Pizza Crust Perfected

Posted: under Baking bread, Cooking with children, Family favorites, Hiking, Italy, Large family.
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ohiotrip-1-7

 

 

I am not a pizza professional, but you could certainly say I am well-seasoned!  My family enjoys making and eating pizza, and even my children have high standards about the quality of the ingredients they want to eat.

A few years ago when my husband approached his fortieth birthday, he told me that he expected me to “go all out” for his birthday.   I knew exactly what I wanted to do–  build a wood-fired pizza oven.

 

 

The year before we had gone hiking in Crete.  We hiked through terrain that felt entirely remote and deserted, then would come around a rock and find a taverna, a family-owned restaurant.  More often than not, these tavernas would have a wood-fired oven, producing some of the most delicious food and flat bread I have even eaten.

Taverna in Crete- they could not speak English; we could not speak Greek.  They brought my husband into the  kitchen and had him point to what we'd like to eat.

Taverna in Crete- they could not speak English; we could not speak Greek. They brought my husband into the kitchen and had him point to what we desired to eat. See oven door on left?

 

Constructing a wood-fired pizza oven is certainly a Do-It-Yourself project, but I didn’t do it myself.  I had neither the time nor inclination to muck about with cinderblocks and mortar, so I hired someone to build it for me using plans that are available for free from a site called “Forno Bravo” :  http://www.fornobravo.com/pompeii_oven/pompeii_oven.html

Pompeii Oven under construction.

Pompeii Oven under construction.

 

The finished product was a resounding success!

Silk Road Catering used the oven when preparing the meal for my husband's birthday celebration.

Silk Road Catering used the oven when preparing the meal for my husband’s birthday celebration.

The following year we confirmed that the construction of our oven was authentic when we went hiking in Italy (notice a pattern here?) and visited the ruins of the city of Pompei.

Wood-fired oven in Pompei, buried under the ashed of Vesuvius.  When unearthed, there were actually loaves of bread entombed inside.

Wood-fired oven in Pompei, buried under the ashes of Vesuvius. When unearthed, there were actually loaves of bread entombed inside.

The inside construction of the oven was identical to mine, only much larger.

Domed bricks and thick walls enable oven to reach a high temperature for ideal pizza and bread making.

Domed bricks and thick walls enable oven to reach a high temperature for ideal pizza and bread making.

Here is a basic description of how a wood-fired pizza oven works:

1.  Build a very hot fire in the oven and wait until all the bricks on the ceiling are white.  That means the oven is between 750 – 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Push the remaining logs to the back of the oven, then brush the baking surface clean with a brass wire brush.

3.  Using a pizza peal (it looks like a giant spatula), gently transfer uncooked pizza into the oven.

4.  About 90 seconds later, rotate the pizza for even cooking.

5.  A couple minutes later, remove finished pizza.  That’s right – the whole process takes less than five minutes, and your pizza with be hot, bubbling, with a perfectly carmelized crust.

NOW THE REAL CHALLENGE was finding a pizza dough recipe that didn’t take all day and was able to withstand the high heat of the pizza oven.  The authentic recipe from Italy  not only requires Tipo 00 flour, which is great if you can find it, but also 4 – 5 hours of preparation.  Not ideal for spontaneous “honey, let’s make pizza tonight” occasions.  Which brings me to a story:

It was a Saturday and my husband worked in his office while I was cleaning the garage.  Around 4 PM he announced that he wanted to “fire up the pizza oven” and make pizza that night.  I did not have the time or energy to “throw together” pizza dough, so  he went off to the grocery store to purchase refrigerated pizza dough – you know- the kind that comes in a tube.  We had never bought it before.  As stated earlier, the pizza oven cooks at a very high temperature, which is what makes it so wonderful.  Well, we unrolled the pizza dough and added the toppings.  My husband shoveled it into the pizza oven and it went “BOOF!”  The pizza crust instantly incinerated!  There was nothing left but the now-charred mushrooms and cheese that my husband had to scrape out of the oven.  I am not saying that he burned the pizza crust.  There was no pizza crust – only ash.  What kind of volatile ingredients did they put in that dough?

At last, after much experimenting, I  discovered a “quick”  pizza dough recipe that yields thin-crusted pizza and is able to withstand the high heat of a wood-fired pizza oven.  I did not invent it; it comes from Alton Brown from the Food Network and is found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/grilled-pizza-three-ways-recipe/index.html    So when my husband says, “Let’s fire up the pizza oven tonight!”, it takes me only two hours and fifteen minutes to go from “idea” to “ready for the oven”.  Most recently we  baked pizza after biking 30 miles with the children at St. Simons Island.  It was a great way to celebrate the end of a full day! (It also explains my husband’s outfit in the photos.)

The oven is heated unti the bricks on the inside turn white-hot.  Because it is so well insulated, the outside is cool to the touch!

The oven is heated until the bricks on the inside turn white-hot. Because it is so well insulated, the outside is cool to the touch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pizza is ready for the oven.

The pizza is ready for the oven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only minutes later the crust is brown and bubbly.

