Easy Homemade Pizza…

If you’re anything like me, pizza is something you either eat at a restaurant or order for delivery. I never really thought about making homemade pizza until recently. I was wandering around Trader Joes, saw some pizza dough in a bag and thought I should give this a try. So I bought some. After leaving it in the refrigerator for a few days I decided to use it before it went bad. And the rest was just pure joy.

Pizza is pretty elementary. It consists of the dough for your crust, your sauce, your toppings and cheese – yep, that’s pretty much it. But not really. How thinly do you roll out the dough? How much sauce and toppings do you put on? At what temperature do you bake it so the bottom crust gets done before the sides get too brown? What I found is there are some basic things to keep in mind when making pizza so your results will be perfect. So let’s talk making homemade pizza…

Lesson Learned 1 – Tips for working with pizza dough: Pizza dough, like most other types of dough, likes to rest before you roll it out. One common mistake with using store bought pizza dough is to take it out of the refrigerator and immediately start working with it. Doing that will result in a tough crust. Let the dough rest on your counter for about 20 minutes before you begin rolling it out. That way the glutens in your dough won’t get overworked and you won’t have a tough crust.

The dough that I bought made a 12 inch round pizza about 1/8 inch thick. That’s probably the thinnest you want to go with the crust. I rolled it out on a silpat non stick silicone mat. My mat gives me circular as well as linear dimensions that helps when I’m working with dough that needs to be rolled out to certain specifications. If I have a cookie recipe that says I need to create a 9 inch roll, I can measure that on this mat. I was also able to roll out my pizza dough to a perfect 12 inch round. And even though the mat is considered non-stick, you still need to use flour when working with bread/pizza dough. Most of the time you don’t need it for cookie dough.

Pizza Crisper

Lesson Learned 2 – If at all possible, use a pizza stone or crisper: Pizza stones are designed to bake pizzas in commercial brick ovens although they also can be used at home. Pizza crispers are designed for “regular” ovens. They are perforated to let air circulate under the crust to cook the bottom of the pizza more evenly. Being that I don’t make homemade pizza on a regular basis I just bought an aluminum pizza crisper at the grocery store. It worked beautifully. Plus I can reuse it a few times before having to get another one. Use either a pizza stone or crisper if you want to ensure that the bottom of your crust is not soggy when the rest of your pizza is fully cooked.

Also when using an aluminum pizza crisper (as shown in the picture) you should lightly oil it  before putting the dough on it. I recommend using canola oil because it has a very high smoke point. I also recommend that after you brush on the oil to take a paper towel and go over the crisper and remove any excess. I am very serious about only lightly oiling the bottom. I’d start with about an 1/8 of a teaspoon and go from there. That amount of oil and a paper towel to spread it and soak up any excess should be more than sufficient. You don’t want the bottom of your pizza to be greasy. You just don’t want the dough to stick to the crisper.

Lesson Learned 3 – Don’t drench the pizza with sauce: I used the smallest jar of marinara I could find, 14 ounces, and I still didn’t use all of it. Now you may ask should I use pizza sauce or pasta sauce. I don’t think it really matters. Some make pizzas with alfredo sauce. I don’t think there is a hard fast rule. It’s really all up to you. What’s more important is to make sure you don’t drown your dough in sauce. Just spread it on to lightly and evenly cover it. You don’t want to create soggy dough.

Lesson Learned 4 – Should toppings be put on cooked or raw: That depends. If you want to have Italian sausage on your pizza definitely cook it beforehand. I cooked mine about 75% done (just a little pink – see below) knowing that the time the pizza cooked in the oven would cover the rest. I did not cook my green peppers ahead of time, but I did cut them into smaller diced pieces. Same thing with my mushrooms. They went on raw but I sliced them thin and they were cooked perfectly in the time allotted. I also put on some pepperoni slices, as is, since they can be eaten right out of the package.

Partially Cooked Italian Sausage

Another mistake common in making homemade pizza putting the toppings on too thick. Now don’t get me wrong, I like lots of toppings on my pizza. Just be careful not to create a huge mound. What happens when putting too much toppings on is the crust will get done before your toppings are cooked or even warmed through. You don’t want that.

Lesson Learned 5 – Cook your pizza at a high heat: I looked over many different pizza recipes and saw a wide variety of recommended cooking temperatures. One recipe even called for the pizza to be cooked at 350 degrees. With the research I did I found the prevailing thought to be that pizza should be baked at higher temperatures. I baked mine at 450 degrees. It was done in 15 minutes and the crust was perfect. Our local take-and-bake pizza store recommends you bake their pizzas at 425 degrees. You could probably do that as well but it will take a little longer for your pizza to cook. If you pile on your toppings it might be better to bake your pizza at 425 to give more time for the toppings to bake. I would guess baking at 425 might add on an additional 5-10 minutes, depending on your oven. The choice is yours, but I would not go under 425 degrees.

