Pizza crust dilemma

Andreae Prozesky says there’s no pie like-ah the pizza pie.

I’m good in the kitchen, it’s true. I’m not going to lie.

I have an impressive set of skills, honed over the years and bolstered by an encyclopedic—perhaps even freakish—knowledge of things foodular. I have confidence. I have problem-solving skills. I have one foot planted in theory and one in experience.

And I still can’t make decent pizza dough.

I’ve been coached by some excellent pizza makers, and still I’m rubbish at it. My pizza dough comes out flabby, too thick and too white, or too thin and slightly charred. I really could do better, but I suppose that what it comes down to is that I just couldn’t be bothered. It’s one of those things that I would just as soon leave to the professionals. Like pedicures and neurosurgery.

As a result of this impediment, my intake of gooey, melted cheese is far lower than the recommended weekly amounts for a lacto-omnivore of my age and height. My daughter seldom eats pizza at all, which is a shame really, given her great passion for tinned, sliced black olives and nitrite-treated meats.

Normally, when faced with a food challenge, I would tie my hair back, get out a giant bag of flour and get to it. I would make batch after batch until I got it right. But I’m a bit more crooked than usual these days, and my patience isn’t quite what it should be, so I’m going to turn to the ready-made, the prefab items offered up in crinkly cellophane at the grocery store. It’s unlike me, I know, but I can’t be like me all the time. Too exhausting.

There are plenty of ready-to-use pizza bases out there. Unfortunately, their problem is that they’re horrible. Doughy, salty, and dry, they call to mind the trenchers of stale bread that were used for plates by medieval castle-dwellers. They’re fine if you’re planning to pick all the toppings off them and then throw the crust to the dogs, but is that really the best use of your money (and your dogs)?

Pita bread is a classic choice for the one-serving, home-assembled pizza, and it’s not a bad one. Sometimes you can find Greek-style pitas—even whole wheat ones, if you’re lucky—at grocery shops around here, and they can be quite good. They’re thicker then the pitas we’re used to—think “souvlaki” and you’re getting the picture.

But if you’re stuck with plain pitas, try this trick, courtesy of a fellow Scopemaker whose wisdom is great: open the pita up along the seam just enough to be able to spread a layer of grated cheese in there, and then go about topping your pizza as normal. Surprise! Hidden cheese! Double the melty goodness!

If you want to step away from the whole pita thing, though, here’s another option: grocery store naan.Yes, the Indian flatbread you use to scoop up your butter chicken. You can easily pick up white and whole-wheat varieties at the giant mega supermarkets, and while they’re not like the bread you get at your favourite curry place, they make great pizza bases. While I’d love to take credit for this discovery, I actually got the tip from a Nigella Lawson book, but I’m sure Ms Lawson wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you.

The breads usually come two to a pack, and they’re kind of triangular, but that only makes things more exciting, really. They make a nice, crispy crust, and since they’re cooked in a tandoor—or so the makers would have us believe— they have a smokiness to them reminiscent of pizza from a proper wood-burning oven.

One thing about doing pizza at home is that your oven will never be as hot as the one at the pizzeria—those babies run at about 700F. So, for the proper effect, you want your oven as hot as you can reasonably get it—450F is about all you can ask a home oven to reach.
And you’ll get lovely crispness if you place the pizza directly on the rack rather than on a pan, but that can be tricky. Here’s how one pizza goddess I know does it: flip a cookie sheet over and assemble your pizza on it so you can actually shake the pizza off the pan onto the rack. Let the pizza bake on the pan for a few minutes, then grab the pan out from underneath and gently shake the pizza off. Then bake a few more minutes on the bare rack.

It takes practice, but you’ll get it—you’re far more patient than I am.

SEXY PIZZA TIME

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what to put on a pizza, but if you’re lacking inspiration, try one of these:

• olive oil, sautéed baby spinach, goat cheese, and pine nuts
• tomato sauce, mozzarella, pineapple, and banana peppers
• cream cheese, mozzarella, and smoked salmon (which is an approximation of the pizza I saw advertised on Pizza Hut billboards in Paris at Christmas… things are very, very different there).
• olive oil, tomatoes, bocconcini (little squidgy unripened mozzarella balls packed in water), and basil

Make sure you don’t overload the pizza, or your crust will be burnt before your toppings are heated through. Many a delicious pizza has been ruined by topping overload.

