also. Videos helps more while reading because you remember it.