Thanks for all your honest comments about books that made you cry as a kid. So many I had forgotten, particularly Charlotte’s Web. Over at my Facebook page, Where the Red Fern Grows came up many times. I think it wins.
I spent much of today working on my next newsletter. I realized I haven’t had one out since January, and so many great things have been happening. If all goes according to plan, soon I’ll have 2 books and 3 new short stories for you in the pipeline. If you’re subscribed (easy to do–it’s right on this page!), you’ll hear all about it next week.
Today was also piano lesson day. I don’t have many hobbies, but playing piano is one of them. I surprised myself by playing Mozart better than Beethoven today. Then, after I was done with the Mozart, I went back to Beethoven, and played the heck out of it. Yay!
One strange idea occurred to me as my teacher and I were talking. I wondered if anyone had ever plugged up their ears, put on noise-cancelling headphones, and bit down on a stick of wood to experience some facsimile of what Beethoven, who became profoundly deaf as he aged, experienced when he played his own music. His ability to write symphonies even while deaf has astonished me ever since I learned about it. He took the legs off his pianos so he could feel the vibrations in the floor. I learned that by listening to an audio music/dramatic presentation we had when my kids were young. It was called Beethoven Lives Upstairs. It was a phenomenal series about classical composers. (I know, it sounds weird, but they really were unique, well-told, and well-acted.)
You might guess that I didn’t get much editing of the novel done. Looks like another gorgeous weekend at my computer…
I was about to start on a blog about Charlotte’s Web because it’s on a lot of minds, plus SPIDERS, but something else came up. (Also, I think one of my garden spiders ate another garden spiders. Pics. You need to see pics. I’ll track them down.)
Before I could start writing, my daughter texted me that she couldn’t find the card I wrote out for her with my pizza recipe on it. When she left home, I sent her off with a big recipe binder with all our family recipes in it. It also has plenty of room for her own traditions and recipes from her fiancé’s family.
When my daughter texts me and says, “I neeeeeeeed it!” then I feel I must get her what she needs. So, instead of a blog about Charlotte’s Web, and photos of spiders, you get the pizza recipe I’ve developed over the last 18 years or so. I’m ALL about the crust.
If you do make it, and you haven’t worked with dough very much, be patient with yourself. I spent many, many months making misshapen loaves of bread and wonky, weird, and often tough pizza crusts. Baking can be fun, but it takes time to get things exactly how you want them. And then they turn out the way they want to, anyway.
PIZZA RECIPE AND INSTRUCTIONS FOR NORA, FROM HER MOM
Recipe for 2 pizzas, 4 servings
Serving: ½ Pizza
2 Cups All-Purpose King Arthur flour. (can use bread flour for crisper crust)
1/3 Cup additional All-Purpose King Arthur flour, set aside
Packet of Quick Rise yeast. (2.25 teaspoons) (Not Instant Bread Machine Yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
2/3 cups water, divided, plus a 3 extra tablespoons
Sauce (see below)
Toppings (see below)
1 cup measuring cup (glass) for water/yeast
Wooden pizza paddle
Pizza Stone (optional)
Stand Mixer or Food Processor (optional)
One can of drained, diced tomatoes pureed in a food processor with a garlic clove buzzed in. You can add thinly sliced tomatoes to the pizza too, if they’re seeded and ripe. Most commercial pizza sauce is loaded w/ sugar, msg, and oil, which is nasty. The Kroger jarred pizza sauce isn’t too sweet, if you can find it. I frequently use Classico Tomato and Basil pasta sauce, which is low in sugar and oils.
Mozzarella slices and/or goat cheese. Fresh mozzarella is good too. I have found that grated mozzarella doesn’t cook as nicely as the slices. Plus, the bagged stuff has additives to keep it from sticking together.
Whatever you want. Spinach or broccoli (some do) should be sautéed ahead of time with a little oil and garlic. Mushrooms, pepperoni, and anchovies do not get sautéed.
Put 1/3 cup water in glass measuring cup. Hot or warm, depending on what envelope or yeast jar advises. (Quick Rise or instant requires hot tap water—don’t use boiling water. “Don’t murder the yeast!”–Julia Child)
Dump yeast into water to proof, whisk in. (A little electric one is fast.) Make sure the bubbles grow—slowly is fine.
Measure 2 smoothed, even cups of flour into mixing bowl. Stir in table salt. Measure teaspoon of olive oil into flour. Make a well in the middle.
Pour 2nd 1/3 cup cold water into yeast mixture. Add in 2-3 tablespoons of additional water.
Add combined yeast mixture to well in the center of the flour.
Use dough hook on mixer.
Start mixer slowly so flour doesn’t fly around. Increase speed until dough gathers into a sticky ball, still on the hook. If there’s none at all stuck to the hook, it may be too dry and need a spoonful of water. Mix thoroughly until blended, but don’t beat it to death. If it’s mixed but too wet, add flour by the tablespoon, mixing well after each addition.
