Friday, September 25, 2009

Now my apartment smells like burnt cheese

A bit of a failed effort on the pizza making front last night... though not a complete failure, thankfully. Anna was out of commission after a really rough day, so yours truly was on his own with the pizzas... and, regrettably, it turns out I was not up to the task. According to the recipe, you take the dough out of the refrigerator two hours before you're going to cook it... flour it and smash it into a disk and whatnot, and then just let it rest. I was surprised to see that it didn't really rise any on the counter, which meant there wasn't a lot of dough to work with... and I have yet to have much success shaping a pizza, always giving up and having Anna and her bakery experience do it. However, I was feeling pretty optimistic this time for some reason... indeed, I was expecting to be able to do this:
Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift 1 piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208.
Now, why I thought I could bounce dough on my fists when I handn't even been able to get a round pizza by pushing out with my fingers is a mystery... and about where the trouble started. I never got to the "full toss" luckily, so there wasn't any pizza dough on the ceiling or anything... but I made such an abysmal effort I had to beg Anna to come in and fix my lame shaping. She did so, but what I really should have done is taken a deep breath or two and let the dough relax for 5-20 minutes while I moved to the next piece and shaped with my fingers or a rolling pin. That's what I'll do next time I screw it up... not be afraid to squish it back together and let it relax. Anyway, I got it onto the peel and put the sauce on and then started to put on my cheese mixture (2 parts Gruyère, 1 part Asiago, 1 part Gorgonzola, and a couple of teaspons of dried basil and oregano)... but I had been planning on a bigger pizza then we ended up with, and consequently had too much cheese... instead of just saving the leftovers for when I make my next pizza (we have four more balls of dough in the freezer after all) I just piled it all on the pizza. This would be my second mistake. I got it on to the baking stone fine, but the excessive cheese soon melted and ran down onto the stone... giving us a bit of smoke and and nice fine heady aroma about the apartment. Having some toppings fall off onto the stone to burn is a fairly typical experience, so I shouldn't have worried too much... but I let it get in my head and mess up my game. Part of the reason was Reinhart's suggestion to put the baking stone on the floor of the oven (if it's a gas oven obvi)... this will get the stone as hot as possible (good!) but if it's not on a rack you can't pull it out to give you the easiest time getting the pizza on there (very very bad - as we shall soon see).

While that pizza was in the oven, I started on the second... spinach, mozzarella, ricotta, and tomato... I shaped it myself this time (with my fingers) and moved it to the peel... belatedly realizing I still needed the peel to take out my other pizza. So I moved it back to the floured counter so I could get my three cheese pizza out. By the time I moved the dough back on to the peel, I had a very long and thin rectangular pizza... unweildy enough that I should have started the shaping over, but, alas, didn't. Instead, I put on the toppings and moved to put it in the oven... but my jerk with the peel to lay down an edge on the stone was a little too hard, as the whole pizza slide off and folded over onto itself like an accordion. Uhm... whoops. While the same thing could have happened if the stone was on a rack that I had pulled out, I would have had a better chance of salvaging it... or, more importantly, cleaning it up when I realized there was no way to save it. As it was, all I could do was try to scoop up the mound of bubbling mound of pizza parts with the peel... and while I did get up a hefty chunk, I also pushed a fair bit off the stone onto the bottom of the oven where I couldn't get to.

You can probably guess how wonderful our apartment smelled after that. It's a wonder I didn't set of the fire alarm. With a giant stone that had been in a 550 degree oven for an hour and a half, there wasn't much I could think of doing except running around and cursing in the smoke.

That makes today: Oven cleaning day! Yay? It did need cleaning, so I guess I can take solace in that.

I should say that the three cheese pizza turned out fairly well. The crust was, in fact, delicious, with a outer crispness, inner chew, and great flavor. So despite numerous trials and tribulations, I give the dough a thumbs up and am anxious to make some more pizzas next week.

Here is what I learned:
  • Don't put the baking stone on the floor of the oven unless you are really an expert with a pizza peel. Put it on the lowest rack you can, and pull the rack out to place the pizza. The absolute best option is to have a second person armed with spatulas to help even out the placement and scoop up any stray toppings that may have fallen onto the stone.
  • Shape the dough with your fingers or a rolling pin unless you really know what you are doing. If you screw up, don't be afraid to stop and let the dough rest for 5-20 minutes before trying again.
  • Don't go overboard with toppings, especially cheese.
With these lessons in mind, hopefully I'll have some successful pizza making adventures to report next week.

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