Club Kitty Pizza

I was having a hard time making it out the door to go to Rachel’s. Maggie had been fussy that day. No matter where I put her: be it her play pen, swing, activity mat….she would start screaming. She wouldn’t eat. She wouldn’t sleep. Her diaper was dry. She just wanted me to play with her. But, whenever I would pick her up, she’d cry, but she couldn’t stand for me to leave the room. I gave her cold teething rings, frozen peaches in a special teething net, Mylicon gas drops…I was considering dosing her with the dreaded Children’s Tylenol, which is such a guaranteed tear-stopper…but oh WAIT…it just might destroy her liver if you dose her too often. Ok, scratch the ‘destroying the liver’ medicine. It was an endless cycle of picking her up, rocking her, putting her down, and picking her up.

I started to run out of time. I was getting that familiar panicky feeling: .must…get….everything done…must make dough…must take pictures of the process for the blog….must pack bags…must get inflatable purple dragon float for pool…must pack swim-diapers….must…must….must….stop that child from crying so that I can accomplish all the other things on my list. Hmmmm…maybe she just wants to be with Mommy, though not necessarily physically interacting with Mommy. Hell, I could use an audience to play to. Into the high chair she goes so that I can multi-task. Granted, she’s a tough crowd. Doesn’t appreciate my jokes and looks at me as if to say: “Is that all you got?”

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All right, let’s do this before she starts fussing again. This recipe was adapted from one I learned from Suzanne Dunaway and it is in her fabulous book: No Need to Knead. She is an excellent teacher and I can’t wait to buy her book: Rome, At Home. Years ago, when we were traveling to Rome, she was nice enough to provide me with her personal notes on where to eat and shop and let me tell you, she did not steer me wrong.

This is a fairly easy pizza dough to make because there is NO kneading. That’s right, no kneading. This makes about 6-7 (10-inch) thin crust pizzas. You can refrigerate this dough for up to 5 days. Pizza every night! Now, I prefer my recipes to be in weights rather than cup measures but I know that not everyone has a scale, so I included both.

In a big bowl combine:
16 oz. lukewarm water (2 Cups)
1 teaspoon of instant yeast (also sold as bread-machine yeast)
2 teaspoons salt
21 oz. bread flour (4 Cups) (I like King Arthur Unbleached Bread flour)
6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (3 oz)

Combine the flour, salt and yeast together. The beauty of instant yeast is that you don’t have to proof it.

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Just mix it in with the flour. Make an effort to not let it touch the salt directly as salt will kill the yeast. I just mix the salt in the flour well and then sprinkle the yeast on top.

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Then mix the wet ingredients (olive oil and water) together and make a well in the center of your dry ingredients and pour them in.

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Stir all ingredients together until combined and until the dough JUST starts pulling away from the sides (about a minute) and then STOP!

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Pour it into a covered container or just cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in a warm place for a couple of hours. This will not always double in size because it is so wet but make sure you have enough room in the container just in case it does. It should look like a thick pancake batter. For you bread bakers out there, it should almost look like a Biga or Poolish (and could be used as such).

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At this point, you can also just refrigerate the dough and use it sometime within the week. It will take on more complex flavors day by day. Now, if you’re making pizzas the same day, go ahead and preheat your oven to as high as it will go, like 500-550 degrees. I definitely recommend getting a pizza stone and cooking the crust directly on the stone with no pan. If you don’t want to spend the $30+ on a little stone, do what I did: Line your entire oven with unglazed quarry tile
from the hardware store. It’s dirt cheap and then you can do several pizzas at once.

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But, today, I’m not using my oven. It was hot outside…and getting hotter. Forecasts call for temps in the 100’s this week. We still don’t have air-conditioning, save for some window-units. It gets brutal in this house in July and August, well over 90 degrees. (Especially with an oven turned up to 500 + degrees.) I wasn’t looking forward to it. I looked at Maggie and immediately thought of soaking in the salt-water pool at Rachel’s house. I wondered if I should just invite myself over. Rachel has the most amazing home, with an infinity pool over-looking Los Angeles, hot tub, fire pit, WOOD-BURNING PIZZA OVEN, vegetable and herb garden and professional kitchen. She is always a gracious hostess who is endlessly generous with her hospitality, wine and company.

