Pizza Dough Throwdown, Part Two

Part 2 of the Pizza Dough Throwdown has arrived!!  If you remember, the first contestant was my old standby pizza dough, given a slightly healthier makeover with the addition of some whole wheat flour.  The challenger is Peter Reinhart’s Napoletana dough recipe, recommended by my friend Chicago Matt.  Since the Reinhart recipe requires a bit of planning ahead, I made the dough on Friday night and the pizzas on Saturday night.

This dough (in its unbaked form) is very, very moist…DO NOT place it on a surface unless that surface has been liberally sprinkled with flour.  And, chances are, it will eat up that flour and demand more.  If you work quickly, you’ll be fine.  If you get distracted by your cat doing something funny in another room, you may end up with a glob of dough clinging fiercely to your countertop.  Not that that happened to me, or anything…

The finished pizza from the Reinhart recipe was, in my opinion, well worth the overnight fermentation and advance planning it required.  I am a sucker for a medium-thin traditional pizza crust that is crunchy on the outside, a little chewy in the middle, with a good mild yeasty taste that does not overpower the toppings.  This is that crust.  And so, I must give credit where credit is due: Chicago Matt, you were right.  I am hooked.
Another thing I like about this recipe is that it gives instructions on how to store the dough and use it later on….I have had pizza two nights this week, and there are two more dough balls in in the freezer.  This makes for a super quick, super yummy dinner, which is a good thing for my schedule.

I topped these pizzas very simply, just cheese, a light sauce, and some chopped stick pepperoni (the deli sliced pepperoni is icky, in my opinion).  As the hot pizzas came out of the oven, I quickly sprinkled some torn fresh basil leaves on top (no time for a chiffonade this time!).  As a side note, I have adapted my sauce recipe since my last pizza post.  Now I use a much simpler list of ingredients: 1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes, 1 peeled clove of garlic, and a handful of fresh basil leaves.  I whiz that all in the blender, and it’s ready to use.  I find that there is enough salt in the diced tomatoes, the cheese, and my toppings that the sauce itself does not need any additional salt or seasonings.

The verdict:  Between hubby and me, it’s a tie!  Hubby prefers the old standby recipe for its more substantial, nuttier crust thanks to the addition of whole wheat flour.  He is not a huge fan of thin crust pizzas, and I made these pizzas pretty thin.  I prefer the Reinhart dough’s more traditional flavor and texture and the absence of the whole wheat flavor, which I felt overwhelmed the toppings a bit on last weekend’s pizza.

Since I am the meal-maker in our house, I think this dough recipe will be my new standby, though I will still turn to my old whole wheat dough from time to time.  Also, why limit yourself to traditional pizzas?  I think this dough would work beautifully as a base for all sorts of interesting flatbread flavor adventures.

I liked this pizza crust so much that I am posting TWO pictures of the finished product.  And yes, that is my cat, Beansprout, nonverbally communicating to me that if I turn my back, that pizza is his. 

Peter Reinhart’s Napoletana Pizza Dough Recipe
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon quick-rise yeast
1/4 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold (40°F)
Cornmeal, for dusting the pan

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment.  Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment; lightly oil the parchment. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas).  Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently shape it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan.  Oil the dough balls gently (I use a paper towel dipped in oil) and cover the pan with plastic (I use a clean trash bag, and put the entire pan inside!).

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough.  The dough will keep at this stage in the fridge for 3 days.  To save dough for a longer period (up to 3 months), freeze it.  To prepare for freezing, shape into a ball and dust ball with flour.  Put a sprinkle of flour inside a ziplock freezer bag.  Place 1 dough ball in each bag and press out air to seal.  The day before you want to make pizza, put the frozen dough in the fridge to thaw.  Once thawed, proceed as follows.

4. 2 hours before making the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the fridge. Dust the counter with flour.  Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Now let rest at room temperature for 2 hours.

5. 30-45 minutes before baking the pizza, preheat your oven to 475F (500F if you feel comfortable).  Prepare a cookie sheet by lightly oiling and sprinkling with a light coating of cornmeal.  On a floured surface, shape dough with your fingertips.  You can also use the backs of your fists to stretch the dough.  A rolling pin can be used but is not the preferred method.

6. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the prepared pan.  Top as desired.  (Remember that the more toppings you use and the heavier your hand with sauce and toppings, the longer it will take to cook and the less likely it will be that you’ll get a nice crunchy crust.)

7. Bake one pizza at a time in the preheated oven, until crust edge is golden brown, cheese is melted, and toppings are sizzling (about 7-9 minutes, longer if your dough is thicker).

8. Remove the pizza from the oven and wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.  Top with torn fresh basil leaves, if desired.


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