Pizza Dis­as­ters and Other Cau­tion­ary Tales

Sherbrooke Record - - TALK - Brad Laurie

I’ve been a pizza lover nearly all my life and a pizza maker for about 17 years. While my fam­ily says that I make the best pizza around, I have had my share of pizza fail­ures and dis­as­ters.

Any­one who makes pizza will tell you it’s easy to make. With all th­ese years of ex­pe­ri­ence un­der my belt I re­mem­ber the many tri­als and er­rors I made on the road to pizza per­fec­tion from soggy-bot­tom to charred crusts, or dough that is too dry or too sticky. I’ve cer­tainly en­coun­tered my share of th­ese woes and have found so­lu­tions to cor­rect some and just throw out oth­ers.

I used to let my dough rise in the oven in a large clear plas­tic bag, and on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions my lovely wife, want­ing to help me, would pre-heat the oven. When the won­der­ful aro­mas of fresh baked pizza dough wafted through the house, I found that I had a neatly shrink-wrapped bread, that I would have to throw out.

I ab­hor un­der­cooked, soggy-bot­tom crust, that hap­pens when there are too many wa­tery top­pings like pep­pers, onions and toma­toes. While th­ese in­gre­di­ents are of­ten found top­ping pizza, it is pru­dent to not over dress the pie. Some so­lu­tions I have found to ab­sorb some wa­ter from the pep­pers is with pa­per towel, and I run my toma­toes through a salad spin­ner. You can cre­ate a bar­rier be­tween the veg­eta­bles and the bot­tom crust by lay­ing down the pep­per­oni and cheese first. My best advice is not to overdo the top­pings, less is more. A well-pre­pared pizza will draw out the flavours of the top­pings.

Charred bot­toms can be just as bad. An ex­cel­lent pizza crust should be golden brown. Last sum­mer we had in­vited friends over for bar­be­cued pizza. I had had much suc­cess bar­be­cu­ing pizza that sum­mer, but that even­ing my bot­tom crusts were burn­ing in a cou­ple of min­utes. I had got­ten my pizza stone wet and be­cause it is a por­ous ma­te­rial, it re­tains wa­ter mak­ing the stone burn the bot­toms. Les­son learned…. never wash the pizza stone! I bake my pizza on parch­ment pa­per to keep the stone clean, at least for a while.

No need to panic when your pizza dough is too dry. Add a bit of wa­ter or oil, a lit­tle at a time un­til you get the de­sired tex­ture. If your dough is too sticky, you can add more flour. I re­ceived a call a few weeks back from a cus­tomer who said he put 1-3/4 cups wa­ter in­stead of 3/4 of a cup to the pack­age. In this case, adding flour will not do the trick, he added over dou­ble the amount of wa­ter and that would re­quire adding two or three more cups of flour which would to­tally un­bal­ance the recipe. I sug­gested that he add an­other pack­age of my pizza dough mix and a lit­tle bit more flour if needed.

I don’t like the feel­ing of sticky, gooey dough on my fin­gers, so I start by mix­ing with a fork un­til I see that most of the wa­ter has been ab­sorbed, I then knead the dry in­gre­di­ents un­til a slightly tacky ball is formed.

Am­bi­ent room tem­per­a­ture, hu­mid­ity and draft can all af­fect the out­come of the dough and it’s only through prac­tice that we do learn to re­duce the risks.

I use a bowl with a lid or cling wrap to keep the hu­mid­ity in the bowl so that the dough will not dry out. Ad­di­tion­ally, I cover the bowl with a dish cloth, or store it in the pantry so the light won’t kill the yeast.

Wa­ter tem­per­a­ture is im­por­tant to ac­ti­vate the yeast. Too cold, the yeast may take too long to rise as the cold slows the process. If too hot, you will kill the yeast. The right tem­per­a­ture is any­where be­tween 38 and 43 de­grees Cel­sius- that’s very warm to the touch but not at all burn­ing hot.

I will be happy to an­swer any of your pizza re­lated ques­tions. Visit me at my Len­noxville Farmer’s Mar­ket kiosk any Satur­day un­til mid-oc­to­ber from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or visit my web­site at www.brads­gourmet.com.

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