Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sourdough Focaccia Pizza

By popular demand, the complete how-to for our signature dish, our spécialité de la maison, if you will: sourdough focaccia pizza.

#1. Sourdough starter. This is pretty easy to buy/make and maintain. Sourdough is really just bread made using wild yeast, the yeast that are floating around in the air all the time. Different cities have different strains of wild yeast, so it will taste different wherever you make it (like San Francisco's is famously sour). You can buy sourdough starter online, but don't overpay, because your local wild yeast will end up dominating the culture, anyway. You can also make it at home (here's one way, including another pizza recipe: http://tinyurl.com/ax9c5c).

Once you have sourdough starter, you need to keep some in your refrigerator. It's best to think of it as yeast, just like the dry yeast you can buy in packets, except it's wild yeast from your neighborhood. It's just an ingredient for your dough, except you don't buy it at the store. There's nothing magical about sourdough. Every time you want to make bread or pizza, take your sourdough starter from the refrigerator, put it in a bowl, and add flour and water. For one pizza, we keep about 2 cups in the refrigerator, and add 1-3/4 c flour and 1 c water every time we want to make pizza. The exact amounts don't matter much, but this is approximately 1:1 by weight (8 oz. flour and 8 oz. water). Stir it up into a big gooey mass, cover loosely, and leave it on the counter overnight. First thing in the morning, separate out 2 cups to use as your starter for next time, and use the rest in your pizza.


Two notes here: 1) We normally let it rise overnight, but sometimes in the summer that might be too much. It can rise in as little as 2-3 hours, depending on temperature and humidity. It's ready when it's bubbly and frothy on top, and if it rises too long, it will smell less like bread and more like skunky beer. You can still use it if it's skunky, but it's best to throw half of it away, add more flour and more water, and try again with a shorter time. 2) We usually do this two days before we want the pizza (i.e., Thursday night for a Saturday pizza). Letting the fresh starter sit in the refrigerator for an extra 24 hours makes it slightly more sour. However, if you did this on Friday night, you could simply use it right away. 

#2. Dough. Add flour and water, plus 1 tsp salt. I honestly have no idea how much flour and water to add, and it varies every week, especially from summer to winter. It's something like 1-1/2 c flour and 1/2 c water. The only thing that matters is the consistency of the dough. In an electric mixer, it should stick to the bottom of the bowl but not to the sides. In the photo, you can see the big blob of dough stuck to the dough hook, and a small twist of dough in the bottom center of the bowl. If the dough is sticking to the sides, add a bit more flour. If it's not sticking to the bottom of the bowl, add a bit more water. If you want a thicker crust or you have a large pizza pan, add more of both. At the end, the dough should be sticky to the touch. Make sure you mix it for a good long time to get it at an even consistency (my guideline is 5 more minutes after it looks OK).



If making dough this way scares you, don't let it. You can't screw it up that badly, and you can always make it better next time. With only two ingredients, the worst thing that can happen is that your dough will be too dry, or too wet. The only effects that will have are small changes to how it rises and the texture of the pizza. You might even decide you like it better than our way!

I'll also note that the focaccia recipe we got this from also called for a few tablespoons of olive oil in the dough. We found that the main effect of the olive oil was to add calories.

#3. Rising. This can take from 4-8 hours, depending on the temperature of your house and how fluffy you want your dough. You don't even need to be home for most of this time, but sourdough takes quite awhile to rise. On the plus side, though, it rises really well at room temperature, which can sometimes be too cool for regular bread yeast. In fact, if it's too warm and the sourdough rises too quickly, the taste will be slightly off -- cooler is better. We recommend a kitchen counter, preferably out of the sun.

You need a surface thoroughly coated in flour, so the dough won't stick to it. We use a cutting board, which makes it easy to clean up afterwards. We just put the leftover flour back in the bag.



Run your hands in cold water to keep the dough from sticking to you, then quickly scoop the dough onto the floured surface. Pat it into a rectangle, then let it relax 5 minutes or so. Now coat your hands in flour and grab two diagonal corners. Stretch them to about double their width, and fold them back into the center. Repeat with the other two corners. Wait 45 minutes, stretch, wait 45 more minutes, stretch again, then wait 90 minutes.


During the waiting, or rising, periods, cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap. It will tend to stick to the plastic wrap, so you can sprinkle flour on top of the dough or (better) spray it with spray oil. You can find spray oil next to the vegetable oil at the grocery store nowadays. The waiting times don't matter exactly. If it's warm in your house, it could be 30 minutes, or it could be 60 if it's cold, and then twice that for the third rise. If you have somewhere else to be, you can let it rise for 2 hours all at once.

#4. Panning. When the dough is finished rising on the counter, it's time to put it into a pizza pan. Prepare the pan by coating it thoroughly with olive oil. To make extra sure that the dough doesn't stick, we sprinkle cornmeal on top of the olive oil, too. Pick up the dough and place it in the pan. In this photo, we put the floured side of the dough up, but that's not important. Try to avoid taking too much loose flour with it, though (like we did here).

