Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tossing Pizza

I remember the first time I saw pizza dough being tossed around as "entertainment art". It was in Cologne, Germany and the protagonists were two Italian guys who operated a small pizzeria which was little more than a street window in the center of downtown. They would expertly shape and stretch the dough, then the acrobatics would start. They'd spin it in the air, flick it to each other, catch it behind their backs, and entertain the crowds who would gather for the show. It was like watching Cocktail for pizza.

I've always wanted to be able to do that, and today I finally got the hang of it. I've been experimenting and practicing for a while - sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn't - but today it finally clicked.

To start, I made the dough slightly differently - a few days in advance and with a higher protein content and hydration level which made it much easier to stretch and manipulate. I also made it by hand rather than in the mixer so I'd get a better feel for it (more people should try hand kneading dough - it's surprisingly soothing).

I retarded the dough by slowly fermenting it in the fridge for 2 days, then took it out two hours before I was going to form it. I've discovered that there's a technique to stretching the dough and getting it to a point where it can be successfully tossed (and Lord knows I've punched holes in far too many "not quite getting it" attempts). But if you get it right you don't even need to take your rolling pin out of the drawer (plus it's fast, so much easier and results in a much better crust).

I got a lot of great tips and techniques from this video clip (still amazed at how easy they make it look - they can go from dough ball to sauced, topped and in the oven in around 45 seconds), and was very surprised when I got the dough to a point that I could actually "work" and throw it very easily. In fact, I was having so much fun I nearly stretched it too much - it ended up just over 15" and hanging off the sides of my pizza peel.

I have to admit, the "eureka" moment was fun - that sudden instant when you unlock the door, step through, slap yourself on the forehead and exclaim "ah, so that's how it's done".

I'd put two unglazed Mexican saltillo tiles on the middle shelf of the oven to serve as a pizza stone ($1.19 each from Home Depot), and cranked the heat to max. I'd made a yummy sauce from tomato puree, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar and a bunch of herbs which came together wonderfully. I kept the toppings very basic - smoked bacon and mushrooms with a combination of several Italian cheeses and some cheddar.

I slid the pie off the peel into the oven, and about 10 minutes later out came a wonderfully delicious hand tossed pizza - maybe the best I've ever made. The crust was crisp and chewy at the same time and it smelled wonderful. The edges had puffed up just like I'd hoped, and it tasted like it had come out of a local pizzeria (instead of my improvised "saltillo brick" oven, ha ha).

Eat your heart out pizza hut!!!

Next time I'm going to experiment with adding some vital wheat gluten to the bread flour to raise the protein level to that of a high gluten flour. I found this great little website that allows me to calculate the exact ratio of flour and gluten (by mass) I need to get to the protein level I want (14.2%) based on the bakers percentage weight I've calculated here (yes, this is my secret little pizza science project).

And the reason I can play around with pizza so much is that I've already made my race-ready goal target weight. As of yesterday, I now weigh 152lbs - that's 10lbs less than I did about a month ago. I don't want to lose any more, so it's time to start relaxing the portion control a little.

That combined with the small amount of running I've been doing recently (plus all the cross training) seems to be having a very positive effect. It's like somebody's pressed my reset button, unlocked my high gears, and rebalanced my tires - I'm raring to go again. When I do run, it all seems so much easier and I feel like a coiled spring waiting to explode.

I need to enjoy it while it lasts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

when r we gonna have pizza+beer?

Check this out