Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Confronting Your Fears or Baking with Yeast (a recipe for Jennifer)

I fancy myself a good cook and baker. But for years I was terrified of yeast. I don't know why, really. It's hardly all that frightening. You can get it in teeny envelopes in the grocery store - how scary is that? Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I never baked anything that called for yeast.

Then I went to culinary school.

The first time I made my own brioche was a revelation. Yeast was amazing. Magical. POWERFUL. And, frankly, not all that scary. Melissa: 1, Yeast: 0.

I went on a yeast-fest: homemade cinnamon buns, bagels, pretzels, pizza dough. Then I had a baby.

Fast-forward three years later and I'm up to my eyeballs in dough, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and boiling water with baking soda making bagels with a bunch of pre-schoolers. It was the most fun I'd had in years.

Apparently many people share my former fear. NPR
recently published a piece on it with some interesting recipes - - and an old friend from high school just admitted her fear, too.

Here's an easy recipe that will banish that fear in a few hours. Once you eat homemade pizza made with crust formed by your own hands you'll never go back to Boboli or Pillsbury again.

Simple Pizza Dough

Yields enough for 1 large pie, 2 medium pies or 3 "personal" sized pies

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or one envelope of commercially packaged yeast)
1 cup warm water (between 100-110 degrees F - any hotter and you'll kill your yeast and who wants to do that?)
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour plus a little extra for kneading
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal plus a little extra for the pan
1 tsp salt
2 TBS olive oil plus a little extra for oiling the bowl later

  • In a mixing bowl combine yeast and warm water and allow yeast to dissolve and get fizzy.
  • Add in the flour, cornmeal, salt and olive oil and stir to combine into a soft dough.
  • Remove from bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and uniform in texture - should take about 5 minutes. You can also do this in the bowl of a standing mixer with a dough hook. (ed. If you find the dough is too sticky sprinkle on some more flour. This recipe can handle up to another 1/3 cup if necessary).
  • Lightly grease the mixing bowl (no need to clean it) with some olive oil and place the dough in the bowl.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm and draft-free place until it doubles in size (approximately 30-45 mins).
  • Punch the dough down (kids love this) and divide into portions if you will be making more than one pie. If you want you can divide the dough and freeze it for later use at this point.
  • Cover the dough with a dish towel (not terry-cloth) and allow to rise again for 10 minutes.

Options for the actual pizza:
1. Pat dough into a large lightly oiled pan. Cover with toppings of your choice (see suggestions below). Bake 20-30 minutes until done at 400 F.
2. Stretch the dough and place on an overturned cookie sheet after coating the sheet with a significant amount of corn meal. Slide the crust around. If it doesn't wiggle easily toss some more corn meal under it. Cover with toppings of your choice (see suggestions below). Bake 20-30 minutes until done at 400 F.
3. Pre-heat your oven to 450 F with pizza stone inside. Complete step #2. Once oven is hot, carefully slide the pizza onto the stone. This will yield the crispiest crust hands-down and is the method favored at Chez Marks-Shih. This version bakes up in about 10 minutes.

Toppings we love: thinly sliced fresh vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms), olives, meatballs, ground beef, sausage, pepperoni (cut it into slivers for best results), artichokes, well drained thawed frozen spinach, feta cheese, sauteed garlic and onions

Go lighter on the toppings and cheese than you think you'll need. Too much and the pizza will be weighed down. You'll wind up with soggy pizza that's hard to move. And no one likes a soggy pizza.

1 comment:

Melissa said...

Note: edited to include the addition of extra flour should the dough be too sticky during kneading. Crucial omission. Sorry!