Pizza Disasters and Other Cautionary Tales
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.