Gently press down with your fingertips and spread them out in order to make the dough wider. Repeat until it fills the pan. Be very careful, because you don't want to pop any of the bubbles that have formed inside the bread. Those are where the flavor is. Only thin-crust pizza should be tossed. We don't bother making any extra-thick margin at the edges for "crust" sections. This pizza is all crust, and all toppings. Just spread it out until it's even.


Spray the top of the dough with oil again, cover in plastic wrap, and let it sit for 2-4 hours. For maximum sourness, you can even put it in the refrigerator first, for a few hours or overnight. Just take it out and let it rise until it's ready. Again, the duration depends on how warm your house is, and also on how bubbly vs. dense you like your crust. You can't screw it up; it's ready when you say it's ready! We find that 2-3 hours post-refrigerator seems about right.

#5. Toppings. This is when I start drooling (sometimes literally). As everyone knows, there's no "right" way to top a pizza, but we'll show how we do it. We've also found that some toppings compliment the sourdough flavor better than other toppings. This isn't a thin-crust pizza with gourmet, all-star, diva toppings; it's a loaf of olive-oil-fried sourdough focaccia bread with some cheese and stuff on it.

First, the sauce:
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
12 oz. (2 cans) water
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1-1/2 tsp. parsley
1-1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. sage (1/4 tsp. if it's ground)
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme (1/4 tsp. if it's ground)

This recipe is still slightly experimental, but I'll edit it here if I decide to change something. We use tomato paste because we can't buy plain tomato sauce at the grocery store anymore. Seriously -- read the labels. They all have salt and onion powder and who-knows-what in them. We wanted to make our own. We find that there is a noticeable difference between sea salt and regular salt, but of course either works. Granulated garlic could probably be beneficially substituted by some amount of minced garlic, but we have a large canister of granulated garlic that we're trying to finish off. You can also use 1 tsp. basil and 1-1/2 tsp. of Italian seasoning, and leave out the sage, oregano, and thyme. This recipe requires a lot of stirring! It also makes enough for 2-3 pizzas, but that's no problem when you make it every week.

Spread the sauce on the pizza dough with a spoon. It's traditional to leave some space around the edge for "crust". That also keeps your toppings from slopping onto the pan and burning.


When I worked at Pizza Hut in high school, they taught us to put a thin layer of cheese on top of the sauce, before the toppings. I don't know why, but it's what I always do now.


I prefer a good Italian sausage next, the kind you buy in a tube at the grocery store and cook yourself (we haven't tried our own yet). Amanda's a big fan of pepperoni (so guess what we're having tonight!). Pepperoni goes on one slice at a time, in concentric rings, until the entire pizza is covered evenly.


Black olives. I also like onions and mushrooms, but Amanda doesn't.


Whatever you do, don't use canned mushrooms. Buy button mushrooms in the produce section, wash them, and slice them. It makes all the difference in the world.

Once you've finished topping, coat thoroughly with cheese. We use part-skim mozarella from Trader Joe's. The type of cheese makes a significant difference in the flavor, since it's the most abundant topping. Cheese with whole milk is fattier and didn't taste any different to us. None of the pre-grated cheeses are particularly good, so you should do yourself a favor, buckle down, and grate your own. After all, if you spent all that time making the dough, why would you get lazy now and ruin it with poor toppings? We even tried fresh, water-packed mozarella, but its flavor wasn't as good as the Trader Joe's brand (fresh mozarellas can be a bit bland for pizza). This pizza has about 10 oz. of cheese on it, all told. Be sure to scrape the cheese back from the edges, because otherwise it will burn and stick to the pan, making it difficult to release and eat your pizza.


#6. Cook. If you've ever eaten pizza in Chicago, you know they warn you that good deep-dish pizza takes time. Our pizzas bake at about 375 for around 30 minutes. If you have fewer toppings and/or a thinner crust, you should go hotter for a shorter time, and if it's super-deep, it should cook even slower at a lower temperature. If you do mess this up and find that your crust isn't cooked all the way, that can sometimes be salvaged by returning the pizza to the oven at 325-350 for some more time. Don't rush it! This isn't thin crust on a pizza stone in a hot oven, it's like a bread casserole in a deep pan. If you cook it too slowly, the crust can get dry, but I think that's a smaller downside than raw dough in the middle. Our oven doesn't cook very evenly, so we rotate the pan 180 degrees after the first 12 minutes. Then we set a timer for another 12, then another 2, and another 2, and another 2, until it's done: 


This crust was about twice as thick as we normally make it. Honestly, it's a loaf of bread with toppings.


After cutting it, you should put it on a rack. You'll probably eat half of it very quickly, but the remaining slices will get soggy unless they get some ventilation underneath them. Just like bread.


Excuse me while I wipe the drool from the keys and go scrounge around the kitchen. I already had this pizza today, but writing this post made me crave it again!

1 comment:

  1. Drooling is contagious.....looks great!

    ReplyDelete