One thing not to do is throw too many prefab ingredients on top of one another, because you will end up with the saltiest pizza ever. Store-bought naan plus Knorr jarred pesto plus grocery store roast chicken plus parmesan equals sodium hell.

Send your questions, comments, and impatient suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

13 comments

  1. Al · June 7, 2013

    I just got real hungry after reading this…
    Thanks Dreae!

    For what ’tis worth..
    Puff Pastry Pizza is the bomb dot com!

    Dominion sells pre-made frozen sheets of it, which are actually really good.
    Baking the pastry a bit (until it puffs up like a balloon) before throwing the toppings on works well…

    Yeah, it’s pretty rich, but definitely worth a try.

  2. dreae · June 7, 2013

    Oh. My. God.

    I’m so on it. I can’t believe I’ve never tried that. Bring on the buttery goodness!

  3. Janet · June 7, 2013

    Best thing to happen to my pizza lately: President’s Choice canned cherry tomatoes. Zero sodium and not 3 bux a pound like the ‘fresh’ ones at the grocery store this time of year! Just dump them in a saucepan with your sautéed garlic and what have you, or go all-out and puree them first for a really great, really saucy sauce. Oh, and the easiest dough ever:

    1 1/4 cups water
    3 cups flour
    1 pkg yeast
    1/4 cup grated parmesan

    Mix up the yeast in the water til it foams, mix the parmesan with the flour in a big bowl, then throw in the yeast mixture, and stir with a wooden spoon. Knead if you feel the need. Let it rise anywhere from 30 minutes on (the longer the rise the better), punching it down once somewhere in the middle. Makes 2 crusts, freezes reasonably well.

  4. dreae · June 7, 2013

    I’ll give it a whirl – keep your fingers crossed for me.

    And those PC cherry tomatoes are brilliant! I discovered them last year, and just picked some up the other day after months without them. They’re wonderful.

  5. mikiki · June 7, 2013

    yo Dré
    I know you’re not much of a fan of the vegan fusion gayness but I still love making a biscuit dough (fuck yeast) and cutting it with lots of chiffonade basil and lettuce, rollin’ ‘er right thinne and prebakin that sucker for a bit before chuckin’ on a failure pile of thai green curry cooked into a tomato sauce with peanut butter, with red pepper broccoli and chickpeas.
    VEEG-FYUZSIAN ATAQ!

  6. mikiki · June 7, 2013

    and remember gay salad?

  7. dreae · June 7, 2013

    Mikey, dahlink, my mockery of your vegan fusion cuisine is done with only the highest, most loving reverence. Everything I know about polenta, I learned from you! I say, “Vegan Fusion Forever!” I’ll march if you want me too. Seriously.

    Was it you or me who came up with the term “faux-caccia” for flatbread made from biscuit dough? Sometimes I do that and top it with olive oil, goat cheese, rosemary, red globe grapes (sliced), and coarse sea salt. Yum b’y.

  8. Merike Andre-Barrett (remember me?!) · June 7, 2013

    Hiya Dreae!
    I remembered about you writing here the other day and figured I’d come and check it out and see if I could somehow garner news about your life through observing your culinary public persona – and I found so much goodness! Not only news about new buns in good looking ovens (CONGRATS! Tis truly the season for babies everywhere it seems – and I do remember that you seem to grow them quite awesomely) but I also found all kinds of good food advice and inspiration.
    So here, I’ll add my pizza dough recipe in hopes it might be of taste to someone:

    Wheat-free, Yeast-Free Pizza Dough
    1 1/2 cups spelt flour
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1/4 tsp. salt
    3/4 cups water

  9. Dreae · June 7, 2013

    Merike! Hey! Drop me a line, will ya? dreae at thescope dot ca. I would love to catch up. And I’ll try your pizza dough, too. Mmmm… spelty…