Only minutes later the crust is brown and bubbly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My husband typically bakes the pizza while I assemble the next one.  I usually make 6 - 8.

My husband typically bakes the pizza while I assemble the next one. I usually make 6 – 8.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perfectly baked homemade pizza.  Perfect!

Perfectly baked homemade pizza. Perfect!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not everyone has a pizza oven, but doesn’t everyone love homemade pizza?  I am sharing a recipe I have used for years that makes delicious “baked in the oven” pizza.   I call it “Presbyterian Pizza Dough” because it includes beer.    I am not a beer drinker, so I just buy whatever is cheapest.  However, I would only recommend King Arthur Flour brand of All Purpose Flour.

Presbyterian Pizza Dough

12 oz. can of beer

3 3/4 c. all-purpose flour

3 Tsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 Tsp. butter

1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast OR 2 tsp. rapid rise yeast

 

Mix these ingredients in a large bowl, then turn them onto lightly floured counter and knead about 8 minutes.

 To make 4 thin-crust pizzas:

Divide into four parts.

Shape each into 12 inch round.

Place on pizza pan and brush with olive oil and let rest about 15 minutes.

Put on your toppings.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

 

To make 2 thick-crust pizzas:

Follow same instructions except shape into two pizzas instead of four.

Baptists may omit beer, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Comments (0) Feb 10 2013

Fig Bread: Inspiration to Execution

Posted: under Baking bread, Cooking with children, Travel.
Tags: , , ,

Market Day

Travel to a foreign country is often enhanced by a visit to the local market day.  It can be a feast for the senses and a real education to mingle with the locals and observe where they shop.  On a visit to Provence, France, my husband and I saw the quaint village of Saint Remy-de-Provence transformed on market day.

 

 

 

 

Saint Remy-de-Provence

Happy shoppers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a pleasure to see the fine, fresh foods available from the local farmers.

Currants

Fresh cheeses

Olives of every kind

Handmade sausages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we prepared for our afternoon hike, we were most interested in the fresh bread.  There were many familiar loaves and baquettes available, but we were interested in the whole grain breads.  The loaves were enormous. They were not purchased by the loaf, but instead chunks of the bread were purchased by  weight.

Bread for sale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How would we ever select between so many delectable varieties?  My husband, who has an incurable sweet tooth, wanted fig bread.  Now apart from chocolate, I am rarely tempted by sweets.  I wanted olive bread.  It was the old  sweet relish vs. dill relish conflict that plagues our refrigerator.   So we compromised and bought both,  a chunk of fig bread and a chunk of olive bread.  We added to that a couple of rounds of fresh goat cheese, some locally made tapenades, and we were set  for lunch.

My husband declared that the fig bread was one of the most delicious things he had ever eaten.  What does that mean to me?  It means a personal challenge to recreate and surpass that fig bread.  Add to that challenge the fact that he keeps bringing home containers of figs from the grocery store and reminiscing about “that wonderful fig bread we had in Provence”.

Now it’s not like I have a lot of time to spend experiment with bread recipes, so I enlisted the help of my seven-year-old son and (dare I say it) the bread machine.  I know how to bake bread.  I know how to capture wild yeast from the air and transform it into an awesome loaf of sourdough bread. But now is not the time. And besides, I believe my son has the potential to become an excellent baker.  He is good at math, follows instructions well, and has an extra dose of sensibility. And he’s the only child who ever remembers to wash his hands.

Fig Bread alá Provence

(reinterpretation of a raisin bread recipe)

2 cups bread flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup wheat germ

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup finely chopped figs

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 package instant yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

Baker in training

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point we put our ingredients in the bread machine, set it to “Quick Bake”, and enjoyed hot, delicious fig bread in less than two hours!  But for you purists, I shall add baking directions.

1.  Mix ingredients in a large bowl.  Cover with a towel and allow mixture to rest for 10 minutes. (Called “autolyse”, this method allows the flour to hydrate and makes the dough easier to handle.)

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes.  The dough should become pliable and elastic.  Resist the urge to incorporate a lot more flour.  It will make the dough stiff and the bread tough.

3.  Cover with a towel or large overturned bowl and allow to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Punch the dough down.  Shape it into two loaves, and place in two 8×4 inch loaf pans.  Cover with a towel and allow to rise, about 45 minutes.

5.  Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees for 40- 45 minutes. (How do you know it is done?  Measure internal temperature with cooking thermometer.  It should be between 195 – 205 degrees.)

6.  Allow to cool at least a little bit before slicing, or you will flatten the moist bread.

A note about ingredients:  I only use King Arthur flour.  I used KA Bread Flour and KA White Whole Wheat Flour.  If there is a better flour available to the home baker, I have never seen it!  I like to use white whole wheat.  It lacks the tannins that can make red wheat unpalatably bitter, and it creates a delicate loaf.  You may omit the butter, but it creates a softer crumb.

I would show you a picture of our fig bread, but we ate all of it.

Nothing left but the mess

Comments (1) May 05 2011