Cooking With Keras: Hand-tossed Pizza

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And so begins my long-delayed blog about food! When I decided to finally sit down and start collecting my recipes and pictures, I wasn’t satisfied with the photos I took. So for the past few weeks…er…months, I’ve gone back and redid a few recipes and took some new pictures.

I was told that with food blogs, you can’t simply post a few pictures and a recipe. Instead, you’re supposed to ramble on about trivial things and try to include anecdotes. I guess the more words you include, the better you engage the reader? It’s been a while since I did any writing, so I’ll try my best and hopefully craft better stories as I go!

“Cooking with Keras” started one night when I was bored and decided to share my cooking in a step-by-step fashion on Snapchat stories. Some people liked them and gave my recipes a try, so I kept going! In fact, I think my first cooking story was actually about pizza! So this post will be the first of four in a series about pizza! Today we’ll look at the classic hand-tossed pizza, and spend most of our time talking about the dough. The other installments won’t delve into the dough process as much since they’re all basically the same with just a few tweaks here and there.

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The Dough

 

When making your own homemade pizza, you can keep it simple or make it as complicated as you want. Most grocery stores have fresh and frozen pizza dough that you can use to produce great results. Most people think that making dough and baking bread is way too difficult. I disagree! Pizza dough has only 4 ingredients: water, flour, salt, and yeast!

If you want to geek out and learn more than ever thought you wanted to know about pizza dough, I’d suggest reading through Jeff Varasano’s blog blog. He goes very in depth about his quest to make the perfect dough. I’ve experimented with his recipe and adopted some of his methods and techniques, and the dough I make these days is modified from his recipe.

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First things first: if you’re going to be baking a lot, you really need to invest in a scale! They’re not that expensive, and they make baking a lot easier and help produce repeatable results. When measuring dry ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, yeast, etc, measuring by volume gives inconsistent results. Not all measuring cups are created equal! I measured the same amount of flour onto each of these plates and weighed them.

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Same amount of flour according to my measuring cup, yet their weights are 10% different! It might only be a few grams here and there, but you’ll get better results if you correctly measure your ingredients by mass instead of volume.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you away from making your own dough yet, I swear it’s not complicated! I’m just going to talk about one more concept before continuing: baker’s percentage. This is simply a method of comparing the amount of flour relative to the other ingredients when baking. When making breads, I usually see it calculated by how much the dough is hydrated. If you have 100 pounds of flour and 60 pounds of water in the dough, then it is 60% hydrated. When baking breads, wetter doughs need higher baking temperatures. I usually make my pizza dough 60% hydration and bake the pizza as hot as my oven can go, which is about 525 degrees. I used to have an oven that, although very very unsafe, could get well in excess of 700 degrees. I’m not sure exactly how hot because it broke my thermometer when I tried measuring it once. Obviously, that’s not normal. I think there was a malfunction that let me use the oven on the cleaning cycle temperature. Totally safe! Pizzas were ready in less than 3 minutes and were cooked perfectly! A second over 3 minutes and they were burnt and inedible. The pizza dough that I made then was much wetter, probably closer to 70%. If i kept it at 60%, it would have burned. The wet dough was very tricky to work with but it made the best damn pizza I ever had.

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If you have a stand mixer, it’s going to make the dough process much easier. But if you don’t, you’ll at least get a good workout by mixing everything by hand!

So even after I’ve talked about measuring out all the ingredients and baker’s percentages, you don’t have to follow the measurements exactly. I’ve made a lot of dough over the years, so I can tell my look and feel if the dough is ready. Until you feel comfortable venturing off the path, you can continue to follow the recipe listed below! I make a pizza dough that ends up measuring about 400-450g, and I usually make two or three at a time. So for two pizzas I use 300g of water, 500g of flour, 12g of salt, and about 4g of yeast (which is 60% hydration). Rough volumetric measurements can be found at the very bottom of this page. From there I’ll make adjustments depending on how the dough is coming together.

