Saturday, March 27, 2010

Grandma’s Pizza Dough

Some weeks ago, as happens often around here, I found myself at a loss as to what to make for dinner. That morning, I threw together some pizza dough. It rose until dinnertime, and then my little munchkin happily helped me load it up with sauce, sautéed onions, pepperoni, black olives and cheese. Within 20 minutes, we had a warm dinner everyone likes and I could argue that I fulfilled my daily “teachable moment” quota.

As I have mentioned in regards to bread making, I’ve been making this dough so often that it’s fairly routine. And I have my husband’s grandmother to thank.

Shortly before Grandma passed away, she sat me down and proceeded to impart some of her kitchen wisdom. Since Grandma also tended to call me Fran and was getting on in years, I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but she insisted on writing down her pizza recipe. One of my prized possessions is small piece of yellow notebook paper with her recipe, as dictated…

6 cups flour
2 packages yeast in ½ cup warm (115 degree) water
½ teaspoon salt
1 to 2 cups water
½ cup olive oil

She then added that I should mix everything together, knead until it "feels right," and coat it with some more oil. It should rise at least an hour – until it doubles. Then just fry or bake and top.

Some days later, I eagerly tried this and, well, it didn’t work. But I tried again. And again. I watched Food Network shows about pizza, and I looked up recipes on the internet. Finally, I came up with something admittedly more like focaccia than pizza, but we like it.

And I have Grandma to thank. Not only did she give me an actual, family recipe to pass on to my daughter, but she gifted me with the inspiration to try something new along with a lovely memory of her. Sadly, she died before I could tell her about how much I enjoyed her recipe, but we remember her with love when we make

Grandma’s Pizza Dough
With some tweaking by Tania…

2 packages yeast in one cup warm water + pinch of sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
5 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 to 2 cups water as needed

1) Dissolve 2 packages (check expiration dates) of yeast into one cup of warm (110 to 115 degree F) water. Add a large pinch of sugar and let bloom (about 5-10 minutes).

2) Pour yeast into a large bowl. Add salt, ½ cup olive oil, flour, and corn meal. Mix well. Add between one to two cups more water, as needed, until the dough is sticky but comes away from sides of the bowl into a ball. A stand mixer with a dough hook is great for this step.

3) Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Form into a ball.

4) Pour about a tablespoon olive oil into a clean bowl, add the dough ball and turn until all sides are covered with oil. Loosely cover bowl with cloth and set in a warm, dry place to rise for 2 to 4 hours. Dough should at least double in volume.

Grandma fried her dough, but we haven’t tied that. So:

5) Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

6) Stretch dough on one, lightly oiled half-sheet pan. Let dough rest in between stretches if it won’t take shape. The pan will NOT be completely covered with dough.

7) Top with your favorite toppings so long as they are not too wet.

8) Bake for about 15-18 minutes. Edges will puff a bit and the crust should be a pale golden color. Serves four to six people well.

Notes: Dough can be refrigerated for later use or frozen. Recipe can be halved. Dough also works for calzone. Cornmeal and up to 2 cups AP flour can be replaced with whole wheat flour.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Knit one, purl too?

In early January, I attended knitting class a member of our local mom's club put together at a great little shop in Old Town called fibre space.

I'm not sure why I signed up, other than my promise to myself that, in 2010, I'd try new things. And, for some reason, knitting seems to be EVERYWHERE. Then again, vampires pop up all over the place too and, other than reading my way through those awful Twilight books, I haven't been outside at night hunting for prey.

For two hours, I learned how to cast on and the knit stitch. I enjoyed the company of some new and some familiar faces. I left with a rather disastrous-looking purple blob of merino wool thinking, some day, it might be a child's scarf.

Fast-forward two months and the blob hasn't grown much as I've barely touched it. So why did I sign up for yet another class today? Well, it seemed like a good idea to find out why my blob is so blobby, and maybe to learn the second major stitch, the purl. I'm also trying to figure out why I'm drawn to and repelled by crafts, and anything that smacks of creativity. More on that later.

The purple blob

So, today, I will face another fear/challenge and force myself into yet another uncomfortable situation: knitting class, part two.

You can read about - and spot the early days of my purple blog - on Nancy's blog, Summer Sky: Learning as I go. The knitting class is posted here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Homemade bread!

Last Thursday, I finally got my act together and attempted a homemade loaf of bread. Recently, someone on We Love DC wrote about baking no-knead bread during our latest blizzard. What struck me was her amendment of some supposedly famous quote about how there are people who make their own bread, and people who don't. The DC blogger added that, there are people who make their own bread, people who don't, and people who make their own pizza dough.

Well, I make my own pizza dough. I always have yeast in the house, and I'd seen and read a lot about this supposedly easy bread recipe that's been making the recipe rounds forever. Like here.

I dug out my Le Creuset, my January 2008 issue of Cooks Illustrated, and got to work.

The initial dough ball, after an 18-hour rise, did not look promising:

But it did look so happy in my favorite red pot, and the house smelled great:

Sadly, we then lost power for the rest of the day and I didn't actually get to taste my lovely bread until the next day, when I had to cobble together dinner with electricity, but no fridge (victim of power surges). It seems I may have over-baked by a couple minutes, despite taking the loaf's internal temperature. Or maybe you really have to eat it that day. The inside, the crumb, was lovely -- airy-yet-dense and with a faint, almost sourdough flavor. The crust was a tad tough in the darkest places though.

I will, however, try again and shave some time off of the baking. And am eagerly looking forward to a possible lesson on bread-that-you-knead from the talented Jen, of Love & Onions.