Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thin-Crust Pizza with Fresh Mozzarella, Veggies & Grilled Chicken

My pizza-making experience is quite limited. My pizza eating experience, however, is rather extensive, and  since I know how good it can be, I figured it was time that I learn to make my own thin, crispy crust. 

There are tons of recipes and tricks for pizza crust floating around the internet, but the technique I used comes from "My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method," by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste. The book is fabulous, and I highly recommend it for really rich, flavorful bread with practically no effort. I've cut down his narrative a bit to give you the basic instructions, but his description is really helpful for novice bakers and general troubleshooting. This post might look like a lot of reading, but once you get the hang of it, whipping up a pizza crust will be easy peasey and totally worth it.

This crust recipe will make enough for two 13-by-18 inch pies. If you're not cooking for a crowd, store the other half of the dough in a well-oiled sealable plastic bag in the fridge for up to a day, or in the freezer for up to a month.
Extra dough waiting to be frozen. And yes, those are artificial flowers in an upcycled wine bottle!
If you freeze your dough, defrost in the fridge and bring it to room temperature before stretching.

3 3/4 cups (500 grams) bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons (10 grams) instant or other dry active yeast
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) table salt
3/4 teaspoons plus a pinch (about 3 grams) sugar
1 1/3 cups (300 grams) room-temperature water
Extra virgin olive oil for pans, and sealable plastic bag, if you're storing some

Toppings: (in order of appearance)
About 3/4 cup pizza or pasta sauce (I used Walnut Creek tomato and basil organic pasta sauce, which was great)
8 oz. ball fresh mozzarella, sliced into discs (about 8)
1-2 cooked chicken breasts, coarsely chopped (I used some that I had marinated in basil & balsamic and grilled)
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced

1. In a medium bowl, stor together flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and using your hand or a wooden spoon, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds.
2. Using a bowl scraper or rubber spatula, remove dough from the bowl onto a floured work surface. Gently form into a round ball, then divide the dough into two halves, spacing them 4 inches apart, and cover both with a moistened kitchen towel for 30 minutes.
3. When you're ready to make your pizza, oil two 13-by-18 inch rimmed baking sheets. Pick up the dough, flip it over  so it is floured side up, moist side down, and stretch the dough the length of the baking sheet. Using your palms, gently pull, press and stretch the dough to fill the entire bottom of the pan. (No need to make a crust or lip around the edge). Spread the dough as evenly as possible across the entire bottom of the pan, pinching together any holes that open up. If the dough sticks to your hands. lightly dust with flour or coat your hands with oil. (I prefer the oil method). Repeat with the other ball of dough, and top as you like.

Position a rack in the center of your oven, and preheat it to 500 degrees. Spread on the sauce a little thicker around the edges, since they will cook and brown more quickly, and thicker sauce will slow that down a bit. Make sure the sauce isn't pooling anywhere, then add the toppings in the order they're listed.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden around the edges, and serve!

A Note about Bread Flour
Jim Lahey is the guy who finally convinced me that high-quality bread flour was actually worth buying. I'd had some good results baking with all-purpose, but for a really good chewy bread or pizza crust, the extra protein in bread flour is essential. And I figure, if a bag of King Arthur bread flour is about $5, and with it I can bake four loaves of really excellent, easy-to-make bread, I'm still well below bakery prices for a product that is fresh, fabulous and totally home-made. And now that a simple pizza is part of my bread repertoire, I'm sticking with King Arthur. (And they're definitely not paying me to say that. Not yet, at least!)

Before baking
After, crispy and golden.
You may have noticed that while my recipe says to thinly slice the peppers, my pictures tell a different story. In this case, the story is a lack of foresight that lead to big chunks of peppers that while delicious, cooked a bit too slowly and released a bit too much liquid to call this pizza a true raving success. That said, boy was it yummy - just a teeny bit soft in some places. Even with the slight excess of liquid, the crust was chewy and delicious. I think with thin slices, this pizza would be pretty close to perfect.

Quote of the Day: Pizza is a lot like sex. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's still pretty good. ~ Anonymous

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