playing hooky with homemade pizza

Handsome just finished a grueling week at work, so we played hooky at the end of the week.  I’m a graduate student by trade, and since I had no classes, playing hooky was easy for me.  Whatever will I do when I have a real job?

Anyway, I knew exactly what I wanted to make for our day off: homemade pizza.  I jumped on the homemade pizza bandwagon when I was a kid, starting with the Chef Boyardee Pizza Kits.  I remember being so mad when they changed their sauce recipe; I liked it much better before.  “More kid-friendly,” my butt.  But this, for a long time, was my favorite thing to do on Friday night: get one of these kits, a bag of shredded pizza cheese, and some Hormel pepperonis, and go to town.  The sauce, the original sauce, was to die for.

I’ve had a favorite pizza crust for a while now; it’s this one, by Giada de Laurentis.  It makes a yeasty, sweet pizza crust.  Due to my small budget, however, I make it in a 13 x 9 cookie sheet, which has meant pre-baking the pizza crust so it gets done, and sometimes I’m just not as pleased with the results as I would like to be.

See, lately I’ve been on a pizza kick for crusts that are thinner, but still chewy, but with some crispiness.  Apparently, the key to this is a pizza stone.  I don’t have one, and I don’t have the nine dollars (well, I do, but there are other things I’ve wanted to spend nine dollars on… like mozzarella) to buy a crappy one.

Then the heavens heard me, and I came across an article on a DIY pizza stone at the Slice blog.  I have a local hardware store!  I can do this!  My local store did not have the smaller tiles they recommend, so I got 4 12″ tiles (a mistake, ultimately, as I can only fit one in my oven, so Handsome cut one for me so I have a 17 x 12″ pizza stone, in two pieces, plus one more tile.  Alas, one tile did not make it through the cutting process and is no longer with us).

So then it was off in search of a recipe for a thinner, crispier, but still chewy pizza crust.  Like the kind they serve at my new favorite local pizza place.  I found a recipe on Epicurious (how I love you, Epicurious) for Margherita Pizza that seemed like it would work (one of my requirements was a recipe that did not require me to spend money on the fabled but elusive 00 flour).

Results of this experiment:  The pizza stone did a great job cooking the pizza.  I got impatient and did not roll the dough out large enough, so the crust was a little chewier than I wanted.  It also could have used another minute or two in the oven but again, I got impatient.  I was also concerned that the cheese was browning too much (but whoever heard of over-browned cheese on a pizza? Not me.), so that contributed to my taking it out a little early.

You will also notice on some of the Epicurious reviews that some people were upset that the parchment paper browned and burned.  That is true; it did.  I didn’t care, and it didn’t affect the flavor of the pizza at all.  The parchment paper underneath the pizza did not burn at all.

Pizza Margherita
from Epicurious

You will need:

Dough
2 1/4 tsp. or 1 package active dry yeast
1 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, divided (I used bleached because it’s what I had, and it seemed fine)
3/4 c. warm water, divided
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. olive oil

Topping
1 14-15 oz. can whole tomatoes in juice (I used crushed tomatoes that were crushed very well, and thus did not have to blend them)
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 large basil leaves, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 tsp. sugar
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced

From Epicurious:  “Make dough:

Stir together yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl and let stand until surface appears creamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t appear creamy, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Add 1 1/4 cups flour, remaining 1/2 cup water, salt, and oil and stir until smooth. Stir in enough flour (1/4 to 1/3 cup) for dough to begin to pull away from side of bowl. (Dough will be slightly wet.)

Knead on a floured surface, lightly reflouring when dough becomes too sticky, until smooth, soft, and elastic, about 8 minutes. Form into a ball, put in a bowl, and dust with flour. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.

Make tomato sauce while dough rises:
Pulse tomatoes with juice in a blender briefly to make a chunky purée.  (I skipped this, as I used crushed tomatoes.)

Cook garlic in oil in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until fragrant and pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add tomato purée, basil (I added the basil whole), sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 40 minutes. Season with salt and cool.

Heat pizza stone while dough rises:
At least 45 minutes before baking pizza, put stone on oven rack in lower third of electric oven (or on floor of gas oven) and preheat oven to 500°F.

Shape dough:
Do not punch down. Dust dough with flour, then transfer to a parchment-lined pizza peel or large baking sheet. Pat out dough evenly with your fingers and stretch into a 14-inch round, reflouring fingers if necessary.

Assemble pizza:
Spread sauce over dough, leaving a 1-inch border (there may be some sauce left over). Arrange cheese on top, leaving a 2- to 3-inch border.

Slide pizza on parchment onto pizza stone. Bake until dough is crisp and browned and cheese is golden and bubbling in spots, 13 to 16 minutes. Using peel or baking sheet, transfer pizza to a cutting board. Cool 5 minutes. Sprinkle with some basil leaves before slicing.”

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