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I like to make food for everyone when we are there. We live at Rachel’s year-round…the least we can do is give back in some way. With the oven, pizza night is always a favorite theme. We love to come up with different flavor combinations for the toppings. Now that Rachel’s garden is thriving…we can just go pick fresh herbs and vegetables for our meals. It was also Sunday, and Rachel hit up the Hollywood Farmer’s Market that morning for fresh tomatoes and figs.

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I used to make pizza all the time. I became so proficient at working with this dough that I could form a crust blind-folded. But….I haven’t made pizzas in a while. I was surprised to find that the dough was fighting with me and sticking to the work surface. I wondered if I was doing anything differently…if I had measured wrong or used a different type of flour…maybe the dough had proofed too long…or maybe I was just too distracted trying to get Maggie settled and my personal shit together. No one was in a hurry. Catheryn was showing Kelly a print of her new book
that will be coming out this fall: “The Dysfunctional Family Funbook: Games & Activities to Keep You Sane Your Whole Visit Home”.

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Jeanna was entertaining the Magster.

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Oh my God, look how inviting that pool is. Sorry, we’re going to have to take a brief swimming break here. I need to center myself. When you’re working with yeast dough and fire, you’re working with living entities. It helps to be in the right frame of mind when you start or the dough and fire will sense your distress and fight with you every step of the way.

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Maggie has a new bathing suit and wants to get wet!

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While we were swimming, we were waiting on the fire to burn down a little. The wood we are using today is oak. It’s burns fast and hot and that’s what you want for pizza. Plus the smell is heavenly. The ideal temperature for making pizza is about 700-750 degrees. (Obviously, your oven at home is not going to get that hot so the pizzas will just take a little longer to cook…maybe 5-10 minutes.) If you’re lucky enough to have access to an oven such as this, just start a roaring fire and wait for it to burn down a little. You can have a little bit of open flame but you mainly want red-hot coals. Flame means smoke and if you dump a lot of wood on the fire and start immediately cooking your pizzas, they might turn out a bit smoky and black with soot. Once the coals are where you want them, push them to the back and sides so that it forms a half-ring around the area where you are placing the pizzas so that they get heat from all around. Too clean up the excess ash from the floor of the oven, use a regular fireplace brush, wrap a soaking wet rag around it and mop the area where you will be cooking the pizzas.

Ahhh, there’s something so elemental about cooking with fire. The alchemy of taking simple ingredients like flour, yeast, salt, olive oil and water; and transmuting them into edible gold with fire is so thrilling to me.

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When you’re ready to make the crust, put a lot of flour down on your table and literally pour out about a cup of the dough onto the table and cut it off with kitchen scissors. Put more flour on top and shape into a ball. Note: this will be a WET dough so it’ll seem weird at first. The key when you are actually forming the crusts is to put a LOT of flour down on your table (like a cup spread out) and then put a LOT on top. Don’t mix this extra flour in too much because it will become tough. It will absorb what it needs so that you can shape it and then brush the rest off to the side.

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The more you work it, the tougher it will get. This is the point of not kneading it. It gets all the kneading it needs by shaping it into a crust. This is also how you can get it so very thin. It won’t fight with you if you don’t work the gluten
too much. Just try to form it into a rough ball and move it around enough so that it’s easier to work with.

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At this point you can form it into a crust by either rolling or stretching or tossing in the air if you feel comfortable with that. The idea behind tossing pizza in the air is to use centrifugal force to expand the diameter of your crust. When stretching out this dough, try to use the top of your hands and knuckles (sans rings) rather than the tips of your fingers because your fingernails and rings will rip the dough.

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Once it’s very thin, maybe a ¼ inch thick, you can slide it onto a floured pizza peel.

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Now, if you want your crust to be very thin, even and crispy, you should dock your dough crust before sliding it into the oven. To dock means to
pierce lightly with a fork or docker to make small holes in dough that will let steam escape during baking. This helps the dough to remain flat and even. A docker looks like a spiked paint roller. I’m going to blow off docking the dough this time. I don’t mind a few blisters and bubbles. It just makes it look rustic and handmade.

