So. I made pizza again. It’s not that I wasn’t happy with the last version, one that I’ve made repeatedly in my kitchen. But I wanted a variation. Not so much in the sauce, but in the crust. Chewy, stretchy, with a flavour of its own that would absolutely justify curling up in a corner and eating just pieces of crust.
Turns out, that the amazing Deb of Smitten Kitchen has basically written nothing less than a thesis on pizza dough. It covers everything from the texture to the yeast quantities to the rise times. She has three super useful versions depending on how much time you have. I decided to try the one that needed the longest rise, the least amount of yeast and promised the most amount of flavour. I will be talking about this version here, but you could make any of the others depending on when you feel like eating pizza. ‘Always and forever’ is unfortunately not an option.
The thing is, I learned a lot from this dough-making experience and I wanted to cover the dough basics and troubleshooting here first, before you get to the pesto pizza!
So, I thought everything was going according to plan. I was working with the 22 hour rise, which meant on Friday morning, before work, I mixed up the dough and left it to rise, hoping to wake up on Saturday morning to a beautiful, puffy, well-risen dough. By Friday evening though, the dough had barely moved. It was wetter, but definitely not taller. The yeast quantity was very, very tiny but that was the whole point of a slow-rise and I had got the freshest packet of yeast I could find. It wasn’t as hot in my kitchen as it is in the summer but definitely not cool enough to stop a rise completely. By the next morning, I had had a mild aneurysm because the dough continued looking only wetter, not much bigger, plus it smelled a little SOUR!! I assumed it would, with all that fermentation but what if I was about to give myself a stomach bug? Then I did some frantic Googling, found out that sourness to a point was just fine, asked Deb what could possibly have gone wrong with the rise and she suggested I try baking just a bit of it to see what happens.
Well. That little bit of dough puffed up in the oven, developed the little blistered edges it should have, and because there were no toppings, came out like some sort of cross between pizza dough and a pita pocket. And my God, it was delicious. Deeply flavoured (how do you describe the flavour of yeast, exactly?), crusty on top, chewy on the inside. Perfect.
My confidence restored, I decided to go forth and make the pizzas. Here’s the thing though, since my dough didn’t double, or even come close to doubling, it made a smaller quantity of pizza. I got 3 roughly 8″ thin-crust pizzas out of this dough. You could also make two thicker 10″ pizzas, which in hindsight is a good idea since the sauce will weigh the crust down a bit. The reason I’m saying is that in the event you find yourself in my situation, don’t assume that it’s all gone to waste. You’ll still get dinner.
I used my springform pan bottoms and my regular baking tray to bake the pizzas. All the baking surfaces were lightly sprayed with oil, then sprinkled with flour. This doesn’t only prevent sticking, it also gives the bottom of the pizza a bit of crispiness.
I want to make it clear that this recipe actually isn’t hard and shouldn’t cause jitters. But strange things happens even when you do everything right, and at the end of the day, if you’re eating pizza, it’s all good.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. The yeast must be as fresh as possible. Bluebird Active Dry is your best bet, it’s the most commonly available and doesn’t betray me (usually).
2. This long rise needs 1/8 heaped teaspoon of yeast. I’m going to be a little evasive here and say this is just less than 1/4th tsp, because that’s the measuring spoon I had. Note to self: buy a 1/8th tsp measure
3. It will look like you’ve added no yeast at all. Patience. The final dough will be so sticky, you’ll want to scream at it. More patience. Fingers and palms liberally coated in flour help in a warm kitchen. There is no kneading or rolling, so you’ll just be pressing the dough out into the shape you want.
4. I swapped half the regular/all-purpose flour with wholewheat. I suspect this is where the drama may have begun because though it was an acceptable thing to do, wholewheat flour absorbs moisture faster, so it needs more water. It will also produce a denser, firmer dough. Keep this in mind if you prefer adding some wholewheat too.
5. If your dough doesn’t double, but smells a bit sour after about 22 hours, feels sticky and stretchy, develops the little ‘holes’ that a fermented batter would get, then it’s done. A couple of hours on either side is normal. Everything depends on the humidity and the temperature in your kitchen. Don’t leave a ready dough out any longer than you need to, it will go bad.
6. I don’t have a definite answer to what happened with the rise, but, I do want to say, it’s basically bread, topped with cheese. It can’t be bad. Don’t panic.