Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daring Bakers -- Bake like a real Pizzaiolo!

Before I start this post, I want to apologize for the photography on my page.  :(  What's worse is that I am the daughter of a pretty talented photographer (if you ask me), and the wife of a photography college graduate.  You would think I should have picked up some skills somewhere along the way.  Part of my problem is my camera.  The other part of my problem is that I tend to bake at night, and with the winter fast approaching, it's getting dark so early.  Therefore, I have no natural light to assist with ridding my photos of the blur.  Arrrrrrgh, I'm a perfectionist, and these pics just aren't cutting it.  Anyway -- on with the show.

This month the Daring Bakers challenge was to bake a pizza "like a real Pizzaiolo" which included tossing the dough into the air like a professional.  I wish it were just that easy.  Actually, the tossing part wasn't so bad.  I struggled when it came time to transfer the pizza dough and toppings into the oven.  My dough wouldn't budge.  I had to pretty much slop the whole thing down onto the pizza stone and just hope that some of the dough made it under the toppings.  I learned my lesson from the first pizza, and prepared the second pizza directly on the preheated pizza stone (quickly, mind you).  I guess a better solution would have been to properly oil and flour the area I was topping the dough on.  Oh well, I still have 4 more dough balls in the freezer to experiment with.

The pizza was very good.  The dough was thin in the middle, and chewy with a hint of crunch around the outside.  I topped our dough with homemade marinara from this Cooking Light recipe (it's wonderful and simple).  I precooked some turkey bacon that I crumbled on top of the sauce along with some caramelized onions.  Then I topped that with fresh mozzarella, turkey pepperoni and a sprinkling of oregano.  This pizza had delicious flavor!  I can't wait to make it again!  I wasn't very "daring" with my toppings, but I just love pizza, and I love the more traditional (American traditional) flavorings.

Check out what the other daring bakers did with their challenges here.

And, make sure you try it for yourself by following this recipe:

Basic Pizza Dough
(Original recipe taken from "The Break Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart)

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches in diameter)

4 1/2 cups (20 1/4 ounces) unbleached high-gluten (14%) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil or vegetable oil (both optional, but it's better with)
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40 F)
1 T sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1.  Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).
2.  Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough.  On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed.  If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too try add 1 or 2 teaspoons of extra water.

NOTE:  If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.  The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl.  If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour so that it clears the sides.  If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.  The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50-55 F.

3.  Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment.  Lightly oil the paper.
4.  With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE:  To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5.  Sprinkle some flour over the dough.  Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball. 

NOTE:  If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6.  Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil.  Slip the pan into a plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.
7.  Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to three days.

NOTE:  You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some dough for any future baking.  In that case, pour some oil (a few tablespoons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil.  Then put each ball into a separate bag.  Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months.  The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8.  On the day you plan to eat the pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator.  Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil.  Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour.  Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter.  Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil.  Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.
9.  At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500 F).

NOTE:  If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan.  Do not preheat the pan.

10.  Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal.  Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles).  Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper.  Lay the dough across your fists in a vary delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce.  Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.
11.  When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches in diameter for a 6 oz piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.
12.  Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE:  Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously.  No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13.  Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan.  Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE:  After 2 minutes baking, take a peek.  For an even baking, rotate 180 degrees.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pan to a lower shelf before the next round.  On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14.  Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer to a cutting board or your plate.  In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.


  1. I don't know why you are apologizing for your photos. None of mine ever look that good. Your pizza looks delicious. One hint is to make sure you use tons and I mean tons of cornmeal under your pizza before you try putting it on your stone. I use a pizza peel, it is worth the investment. Always make sure you can move your crust BEFORE you put on any toppings, if it sticks put MORE cornmeal on. Anyway, you didn't ask for my advice so I will just say well done!

  2. Your pizza looks great! Hey, your photos are much better then mine are.