I like to par-bake the crusts for about 5 minutes, let them cool, top them and then bake them for another 5-10 minutes. That way they don’t get too soggy when the toppings melt. (Par-baking basically means to pre-bake the dough a little until just set but not completely cooked.) Theoretically, if you’re cooking them in an extremely hot, wood-burning pizza oven like I’m doing, you shouldn’t need to par-bake them. I’ve tested it both ways and I think par-baking makes for a crispier crust AND it’s a hell of a lot easier to slide par-baked crust into the oven than it is to slide a raw dough crust covered in toppings into an oven. If you’re baking in a wood-burning oven like I am, you only need to par-bake for a minute or so. The entire pizza shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes to bake at 700 degrees.

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As for toppings…you don’t want to overload your pizza with them. Use a light hand with the cheese, etc. Most Americans tend to dump a ton of shit on their pizzas. It makes them heavy, soggy and unhealthy. Try to think of toppings as a garnish for the crust. Pre-cook any toppings that won’t cook quickly in the oven. The only thing they’ll have time to do is heat up. So, for instance, I’m using pre-caramelized onions and cooked bacon, expertly cooked by Catheryn June.

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If you’re using a vegetable like zucchini or eggplant as a topping, grill or sauté them first. Sausage should be cooked ahead and drained. Have everything washed, cooked and ready so that you can mix and match ingredients as you’re making the pizzas. Have a selection of cheeses ready to go. I like a nice, mild melting cheese like shredded Monterey Jack as a base or glue to hold the toppings on. I also like to add strong, flavorful cheeses like aged Gouda, Gruyere, blue, feta and goat to make the pizzas more interesting. Fresh herbs, fresh tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella are wonderful to have on hand as well. A note on fresh mozzarella: it tends to be very wet and will give up its water in a pool on your crust. Try to drain it first in a sieve before you use it. This is a great idea for a dinner party. It’s great fun to let people make their own dream pizza and then slide it in the oven themselves.

Whenever I make pizza, I always start with a little hors d’oeuvre of plain pizza crust drizzled with white truffle oil and sprinkled with fleur de sel. This usually gets people’s mouth watering for more.

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The next pizza I’m making is bacon, caramelized onions, Monterey Jack and Gruyere…no sauce.

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Watch what happens if you don’t dock the dough:

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No worries…it’ll deflate again.

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Remember those wonderful figs? How ‘bout sliced fresh figs, feta, Monterey Jack and fresh mint? It’s one of my favorite flavor combinations…sweet and salty.

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Then you have to do one for the meat lovers. How ‘bout tomato sauce, dry Spanish chorizo, Monterey Jack, caramelized onions with fresh marjoram and cilantro blossoms?

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Catheryn would be very upset with me if I didn’t make one with figs, caramelized onions, Maytag blue cheese, Monterey Jack and bacon:

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The possibilities are really endless and only limited by your imagination. I’ve made so many different kinds in the past. One favorite was a breakfast pizza: bacon, Gruyere and an egg cracked right in the middle of the crust. When you cut into it, the yolk runs all over the dough. It’s heaven. More ideas: thinly-sliced potatoes sautéed in olive oil with fresh rosemary, Asiago and Parmesan….sautéed exotic mushrooms with aged gouda and caramelized onions….a classic Margherita pizza with sliced heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil….wild boar sausage with white truffle oil (or shaved white truffles if you have them).

Uh oh….someone’s getting sleepy. Yes, we’re all tired from swimming and sated from all those carbs. Sadly, it’s time to go.

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5 Responses to “Club Kitty Pizza”

  1. Sarah Jane Says:

    I am almost teary eyed after reading this and seeing how good that pizza looks. The information you give is mostly new to me. I LOVE that part about par baking the crust and then adding toppings and then finishing the whole thing. Nobody ever told me about that before!

    Yeah, that house is soooooo cool. This Rachel sure is lucky to live there. And you’re lucky to “live” there so often, too.
    Thanks, Kitty!

  2. codeninedesign Says:

    Great post Kitty! I have been scouring the internet for a long long time trying to absorb every little detail about pizza making, and you’ve managed to keep me interested and learning from start to finish. Thanks for sharing!

  3. clubkitty Says:

    You’re welcome! Glad I could be of help!

  4. Hoods & More Says:

    Best article on pizza making hands down, great work! The joy of the process shows.

  5. clubkitty Says:

    Thank you so much! 🙂

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