Friday, June 23, 2006

Pizza Margherita at Home

Excellent! Dad said it was the best he'd ever had.

Authentic recipes for this Neapolitan pizza call for an 800-degree oven, two days of proofing, and a dough expert's hands. We wanted real Margherita--hold the hassle.
The Problem: Classic pizza Margherita is characterized by a crispy crust garnished with nothing more than a thin veil of tomato sauce, creamy mozzarella, and fresh basil. The problem? Most of these recipes depend on the stratospheric temperatures of a commercial oven to deliver a sufficiently thin and crispy crust.

The Goal: We wanted to refit this classic pizza recipe for the home oven. And we didn't want our recipe to take too much time (no multiple rising sessions) or effort.

The Solution: Our tests proved that a great pizza crust depends more on tenderness and crispness than crumb structure, so we didn't need to spend much time kneading the dough to develop gluten (which gives bread chew). In fact, we found that a food processor made quick work of our dough, mixing it in just two minutes. We also found we could shape the dough right out of the food processor, eliminating one of the two rises most bread recipes require. After one only hour, we were ready to roll--but the wet, sticky dough was tricky to roll as thinly as we wanted. Our solution was to use 1 part cake flour to 2 parts all-purpose flour, a combination that made the dough more tender. Our pizza also stayed light and tender after baking for 10 minutes in a 500 degree home oven (pizza in a commercial 800-degree oven cooks in less than 4 minutes, not enough time to turn tough and chewy). Developing the topping was easy. We pulsed canned diced tomatoes in a food processor, drained them to avoid a soggy crust, and added just a little sugar, salt, fresh basil, and garlic. Adding the fresh mozzarella halfway through the baking time preserved its fresh creamy texture and milky flavor.

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This recipe requires a pizza stone and a peel. Convection ovens will produce a lighter, crispier pizza, and you will need to reduce the overall cooking time by a minute or two. You can shape the second dough round while the first pizza bakes, but don't add toppings until just before baking. You can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator if you like; place the dough balls on a floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray. If using mozzarella packed in brine, pat the cheese cubes dry before placing them on the pizza.
Makes two 12-inch pizzas

1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup water (8 ounces), room temperature
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces), plus extra for dusting work surface and peel
1 cup cake flour (4 ounces)
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 teaspoons sugar

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 small clove garlic , minced or pressed through a garlic press (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
table salt
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese (see note above), cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, set pizza stone on oven rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. In liquid measuring cup, whisk yeast into water to dissolve. In food processor fitted with metal blade, process flours, salt, and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds. With machine running, slowly add liquid through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of workbowl, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (If after 1 minute dough is sticky and clings to blade, add 1 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and continue processing. If dough appears dry and crumbly, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water and process until dough forms ball.) Divide dough in half and shape into smooth, tight balls (see photo 1, above). Place on floured counter or baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

2. FOR THE TOPPING: In clean bowl of food processor, process tomatoes until crushed, two or three 1-second pulses. Transfer tomatoes to fine-mesh strainer set over bowl and let drain at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to release liquids. Just before shaping pizza rounds, combine drained tomatoes, sugar, garlic (if using), 1 tablespoon basil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl.

3. TO SHAPE AND COOK THE PIZZAS: When dough balls have doubled in size, dust dough liberally with flour and transfer balls to well-floured work surface. Press one ball into 8-inch disk (photo 2). Using flattened palms, gently stretch disk into 12-inch circle, working along outer edge and giving disk quarter turns (photos 3 and 4). Lightly flour pizza peel; lift edges of dough round to brush off any excess flour, then transfer dough to peel. Spread thin layer of tomato topping (about 1/2 cup) over dough with rubber spatula, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge. Slide onto stone and bake until crust begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove pizza from oven with peel, close oven door, and top pizza with half of cheese chunks, spaced evenly apart. Return pizza to stone and continue cooking until cheese is just melted, 4 to 5 minutes more. Transfer to cutting board; sprinkle with half of remaining basil, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and pinch salt. Slice and serve immediately. Repeat step 3 to shape, top, and bake second pizza.

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