Wood Oven Pizza Party for Cousin Rosie
My cousin Rosie turned 21 last week, and when I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, it was pizzas for 20 or so of her friends and family, baked in my wood burning oven. At the time it sounded like a good idea…
I wanted to make pizzas like those in Italy, with a light crust that bakes up crispy, but still slightly chewy, and easy on the toppings. Over the years I’ve adapted the dough recipe from Chez Panisse to work for the home cook. It is left to rise overnight in the refrigerator, so the yeast and the enzymes in the flour have a chance to develop more flavor than afforded by a quick rise. If you have a baking stone to fit your home oven, the bottom crust will come out properly crisp and brown. Otherwise use a baking sheet and place rack in the lower level of the oven.
Pizza Dough a la Chez Panisse
Enough for about 6 medium pizzas
2 teaspoons dry yeast
¾ cup warm water
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup rye or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold water
1/3 cup olive oil
Mix yeast and warm water in bowl and stir in the 2/3 cup flour. Let mixture sit at room temperature 30 minutes or until light, with tiny bubbles throughout.
In another bowl mix the 4 cups of flour, rye or whole wheat flour and salt.
When the sponge is ready, add 1 cup cold water and 1 cup of flour mixture to sponge and let rise for another 30 minutes.
Add remaining flour and the olive oil to the sponge and knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for at least 5 minutes or until soft and elastic.
Place dough in a large bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Or refrigerate dough and let rise overnight.
Punch down the dough and divide into portions. Will make 10 small pizzas or 6 medium. Shape dough into smooth balls and allow to rest at room temperature for about an hour before shaping.
Place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 450° or 500° for at least 15 minutes. Roll and stretch out the dough into a rough circle (8 inches for small pizzas, 10 inches for medium). Place on a well-floured pizza peel, brush with olive oil and add toppings. Slide pizza onto the hot baking stone and bake until the crust is well browned and the toppings are bubbly, about 10 minutes. Have a small knife handy to pop any big bubbles if they form in the crust. Remove from oven, slice and serve.
We decided to fix a bunch of toppings and let each person make their own special pizza. Rosie and I spent the afternoon preparing caramelized onions, blanched asparagus, rendered pancetta, pepperoni, duck sausage, sautéed bell peppers and jalapenos, shrimp and squid. We also filleted some salt-cured anchovies. We set these all out on a big table in front of the oven, along with two tomato sauces, one smooth and one chunky; cherry tomatoes, chopped parsley and cilantro, slices of fresh mozzarella, grated mozzarella, cheddar and Parmesan, and crumbled Gorgonzola. Phew!
We brushed our rolled out dough circles with olive oil that had steeped with freshly chopped garlic, and sprinkled on some thin sliced red onion. Then it was time for everyone to get creative. We all had fun putting the toppings on our very own custom made pizzas, and I managed to get them all in and out of the oven with only a few mishaps.
I’m sure some of the combinations will be better forgotten, but at the end of the night the only leftovers were a few crumbs and lots of happy cooks.