Finally returned home today after a couple weeks of traveling: Oakland –> Aspen, CO (Spring Break!) –> Hanover, NH (great aunt turns 90!) –> San Francisco (wine tasting) –> Los Angeles (conference for school) –> Napa (friends) –> Oakland. We had fantastic food everywhere along the way, but for now let’s skip over the Aspen leg and keep going with King Arthur.
I suppose I should start this post out by telling you that Alex and I are obsessed with pizza. Obsessed. We were making it so much for a while that I thought I was going to need to up my pants size. Now we’re trying to become a little more normal with our pizza consumption. But, in the process of making pie after pie we’ve been slowly working out our perfect pizza. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re close.
So, when my mom told us that the whole family was going to the pizza making class at King Arthur as part of a celebration of my great aunt’s 90th birthday, we were so excited! About 20 of us headed over to the Norwich, Vermont King Arthur store and donned aprons.
Here’s Alex contemplating the benefits and drawbacks of aprons:
Even though we make pizza all the time, we learned a lot in our class. One simple but new thing was how to measure flour. Usually I just scoop it out of the bag, level it and move on. Apparently, in lieu of a scale, the proper way to fill a cup with flour is to shake the flour into the cup while keeping the cup still. Our instructor, Susan, told us to try to get as much air in with the flour as possible and to never ever tamp down the cup.
She also said that if we use this technique, we should never need to sift! Great, because I never sifted anyways.
We also learned a little about yeast during our class. As I mentioned in the last post, the preferred brand around King Arthur seems to be Saf yeast. It’s called instant yeast. I’ve always used dry active yeast. Instant yeast doesn’t need to be proofed or dissolved and can just be added into the flour mixture. Pretty cool, huh? I don’t think I’ve seen instant yeast around my grocery store, but I’m going to take a look.
After measuring out the flour and the yeast (+ salt, olive oil and water) we mixed it all together. One of the key parts of pizza dough is that the dough should be really tacky — pretty much as wet as possible, while still being handle-able. Here’s the dough before we started kneading:
Another tip was to flour your kneading surface as little as possible. I think I tend to put too much flour down. So, we turned out our tacky ball of dough on to the lightly floured surface and started kneading. Amazingly, it didn’t really stick to the table. Alex and I took turns for about 10 minutes. If you prefer to use a stand mixer (I do), you can start the kneading process in the mixer and just finish it by hand. Susan said she’d recommend putting it in the mixer for about 6 minutes.
Alex was good at kneading.
I needed lessons. I was envious of Susan, who could do it with one hand. I was not so skilled.
After the dough had an even and smooth consistency, we divided it into two and Alex and I each shaped our pizza. Mine was not a nice, perfectly round circle like Susan’s. It was, um, rustic.
Next, we topped the dough with a small scoop of a nice, local sauce and pieces of a gorgeous fresh mozzarella. When we make pizza at home we usually skimp a bit on the cheese (mozzarella can be expensive!), but this really kicked the pizza up a big step. I was actually surprised with what a difference it made. So, next time we make pizza at home, I’m going to look for a nicer cheese (sigh…when am I ever going to find that a less expensive ingredient makes things better?).
It was such good cheese, in this photo I think I accidentally caught my sister making herself a bite-sized bit of cheese topped with sauce. Ha!
Next we slid the pizzas into a big wood-fired oven. The flavor from the wood makes the pizza taste soooo much better than anything we can cook in our oven at home.
But, the benefit of the wood oven isn’t just the wood ash residue. It’s also the temperature. Having a high temp oven makes the crust crisp (even charred) on the outside, while staying moist and chewy on the inside. In our oven, the highest temperature we can get is 550 degrees. In the wood oven they were reaching temperatures over 800 degrees. Apparently, at Pepe’s Pizza (in New Haven, CT — Alex’s family’s absolute favorite), their oven is 2200 degrees. Whoa.
How do you measure these temps? A temperature gun! Alex was shooting everything in the kitchen with it and asking where he could get one to take home.
I heard a couple funny stories of people retrofitting their ovens (like, disabling the cleaning function or lining their ovens with concrete) to make at home pizza ovens. I don’t see myself doing that (fire! no ability to bake cookies!), so I’m just going to dream about having our own little oven in the backyard. And, in the meantime, keep using our pizza stone.
We actually think our pizza dough is a bit better than the recipe we were using at King Arthur’s (or maybe we just have too much pride in it, given all of the hours we’ve invested…), so we’ll have a pizza dough post coming soon. If you’re itching to make pizza in the mean time, though, check out this recipe on King Arthur’s website. It’s a bit different than the one we made in class and people seem to really like it. (If you make it, we’d love it if you’d tell us about it!)
Now I’m craving pizza again…if only I had the same enthusiasm for the salad leftovers I have for lunch today…