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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hand Tossing a From-Scratch Pizza Crust

When I was growing up, we always had Friday night as pizza night.  My mom had a homemade crust recipe that she would use, which was eventually replaced with a premix crust recipe, which soon turned into a pizza ordered from our local pizza place in our town of 2000.  Still, Joe's Pizza is my absolute favorite pizza.

If it were up to me, I would have Joe's pizza on our Friday night pizza nights, however, you do pay for what you get with this wonderful pizza, and we live 3 hours away.

So I have worked my way backwards in my Friday night pizza traditions.  When there was no longer Joe's, I opted for the premix pizza crust.  I soon realized in my increasing frugality, that it would be much cheaper to make the crust from scratch, so I pulled out my mom's old pizza crust recipe.

It was a good recipe, and it made a nice pizza dough.  There was one problem though.  I had in mind that I wanted a pizza crust I could toss, and this recipe was not tossable.

Thus began my hunt for the perfect pizza crust recipe. 

I think about the time Ethan and I got married, I had collected a few pizza crusts recipes that I could toss.  Still, I was not content with them.  Some were too bready, some too thin. Some just didn't have the right taste to them.

It seems like I played around with crust recipes for at least 7 or 8 years, mixing recipes, adding ingredients, taking out ingredients, etc.

I wouldn't say that I have the perfect pizza crust recipe, but a couple years ago I finally worked one out that has ended my search and remaking of recipes. 

Because I value the importance of building tradition in families, I have decided to share with you my recipe and how I prepare my pizza crust in case a Friday night pizza night is a tradition you might like to add as well.

So turn your Pandora Italian station on, or better yet, save Pandora until your pizza is ready and make up a silly pizza tossing song to the tune of Giuseppe Verdi's La donna e mobile to make your kids giggle and cheer as you toss your pizza, and enjoy. :)

Ingredients needed: (first three jars from left to right) yeast, wheat berries (or flour), home rendered lard (or olive or vegetable oil), salt, water

Optional ingredients: (back right two jars) gluten (to help whole wheat crusts not crumble), dough enhancer (to maintain freshness - I rarely use since our leftovers don't last more than 24 hours.)
I like to freshly grind my wheat berries, using a soft white winter wheat.  If I use a harder red winter wheat, I will usually add in a little white flour.  This recipe is also wonderful just using a store bought white flour, but I like to add in the extra nutrients since I have the equipment and wheat berries.

The Recipe (makes 3 pizzas)
  • Dissolve 3 tablespoons yeast in 3 cups hot water (not too hot to touch or you will kill the yeast.) 
  • Slowly mix in 5 cups flour, 2 tsp salt, 1/4 cup softened lard, as well as 2 tablespoons gluten and 1 tablespoon dough enhancer if desired. 
  • Knead in approximately 2 cups flour.  I use my kitchen aid to do this, but you can also knead it in by hand.  You will want to add flour in until you can press your down into your dough ball without getting dough stuck on your finger.  In order to get a good tossable pizza, you will need to learn the art of getting just the right amount of flour in.   
After the dough is mixed together, you will need to divide up your dough into your 3 crusts.  I use a small amount of lard on a pizza pan to prevent sticking and then place my dough on the pan. 

From here I will form a flattened rectangle out of my pizza dough.

This rectangle gets divided into thirds using a spatula.  The thirds don't have to be perfect.  Just close.

You will then need to shape each section of dough into a ball.  Since this is hard to explain through pictures, you can check out this helpful Youtube video.

Now it is time to let the bread dough rise. The dough will need to be covered in order to keep the dough from drying out, which will form a crust and prevent the dough from rising properly.  I like to use (and reuse) cereal bags that I have saved and washed. (Yeah, I save cereal bags.  As you will later see, I save my ziplocks too.  Waste not, want not, right???)

You will also want to preheat your oven to 400 degrees at this time.

Unlike when I make bread, I really don't monitor the rising time of my pizza dough that closely.  20 minutes seems to be about right though. 

Once your dough has risen, it's time to prepare it for tossing.  I probably don't prepare and toss my dough like the pros.  If I did, I might need a totally different recipe!  So I just stick to the way I started.
First, I press down on my dough with open hands to flatten it a bit.  After that, I go around the outside with my fingers and really flatten the outer edge. Now it's time to toss!

Like I mentioned, I don't toss pizza like a pro.  But I can toss it now without dropping it.

