Sunday, February 7, 2010

BBA #25: Pizza Napoletana . . . just in time for the Super Bowl!

I was really looking forward to this bread. For one, we are a big pizza-eating, pizza-loving family. We eat pizza at least once a week. Hubby even has certain categories: frozen pizza, home-made pizza, delivery pizza, restaurant pizza, and take-and-bake pizza. If he's in the mood for one category, another will not suffice. Plus, I was really eager to put the stress of the panettone behind me. Lastly, this recipe seemed to get really good reviews from just about everyone in the BBA Challenge. Maybe some of them can help me figure out what to do to make this process go more smoothly next time (because there will be a next time).

I started by mixing everything together last night: bread flour, a little whole wheat flour, yeast, salt, some olive oil, and water. Just like the ever-so-delicious pain a l'ancienne, this bread requires very, very cold water (I put ice cubes in a measuring cup until the water measured 40.2 degrees). I put everything into the mixer where it came together perfectly after about 5 minutes. Although it goes against my bread-baking instinct (it was the perfect texture for a loaf of everyday sandwich bread!), this bread is supposed to be sticky enough to clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom, so I added another bit of cold water until it looked like this:

I divided the dough into six six-ounce portions (sticky, sticky portions!), sprinkled them with flour, and rolled them into a ball. Three went onto a sheet pan:

and three were rolled in olive oil and then dropped into freezer bags and placed immediately into the freezer for later use.

This afternoon, I took them out a couple of hours before we were ready to make them. Nothing changed; were they supposed to grow? Then I put my pizza stone on the bottom of my gas oven, cranked the oven up to 550 degrees, and started cutting up our toppings.

Here's where things began to get challenging. Did anyone else have trouble trying to stretch the dough into a circle? I was game to try Peter Reinhart's method: pick up the dough ball carefully, use the back of your well-floured hands to carefully bounce the dough while oh-so-gently stretching it out. The second I tried, the dough tore. Terribly. In a million places. I quickly put it onto my prepared sheet pan, covered in corn meal, and tried to repair the tears while still trying to stretch it out. It was nowhere near uniform. Plus, the smoke alarm started to go off. I had scoured the bottom of my oven, but our smoke detectors just do not like any temperature over about 450 degrees. I was reminded of Anne Marie, who talks about having to call the alarm company to disconnect her smoke alarm whenever she's starting another high-temp BBA recipe.

We spread the misshapen non-circles with sauce. I took Peter Reinhart's advice and tried to use much less sauce and a much simpler sauce than normal. Usually, we spice it up. This time, I just:
Put 2 tbsp olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat.
Added 1/2 of an onion, finely chopped, and
2 tsp minced garlic.
Sauteed for about 5 minutes.
Then added 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes,
1/4 tsp salt,
1/4 tsp pepper,
1 tsp Italian seasoning,
and simmered for about 30 minutes, until thick.

Then a cheese mixture. We're not really a fancy cheese family, so we stuck with:
8 oz mozzerela
1 oz asiago
1 oz parmesan
2 tsp dried basil.

Then toppings. Topping the pizza was the best part (especially after the stress of the shaping) because the kids came over to help top their own pizza.

And then into the preheated oven. Here were some more problems. I very generously covered my sheet pans with corn meal, but there was no way this pizza was going to slide off nicely onto the pizza stone. Advice?! We used our little pizza peel to scrunch the pizza half off of the pan and onto the stone and then tried to use it to straighten the pizza back out once on the peel. It only sort of worked. Plus, all of the corn meal spilled onto the floor of the oven and immediately started to smoke and burn. The smoke alarms had a field day.

The pizzas baked for 7 - 10 minutes (7 minutes for the kids', 10 minutes for the hubbie's, 8 minutes for mine). They were interestingly shaped by the end:

the kids' fish (pepperoni and pineapple)

hubbie's pyramid (pepperoni, mushrooms, red onions, and green peppers)

my rectangle (mushrooms, red onions, and pineapple)

And they tasted pretty good. In general, hubbie and I both like thicker, chewier crusts . . . any way to make this recipe bake up a little thicker? We also noticed a lack of wow-factor just because, although I had never been a bread baker before this challenge, I have been baking my own pizza crusts for years. But hubbie still admitted that this was the best pizza crust we've ever made at home, and (given that it is Super Bowl Sunday, which gives us permission to overeat for the day) he did eat his entire pizza in one sitting.

The little guy had four pieces and even the baby dove right in:

Definitely a make-again recipe, but I'll take any advice to make the shaping and baking go more smoothly next time!!


  1. Oh, I'm so sorry that you had so much trouble! Just by looking at your first picture, the dough looks a little bumpy. It probably needs more kneading time to make it smoother.
    Did you take your dough out straight from the freezer to counter? I put mine in the fridge the night before to fully thaw out and then took them out 2 hrs. before shaping them.
    The stretching and tearing may be due to lack of gluten development through kneading time.
    Wanna make 'em thicker? You can. Just parbake them. See my posts here: (and here)
    Good luck!

  2. I had such a tough time with this one too. I actually made it twice just to conquer it. The second time I just plopped the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper and worked with it until it formed a rectangle. I think I may have even used a greased rolling pin to help me. It worked out much better. I liked this recipe but I actually preferred the Pain a l'Ancienne recipe for pizza more.

  3. Too bad you had such a tough time with the pizza... As to your questions: yes, the dough balls are supposed to grow during the overnight break in the fridge - mine did. I didn't use PR's method to stretch the dough into circles - I used the rolling pin and that worked fine. When you have trouble getting it off the sheet pan, you can try putting them on a pan that is lined with parchment paper and slide the parchment paper onto the baking stone. I did that with BBA #35, and that worked fine, too. It's funny that your kids chose pepperoni and pineapple - that's what my kids chose for topping, too.

  4. Just in case you want another try, skip ahead to the pizza recipe in 'Bread'. I made it last night - the crust was easy and excellent. It was my first pizza from scratch, so I was pretty happy.

    I did learn that you can overwork the dough, though. I had a mis-fire; I thought I was ready to add the toppings, but I forgot to roast the peppers. I rolled up the dough an put it back - it was a LOT harder to roll out the second time. I heard on a show last night that you should always roll from the center outward for that reason, and that seemed to help as well.

    You are going to like the next Hamelman's.