Anyone who has been reading my writing for long probably knows that, while I think recipes have their place, I tend towards a somewhat improvisational approach to much of my cooking, including bread. After three decades, I possess a certain confidence when it comes to judging dough by feel. While this makes it simple for me to adjust, or even create, recipes on the fly, it means I am starting from a disadvantage here since I haven't written a lot of recipes down.
When I realized this had to change, I started by writing up what I knew of my pizza dough off the top of my head:
"Measure" 3/4 cup of water into bowl, pour about ~1/2 tsp yeast in my palm to measure it, toss that into water, stir. Add a couple of scoops of flour (~1 1/2 cups) and mix. Add more flour a little at a time until it feels right.Let it rest for a few minutes. Drizzle in some olive oil and sprinkle on some salt. Then knead it for a couple of minutes adding enough flour to make a very soft dough. Walk away again for a few minutes, come back and knead a few more minutes. Fridge. Bake.Not very useful, is it?
My next thought was to reverse engineer some directions for what I normally do by feel. I made a few batches of crust, weighing as I went along and came up with something that resembled a pizza crust. Then I read Kevin's recipe and started wondering about what I'd come up with.
Dough: rest and motion
How would you like a simple technique that gives you better bread with less work?
Here it is: Step away from the dough.
Not forever mind you, just for a bit. After mixing the dough, but before kneading it, put your feet up and have a cup of tea. Come back in half an hour. (I know it has been long enough when my arms feel rested enough to knead the dough.)
This resting period, called an autolyse (aut-oh-lees), gives the flour time to fully hydrate. During this time, glutenin and gliadin - the two proteins in flour that combine to form gluten molecules—bond. Kneading time is reduced substantially because the flour is fully hydrated before you start, and gluten bonding has already begun. Kneading flour also causes oxidation, resulting in bleaching, along with loss of beta-carotene and a bit of flavor, so this improves the flavor of your bread as well.
Salt, which inhibits hydration and gluten development is often left out until after an autolyse, as is any old dough. These ingredients are incorporated while kneading the dough after the autolyse.
Less work for better bread—this is truly a transformative addition to any bread baker's bag of tricks. Some might call it magical.
To grab an example, Kevin's pizza crust uses ~10 oz of liquid to ~18 oz of flour, whereas I use 13 oz of liquid to roughly the same amount of flour. Like I said, it's wet.
Don't let that scare you away, though. While this dough is a bit sloppy to work with and requires a bit of faith the first time you bake it, it's not as slack as the infamous no-knead bread everyone—maybe even you—is baking. Because this dough is so wet, it is more extensible (stretchy) and tolerant (resistant to breaking down) than a lot of other recipes. Better yet, and a critical payoff to this approach, is that it is incredibly tolerant of delay, which you can plan to fit your schedule.
This dough also employs cold fermentation, which is when a bit of magic happens. During the first fermentation of any bread dough, enzymes are broken out of the flour, releasing sugars and flavor. Normally, with bread rising at room temperature or warmer, these sugars are gobbled up by the yeast so you only get a hint of those flavors in the resulting bread.
Not so with this technique. Cold dough means the yeast is sleeping (shhhhh) and can't eat a darned thing! All those lovely sugars that give bread its flavor and beautiful caramelized crust. are yours to enjoy when the bread is baked. Keeping the dough cold also makes it a bit easier to work with, as I wrote about while experimenting with the very wet no-knead bread. (and it even rises slowly, as you can see from this picture of dough that was refrigerated for about 36 hours)
I usually make this dough the night before I want to bake it. It takes about 10-15 minutes (spread out over an hour or two) after which the dough is refrigerated until shortly before baking. The dough needs at least half a dozen hours to ferment after mixing, and can tolerate up to 3 days before baking. Unused dough freezes well too, (see my notes on freezing at the end of this article)
Finishing the pizza takes an hour or so from when you hit the front door after work. This is mostly determined by the time it takes to heat your pizza stone. If you freeze your crust as I describe below, you can even defrost a frozen crust in that same hour. That makes this a great crust for people who are juggling work, kids, blogging, and a social life.
kitchenMage's Overnight Pizza CrustFreezing dough
ice water 1 1/2 c | 355 ml | 12 oz | 340 g
bread flour 4 c | 0.95 l | 18 oz | 500 g
instant yeast 1 tsp | 11 ml | 1/8 oz | 3+ g
olive oil 2 tablespoons | 30 ml | 1 oz | 28 g
salt 1 tsp | 5 ml | 1/4 oz | 8 g
(These directions are for mixing by wand, err, I mean hand. Parenthetical directions are for those of you who are using a stand mixer.)
