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Secrets Revealed: Prosciutto, Pepperoni, Sausage, Bacon, Three-Cheese, Thin-Crust Pizza

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Posted by johngl

Now that it has finally gotten cooler and the heat from the oven is a welcome addition to household temperature, I’ve been refining my pizza recipes. I’ve hit upon some interesting techniques including what I call: BaaS (Bacon as a Seasoning). And, while I hate using the word foolproof, the new, improved — and highly refined — dough recipe is as close as I’ve gotten to thin-crust pizza perfection.

Densely packed air pockets

I’ll start with the dough ingredients:

1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup King Arthur Bread Flour
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons corn starch
3/4 cup 110° F water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 packet active dry yeast
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Okay, yeah, that got a bit more complicated than using nothing but AP flour. However, doing some reading, I discovered that many Italians use a “00″ grade flour with a protein content of around 8% for pizza dough.  Looking at AP flour, its more in the 13% to 14% range. Bread flour has less protein, in the 11-12% range. Adding corn starch drops it farther (and no, I didn’t calculate it, I was just experimenting). You may just want to use cake flour, but I didn’t have any in the house at the time. The trick here is reducing the protein content without losing that pizza dough s-t-r-e-t-c-h-y thing.

I’ve also switched from using sugar to agave nectar and bumped it from a teaspoon to a tablespoon. Most glorious spousal unit said she liked the extra sweetness.

This was also the first time I’ve used my food processor to prepare the dough. I put the flours, cornstarch, and salt into the processor and pulsed it a few times to get a nice uniform mixture.

I took a quarter cup of the warm water, added the agave nectar, stirred in the yeast, and allowed the yeast to bloom. The top of this yeast mixture gets all bubbly and smells wonderfully yeasty after just a couple of minutes.

I added the olive oil, pulsed a couple of times, added the yeast mixture, pulsed a couple of times, and then dumped in the rest of the water and pulsed a few times until I had what looked something like wet pearl couscous: small beads of damp dough.

I removed the dough from the processor and kneaded it by hand for four minutes to develop the gluten. At first, it looked as though I had cut back too much because I wasn’t getting the stretchiness I saw normally. This turned out to be a good thing in the end.

Now, another secret. I set my oven to preheat at 170°F (please recall that I have unglazed quarry tile in my oven at all times) and let it go for two and a half minutes, then turned the oven off. This allowed the tiles to come up to about 100°F which is great for getting bread dough to rise.

I put my kneaded (and non-stretchy) dough into a stainless bowl covering it with a damp paper towel. I placed the bowl into the 100°F oven and left it there for an hour.

When I came back, it had doubled in volume. I punched it down, kneaded it a few times, and split it into four 5 oz. balls. Normally, this is where one refrigerates one’s balls.  This time, I put them back in the bowl for a second rise. The oven was down to around 92°F by this time, but that was still in the good zone.

Forty-five minutes later, I took the balls out of the oven and kneaded them a few times. The dough was velvety-smooth and soft and, amazingly, very stretchy! I put each one into its own sandwich bag and into the fridge they went.

Making Your Custom Pizza

Pizza dough, ready to roll

Several hours later, I took one of the dough balls out of its bag and nuked it for five seconds. This is just enough to take the edge off the cold and not cook the dough. On a floured board (AP flour is fine and don’t be shy with it), I flattened out the dough by hand, then used a couple of different rolling pins.

Rolling the dough

I start with the tapered pin on the right, rolling the dough from the center outwards, rotating and flipping the dough on the floured surface as needed. I’ve found rolling works better for me than trying the twirl and toss method. The last time I did that, I had a pizza dough stuck in my pot rack. This dough mixture is really easy to work with and once I got it out to about 8-9″ in diameter, I switched to the standard rolling pin on the left. This evens out the thickness of the dough quite well and gets it out to the 12″ diameter I seek.

Peel-Sized

Why 12″?  Well, that is how wide my pizza peel is. It doesn’t work well if your dough is larger than the peel.

As you may note, the peel has already been dusted. I used to use corn meal for this until I hit upon using Maseca® (instant corn masa mix) instead. I didn’t have corn meal, I had the Maseca, and it actually worked better and wasn’t gritty. Again, don’t be bashful.  If your pizza sticks to the peel, you will have a real mess on your hands.

Dock your dough

Using a pie dough docker, I liberally dock the pizza dough. It helps keep the dough flat.

Oiling the crust

Next up, I paint the dough with olive oil using a silicone brush. The brush allows for a nice thin even coat of oil over the doughs entire surface. This fat layer works as a barrier so that moisture doesn’t penetrate into the crust and make it soggy.

Getting Sauced

I’ve also started using the brush to get a relatively even coating of sauce on the pizza.

