Friday, September 3, 2010

The Pizza Dough Taste Test

Remember when I promised to post this yesterday? Let's just say this week kicked my butt. Anyways...on to the pizza. On Emmy night, Sean and I invited our friends over and I thought it was the perfect chance to make homemade pizzas.

I've tried a couple different crusts in the past, but I was determined today to pick the favorite that will become my standby. I used one by Smitten Kitchen and one by Giada de Laurentis.

Disclaimer: Homemade pizza is a rainy day, Sunday afternoon kind of cooking experiment unless you like to wait more than 2 hours to have dinner after getting home from work. You can buy pre-mixed pizza dough balls from Trader Joe's or you can mix your own and freeze them in batches, pulling one down when you need it.

I went with Smitten Kitchen's recipe first. Deb and Giada have very different opinions about yeast. Deb wants you to use just a smidge, about 3/4 teaspoons, to get a nice, thin crust. Giada wants the whole shebang, but we'll get to her technique later.

First, mix flour, salt, and the yeast.

Add lukewarm water and a tablespoon of olive oil and mix until you can form a ball. Deb always makes this sound easy and hers always looks great. Mine always turns out looking awful.

Dump the dough bits on a lightly floured counter and roll into a ball. Spritz olive oil cooking spray in a mixing bowl, roll the dough ball around the oil and cover with plastic wrap to rise for 2 hours.

On the flip side, Giada recommends letting an ENTIRE packet of active dry yeast dissolve in warm water.

For Giada's recipe, I decided to change tactics and try out the dough hook in my KitchenAid. I placed flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of the mixer and mixed those well, before adding the yeast mixture and olive oil. I let the dough hook do the heavy lifting.

Once I had a sticky ball of dough in the KitchenAid, I dumped it out onto the floured surface and then added it to another olive oil-covered bowl to rise. This dough does not need two hours to rise. That yeast does its handiwork within an hour, believe you me.

So, after two hours, my Smitten Kitchen dough looked like this. I'm pretty sure it didn't come close to doubling. Not sure what happens, but her recipe never quite works for me the way it works for her.

But my Giada recipe EXPLODED! Omg, that's not doubling, that's quadrupling!

I placed the ball of Giada dough on my floured counter, and punched out the dough. I rolled it back into a ball and, using a heavily floured rolling pin, spread out the dough.

I can't get a perfect circle to save my life, but whatevs. Put the dough on a piece of parchment paper or pizza stone sprinkled with cornmeal. Preheat your oven to the highest temperature; ours is 550.

I used a homemade sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, garlic and Italian seasonings. I like my sauces on the thin side, personally. I made a classic pepperoni, with mozzarella cheese, pecorino romano and parmesan.

I repeated the same process for the Smitten Kitchen pizza, but made one grievous error: I sprinkled WAY too much flour on the counter and my dough absorbed it right up.

I was out of mozzarella at that point, so I made a plain cheese pizza with a bag of Mexican cheese. This crust option seems better for a thin, crackery crust, but I didn't bake it long enough to get good and crisp. My bad.

So which is my preferred recipe? Honestly, they deliver very different pizzas, so I think I'd switch depending on the toppings. For a thinner pizza, go with Smitten Kitchen. But I think Giada's might be my standby; the crust itself is delicious, easy to make and takes less time to rise.

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