To start the dough, I add all the water, salt, and yeast to my stand mixer, and give it a quick stir. You don’t have to feed or proof the yeast. Completely unnecessary! I then add about 2/3 of the flour and mix it together and let it rest for 20 more minutes. The dough is now “autolyzing”; the water soaks into the dough and gluten structures begin to form. Or something. Science! Necessary step? I dunno, but it seems to work.

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After the autolyze period, it’s time to knead the dough. Yes, the dough is still very wet but this allows for better kneading. The dough hook can work through the entire dough with ease. If we added all the flour at the beginning, then we would just end up moving a ball of dough around the bowl and not kneading it! We want to create gluten structures when we knead, it’s what helps to make the bread chewy and delicious. I begin with a 5 minute knead and then slowly begin to add the rest of the flour over the course of the next 3 or so minutes. By now, all the flour is added, or at least most of it. You want the dough to still be kind of wet, and the dough should be pulling away from the sides of the bowl. If you lower the bowl, the dough should slowly fall off the dough hook. We don’t really want a tight firm ball of dough. When we form the dough into balls, if you let it sit, it should spread out a little and look a little limp. Perfect!

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From here we can dump the dough out onto the counter, then measure and cut the dough into two equal sizes. I keep my dough in tupperware that I’ve wiped with oil until I’m ready to use it. I usually make the dough a day before, but the day of works, too. The longer the dough has time to sit, the better the crust it’ll develop! Keep the dough in the fridge, covered and oiled, until you’re ready to use it

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About an hour or two before you’re ready for some delicious homemade pizza, take the dough out of the fridge and place it on your counter and dust it lightly with flour. Now it’s time to make the sauce!

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The Sauce

When it comes to the sauce, I believe that less is more. I use crushed tomatoes, and season it to taste. Add a dash of salt, a bit of sugar, a pinch of oregano, a smidgen of paprika, and some grated italian cheese like parmesan or romano. That’s it! I don’t cook it either, that’s what baking the pizza does. If you like a spicier sauce, you can add some red pepper flakes and maybe some garlic. But maybe you can try keeping it simple so you can taste all the flavors?

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Go ahead and preheat the oven and put your pizza stone on the lowest rack in the oven. You don’t have a pizza stone?! You can still bake the pizza on a baking sheet, but a pizza stone concentrates direct heat to the bottom of the pizza. It gives the pizza that satisfying crunch by drawing out extra moisture from the dough. You can find one at Wal-Mart for maybe $20. Another option is a baking steel. They’re more durable, but also more expensive than a stone.

Putting It All Together

We’re on the home stretch! The dough should be close to room temperature, so we can start forming it into the classic pizza shape. Make sure you have enough flour on the dough, the counter, and your hands so we don’t tear the dough. Begin by flattening the center of the ball with the heel of your palm, while leaving an extra ridge of dough along the outside for a nice fluffy crust. Gently use your fingers to push the dough outwards from the center, with your other hand placed along the rim, pushing in to the center to create a slightly thicker crust. Rotate the dough each time to keep it symmetrical. Then get your hands underneath the dough, forming a fist so your fingers don’t poke through. Gently rotate the dough and let gravity stretch it further. Check out the video below, it’s easier to show than write.

You can try tossing it in the air, but I am not responsible for any messes you make! I sometimes toss and spin the dough a few times, it helps stretch it out, and it looks cool. But you can do all of the necessary work on the counter.

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So how are we going to get the pizza from the counter onto the stone without spilling everything all over the kitchen? By using a pizza peel, or in my case, by using a cookie sheet! They accomplish the same thing, and you can use a cookie sheet for lots of things. A pizza peel only serves one purpose: putting a pizza in the oven.

