Bring dads into the pizza stone age

June 14, 1995|By Nick Malgieri | Nick Malgieri,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Why do dads like to barbecue? Does it come from some primal urge to go back to prehistoric roots as the hunter and food provider?

Maybe.

It certainly motivated me to celebrate a few Father's Days with gifts of charcoal, and then followed it up with gas grills.

But this year I'm giving my dad a different gift that is fit for a cook -- a pizza stone. Maybe I'm doing this because my dad does a little less outdoor grilling nowadays, but it's also because a great pizza is easy -- and fun -- to make.

Pizza stones are now widely available in kitchenware and department stores. Williams-Sonoma for $19 and $30. Using a stone on which to bake the pizza makes all the difference in the quality of your pizza. The stone simulates the inside of a professional pizza oven right in your own (or dad's) home. The bottom of the crust rests directly on the hearth, which eliminates any possibility of an underdone bottom and ensures even crispness.

The pizza stone, which is really a large ceramic tile, should be placed on the bottom rack of the oven and allowed to heat 30 to 60 minutes before the pizza is baked. In some ovens the bottom rack will make the stone too hot; experiment with a couple crusts before deciding which rack you want to use.

If you are using a pizza stone, sprinkle cornmeal or semolina on a piece of stiff cardboard or a wooden peel (a flat, thin wooden shovel made especially for loading the oven with pizza). Instead of placing the dough in a pan, place the formed crust on the cardboard or peel and allow it to rise or not, according to recipe directions. Add toppings. Poise the cardboard or peel over the stone. Then, with a sharp, deft backward pull, slide the pizza onto the stone. The cornmeal or semolina will provide the traction to make this easy. The heat retained by the stone accelerates the baking, so begin checking the pizza for doneness after about 15 minutes.

By the way, for best results, just provide your dad with the pizza stone and recipe. Don't get into the kitchen with him to make the pizzas -- not unless your dad taught you to drive without losing his temper even once.

Use this dough for a thin-crusted pizzeria-style pizza. If you double the recipe to make 2 pizzas, do not double the quantity of yeast.

Pizza Dough

Makes 2 round pizza crusts, 12 to 14 inches in diameter

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus extra for crust

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/4 cups warm (110-degree) tap water

1 envelope active dry yeast

5 tablespoons olive oil

2 (12- or 14-inch) round pizza pans (not needed if you use pizza stone)

Place flour and salt in 2-quart mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Make well in center.

Measure water and pour into small bowl. Sprinkle yeast on surface and allow to soften 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk together yeast and water, then whisk in 2 tablespoons oil. Pour mixture into well in flour and stir with rubber spatula to form soft, sticky dough

Turn dough onto floured work surface. Gently knead, folding it over on itself, and scraping it off surface with spatula or plastic scraper if very sticky. Avoid adding more flour -- that will produce a tough pizza. Knead until dough is smooth and no longer so sticky, about 5 minutes.

Rinse and dry bowl. Coat inside of bowl with 1 tablespoon oil. Form dough into a ball and place in bowl. Turn ball upside down, so top surface is oiled. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. (For advance preparation, cover and refrigerate dough several hours or even overnight.)

To form pizza crusts, generously flour work surface. Flour hands and scrape dough from bowl in one piece, without stretching or folding it, onto work surface so that what was on top in bowl is now underneath. Cut dough into 2 equal portions.

Scatter about 1 tablespoon flour over each piece of dough. Press down on it with palm of hand, being careful to keep an even disk shape. If dough is freshly made and resists slightly, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest about 5 minutes, then continue. If dough has rested a long time either in refrigerator or at room temperature, it will respond easily.

Form your right hand into a fist and begin to press dough in a circle, about 1/2 -inch in from edge, with middle joints of fingers (as though knocking on a door). Pull gently with other hand on edge of dough, opposite where it is being pressed. Continue around the crust 2 or 3 times in this manner to flatten and widen it.

Spread 2 tablespoons olive oil onto 12-inch round pizza pan. Fold crust in half and transfer to pan. Unfold dough and press it into place with palms of both hands, gently stretching from center outward. If dough resists, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rest about 5 minutes, then resume process. When properly stretched, dough should be about 1/8 -inch thick and have a 1/2 -inch-wide border which is slightly thicker. Repeat with second piece of dough.

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