Machine mixing heats up the dough quickly, melting the gluten strands so that the crust becomes tough, not delicately sturdy. Bread flour has lots of gluten because more gluten makes a smoother, tighter crust, as on a loaf or baguette. So only machine mix until the ingredients hold well together. If you don’t want to hand knead much at all to finish, you can use the machine, but give the dough little breaks to cool.
DON’T HAVE A MIXER?
Put flour/salt in mixing bowl, make a well in the middle, pour all water into well along with oil. Push flour from the sides gently into the well. Keep doing that until mixed together. Gather into a ball. Add flour or water as necessary.
Flour clean counter liberally, as well as hands. Scoop out dough. Dough made in mixer will require less counter kneading than dough made by hand.
Knead on counter for one minute or so, let it rest a minute or two. Repeat. And repeat until dough is smooth and pleasantly elastic. If it sticks too much to hands and the counter, add a few pinches of flour until it’s neater to handle.
This also depends on what type yeast you use. Follow package instructions for time. Put dough ball into ceramic or wooden bowl. (I use ceramic, porcelain, glass, or wood bowls. It seems weird in plastic or metal.) The Italians oil their bowls, but the French do not. I do not. Get a dishtowel damp, lay it over the bowl, and set it in a warmish place. (Not the oven!
Punch down (always pressing as much air out as possible) after 10 minutes for quick-rise, and gather it into a firm, casual ball in the bowl. Punch it down again after another half-hour/forty-five minutes. Then give it another 30-minute final rise.
Before you do the last rise, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. An extra 10 minutes earlier if you’re heating a pizza stone. A cookie baking sheet is fine if you don’t have a stone. (A convection oven will need to be set 25 degrees lower, and the pizza will bake faster.)
Spread a thick layer of white cornmeal over the pizza paddle. The cornmeal allows the pizza dough to slide. Don’t be shy with it. And don’t even think about trying to do this on a metal peel or sheet unless you already own your own pizzeria. You will be very unhappy with the results.
Flour hands. Remove dough from bowl. I weigh it, then halve it and weigh again so the servings are even. After a while, you will be able to eyeball it. But weigh until you get good at it. Or halve the recipe and just do one at a time. (Excellent for practice!)
Roll one ball at a time in your hands. When the round is pliable, with much but not all air removed, flatten it into a disc, and set on floured counter. It will need to rise several more minutes. Not so it gets really airy, but just stretchy.
Pat it out on the counter into a bigger disc. You might want to let it rest another few minutes while you putter about or chop mushrooms. The better the rise, the easier it is to work with. But if you get distracted, you can end up with a puffball, and then you have to knock it down punishingly and do the disc rise all over again.
When the disc is the size of your splayed hand, pick it up carefully. You’ll pretty much shape and enlarge it in your hands as you go—transferring it back and forth, stretching with your fingers as you rotate it. You’ll get the hang of it. Don’t toss in the air. It doesn’t help, and only the dog at your feet will be able to appreciate all your work.
Your goal is to get it about 12-13” round, and evenly stretched. If you overwork it, the crust will be tough. Work lightly and have fun with it. Ball it up and give it another 10 minute rise and do it again if you end up with holes or very, very thin places. Thin places will stick to the baking surface and it will be difficult to get it off when it’s done baking. (All-purpose flour is easier to work with than bread flour, but bread flour is more forgiving.)
Lay the big disc neatly on the cormealed paddle. Adjust it, but don’t count on stretching it much because it won’t stay.
TOPPING AND BAKING
Spoon on sauce and spread evenly with back of the spoon. Sprinkle on dried Italian herbs. Layer toppings, starting with pepperoni, if using. Cheese is last, to preference. [Hint: If one half is to be finished with flat pieces of mozzarella over toppings, that should be the side to go on the front of the paddle. Goat cheese is much looser, and you don’t want it flying off the pizza from the front!]
Slide pizza into the oven. Use a kind of jerky, popping motion to slide it off the paddle. It’s terrifying—not too fast, not too slow. Many pizzas come out a little slaunchwise. No worries.
Set a timer. Bake 10 minutes in regular oven at 450, then check it. It may need up to 4-5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is lightly browned. It’s not like baking boxed brownies. Times will differ.
Start creating the second pizza immediately, while this one is baking.
Remove from oven with a flat-edge baking sheet or a pizza peel (your paddle will probably have pizza #2 on it, waiting), and let sit a few minutes before cutting with a pizza cutting wheel. If there’s a lot of juice from pepperoni or wet tomato slices, dab with a light napkin before cutting and serving.
Put the next pizza in and repeat.
If you’re trying to figure out calories per ½ pizza serving: flour is about 220 calories, and the oil is 10 added calories. As to the cheese, sauce and toppings, those calories will vary depending on your choices.