Mixing the dough
Important: Water temperature matters—the colder, the better. About 15 minutes before starting, combine 1 1/2 cups of water and add a handful of ice cubes. By the time you are ready for it, there will be very cold ice water waiting. Remember to remove any remaining ice before measuring. If you have room in the freezer, you can put the measured flour in it to chill for that same 15 minutes.
In mixing bowl, stir flour and yeast together just to distribute yeast. Add ice water and mix to combine into wet dough, about 1 minute. (mixer: use paddle attachment on low for 30-60 seconds) It will look like sort of like thick, lumpy pancake batter. Cover and stick back in refrigerator for 10 minutes.
Remove from refrigerator, drizzle oil on one corner of dough, drop salt on top of the oil, and stir to combine. Turn dough out on well-floured counter and knead for a couple of minutes. (You can add more flour if you need, or want a substantially thicker crust—I do at times—but this is better with less so give it a shot.) Place dough in clean bowl, cover and return to refrigerator for at least 5-6 hours, preferably overnight. (The dough can stay refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
Baking the pizza
When you get home from work, turn on the oven as high as it goes to get the stone really hot. Make sure the stone is in the oven (or is that just me who forgets?) It takes about an hour to thoroughly heat the stone. Fortunately, this is about the same amount of time it takes to finish preparing the crust, toppings and assembling the pizza—even allowing for interruptions from the small people. You can even toss a salad together.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and turn out on floured counter. Divide dough in half (or thirds for smaller pizzas) and refrigerate the portion you will not be using.
With well-floured hands, shape each portion of dough into a flat disc as large as possible without tearing the dough. When the dough starts to shrink back immediately after stretching, let it rest on counter for five minutes before continuing with shaping it.
With a bit of tweaking, this is a fairly versatile crust. If you like cracker-thin pizza, use less dough and stretch it thinner. (Amusingly enough, this is one of the few doughs I make that I can get a good windowpane from.) For thicker, breadier pizza, use a little more dough and stretch it less. (If you like your crust even thicker, go ahead an use more flour, starting with an extra 1/4 cup.)
When the crust is about the right size, place it on a parchment sheet, cover and let rise until you are ready to top it. If you turned on the oven when you took the dough out of the refrigerator, this should be another 30-45 minutes. It will not rise substantially, but it should warm to room temp and poof just a bit in spots.
In honor of theKid, my toppings for this pizza are Canadian bacon and pineapple. She usually adds black olives but I was out. Oh well. I'd say a 12" inch pizza takes 6 ounces of Canadian bacon, 2/3 of a can of pineapple, and a handful of olives. (feed the rest of the pineapple and olives to the kids who are helping you make it)
My standard marinara, which I make in my largest stockpot using cans of crushed tomatoes and herbs from the garden, goes on first. (Sorry there's no recipe for this, but Kevin's tomato sauce looks like it would work just fine if you need one.) Next, I put on the pineapple and olives so they will be underneath the meat and cheese. Half the cheese is next. If I have parmesan, I might grate some over the pizza at this point. Otherwise, I am a mozzarella purist. Following the first part of the cheese is the meat. By leaving the meat partially exposed amongst the cheese, you promote browning on the edges, which is both pretty and flavorful. Finish off with more mozzarella.
(Kevin and I are going to have a throwdown one day about the relative unholiness of each other's pizza toppings. He has been known to snark about pineapple, while I simply can't fathom cheddar cheese on pizza!)
Carefully slide pizza (still on parchment) onto the hot stone. Bake at 500-550 degrees (hotter if your oven does it) for 3-4 minutes then check to see if the pizza needs rotating for even baking. Continue baking until cheese is melted and bottom of crust is brown and of desired crispiness, usually another 4-5 minutes, depending on how carried away you got with the toppings.
This dough freezes nicely, although I don't know what is up with forming them into little balls first. I shape dough into 5 inch disks so they thaw quickly, leaving you with just a bit of stretching before your crust is ready to top and bake.
When I am in a hurry to thaw a crust, I take advantage of the preheating oven to kick-start my dough by placing a wooden rack over the burner where the heat vents, and putting the peel with the crust on it on top. Once the peel is warmed a bit (about 10-15 minutes), you can move it to a counter to finish it's mini-rise while the oven finishes heating.my apologies for the wonky image formatting, i don't usually use Blogger and Kevin has this spiffy custom template and I am confused! with any luck, Kevin will come along and fix it before I wake up...and this will all have been a dream...)
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