It's been 25 years since I baked a loaf of bread.
It was Annapolis, 1984 and I was on my own, working as a regional manager for an insurance company, and I somehow acquired the Tassajara Bread Book, written by those kindly monks in Oregon that have made an industry for themselves in bread baking. And I started baking bread to pass the time. And then pizza. And I loved it.
I've continued to make pizza over the years, damn good pizza if I say so myself, but I don't know why I ever stopped baking bread. Perhaps it was the wealth of good bakeries in the neighborhoods where I have lived since those Annapolis days, Italian bakeries in South Philly when I lived in Center City, Marchiano's bakery in Manayunk when I lived there; now I have terrific bakeries like Barbero's and Franca's in nearby Trenton when I need a bread fix.
But good friend Bob Rescinito in Oklahoma City sent me a foolproof bread recipe that he favors, and it was so simple that I just had to try it:
(adapted for my kitchen)
one bottle (12oz) beer, and light or amber beer will do as long as it aint too hoppy!
1 T dry yeast
14 to 16 oz King Arthur All purpose flour
1.5 tsp salt
Pour beer into mixing bowl, add yeast, mix salt into flour, slowly stir flour into beer until a soft dough is formed. Do not knead. Turn dough into an oiled bowl or proofing container and let dough rise for about 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 450F . While oven is heating, turn dough out onto a floured bench/board, and knead just a few times, adding flour if needed. Shape dough into a boule. When oven is heated, take dough and carefully place it into a greased loaf pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, check, and let bake for about 10 more minutes until bread is golden brown. Internal temp should be about 180F, let cool before slicing. If you can wait!
Pretty easy and foolproof recipe. I use the same dough for pizza sometimes.
Well, the bread was fantastic, yeasty and almost sourdoughy, and yes, it was REALLY EASY to make. As you can see above, it looked pretty good too. Daughter Sophie loved watching it bake and really enjoyed her first slice.
Inspired by that new success, I got the baking bug back and decided to make some pizza for Super Bowl Sunday. I made a double batch of pizza dough, from a recipe adapted from an old Betty Crocker cookbook I found at a flea market during my college days. It's held up all these years, and makes a damn fine pizza dough:
My Pizza Dough
Makes 3 thin crust pizzas
1 cup tepid water
1 packet yeast
2.5 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
3 shakes of Mrs Dash's original seasoning
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, extra for coating a bowl and baking
Corn meal for baking
In a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer) sprinkle yeast into water, add sugar, stir. As bubbles begin to multiply and percolate, add salt pepper and Mrs Dash's, and stir. Add olive oil, stir. Add flour slowly and begin stirring with handle of wooden spoon or begin stirring with mixer's dough hook on medium speed. When dough ball has fully formed and pulls away completely from the sides of the bowl or mixer, turn dough onto a floured board and knead several times, up to 20 or so folds of the dough. I often knead even more that that.
Rub a large bowl with extra olive oil and turn dough into bowl, turning to completely coat with oil. Cover loosely with damp towl or plastic wrap and let rise for about 4 hours. Watch dough and when it reaches top of the bowl, punch dough down with your fist and fingers until it has completely settled, re-cover and let rise again. Repeat this step 3 or 4 times.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle pizza pan (I use 12 in. pizza pans ) with cornmeal enough to cover at least half of the surface of the pan. Cut away 1/3 of dough and stretch gently with fingers and knuckles, taking care not to rip dough. Place dough over cornmeal and drizzle a small amount of oil on dough. Stretch dough with finger tips and press into and across pan. Sprinle with grated precorino or parmesan and top with sauce, mozzarella and toppings to taste. Bake 17-20 minutes , depending on amount of toppings.
"What's up with the Mrs. Dash's?" you may ask; actually I spilled some into pizza dough water once, and liked the resulting hydrated herbs and vegetables studding the crust so much. that I've made it that way ever since. Try it. Or don't.
Plain pizza before...
These are pics of three pizzas that I made the other night, with dough left over from Super Bowl Sunday; I made a plain tomato cheese pie, a pepperoni number, and one with roasted potatoes, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, onions, peppers, celery, basil and pepper jack cheese, my take on a Calabrese-style pizza I once had at a gourmet store in Ardmore. Of the three, that last one was the winner. Took about 22 min. to bake thoroughly.
Pepperoni Pizza before...
Roasted potato pizza before....
And they tasted as good as they look, I'm happy to say. Gonna be making a lot more, I think. Back to the ovens!