Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guest Post from Father Dominic Garramone: PIZZA BASICS

I was recently contacted by Reedy Press, publisher of Father Dominic Garramone's book Thursday Night Pizza, a book with tips, recipes, and instructions on how to create the perfect pizza dough and some yummy pizzas. In his community, he chooses Thursdays as the day for pizza making because:
Thursday night is haustus night. Haustus (from the Latin hausere, to be filled or satisfied) is a weekly community night with snacks. We sit in the community room and discuss current events, argue politics, (...) It's a way to relax, but also to strengthen the bonds of community.
I like that. I like meals that bring people together, for the eating and/or for the making. I like to host sushi parties where everyone tries their hand at rolling their own sushi. And for Valentine's Day this year, my hubby and I will be making 'his and hers pizzas' using Fr. Dominic's recipes. He'll make mine (with the Italian crust) and i'll make his (with the American crust). I'll probably wing my own topping and sauce recipes, but i'll take his into consideration. This is a sweet little book, small enough to fit anywhere in the kitchen, and has some really fun and unusual recipes that i'll definitely try, although i'm not much of a recipe user. Pizza is another of those bread making ventures i wish to master, and Thursday Night Pizza should help me on my way.  You can get your own copy in bookstores, online and at reedypress.com.

*As an official disclaimer: as a member of 'the media' i was requested to write about this book in exchange for a free copy but was under no obligation to write a review: positive or negative.  My opinions are solely my own.

I'll post the results of our his and hers pizzas next Tuesday, along with further thoughts on this book. For now, enjoy a guest post from Father Dominic on the basics of pizza dough, the real key to delicious pizza.

Some pizza dough basics

I generally distinguish between two basic styles of pizza dough: American and Italian.  What I call “American” style dough is made with bread flour (with a relatively high protein content), uses oil and milk to condition the dough, and has a little sugar in it, both for taste and to facilitate browning.  “Italian” style dough uses a softer flour (all-purpose will do fine), and only yeast, water and salt as the remaining ingredients.  Italian-style dough is also a much wetter, slacker dough than its American cousin, and so I usually make it in a stand mixer.

Not only are there differences in ingredients in the two categories of dough, the methods used for shaping the crust are also different.  An American-style crust is rolled out with a rolling pin, so that the dough is “de-gassed” and both the thickness and the interior texture more regular.  American-style dough is also somewhat denser and chewier than its Italian counterpart. By contrast, Italian-style dough is stretched by hand, never rolled, resulting in larger air pockets throughout the dough and an uneven thickness and texture.  Italian-style crusts are sometimes smaller, but even in larger sizes are used for pizza with fewer toppings than the usual pile of meat and veggies on a typical American pizza.

Here’s an easy rule of thumb for the amount of dough for a pizza: for a medium thick crust, use one ounce of dough for every one inch of diameter.  The majority of home pizza pans are for a 12” to 14” pizza, so 12 to 14 ounces of dough will be about right.  Obviously, use less dough for a thinner crust and more if you prefer thick crust, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Another aspect of creating quality pizza dough is the amount of time the dough rises, and at what temperature.  A long, slow rise will produce a better pizza crust.  You can achieve this slower rise either by using cool or even cold liquids when mixing the dough, and/or by refrigerating the dough as it rises.  You can even make your dough in the evening and refrigerate it overnight for the next night’s supper.  Just be sure to allow for a couple of hours for the dough to come to room temperature.

One last note about creating quality pizza crusts: buy yourself a pizza stone.  Pizza stones are made of a durable fired clay called stoneware.  They are usually round, 14” to 15” in diameter, and are available at most large department stores, discount outlets and even some grocery stores.  The stone pulls moisture out of the bottom crust and makes it crisper, and we all know soggy crusts are the bane of good pizza.  So the next time you’re at a Pampered Chef party and don’t know what to buy, go ahead and get a pizza stone, and while you’re at it, get a wooden peel or paddle so you can get the pie in and out of the oven!  

Fr. Dominic Garramone is a Benedictine priest and monk of Saint Bede Abbey in Peru, Illinois. You can reach Father Dominic at frdom at st-bede dot com.

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Thank you so much for your feedback, especially if you've cooked one of my recipes or tried one of my tips: let me know how it turned out!