It sounds like a lot but it’s actually pretty simple. If you keep these tips in mind you should have a perfect pizza the very first time. This was my first time making it and it turned out perfectly. And how often can you say that about a recipe you’ve tried only once? I really like the fact that I can control what goes on my pizza and so I will definitely make a homemade pizza again. Try this and let me know what you think…

Easy Homemade Pizza...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 bag of pizza dough (I got mine from Trader Joes – Whole Foods also has them)

1 14 ounce jar of pasta or pizza sauce (there will be some leftover)

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage cooked almost through and crumbled

pepperoni slices, as desired

1/3 cup green pepper, diced small

2-3 medium sized cremini mushrooms, sliced thin

Mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese

1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning (you can add more if you like)

1/8 tsp. canola oil

Flour for dough preparation

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 450. Take a large pizza crisper and lightly oil the bottom. Remove any excess with a paper towel.

Flour your surface for working the dough.  Roll the dough to a 12 inch circle. Wrap the dough around your rolling pin and transfer it to the crisper. Cover the surface of the dough with pizza sauce leaving about a half inch around the edges uncovered. Arrange the pepperoni slices on the dough. Arrange the Italian sausage crumbles on the dough.

Sprinkle the meats with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Arrange the mushroom slices and green pepper pieces on the dough. Top them with more mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle the Italian seasoning over the top.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust cooked and the cheese is gold brown and bubbly. Slice and serve.

 

Homemade Challah…

I’ve always loved home made bread. Who doesn’t? I was never good at making it. And just when I thought I was getting the hang of it we moved to Colorado and altitude. Yuck. Altitude and bread do not mix. Well actually they do, but altitude can add some additional problems. Just what I wanted.

So I decided to take a braided bread cooking class. Am I glad I did. The class itself was a little slow in the participation area, but I came away with one nugget of information that’s changed the whole ball game. So now I’m working on making bread again.

So let’s talk homemade challah…

Lesson Learned 1 – Learning how to know when the glutens in the dough have been developed properly: This was the biggest take away for me from the cooking class I attended. I learned you can underdeveloped, develop and overdevelop the glutens in your dough. Underdeveloped glutens will give you a heavy dense dough that may fall in on you when you bake your bread. Overdeveloped and your bread will be too dry.

So how do you tell? Simple. Just take a small piece of dough in your hand and begin to pinch it and spread it with your fingers. You should be able to work the dough so that it is smooth and paper tin without the dough tearing or breaking.

That was a big breakthrough learning for me especially since I live in high altitude and its tougher to make bread in my climate.

Lesson Learned 2 – Pay attention to the humidity the day you make bread: The higher the humidity the less moisture you’ll need in your dough. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you pay attention to these two factors, gluten development and humidity, soon you will just be able to tell if your dough is of the correct consistency or not.

Lesson Learned 3 – Most people don’t knead their dough enough: Once I mixed all of the ingredients together I used the dough hook on my machine and kneaded the dough for five minutes. That, on average, is a good time to test the dough for gluten development. If the dough falls apart it will need more moisture, if it is too gloppy (technical term) it will need a little more flour. Once you think you have the correct consistency do the gluten test I refer to above. Chances are you’ll be right on the money.

Lesson Learned 4 – If your dough is completely stuck on your dough hook, stop your mixer and scrape the dough off: Some people think that if the dough is on the dough hook it is kneading the dough. That’s not true. The dough hook as to be working it’s way through the dough in order to be kneading it. Be mindful that you’re just not having your dough spin around in a circle without actually being kneaded.

Lesson Learned 5 – You can separate your dough into as many strands as you want for braiding: I did a traditional 3 strand braid. You braid it just like you braid hair. The picture to the right shows my strands. In hindsight I should have made the bottom one thinner and all the strands more even in size. In the end it really didn’t hurt anything as you leave the braided bread to rest on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for at least an hour and the dough rises and sort of fills itself in.

I will admit that this recipe is a little more challenging than what I normally post, but hopefully as a fledgling cook you are confident enough in yourself to try something a little more difficult. This was the very first time I ever made challah and it turned out magnificently. But if you’re does not, go back and try it again because once you master the art of making home made bread, you’ll never turn back.

Homemade Challah...

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/8 cup warm water

3/4 Tbs. instant yeast

6 egg yolks, one for the egg wash

2 1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil

3 -6  Tbs. sugar, depending how sweet you want your bread

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

3 3/4 cup flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. water for the egg wash

DIRECTIONS:

Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl, whisk and let sit for a couple of minutes. Add the 5 eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla and whisk to break up and incorporate the eggs. Add the flour and salt.  If using a stand mixer use the paddle attachment and mix for about 2 minutes. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.

Switch to a dough hook and mix on low speed for 5 minutes (my mixer particularly specifies that whenever using the dough hook do not go above speed level #2. You may want check the directions that came with your mixture to see what they recommend. The speed should not go above medium low).

Use a bowl scraper and scrape the dough onto a floured surface and continue kneading the dough by hand for about 2 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles in size, approximately 2 hours.

After the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and cut it into the desired number of pieces you will need for your braids – I made 3 braids of 10-14 inches in length. It is important that the braids are all the same length.

Braid the pieces of dough together and transfer the loaf to a parchment lined sheet pan. Make an egg wash by combining the last egg (you can do the whole egg or the yolk) and the water. Brush the entire surface of the loaf, including the sides with the egg wash. Refrigerate the remaining egg wash. Let the loaf stand uncovered for about 1 hour.

About 20 minutes before baking time preheat the over to 350. Brush the bread one more time with the egg wash. Bake the bread for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes (I only needed an additional 15 minutes).

Let cool on a wire rack and enjoy the beauty of homemade bread!