The Old Way; The Way I’ve Been Doing it for Years…
Make Dough the Night Before I Need It.
When I first started, I made the dough the day of instead of the night before. I could get away with it, technically, it was totally possible to do so. However, while it would make a deliciously puffy (albeit difficult to work with) dough, it wouldn’t have that same nutty, yeasty, gluteny flavor that is achieved when the yeast and the sugars have time to mingle for at least 18 hours. I eventually learned to make enough dough to be divided and bagged in freezer-proof Zip-Lock bags; using what I need and freezing the rest.
Remember the Ratios
When I first started, I used a scientific approach to my dough making; accumulating various methods and recipes, putting them all in a bowl and mixing it up with previous experience. The first few results were as expected…awful…my notes reflected as such, “next time, do this instead of that…use more of this and less of that…” There was a time where I just gave up. I was presented with a choice; spend time and effort on something trivial, or just give up and order out.
I pouted for a few months.
Then, one day I realized that the little things mean much more to me than the bigger picture, and I jumped right back into it. All I needed was a little more knowledge, a little more finesse. Bread is a living thing and it cannot be constructed as one would build a bookshelf…it must be nurtured. It took a few tries, but I finally hit my stride. The result of which was making dough regularly. So much to the point where I no longer relied on any recipe on paper, it was a “sense memory” thing. Something more akin to a chef or a baker who actually knows what they’re doing.
I’ve been making dough for over ten years now, and still I rely somewhat on measurements. In the beginning, I relied on my chicken scratch notes because it wasn’t automatic yet. Then dough making turned into a Friday night ritual to prep for my Saturday night ritual of making it. As the weeks and months pass, I just knew that this much flour meant this much yeast which that much water and so on. For years now, the result of my labor has just been…sustainably adequate. Maybe I got bored. Maybe my taste buds have gone blind and have given up trying long ago. Whatever the reason, I’ve made no secret that I wanted to change it, but I never dared to do anything for fear of something falling apart. Remember the ratios. Remember the crushing failures of the past.
For years, it has been fairly consistent. And I’ve been silently indifferent.
Never Get the Sauce from a Jar.
Ever. Always make it fresh. I will not bend on that. Always make it fresh. Make it with real ingredients. Forget that the price of fresh produce is going up, grab that basket of Roma tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market and get back in the kitchen. So what if it tastes a little…funny? It’s fresh! It’s…organic ‘n stuff! It’s supposed to taste like this.
While trying to be as accurate as possible with the construction of the dough, I would “eyeball” the ingredients for the sauce. It would taste different with every batch. That would be okay, because honestly, the dough would vary in taste and consistency every time too, no matter how much attention I paid to it.
This is how its been for years. Homemade pizza would be our Saturday night thing. It would be the thing that holds the family together. It would teach the kids that daddy can cook too, and he can do it better than anything pulled out of a microwave. There was even a moment in time where my ego was so bloated that I considered opening a pizzeria of my own. The problem was that even though I looked forward to every Saturday night and making something that everyone could eat and hopefully enjoy, the end product that I was pulling out of the oven was good. And that’s not a complement. It was good. I was shooting for great.
It didn’t taste good. I mean, it didn’t taste awful, it just tasted…well…off. It wasn’t enjoyable. My feelings were confirmed when my daughter takes her slice and picks at it. She usually eats half of it before she quits halfway through, up until recently, she couldn’t even do that. I mean, it’s PIZZA for cryin’ out loud! PIZZA!! If your kid picks at a slice of pizza like some kids push lima beans to the side of a plate, then congratulations, you just made something so horrible that they would rather choke down a Papa John’s pizza rather than endure eating what you made. Way to go…you suck.
Things had to change. In doing the same thing for years, I have become slave to the action, I had become complacent. If I took a step outside myself and observed my pizza from another point of view, it didn’t matter that it was good enough or not. It was pizza, and it was fresh, and daddy was making it. There could be no wrong coming from this. Only, I could tell. It wasn’t right, and I couldn’t go through another week foisting a sub-par product to my family. I mean, if I’m not wowing them on a weekly basis, how would I hypothetically survive opening up a shop?
Things had to change.
And so they did…
Old Dough Recipe (prep time: 2 Days):
- 5 Cups High Gluten Flour
- 1 tsp. Dry Active Yeast
- 1 Tbl. light brown sugar
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbl. olive oil
- ~3 Cups warm (between 95° and 110° F) water.
I recommend starting off with clean water. If you don’t have access to a Brita Water Filtration System, then a jug of filtered water, the kind you collect in your shelter in case a hurricane rips through your neighborhood? The store brand kind? The ones that are like under a buck each? Yeah, one of those will work nicely.
You’ll need around 3 cups, not exactly 3 cups. The reason being is that there is a crucial point in dough making when you have to slowly incorporate wet to dry ingredients. Too much wet, and it’ll turn into paste. Not enough, and it’s a modern art sculpture. I’ll get into the details later.
Warm the water to around 110°. Heating it in a microwave safe vessel is okay, I prefer to warm my water the old fashioned way of pouring it into a small saucepan, placing it on the back burner of my stove, turning the burner to low and busy myself with other things while it gets up to temperature.
