More of a chat, but if you persevere, you will get to my "go to" pizza dough recipe!
When you retire, or actually starting about five years before, people, with the persistence of house flies, will ask you what you plan to do in retirement. It's like space travel or death.
They are there to see you off on this exciting new journey! They smile widely and gaze into your eyes as though peering into a crystal ball. What will you do? How do you feel about it?
They might grasp your arm, perhaps feeling for a pulse. What will you do? If you hesitate for a moment too long, they will try to help. I'll bet you'd like to travel! You should
take up golf! It'll be great to spend time gardening! Reading? They cast about helplessly trying to think of anything they have noticed old people doing. They are unsure how to respond when
you suggest that you've heard a lot about cocaine and thought you might like to give that a whirl.
Hovering somewhere between resentment and jollity, however rests the question: What will you do? What do you really like? Ideas float by, like balloons dangling strings to grasp.
Pizza! I really like pizza!
Now you must understand that when I was a child, pizza had not yet arrived on the horizon. My first exposure to this shiny new food craze was a green, red and yellow box from Kraft. Mother was excited to try this new food craze, as she was to try any new food craze. (She pronounced it pissa as in "is a") In the box was a bag of what was essentially Bisquick, a can on tomato sauce and a baggie of finely powdered "parmesan cheese". The result, considering its unprepossessing origins, was predictable. We wrote pizza off as a bandwagon that could happily pass us by.
The next summer, the summer that I was twelve, Mother decided to join the neighbour lady and her kids on a trip to a cottage near Duluth, Minnesota. By the time we reached Duluth, where we would be spending a night, it was late, we were road-weary. We were five kids who had been squished in a car all day without iPads, so you can just imagine. We set off from the hotel in search of food, but it was late and the streets were deserted. Except for one glowing corner! In that corner stood a man all dressed in white like the priest of some new religion, spinning dough like I have never seen before or since! Mother rejected this option, since we had tried pizza and found it wanting, but they were out of choices and the kids were hungry. We went in and experienced, perhaps the best, but certainly the first great pizza of my life.
There was something more poignant about that man practicing his astonishing art alone in that bright window in the dark northern Minnesota night so far away from home, that would rival any production of Pagliacci. My young heart wrung with love for him and for his pizza. I was, after all, twelve years old. And hungry.
So there you have it! My retirement goal!
Finally I knew what I wanted to do in retirement! I wanted to find the Holy grail! I wanted to make the perfect pizza at home!
I've been on quests before. I'm an old food warrior. I was on the pastry quest, and the pasta quest. I'd suit up, mount my steed and go off in search of the perfect pizza! Let the retirement begin!
I Googled many a Google. I watched hours of videos! I followed every lead, some false, some true. I learned that pizzas vary widely depending on your own tastes. It is a many-headed Hydra, this quest!
As with all quests, the road was fraught with hazzards, failures and disappointments. There were burned bottoms, soggy crusts, tough crusts, tasteless, salty, bland....
I soon discovered that it is easy to follow the false god of toppings. Focus! It really is all about the crust. The bread is the thing. Get that right and any toppings will shine. The bread is the magic.
Some things I learned along the way:
Since bread is basically yeast, flour and water, you do need to think about your yeast (find the best you can) and the flour, (What is this 00 flour that everyone talks about? Could it really make a difference? The answer is yes, by the way). And the water. The question there is, how much? The answer is, rather more than you think. I have found that the lightest, tenderest, crispiest crust comes from a surprisingly sloppy dough.
Some of the tastiest doughs are low-yeast, long-rise darlings, festering away in your beer fridge for a week or so.
Most of us, however, aren't able to dawdle that long between our hankerings and our satisfactions, so know that you can plunge ahead with more yeast and a cocktail hour to rise.
Cheating. Let's admit it. We all cheat sometimes. So it is.
I pour the nicely risen, fluffy viscous liquid dough onto a very well-floured countertop, liberally sprinkle flour on top of the gooey mass and gather it into a ball by grasping four corners and flopping them toward the middle and turning the whole business over. Incredibly this works. Fortunately, it doesn't really matter whether you make a show of it. Just get it together however you can manage it. Sprinkle with more flour and flop the dough ball onto a large square of floured parchment paper (the cheat). Gently force it into a large round sprinkling with flour as required. Add toppings.
A note about men and toppings:
Men tend to overdo toppings. You may, of course, do whatever you please. It is your house and your dinner, after all.
In Italy, pizza is considered to be wonderful bread with a few flavourful bits atop. You should be able to taste the bread. North Americans tend to think of pizza as a great mass of tasty food conveyed by an inconsequential layer of crust.
However you choose to proceed, the toppings should be quite dry. Otherwise you will have a soggy, leaky business in the end.
Do you need a pizza stone?
Will a regular oven, or even a toaster oven suffice?
Should you build a pizza oven or invest in a commercial one?
Go ahead! Who am I to pass judgment on the zeal of fellow food warriors?
I heat the oven with the stone in place, in my case, a baking steel - best gift ever, Google it. I put the rack high in the oven so the stone crisps the bottom and the top burner frizzles the top.
Slide it out of the oven, slip the parchment paper out from underneath, and slide the finished work of art onto a cutting board. Pour a beverage of choice, and enjoy!
One recipe of the many:
In a bowl, mix:
1 cup of warm water
1 teaspoon of yeast
A bit of sugar, or honey or maple syrup to spur the yeast on.
Stir with a fork. Wait a few minutes for the yeast to froth. This isn't essential.
Add a bit of all-purpose flour, or 00 if you have it. Stir.
Add a teaspoon of salt.
Add flour and stir until the mixture gathers into a loose ball. (Don't worry about the mixture being too loose. Remember that you are adding more flour later when you form the dough).
This whole process takes about five minutes for those of you who say you are busy busy and couldn't possibly find the time.
Drizzle with a nice olive oil, if you have it. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place until fluffy and doubled in bulk. Or, if plans change, pop into the fridge for a day or few.
Follow your own preferences to find the pizza of your dreams, but do set your foot on the path. It is definitely easy, once you get a feel for it. And fun! Even creative! There isn't much to wash up. It is always nice to know precisely what you are eating. And pizza at home is incredibly inexpensive. And almost as quick as ordering out! It is a quest worthy of retirement, but wise at any stage of life!