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Lightly dust the tray/peel with coarse corn meal. The corn meal will act as millions of tiny ball bearings so we can slide the pizza off the tray directly onto the stone without anything getting stuck. It’s not full proof, so make sure you have everything ready to go. Once we get the dough onto the tray/peel, you should have it in the oven in less than a minute. So you’re going to need your sauce, cheese, and whatever toppings you want on this pie. I like using fresh mozzarella, but the prepackaged shredded kind will work ok if that’s all you have. For toppings, I like alternating between a classic margherita pizza (tomatoes, cheese, basil), a pineapple and pepperoni pizza (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it), as well as prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes with basil. Experiment with different toppings and flavors, it’s fun!

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Back to the assembly. Add the corn meal to the peel, place your dough gently on top. Using a fork, poke a handful of tiny holes into the inner ring of the dough. This will prevent the center from rising and spilling toppings off the pizza. Add a spoonful or two of sauce to the dough and spread it to the ridge of the crust using the back of the spoon. We want less sauce in the center, because it will travel inwards when it bakes. On top of the sauce, add some fresh mozzarella and then finish it with your toppings of choice.

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Open up the oven door, and put the end of the peel at the back of the pizza stone. Give it a small shake until it starts to slide off the peel onto the stone. Once you’ve made contact, slowly drag the peel towards you and the pizza should have made it onto the stone in one piece. But if you ran into a small hiccup, it’s ok! Ugly pizzas still taste great!

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With my oven, pizzas can take anywhere from 7-12 minutes to finish at 525 degrees. Each dough seems to turn out differently, and it also depends on if you gave the stone ample time to warm up. Check on it after 6 or 7 minutes. We want the cheese to be melted, but not overly bubbly and burnt. We also want a nice char to develop on the crust.

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If the stone wasn’t hot enough resulting in the top of the pie to finish cooking before the bottom has developed a nice crust, I’ll take the stone out of the oven and let the pizza continue to cook on top of it for a few more minutes. Once you’re satisfied, move it to a wire cooling rack and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving!

Bon appetit! I’ll try to make these posts every week or so, and I’m open to requests. Follow me on instagram to see my newest creations, as well as Snapchat for when I post stories from my kitchen!

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For two pies:
500g bread flour (~3 cups)
300g water (~1 1/4 cups)
12g salt (~2 tsp)
4g yeast (~1.5 tsp, little less than an entire packet of yeast)
1 can crushed tomatoes, small, ~14oz

Seasonings to taste:
-1 tsp sugar
-1 tsp salt
-2 tsp dried oregano
-1.5 tsp smoked paprika
-shredded parmesan or romano cheese

In a stand mixer, add all the water, salt, and yeast. Stir.

Add 2/3 of the flour and mix ingredients together. Should form a dough with a consistency of a thick batter. Let rest 20 minutes covered.

With the dough hook attachment, knead the wet dough for 5 minutes, then begin to slowly add the remainder of the flour over the next 3 minutes.

(If you don’t have a stand mixer you can use a wooden spoon to do the wet knead. Once you begin to add the rest of the flour you might have to move to the counter top and knead it by hand)

Turn dough out on to counter and divide into two balls. Oil two pieces of tupperware and roll the dough around until coated. Cover and refrigerate (up to a week) until needed.

Two hours before eating, take dough out of fridge and let rest on counter. Cover with a light layer of flour to prevent it from drying out.

One hour before eating, preheat oven as high as it will go, hopefully at least 500F, with pizza stone on bottom rack.

Mix together sauce ingredients in a bowl, and prepare your toppings of choice such as fresh mozzarella, basil, pepperoni, sausage, etc.

Gently form the now-room-temperature dough into flat discs.

Lightly dust a peel or flat tray with coarse corn meal.

Gently place pizza dough onto peel, and poke a few holes in the dough with a fork.

Spread tomato sauce onto dough and cover with your toppings.

Transfer pizza to the pizza stone using the peel, and cook for 9-12 minutes, checking first after 7 minutes.

Once done, let cool on wire rack before serving. Hot pizza is hot!