Not dropping pizza wasn't always the case.  My kids like to remind me of the story I told them from the first year Ethan and I were married.  I came back home one day to a very distinct smell of beer in the house.  Since I knew we didn't have any beer when I left, I asked Ethan if he had for some reason brought some beer home to drink during the day.  He claimed he hadn't. For about the next half an hour, I wandered the house repeating that the house just smelled like beer.  And then it hit me.  My pizza dough.  I had dropped a pizza I was trying to toss 3 days earlier and just threw the dough into the garbage can . . . and the dough was starting to ferment.

Anyway, back to tossing dough. I make somewhat of a fist with both hands, and with a spinning-tossing motion, send the dough into the air.

I will say that it greatly helps to now have 10 foot ceilings. I don't think I have ever dropped a pizza dough in this house.  

These high ceilings even give me a little time to do a spin while I sing my silly pizza tossing song, hence the cheers from my children . . . and the giggles when I almost lose the crust, which I will probably do sometime - but it will be well worth it in place of the fun I have with the kids.  (It also helps that this recipe is for 3 pizzas!) 

I will then repeat my pizza tossing until the crust is the size that I want, or until I overtoss and break a hole in it. These holes can easily be mended with a little stretching back to shape, and small crusts can be stretched as well to fit your pizza pan.

After you have your dough to size, it's time to poke some holes in it.  This will let steam escape and keep large bubbles from forming as your crust bakes. All you need is a fork, and trust me, kids will have much more fun poking these holes than you will, especially since you can't really poke too many of them.
It is now time to pre-bake your pizza crust for 7-10 minutes. You will want to pull your crust out of the oven just before the crust starts to golden. You can skip this step if you are really hungry, but you might end up with a floppy crust, yet a still good tasting one. 

Once your crust has pre-baked, it's time to top, another fun job for the kids. 

Our favorite toppings are our homemade pizza sauce, which is canned from our heirloom garden tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, our Crooked Gap Farm Italian Sausage or ham, our frozen green peppers, and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese. Once topped, the pizza is baked for 15 or so minutes, until the cheese has melted and is starting to golden.

This crust makes an absolutely amazing pizza, especially when baked on a pizza stone.

Since I only have one pizza stone, the other two of my crusts will be baked on cookie sheets (which will need to be greased), and make a pretty tasty pizza as well. 

Well . . . actually the other 8 of my crusts.

I'll let you in on another of my pizza making secrets.

Farm life is full.  Sometimes there just isn't time enough on a Friday to make hand tossed pizza.

So in order to keep our Friday night pizza nights a tradition, I have came up with a way to have pre-made, homemade hand tossed pizzas.

Since I already have my ingredients out, counters and mixer messy, and oven on, I just go ahead and make 2 more batches of pizza dough.

These last pizzas will be tossed just like the first, stretched to fit a rectangular pan, poked, and pre-baked as well.

They then are placed on a cooling rack to fully cool. (As not to prevent sticking when frozen.)

Once cool, they are cut in half, matched up with like sides together, placed in a 2 gallon size zip lock freezer bag (yup, wash and save those too), and placed into the freezer until a Friday night when I don't have time to make a crust.  (As for being cut in half, just match them back up, top them, and you'll hardly notice.)

Pizza crust making day ends up being a pretty full afternoon or evening, but from the fun we have not only preparing the crusts, but also having crusts ready to top and enjoy another Friday night, it is time well spent.

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Tools of My Trade
My Nutrimill will grind grains extra fine to course. It's main use is for grinding wheat berries to make wheat bread. Freshly ground wheat is so much more nutritious than the wheat flour that has sat on the shelves. It is also more economical to grind it yourself, minus the cost of the wheat grinder. (I put my wheat grinder on my Christmas/January birthday list and asked gift givers to go together on it.) In addition to grinding wheat though, it can also grind quite a variety of other grains including beans and corn. You can even make your own cornmeal (they say popcorn works best!). See here for more information about grinding wheat at homeYou might be able to find a nice used one on e-bay, or you can purchase one new as in the link below.

Ethan and I received a pizza stone for our wedding, and shortly after it broke many years later, a friend offered us an extra one she had out of the blue.  Pizzas cook well on regular cookie sheets, but pizza stones just add that extra deliciousness to a pizza crust!  They are wonderful for baking cookies on as well.  Pizza stones, like the one linked, are easy to find in most department stores.

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