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I have a confession to make. No, two of them. First, I’m a yeast-o-phobe. I love things made with yeast: fresh dinner rolls, good crusty bread, cinnamon buns. Pizza. And I absolutely love the smell of yeast. But I never bake with it. I buy it regularly―in my supermarket they have these pretty little cubes of fresh yeast that look so nice in my fridge until they’re about 3 months past their expiration date. Sigh. I love the IDEA of baking with yeast, but I just don’t do it. I’ll make anything with baking powder. But yeast, that’s another story.
When we designed our apartment, I ordered a pizza stone with my oven. TWO YEARS ago. It was still in its virgin state. Never used, never even heated. Sigh… I’ve always been a sucker for the tool-buyer’s fallacy: if I have the tools I must be good at it. NOT true in the case of pizza.
The second confession is that I have lost my mojo. It all started with the incident of the sauce mousseline. My friend Françoise went to the Loire valley and brought me back some gorgeous white asparagus. I decided to make a sauce mousseline to go with it. The asparagus turned out wonderfully, and have made me reconsider my stand on the white ones (as long as they come directly to me from the Loire valley). But the sauce was a disaster. Sauce mousseline is hollandaise with some whipped cream added. Lightly whipped cream, I should add. When I made it, my hollandaise was perfect―luxurious texture, just enough tartness, all that buttery richness―but I overwhipped the cream. It was very stiff when I folded it a little too vigorously into the hollandaise. It started to turn to butter. Mixed with the hollandaise, it looked like scrambled eggs. It was pathetic. I took a photo to show you for a laugh after I re-made it successfully.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work the second time either. Or the third. By then we were out of eggs and butter and I was out of patience. The asparagus, however, were delightful.
Then there were the French Veggies. This is a simple, straightforward dish that I’ve made dozens of times. It CAN’T fail. Oh, wait, yes it can. I won’t tell you any more, because I’m too embarrassed.
By now I was sure that my mojo had gone―just up and left. Mojos are fickle creatures, and they’ll up and leave for no reason at all, though the sauce mousseline might have been grounds for abandonment.
What did I do? First I watched the French Open. Rafael Nadal can usually inspire me. Nope. All I got out of that was chicken salad. I blame it on Soderling. Three sets. Ptui! If it had been Federer in the final, I probably would have been able to whip up a crown roast or something. Maybe even a sauce mousseline.
I was discouraged. So what did I do? I decided to challenge my mojo, entice it back. “How?”, I can hear you asking. With yeast. Lovely, luscious yeast. And not just ANY yeast: pizza. Yes. I turned to the pizza stone: time to break it out and break it in.
I had bookmarked a pizza crust recipe from Linda at How to Cook a Wolf, and she promised me that it was very forgiving. I have to say that in my experience “forgiving” and “yeast” aren’t necessarily used often in the same sentence. However, I trust Linda, and if she said it was forgiving, I was willing to try it. And I did. I went to my fridge and got out my six-month-old-very-pretty cube of fresh yeast. I threw it away, and went to the supermarket and found some active dry yeast (thanks, Linda).
I also had a lot of tomatoes, because I’d bought some to oven roast (Another halfway flop―I mean, who flops at roasted tomatoes?) and I’d bought too many. So I began by making a sauce. This was something we’d done a bazillion times in cooking school, and I decided that if I couldn’t do that, I’d have to shoot my blog between the eyes…
The result was wonderful, if I do say so myself. Dan says so too. I like my pizza crust cracker-thin, crispy and browned. This crust did that perfectly. It stayed crisp until almost the last slice, and never turned mushy. The sauce tasted fresh and richly tomato-y. The saucisson piquante I found was perfect with this. I cut Linda’s recipe in half, in case I had to throw it away―there’d be less to waste. Also because we’re only two, and the recipe is for four.
The verdict? Yeast is vanquished. Mojo is back.
crust recipe from How to Cook a Wolf
Preheat oven to 250 C / 475 F
Fresh Tomato Sauce
800 g / 1 ¾ pounds tomatoes
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and squashed
100 g / 4 oz fresh grated parmesan for the pizza
100 g / 4 oz spicy sausage for the pizza (optional)
- Wash the tomatoes and cut them in quarters. Add the olive oil.
- Heat them over low-medium heat till the tomatoes begin to lose their form and render their juice, about 10-15 minutes.
- Put them through a food mill back into the sauce pan. The purpose of this step is to remove the peels and most of the seeds, while keeping the pulp and the juice.
- Add the garlic and the salt. Leave the cloves whole―you’re going to take them out after they’ve cooked.
- Cook over low heat till it’s reduced to about 1/3 its previous volume, about an hour.
- Remove the garlic cloves, give it a good stir, and let cool.
Linda’s Pizza Crust
½ packet dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey
120 ml / ½ cup warm water
260 g / 1 ½ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
- Mix the yeast, the honey and ¼ cup warm water in a small bowl.
- In a larger bowl, mix the flour, the salt, and the oil. Add the yeast mixture and the rest of the water. Mix well until it forms a ball. Turn out on the counter and knead for 7 or 8 minutes. By that time the dough should be silky and smooth. Heh, I once heard a young friend say that the kneaded dough felt like her grandmother’s upper arm…
- Cut the dough in two pieces and form them into balls. Put them in a covered bowl in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until they’ve doubled in size.
- When the dough is ready, roll it out as thin as you want it. I rolled it out veryvery thin. Before you put any sauce on it, put it on a pizza peel (a sort of shovel that comes with a pizza stone) or an upside down baking sheet. This is to help you slide it into the oven, because you can’t pick it up after it’s go the sauce and toppings on it. Whichever you use, sprinkle it with corn meal to help the pizza slide off into the oven.
- Spread half the sauce over the crust, and top with the thinly sliced sausage and the parmesan. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or longer if your crust is thicker than mine.
Makes two individual pizzas. Serves 2 if they’re hungry and 8 if they’re not.
- I like a lot of sauce on my pizza. This amount of sauce could probably make 3-4 pizzas if you spread it thinner.
- I don’t have to say that you can put all sorts of toppings on your pizza. The only thing is that if you use mozzarella, don’t bake it more than about 5-6 minutes or it will burn. If your pizza will bake longer than this, add the mozzarella near the end of the baking.
- Linda used some fresh basil on her pizza. I wish I had done that too.
- I learned a lot from this―mostly I learned that mojos like yeast. So if yours goes wandering, try to get it back using yeast as bait.