My mess in place

Professional chefs have a concept called mise en place which means “putting in place” and keeps everything right at hand, ready to use. I’ve redefined it to mean “mess in place”. It really makes final assembly a lot easier and is worth the discipline. In the above photo, starting with the tub of sausage in the upper right, we have: ultra thin sliced pepperoni, a small hunk of Parmesan cheese, Gouda (yellow), mozzarella (white), finely diced bacon (for use as a seasoning), prosciutto, pizza sauce (unmixed), and finally, the pizza dough.

Gouda, bacon, and seasonings

A note: Make sure you move the pizza dough to the peel before adding toppings!

Here we have my BaaS concept in action. I keep pre-cooked bacon in the fridge at all times, just for such things. This is one stick, finely diced, spread over the entire pizza. It is followed by a blend of salt, pepper, pequin powder, shallot powder, onion powder, garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano, dried thyme, and dried sage. Then just top that with a thin layer of the Gouda. My ratio of mozzarella to Gouda is roughly 2:1.

Pepperoni

I used to pre-nuke the pepperoni when I was buying it pre-sliced. The amount of fat this stuff releases is tremendous. I now buy pepperoni in sticks and slice it ultra thin (almost see-through). It adds the flavor without all that fat.

Place your prosciutto

Place the prosciutto in the open spaces where the pepperoni isn’t.

Sausage!

This sausage is fresh ground pork shoulder with fennel, sage, onion powder, garlic powder, pequin powder, three different paprikas (hot, smoked, and sweet), salt, pepper, and pre-seared with tomato paste.

Mozzarella

Add your mozzarella!

Parmesan

And finally, grate on some Parmesan!

If you have your oven lined with tiles or a pizza stone, make sure to have pre-heated it for at least a half-hour at 500°F before you add the pizza. The stones/tiles take a while to heat up.

Set your timer for six minutes.

Set your timer

Pop the pizza into the oven. It should slide right off the peel and onto your hot tiles.

At three minutes in, rotate the crust about 180 degrees to ensure even cooking.

Tiles (and pizza) in the oven

Note the “oven within an oven” thing I have here. The pizza rests on one layer of tiles and the upper layer helps reflect heat back down onto the pizza. It also comes in handy when cooking two pizzas at once! I’ve had these tiles for around 8 years now and not a single one has broken. To clean them, I run them through the self-cleaning cycle of the oven.

Out of the oven!

When the edges start to turn this darker brown color and curl up just a bit, the pizza is done.  It is actually a better way to determine done-ness than using a time-based method.  The last thirty seconds is crucial.  A pizza can go from perfect to burnt in about 15 seconds if you aren’t paying attention.

Note the gooey cheese…

Gooey cheese

The uniformly colored crust…

Good crust color

No limp pizza here!

Crisp crust

Even loaded down with toppings, this pizza stays…um…erect.

While the crust is thin and crisp, it isn’t dried-out like a cracker. It still maintains a moist chewiness in all but the outer perimeter where you’ll get a resounding crunch.

So, there you have it. All my pizza-making secrets are out. It isn’t difficult and doesn’t take a lot of time. You can choose your own toppings. In less time than it takes to call and have a cold, limp pizza delivered, you can have one of these fresh from the oven (provided you’ve done a few things in advance).

Don’t forget the BaaS.

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6 Responses to “Secrets Revealed: Prosciutto, Pepperoni, Sausage, Bacon, Three-Cheese, Thin-Crust Pizza”

  1. Biz says:

    Um, I love erect pizza too! I love making pizza dough in my food processor – so easy. It’s sad that people shy away from making homemade pizza – its so much better than delivery!

    Do you find that proscuitto has an, um, smelly effect when you add it to pizza? I normally don’t add my proscuitto until it comes out of the oven.

    • johngl says:

      Smelly effect? No, can’t say that I have. I use a Prosciutto de Parma sliced super thinly; it always has a slightly sweet scent to it. Nothing funky.

  2. Holy moly that pizza looks amazing. I like the tips you’ve given me.

    I make homemade pizza all the time, but I love your techniques and I’m definitely going to try your dough recipe!

  3. Mike F says:

    Do you use the stone tiles for cooking other dishes or just as brick oven heat sink for pizzas?

    • johngl says:

      Thanks for visiting Mike!

      I also use the tiles when I bake bread, putting the dough directly on the tiles. That said, I leave the tiles in the oven all the time (one layer of them). This evens out the variances in conventional ovens whose temps fluctuate as much as 25 degrees between “on” cycles.

      They also work great for warming flour tortillas or keeping dishes warm during a party. They hold on to heat for a long time.

      I’ve never regretted spending the 60 cents each for those tiles!

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