Stretching limits

Tonight I made a pizza. It was, at least as far as I can recall, the first time I made my own pizza from scratch. Which is a little odd, in a way, since I like to cook and have in fact cooked successfully a fairly wide range of dishes. I’d just never gotten around to pizza. I guess it was always just too easy to do take-away. But in our new house we have a monster oven begging to be put to use, and mostly very mediocre at best choices in the neighborhood for take-out pizza. So it was time to learn.

I decided to start with a relatively simple recipe from the Silver Spoon cookbook for Neapolitan pizza. Basically, dough, tomatoes, cheese. Maybe this was my first mistake. In the morning, I went down to one of our local Italian specialty shops, Capone Foods in Somerville, to get a bag of pizza flour. I knew they had this, because it was on the shelf next to the bags of pasta flour, and I had seen them there when I bought a bag of pasta flour not too long ago.

Now, you might be wondering, is there much of difference between pasta flour and pizza flour? Well, I was, anyway. I’d assumed that the pizza flour would be more like bread flour, a high-gluten flour, but was told that, in fact, the pasta flour is higher gluten than the pizza flour.

Actually mixing the dough was easy enough—it’s just flour, water, yeast, and a little salt. It was supposed to rise for three hours, so while we were waiting, we walked down to the What the Fluff festival in Union Square. The What the Fluff festival is a celebration of the invention of marshmallow fluff. The guy who invented Fluff lived in Somerville. Durkee-Mower, the company that makes Fluff, is now in Lynn, but that doesn’t really stop anybody. The WTF fest is a very popular even in Somerville. There are games for kids, like Fluff Bowling and Fishing for Fluff. Local merchants have booths set up, and there is baking competition. The only real problem is that the actual event isn’t quite up to the number of people it draws, so mainly it becomes an exercise in getting shoved about in a crowd and not getting to actually see very much. Aside from the spectacle of seeing who could lick Fluff off of a plate the fastest, I’d have to say the potential of the Fluff festival is not quite fulfilled. Also, I waited in line for a while to get a T-shirt, and they didn’t have the one I wanted in my size. Poo.

By the time we got back, the dough had risen. Time to make the sauce. The sauce was simple: crushed and strained tomatoes, a little salt, a pinch of oregano. Goes on raw, cooks in the oven.

My real difficulty came when I tried to make the crust. The dough was very, very sticky. I really had a hard time getting control of it. I ended up having to try two or three times, and ended up with a crust that was smaller than I wanted and had too much dough at the edges.

As I said, I like to cook, but when things start to go badly in the kitchen, I get upset, and start cursing at everything, and banging things around. I lose patience, and get sloppy, and rush, which just makes things worse. The dough stuck to the board I was stretching it on, it stuck to the peel (and yes, I had tried to use a little cornmeal to keep it from sticking), and the the cheese tried to slide off onto the baking stone. Which was really, really hot, and doesn’t like to have high-fat foods placed directly on it (the stone is hot enough for fat to burn instantly). I just slammed the door shut and fumed for a few minutes, already thinking about where dinner was going to have to come from, since I was pretty sure the pizza was ruined. This is why there’s no photo for this post. I was too angry to think about it, and when it was done, I was too hungry.

Remarkably, though, what came out of the oven was actually edible. Was, in fact, not awful. Not great, not quite what I had planned, but I’d had worse. In my struggles with the dough, I’d knocked much of the air out of it, and it was a tad overworked. The sauce and cheese were good. Even with the difficulties I’d had, it was still better than most of the local pizza shops. Whether this says more about my cooking skills or the lack thereof among the neighborhood pizza crews, I don’t know. But I’ll have to try again—I’ve got the stone and the peel, and three and a half pounds of flour to get through.

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