stubborn as crust

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“Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.”

– Anna Quindlen

In addition, the longer they ferment in your lukewarm cranium, the more mature and profligate they become. Whenever an idea is conceived, it takes its time with unabated liberality right up until its eventual delivery. This bubonic pie sort of matter was one such illumination.

But then of course whenever your brain finds something worth latching on to, demons creep in and dissuade you, telling you the most realistic stories on failure and how you must be crazy to dare an attempt. “You don’t have this, you don’t have that,” he says, “ It’s not going to work.”

Well, how about this: Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. I don’t have a stone oven, nor do I have a pizza stone. But the pizza’s right there.

Let you in on a few tips on how to get your oven to attain that high temperature, which is what most things boil down to anyway:

1. Blast that box. Most recipes call for a relatively timid 500 degrees F. However, most restaurants serious about their pies have specialized ovens whose internal temperatures range from the not-so-humble end of 1000 F to upwards of 1200 F (537 ~649 C). At home, the closest you can get would be to preheat your oven to the maximum baking temperature (mine goes up to 525 F). Keep in mind, broiling won’t do – you’re concern is with crisping up the crust, not reducing all those delicious toppings to sad little carbon lumps.

2. Don’t skip the oil. Huge thanks goes to water’s property of being unable of going past 100 degrees Celsius, which is roughly equal to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means, simply cranking your oven to 525 degrees F will not cut it in terms of charring your pizza that’s only been dusted with flour. Yet, even bigger thanks goes to oil whose capacity to retain heat is at least twice as effective than water. Thus, the film of avocado oil (which is safe at higher cooking heats) will actually cause the moisture at the surface of the crust to quickly vaporize, and thereby dehydrate the surface. in short, minus the moisture, the dehydrated starches are now able to attain higher temperature, which results in gelatinization then caramelization. But that’s hardly relevant – the result is a light, crunchy exterior with a moist, springy interior.

But then again, all good things take practice – I’ve barely made it past my fourth pound of flour.

The kingdom of heaven is

like yeast that a woman took

and mixed into about

sixty pounds of flour

until it all

worked through the flour.

Matthew 13:33

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Adapted from Jim Lahey’s “My Pizza”

Ingredients for the pizza dough for four pizzas:

250 g all purpose flour

1 g active dry yeast

6 g fine sea salt

175 g water

To make the pizza dough, mix together all ingredients in a large bowl, cover with a lid or damp towel and leave to rise at room temperature for at least 18 hours. Once it has doubles in size, punch it down and divide it into two equal portions. If your dough is sticky, simply dust with more flour. Shape into 2 balls with your hands and cover loosely again with a damp cloth to let it rise while you prep the toppings and preheat the oven.

Ingredients for topping the pizza:

olive oil for the pans

1 cup fresh o frozen blueberries

120 g fresh ricotta cheese (ask for a taste before buying it at the deli or cheese shop – you want it to taste creamy and sweet with a bit of pale nuttiness, it should not taste watery)

1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

2 tbsp walnut oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

To make the pizza, preheat the oven to its highest possible setting – anywhere from 500 to 550 degrees F will do, but of course, the higher the better. Drizzle olive oil liberally on two baking sheets.

Now, stretch out the dough, which should be very soft and well dusted with flour. The way I do it is I start off by pulling it into a flatter shape, then I put the dough on my knuckles to stretch them gently by moving my knuckles away from one another and rotating the dough. If this sounds too complicated, you can just leave it on the counter and pull it in every direction to flatten it. There’s only one rule: don’t use a rolling pin – it will smush out all the bubbles in the crust and leave it hard and flat.

Transfer the stretched dough onto the baking sheets and scatter the thyme and blueberries evenly on each. Dot with chunks or ricotta, drizzle on the walnut oil, and season well with sea salt and lots of black pepper.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the crust is puffed, blistered, and the blueberries have melted.

Serve with an arugula salad (toss arugula with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil then season with a bit of salt and pepper).

Enjoy!

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