A couple of weeks ago, the NY Times food section was devoted to pizza and there was a basic pizza dough recipe by Mark Bittman. I’m always in the market for a new one, so I took a look. At first I thought it was similar to a recipe I usually use, except there was no sugar - not even a 1/4 teaspoon to help the yeast along. But as I started to follow the recipe, more and more issues began to come up.
Bittman throws everything in the food processor, which is fine, but that includes the DRY yeast. In other words, he doesn’t proof his yeast, which is one of my guiding principles in dough-making.
|The dough ingredients in the food processor|
I ALWAYS proof my yeast. It doesn’t make sense to me to skip that step and risk wasting perfectly good flour and good olive oil (or GREAT olive oil, if you’re lucky enough to have it) on the chance that the yeast turns out to be flabby.
No matter what the recipe says, I always measure out ½ cup of water, stir in ¼ teaspoon of sugar and then sprinkle the envelope of yeast over. I make sure each grain makes its way under the water. I leave it to sponge for 5 or 10 minutes, which gives me the peace of mind that so much else in life doesn’t! So WHY oh WHY doesn’t Mark Bittman proof his yeast?
I decided to cede control (for once) and do what Bittman says.
WAIT, sorry, the title of this post notwithstanding, this is NOT a closeted reference to anything other than cooking! Anyway, I closed my eyes and added the dry yeast, WITHOUT any proof of its viability, to the flour and salt in the processor.
|Poor, uncared for yeast...|
Oh, there was ANOTHER thing about the yeast. The recipe says to use 1 teaspoon of yeast or 2 teaspoons if you want things to go a little faster. Why is this a problem? A packet of yeast contains 2 1/4 teaspoons and just what exactly are you supposed to do with the extra yeast?
I know myself well enough to know that I am NOT going to bother to measure out a teaspoon or two and then carefully close up the packet to keep the extra yeast fresh. I'm just going to use the entire packet. And no matter what the recipe says, I figure that a packet will work just fine, since it has the 20 million other times I've used 1 packet of yeast to 3 cups of flour.
I processed the ingredients for 30 seconds as Bittman said.
THEN he adds yet another questionable step to the finished dough. He has us wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and tells us to let it rise THAT way. WHY?
Isn't wrapping it up tightly going to inhibit the freewheeling nature of the yeasty molecules, striving to be set free and puff up and out? After a lot of internal conflict, I followed that step too, as written.
|Letting the wrapped-up dough rise|
|Pizza dough after one hour of rising|
The rest of the recipe posed no problems. (Of course, I was almost at the end.) I like that Bittman mentioned pre-baking the crust if you want more crunch. I almost never DON’T do that. I throw the pizza dough on my stove top grill, but baking it in a hot oven before you add the toppings would be okay too.
|Dough punched down and ready to be rolled out|
So at the end of the day, how was his pizza compared to the ones I usually make? Was there a huge difference? Do my picayune precise steps make a vastly superior pizza dough?
I wish I could say that Bittman’s dough ended up as flat as a pancake from the lack of testing the yeast. Or that the rising went badly because of the plastic wrapped ball of dough. But none of that happened. The dough was similar to what I usually make. Not better, but not in any way worse. So I guess I like his recipe just fine, but I can’t see myself being as freewheeling as Bittman and ditching the proofing step.
|Unbaked Pizza with Fig Jam|
|Baked Pizza with Fig Jam|
|Unbaked Pizza with Tomato Sauce|
|Baked Pizza with Tomato Sauce|
I do realize that Bittman was writing the recipe in a kind of easy breezy way, so as not to intimidate his readers. He just wanted folks who normally don’t make pizza dough to see how easy it is. He wrote the recipe so they could just put everything in the food processor and get it done in 30 seconds. I appreciate what he was trying to accomplish, but it’s just not in me to be so cavalier. I like shortcuts as much as the next person, but the particular one involving the yeast is far too extreme for me.
It’s amazing how many issues come up with a single recipe. I guess that shows just what a serious business cooking is...to me, at least. And it also shows that I, apparently, have a lot of rules in the kitchen. And when they’re tested or questioned, it makes me a squirm a little.
You know a few of them – always cook warm spices in the onions and oil BEFORE adding any liquid. Never add salt to beaten egg whites. In most cases, toast nuts before using…Stuff like that. And when it comes to yeast, I have a few “guidelines” from which I never stray like Bittman does...in the first two lines of his recipe.
Change is good, I guess, but there has to be a good reason for it. And I have no clue what the reason is for not paying adequate attention to the poor little yeast before it meets its pizza dough accomplices.