Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pizza Party

One of the nice things about living near our alma mater is that when college friends come back to campus, a visit with us is usually on their itineraries. The weekend before last was Winter Carnival, so several of our friends came back. A cup of coffee with my friend Emily on Friday afternoon led to an impromptu pizza-dough-making session that night and a pizza party at our old college house Saturday evening.

We used the pizza dough recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Savoring Italy cookbook. It's a very simple recipe - only yeast, water, flour, and salt - but it was fantastic. We actually made a quadruple batch in my stand mixer (using the paddle hook for the initial stirring and the dough hook for the rest of the stirring and kneading). I've since made another quadruple batch and found that this dough freezes and thaws well. (A single batch of dough, as listed below, makes one 12" thin-crust pizza). For the crispiest crust, I bake the pizza at the highest heat possible (my oven goes to 550) for a short time (about nine minutes). I bake the plain crust first for about five minutes, then top it and put in back the oven - this way, the crust doesn't have a chance to get soggy.

With four pizzas to play with, we used a variety of toppings; the best combination by far was one that Emily suggested which was based on a recipe in the Cheese Board Collective cookbook. The Cheese Board Collective is a cooperatively-run company in Berkeley that produces cheese, pizza, and baked goods. All of the employees own an equal stake in the company and receive the same hourly wage. Emily highly recommends the cookbook, so I plan to check it out soon. Anyway, the Cheeseboard pizza combines kale, walnuts, and white sauce; we used the last of my frozen summer kale and pecans that I had on hand. Emily made a basic roux, spiced with paprika, nutmeg, cardamom, and pepper. We sauteed the kale to remove as much of the moisture as possible, then layered the roux, kale, mozzarella, and pecans on the parbaked pizza. For a final touch, we brushed the finished pizza with garlic-infused olive oil. Although I love kale, I've never before had it on pizza and was surprised by how wonderful it was. I was especially pleased by the surprising crunch the kale took on the edges. We also made a pesto, chevre, and mushroom pizza (with the last of my frozen pesto), as well as a few other veggie combos. We rounded out the meal with a salad of romaine and shredded root veggie mix.

Stand-Mixer Pizza Dough
adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Savoring Italy, by Michele Scicolone

1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups flour *recipe calls for unbleached all-purpose, but I use King Arthur's white whole wheat
1 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let stand until creamy, about five minutes. Stir until dissolved.

Add yeast mixture, salt, and half of flour to stand mixer bowl and stir at low speed with paddle attachment until blended. Switch to dough hook and add the rest of the flour. Stir on low until well-blended. If you are making multiple batches at once, add flour one cup at a time, stirring after each addition until thoroughly incorporated. Switch to medium speed and kneed until smooth and elastic, about seven minutes.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk. The recipe says this should take about two hours, but I've found that most of the rising happens in the first forty-five minutes.

Punch down the dough and knead breifly on a floured work surface to remove any air bubbles. If you are going to freeze any dough, now is the time to do it. I wrap each ball in plastic wrap and then put the wrapped dough balls together in a Ziploc freezer bag. If you are going to cook the dough today, leave the ball on the floured surface and invert a bowl over it. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.

Bake at the highest heat possible for four or five minutes; remove from oven, add toppings, and bake for a few more minutes, until crust edges are golden.

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