Wheat is often thought of as an empty, flavorless grain. It gets so much bad press these days. Last summer my family tried to go gluten-free. I can't exactly remember why--maybe it was peer pressure from our health-driven community, who knows! After buying ALL the alternate flours; I made the concoctions and baked. It was amazing how much we actually missed the texture and flavor of wheat. Yes, wheat has it's own flavor, a mellow, earthy tone that is truly distinct. Maybe we are overly addicted to it in the U.S., maybe it is a "cheap" grain, but none-the-less I like it. After much experimentation with ingredients and contemplation, I made a decision. Since no one in my family had celiacs disease, autism, IBS, wheat allergies, or any other condition said to be effected by wheat consumption; we were going back--in moderation.
Oh, the warm yeasty smell of wheat dough filling my house as it rises...and bakes. Let's not overlook the matter of the YEAST. It's for leavening--yes, but it's so much more! It too, has it's own distinct aroma and taste that can't be replicated.
I simply like the idea of yeast...it's a living organism, lying in wait to activate and infiltrate whatever it is added to. It is discreetly infectious. Our lives are this way. Surely we have all witnessed gossip or a bad attitude work it's dark magic through a crowd. But I like to think of yeast's qualities in a positive light, causing action, expansion, elevation, and enlightenment.
I often try to self-evaluate with this in mind. We are always effecting others in some way, whether we mean to, or not. Does my life's message and my attitude promote positive motivation and inspiration in those around me? Or do I breed negativity, contempt, and apathy? There are times when this can be a hard question to ask yourself.
Back to the baking...yeast is the best ingredient to add when trying to produce a light, airy bread product. It is a single-celled fungus that converts sugar and starch into carbon dioxide bubbles. These bubbles lift the bread and create the pores throughout it. You shouldn't eat raw yeast, since it will continue to grow in your digestive system and steal nutrients from your body. But once deactivated in the oven (or through pasteurization), yeast is a healthy food product. Some yeasts are even sold as nutritional supplements.
For this post, I'm making pizza crust. Pizza dough is essentially a white bread dough with added olive oil. The oil produces a richer flavor, and denser crust with more pull when you bite it. How you handle the dough makes a difference in texture as well. The more you knead your dough, the more "pull" you will create. This is essential for pizza crust.
Perfect Pizza Crust
1 envelope dry active yeast
2 Tb. olive oil
4 cups bread flour
1 ½ tsp. salt
Extra oil and flour for prep
For dough: Place ½ cup of warm water in your electric mixing bowl. Add the yeast and allow it to swell for 5 minutes. It should look foamy. Then add 1 ¼ cups of room-temperature water, plus the oil and salt.
Using a bread hook, mix on low, adding the flour a little at a time. “Knead” in the mixer for 2-3 minutes until well combined but tacky.
Oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it to cover in oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for 2 hours.
When to dough is more than double the original size, punch it down and place it on a floured work surface.
Divide into two equal pieces. Use your hands to turn the edges of the dough under to create a perfectly round, smooth mound. ( I made a double batch here--just cut yours in half!)
Either roll (from the middle out) or hand-stretch the dough to a large 18 inch circle—be careful not to tear the dough.
Place it on a piece of parchment paper and liberally oil the pizza crust.
Allow the crust to rest and repeat with second piece of dough. Preheat the oven to 500*, and place two round pizza stones or two flat cookie sheets on the middle two racks.
Fig-Prosciutto Pizza: (For 2 pizzas)
4 Tb. Fig preserves
½ lb. prosciutto, sliced into thin ribbons
1 cup arugula leaves
6 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
2/3 cup shredded mozzarella
2 tsp. fresh thyme
4 Tb. pine nuts
Salt and Pepper
*I have had similar pizzas with fresh figs. Truly divine! Sadly, good fresh figs are hard to come by in the mountains of North Carolina, so I decided to try fig preserves. It's a great substitute, but don't over do it! Fig preserves are much more sweet than fresh figs. You don't want to turn this into a "dessert pizza!"
Your dough will "relax" and shrink a little while you are prepping your toppings. Before topping the pizza, re-roll or stretch the dough to its original size.
Smear each crust with 2 Tb. of fig preserve. Then sprinkle the rest of the ingredients, randomly over the surface of the dough.
Using another cookie sheet slide the pizza (and paper), onto the heated pizza stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, turning once, until crust is golden-brown.
*If your pizza stones are well-seasoned, you can slide the pizza off the paper for direct contact with the stone. This will result in a crisper crust bottom. I wouldn't try this if you are using metal cookie sheets--you may not get the pizza back off!
Makes two large pizzas.
If you are in a pinch for time--frozen bread dough is a good substitute, it takes no time to prep, but triple the time to thaw and rise. Rhodes is a good brand to look for, they sell 5 loaves in one bag. Set 2 loaves in a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. It will take at least 6 hours.
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