Sunday, 23 September 2012

Pizza, I Love You.

When I tell people I gave up eating diary the usual response is, "I could never give up cheese!" (Do you know why? It's because it's addictive. I mean actually scientifically addictive.) And I'll admit, the cheese is difficult to pass up sometimes. I've found after forming new habits I don't miss milk or yogurt or even sliced cheese on my sandwiches. What I do hate is saying no to delicious smelly moldy imported cheeses when they're available. (Like at island private school wine tasting fundraisers at the Ritz. You'll probably see me eating cheese there in a few months. Feel free to judge me.) The other difficult food to pass up is pizza. Pizza is hands down what I miss the most. What is it about pizza?

Seth was kind enough to win me Kitchenaid mixer a few years ago. I had been asking for one and he was a little baffled as to why we needed a $400 mixer. (And I didn't really have a good answer either so the matter died.) But then he went and won one kind of accidentally in a Price is Right spoof at a work conference. So I'm sort of a lazy bread maker. I throw things in and let the dough hook do the kneading. This pizza dough is pretty sticky, as demonstrated by my attempted to put the ball into a bowl to rise. But really, that mixer bowl to rising bowl transfer is all the hands-on time required when I use the Kitchenaid.

I had half a block of tofu in the fridge waiting to be used, so I mixed up a cheese-like sauce in the food processor. The tofu, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and garlic blends into something tangy and creamy. Roasted red peppers might have made a good addition too. I'm not saying it tasted like cheese. Just that it was tasty.

In the disgusting Caribbean heat of my open-air kitchen, it only takes about an hour for pizza dough to rise.

I formed the crust directly on my dough paddle. It was much less sticky after rising. Magic scientific things go during that hour of rising I guess. No need to get a rolling pin dirty. I just used my fingers to slowly stretch it out. The trick to not having it stick to the paddle is the cover the paddle with corn meal. When I've stretch it into a  mostly round circle, I stab (pierce?) it with a fork to keep it from bubbling while it bakes.

I covered it in my tofu spread, spinach, sliced red onion, jarred artichoke hearts, and walnuts. (Seth says that doesn't count as pizza. I say it counts as delicious.) I spritzed the spinach and onions with olive oil once they were spread out. Then sprinkled on some crunchy sea salt. With sort of a jerking motion, I transferred the pizza from the paddle to the hot pizza stone. Of course I did a kind of terrible job. Half stuck to the paddle. The other half to the pizza stone. With 500 degrees of oven heat blasting into my face I panicked and yelled for Seth. He helped me transfer it completely to the stone and we slammed the over door shut to stop the blistering heat. Then I cried just the tiniest bit because my pizza got all squished up. Seth hugged me and asked me if I realized it was still the same volume amount of pizza squished up as it would be stretched out flat. About 12ish minutes later I get this:

Yum. So good. Other than the crust being extra thick and squishy because of the transfer debacle. I made Seth a tomato-y cheese based version (minus the artichokes and walnuts) so that he wasn't jealous of my pizza.

Pizza Crust - Three 12" Pizzas
(Adapted from a Cook's Illustrated pizza recipe, which doesn't quite work here. Maybe due to climate? Maybe due to altitude? Maybe because I'm bad at this?)

4 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 c. hot tap water
2 1/2 tsp. yeast
2 Tbsp olive oil

You want your water to be warm but not hot (or it kills the yeast). Sprinkle the yeast into the water and let it sit for about 5 minutes. The yeast should sort of dissolve and turn bubbly. Mix your flour and salt together in the mixing bowl. After 5 minutes, add the yeast/water mixture and the olive oil slowly and mix together. It turns into a really gooey ball of dough. At the point I let the dough hook do the kneading for about 5 minutes. If you need it by hand, good luck. (If you need by hand, maybe use less flour from the start and add it in gradually as you knead it? You're going to need a lot of flour on your hands and the counter. Your hands are going to be on sticky mess so don't panic. This is a much stickier dough than any other I make.) When you're done kneading, transfer the dough into a large bowl sprayed with non-stick spray. Let it rise for 1 hour if you live on St Thomas and don't have air conditioning. Maybe 1 1/2-2 hours if you live anyplace normal.

After the dough has risen (doubled in size, yada, yada) cover a dough paddle or a cookie sheet with no edges in a thick layer of corn meal. Take one third of the dough and slowly stretch it out on the paddle with your fingers. Use a fork to poke holes in it. Cover it with the sauce and toppings of your choice and bake it in an oven that's preheated to as high as it will go. Typically 450 to 500 degrees F. (If you use a pizza stone, use a quick jerking motion to transfer it from the paddle to the stone. Try not to cry like I did if you mess this up. Crying about pizza doesn't fix it. It just makes you look weak and hormonal.) Check on it in about 12 minutes to see if the crust is a golden brown. If not, leave it in a few more minutes. If it is, use a spatula to help transfer the pizza back from the stone to the paddle.

I cook my pizzas one at a time so there's about 30-40 minutes of high action pizza time going on at the end. If you're on St. Thomas, be prepared to sweat. Have a cold drink handy and be sure to appreciate that any room in your house is now a good 10-15 degrees cooler than your kitchen.

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