The problem with naming a recipe "The Best Ever…" is that a year or two later you'll find one you like even better. So it is with pizza crust. I was in love with Mario Batali's until I got a cast iron pizza pan at Christmas and started using it to make thicker-crust, four serving pizzas. Now this version is my "best ever."
The cast iron pan makes all the difference. I preheat it in the oven to let it absorb lots of heat, then bake the bare crust for a few minutes before topping and baking again just long enough to melt the cheese. The crust is browned and crunchy on the bottom and chewy the rest of the way through.
The dough recipe is the same as the previous one; only the baking method has changed. My next pizza frontier is to try Peter Reinhart's dough and see whose is better (and whose is easier!) I'm sure I'll learn something from trying it out, at the least.
I've been experimenting with different brands of vegan cheese, too, and have hit on a combination I really like. While Daiya has an amazing melty texture, I find the flavor a bit strong. So, I start with an 8-ounce package of Daiya and a 10-ounce block of Follow Your Heart (for pizza, both are mozzarella flavor). I grate the FYH, blend with the Daiya and divide into three 6-ounce portions. Each portion is just the right amount for a pizza, a pan of enchiladas, King Ranch Casserole, chili relleno casserole, or mac and cheese. Any leftover portions can be frozen for another night.
Finally, I want to brag about my herb garden a bit. I've had all kinds of trouble with my garden in the last year or so. First the squirrels kept eating my vegetables so I gave up and decided to plant herbs. Then Texas got hit with a drought last spring and summer and with it came record high temperatures. It was over 100 F day after day, and one day in August it even got up to 112. The heat took out the marjoram and thyme, and stunted the basil and mint. The rosemary did okay, but didn't get much bigger. All the oregano died too, except for one tiny Mexican oregano that I had bought at the flea market. I gave up and threw wildflower seeds in the bed last fall.
It's been raining plenty this spring (yay!) and the wildflowers look good.
|Texas paintbrush and spurred snapdragon|
|Drummond phlox, arugula and spurred snapdragons|
There were some tiny yellow flowers in the bed that I didn't recognize and when I examined them further, they turned out to be arugula that reseeded itself from the summer before last. The rosemary has doubled in size, the mint is thriving, and look at this oregano! I am never going to be without fresh oregano again.
|Oregano with my hand for scale|
I put oregano and arugula on this pizza. Later this summer, I hope to have lots of basil to cook with too.
Pizza Crust on a cast iron pan
1-1/4 cups warm water, about 105 F
1-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup bread or all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
Add water, yeast and all-purpose flour to a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with dough hooks. Combine well with a fork, cover, and let stand for an hour at room temperature (or longer, up to overnight, in the refrigerator). The mixture will bubble up and expand.
Add vital wheat gluten, sugar, salt, and olive oil and combine with a fork. If you're using a stand mixer to knead the dough, start it now. Add remaining flour, stopping to combine the last of the flour with a fork if necessary. Let mixer knead dough for 5 minutes on low, or turn out dough onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes. Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for an hour, until doubled in size.
Place a 14-inch cast iron pizza pan in the oven and set heat to 450 F. Allow pan to heat for at least 30 minutes.
Turn dough out onto a work surface and cut in two pieces. Stretch each piece of dough into a 12-inch circle (I used two lightly oiled pizza pans.)
To transfer the dough to the oven, remove the cast iron pan. Imagine the dough circle is a clock; pick it up with your hands at ten and two and drape the bottom - the six-o'clock side - onto the part of the pan nearest you first. Carefully push the dough outwards an inch or so to give you a 13-inch circle. Grab oven mitts and slide the pan back into the oven. Bake for 5 minutes.
Use a spatula to remove the dough from the pan, leaving the pan in the oven this time. Top the pizza, then transfer back onto the oven using the spatula. Bake until the cheese melts, about 4 minutes. Repeat with the other dough circle.
Makes two pizzas, four servings each.
White Pizza with Arugula and Oregano
I used only one pizza crust for this. I baked the other and put it, untopped and wrapped in foil, into the freezer for later. I've also turned the second half of the dough into bread sticks for soup and ciabatta buns for sandwiches; both bake beautifully on the cast iron pizza pan.
1 13-inch pizza crust
1 fat clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces pizza cheese (I suggest a mix of Daiya and Follow Your Heart mozzarella flavor)
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
2 tablespoons arugula
Prebake pizza crust as above. Mix together garlic and olive oil. Spread on the crust using a pastry brush. Top with cheese. Bake until cheese melts. Top with herbs after removing from the oven.
Cut into 8 slices. Serves 4.