While that’s working, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. If you don’t have one of these…well…don’t fret, the gift giving season is right around the corner. I used to mix by hand for a few years until I got one of these and realized how much my wrists have turned to stone. I recommend the stand mixer, it’ll save a lot of time, and it’ll save your arms…unless…ya know…you’re into that whole “beefy arms” thing.
Anyway, as stated previously, place flour, yeast, and sugar in the bowl and mix on low speed using the whisk attachment. The yeast and the sugar need to do their happy dance in the flour, so you need to play the tune by mixing for 2-3 minutes. Once they’re all incorporated, add the salt while the machine is running, and continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes. Not only are you making the yeast happy, you’re also incorporating a little air to the mixture…let’s get to that later…maybe.
Stop mixing, and replace the whisk attachment with the dough hook. Dump the olive oil into the flour mix, and turn on your machine to a low speed.
After you roll them up, use your plate that you used to cover up your dough earlier and drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil in it. Roll a dough ball around in it so it receives a lite coating. Then you should, as Mr. Gemignani pointed out, place each ball in individual zip lock bags (gallon sized will do the trick). Make sure you get as much air out of the bags as possible, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Place your balls in the freezer. The longer they stay in there, the better they’ll taste….stop LAUGHING! If making pizza the next day, take as many as you need out of the freezer, and place in the refrigerator. Remember to take them out at least 2 hours before baking.
The New Recipe. The One I Discovered a Month Ago:
- The same as above, except add another teaspoon of yeast and divide the dough to 1 lb. portions. Much better; nice chew, very tender, wonderful aroma and mouth feel.
The Old and Busted Sauce Recipe:
- Roma Tomatoes (I highly…HIGHLY recommend going to your local Farmer’s Market for these. The bigger, the better. The ones you get from a supermarket or “Wally World” are just way too small and flavorless and…gross.) Depending on the size, you’ll need anywhere from 6-8 (slightly over a quart). Make sure they’re ripe. If they’re slightly orange and/or not as squishy, the sauce will give a very “bright” flavor, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
- 4-5 cloves fresh garlic roughly chopped
- (2) 5.5 fl oz (2 small cans) tomato juice
- 1 tsp. sugar
I’d like to take a moment to point out that the rest of the recipe is not in exact measurements…remember… “eyeballing” So, just like you’re Nonna did in the old country…follow your nose…it always knows…the flavor of fruit (that’s a 70s reference, kids. Go ask your parents).
- dried basil
- dried oregano
- fresh basil & oregano (optional)
- garlic powder
- kosher salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
Peel your tomatoes. Again, not getting into how to do it here, so here’s an informative video…
Add all the ingredients to a pot and introduce an immersion hand blender to the party and blend until saucy. Place pot back on the stove (the warm part where you boiled the water) and cover until room temp. The residual heat will cook the sauce gently.
Now, this has been my sauce for years. This is the sauce that I’ve been convincing myself that is the best thing in the universe. The thing is, and I’m basing this on experience, it has a tendency to turn on you the longer it stays in your fridge. I recommend freezing what you don’t use. This sauce, while made with fresh ingredients, isn’t that good and will turn sour within a month. This is the sauce that I’ve been fooling myself with. This sauce…for lack of a better term…sucks. So, in order to get out of the suck, I turned to the internet while swallowing the fact that sometimes, I just don’t know what I’m doing.
New Hotness Sauce Recipe:
- (2) 15oz. cans of tomato sauce (30 oz.)
- (1) 12oz. can of tomato paste
- 1 Tbl. Italian Seasoning (I know, I know, “how could I?” you gasp,but it’s better this way. Trust me.)
- 1 Tbl. dried oregano
- ~1 tsp. crushed fennel seed
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- ½ tsp. salt
Combine sauce & paste in a large saucepan over medium heat. While that’s working, crush your fennel seeds. Don’t have one of these yet? Remember…gift giving season…Macbook Pro…FOCUS!
Add remaining ingredients, mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly (making sure not to burn). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool, apply to pizza….yadda yadda yadda.
Now, the consequence of turning “mouth blind” as it were, is that when you apply something new to something established, there are bound to be repercussions. If done wrong, your family and friends will turn on you quicker than my old sauce taking up way too much room in the ice box. You will become a pariah and turned away from your next book club meeting. If done right, you will witness the initial shock, then the inevitable expression of “what have you done?, then the denial…then the acceptance…then the moment where you forget about the old sauce altogether.
Honestly, I didn’t know how everyone would react as I presented my pizza v. 2.0 for my family. My girlfriend went through the stages mentioned above, my infant son raged and fussed until he got a piece of the pizza crust, but the icing on the cake…the image that made my night, was to see my baby girl, fussiest eater on the planet, not only ate the ENTIRE slice of pizza, but it was intact as she was eating it; no picking, no pruning, no uck face… just devoured. Silently. Whole. Proud papa came back that night when a clean plate was in front his daughter.
My reaction upon eating it?
|IT TASTES JUST LIKE PIZZA!|
Pizza at last, pizza at last, great googly-moogly, pizza at last. I had forgotten what it tasted like. After scalding the roof of my mouth, I was brought back to the pizza of my childhood; I was brought back to the pizza shop on the other side of town that we used to go to on special occasions. I also wondered why I’ve been denying myself this for years. Why I was so resistant to change? Philosophical quandaries aside, I was finally where I want to be in my pizza-fu. It was wonderful.