Pizza through the years....
I first started making Pizza from scratch in the mid '70's when we lived in Copper Harbor at the end of the Keewenaw Peninsula in the middle of Lake Superior. At that time we only went into town (we go town!) to shop every other week. I had a new daughter (Sara) and a very small income!
I was given a basic pizza dough recipe involving flour, water, oil, yeast and salt. The other advice was that it could only be made by males! A lot of my pizzas were "dinner pizzas" because of how much toppings we put on them and baked in the oven!
Here are some of the tricks that I've developed over the years.
- start out with warm ingredients
- a bit of brown sugar or honey or mollases helps keep your yeast happier
- stickier is better than stiffer (you can always add flour)
- a little powdered milk can add to your texture and flavor, I like the buttermilk powder as well.
- a dough that is refrigerated overnight will be better for pizza
- a touch of other flours can be a nice change (rye, whole wheat, wheat germ...)
- if you increase the whole wheat content, use a sponge or soak of the whole wheat flour overnight otherwise it will not rise as well.
- I like to let the rolled dough rise a bit before topping to get a loftier crust.
- If you can get some flour or cornmeal under the dough, it helps from sticking to the pan. (we used cookie sheets or a round pastry pan liner in the old days) Beyond cornmeal, I've also seen rice and wheat meals.
- we made our own sauces starting with canned tomatoes and still do (individually or combined use of diced tomatoes, sauce and paste). The trick is to mix or reduce to the right consistency - usually thicker with the water driven off.
- fresh tomatoes are great, but take the skins off.
- we add oregano, dried or fresh, as the base flavor but have also added basil and garlic to the base sauce.
- something sweet can help your tomato based sauces, like honey or brown sugar. An old chef once remarked to me that some tomato sauces can be "too sour".
- add some wine when reducing your sauce.
- make lots and save it in the freezer in small zip locs. (freeze in ice cube trays? for individual pizzas??)
- use pesto as an alternative to red sauces
- these fall into basic categories....cheeses, vegetables, proteins and flavors.
- I use a "logic sequence" when building a pizza. The first items on are the ones that I want to cook less or items that don't need cooking....like pre cooked/drained bacon, tomatoe slices or pepperoni. I build to the top and end with things that can stand the heat better....like peppers and onions.
- I started putting a little grated cheese on the dough first to keep it from sliding
- I've used a little cheese sprinked throughout to spread the flavor and glue the ingredients!
- for cheeses we've loved parmesan/romano, hard mozzarella, and cheddar. Of course soft fresh mozzarella and goat cheeses are great on top! Any cheese will work into a pizza somewhere! ( I try and put the harder/drier cheeses below so they melt and don't dry out/burn)
- for meats we've used pepperoni, chorizo, ham, bacon (cooked and drained first), proscuitto, chicken, pork, fresh egg, shrimp, anchovies....do you know the number one pizza ingredient in Japan is calamari (squid)?
- for vegetables.....diced or sliced.....tomatoes, onions, all color peppers, hot pepper rings, jalapenos, green onions, capers, squashes, mushrooms, eggplant, artichoke hearts, olives.....what do you like? brocolli?, cauliflower, .....anything goes..... In fact one of my favorite pizzas, the "Polish pizza" is done with saurkraut and smoked polish sausage where the cheese has melted down into the kraut....mmmmm
- for flavors....add a little of anything you like...ground black pepper, dollops of the tomato or pesto sauce, olive oil, BBQ sauce, balsamic vinegar, fresh basil, chives....again, these and a lot of things can be integrated into a great pizza
Okay, that's a lot of stuff above but sometimes less is more...so avoid overloading.
When we first started making pizzas in the oven, I learned to heat up the oven as hot as possible...550 degrees.....and put my pizzas on the bottom rack. These were thick pizzas and this technique allowed the bottoms to cook/brown without overdoing the top. I think this relates well now to doing pizza in the wood fired oven. With quicker cooking, you don't put as much on the top though!
In the wood fired oven you can turn your pizzas to get an even cooking and prevent burning of the fire side.
I like to let the pizza rest just a bit before cutting. Buy a commercial cutter!
We like to make small pizzas (6-8 inches) and make a variety of different types or just let people put on their own toppings for a fun party.
There are some thoughts I've learned.....
May all your Pizzas be perfect......
Re: Pizza through the years....
Thoughtful, well considered, helpful for pizza novices like I am. Thanks. Good stuff. Keep it coming. Bread I can do, but pizza...errr.
"give Pizza a chance"
Canuck Jim....you just have to "give Pizza a chance' and keep trying! (Was that a Lennon song?}
I'm sure that you have had disasters when you first started making bread, or tried a new recipe, or forgot an ingredient!!
With the wood fired oven, you have both hearth heat and the overhead flame blast. I think pizzas cook very quickly and you cannot overload them or they will burn. In the old days when I made the "dinner pizzas" they were thick kitchen sink pizzas and would cook for 1/2 an hour! Try that at pizza heat.
You actually could probably take a bit of any of your bread doughs and roll them into a circle of any size for test pizza or calzone at bread oven temps. They will cook slower but I think you'd still get some results.
I assume you've tried pizzas, what is your challenge?
Good luck & good eating!
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