Artisan Pizza Dough and Focaccia Tutorial

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I was hoping to announce the official release of my book this week, but, alas and alack, technical difficulties arose. I am hoping to make the announcement within the next two or three weeks, though. I truly want it available for holiday shopping because it would make a great gift for people into traveling or cooking. Keep your fingers crossed!
BTW, here’s a sneak peek of the cover:
I’m so pleased with the way it looks!
A bit more about the book: It has over 50 authentic Bavarian/Franconian recipes. Most of the recipes are from my German “mom” Hilde, who taught me much of what I know about the food and cooking methods in the area. Several of the recipes and stories in the book you may have seen in some form or other as part of various blog posts.
So, it’s a cookbook, yes, but it’s more. I have surrounded the recipes in the book with my photos and with stories about what I’ve learned traveling and living in Germany, including the culture and language. Here’s the back-cover blurb for the finished book:

“Traditional food of any region is integral to its culture, and so it is with Bavaria, Germany’s southernmost state, and Franconia in the north of Bavaria.

American writer and photographer Karren Doll Tolliver is an avid home cook, and she has collected numerous family recipes from real-life home cooks in Germany. Here she presents their recipes, variations and insider techniques.

Drawing from her years of living in Germany, Karren describes local cultural points, history and language through personal stories that provide a tradition-rich framework for each dish.

Not only is this a cookbook, but it is also a guide to the food and culture of Bavaria and Franconia. Much of it could be a travel handbook for finding authentic, local food while traveling in Germany.

The recipes include German-English name translations, metric-to-US conversions, and instructions for making ingredients that can be hard to find outside of Germany. Color photos illustrate critical steps and finished dishes to help you create your own Travel for Taste.”

I will definitely keep you posted about when the book will be available. It will go on sale on Amazon.com and various other Amazon sites in Europe, plus a few other online places. I also hope to have a Kindle version ready, too.
This week, however, I want to give you a fantastic artisan pizza crust recipe. I’ve finally figured out how to make great pizza at home! The secret is not so much about the dough recipe, but about the process of making and baking the pizza. And you don’t need fancy equipment, but you need parchment paper. A pizza stone for your oven would be helpful, too.
So here’s a basic yeast dough recipe that I got from my Tuscan cooking class last year and which you need to whip up to begin with:
Yeast Dough Crust RecipeIngredients:

1 packet of active dry or instant yeast (¼ ounce or 7 g) or ¾ ounce (20 g) fresh yeast
1½ cups (355 ml) water
3½ cups (497 g) flour
Dash of salt
5 tablespoons (75 ml) oil
Oil to coat bowl and baking sheetInstructions:Mix yeast in water and let sit for 15 minutes. For instant yeast, it is not necessary to wait 15 minutes.

Mound
flour on board or countertop and make a large well in the center with
your fingers. Pour the yeast mixture, salt and oil into the well. Mix
the flour into the liquids gently with your fingers until all the flour
is incorporated and the yeast and oil are evenly distributed throughout
the dough. Form a ball with the dough, place in an oiled bowl, turning
once to coat the ball with oil. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen
towel or plastic wrap and set the bowl in a warm place. Wait until the dough
has risen and doubled in size then punch it down.

Now for the pizza-making part:
If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven on a rack in the middle. If you don’t have a pizza stone, turn a heavy-duty roasting pan or baking sheet upside down and place it on the rack in the middle. Then turn on the oven and preheat it to 400 F (200 C).
Divide the dough into six equal portions. Each portion will be a small, thin pizza crust about eight inches in diameter. Of course, if you want larger pizza, divide the dough into larger but fewer portions.
Cut a piece of parchment paper the same size as the pizza stone or upside-down pan in the oven. Place a portion of the dough in the middle of the parchment and roll it out with a rolling pin to an even thickness of 1/4 inch for a thin crust. Of course, roll it thicker for a thicker crust. Do not put flour on the paper before rolling out the dough. You want it to stick to the paper to keep the rolled-out size and shape. Hint: it won’t be entirely circular or symmetrical (see photos below).
Top the crust with whatever you want, but keep the moisture content as low as possible. This is important so that the pizza cooks quickly and evenly and doesn’t come out gooey or gummy in the middle. For example, I fry pepperoni slices in a skillet before I put them on the pizza to avoid pools of grease. I also saute my onions and garlic in advance to soften them and remove some moisture.
Now the trick: place the parchment paper ALONG WITH with the prepared pizza in the pre-heated oven atop the pizza stone or upturned pan. Bake for three minutes. Using a corner of the parchment paper, rotate the pizza, but not the stove or pan, 180 degrees for even cooking. Now slide the parchment out from under the pizza so that it is directly on the stone or pan. Close the oven and bake another three minutes. Remove from the oven and serve. It’s that easy!
Some tips:
  • Top the dough immediately after rolling it out. The longer you wait, the more likely you will have large bubbles in the dough during baking that can cause the toppings to fall off.
  • Freeze unused dough after you make the small portions but before rolling it out. In a sealed container, it will last weeks. To use, let it thaw completely, roll out, top and bake as above.
I’ve made pizza several times over the past three months since I discovered this technique. It’s easy and quick and people LOVE it! Here’s one I made using venison salami we got on our trip to the Bavarian Forest I told you about in a previous blog post:
It also has a little tomato pizza sauce, which isn’t easy to find in Germany, some red onions and a little shredded mozzarella cheese, also not an easy thing to locate here.
This one has the pesto sauce from my previous blog post, some sheep’s milk cheese, toasted pine nuts, chopped capers and sliced garlic:
Perhaps best of all, this same dough can be used to make focaccia. Instead of dividing the dough, generously coat a shallow baking dish with olive oil and press the dough into the dish with your fingers in a thick, even layer. Top with more olive oil, coarse salt and fresh basil, sage or rosemary.
Other toppings that were used in my Tuscan cooking class last year included fresh mozzarella and tomato slices, and even chunks of Italian sausage.
Interestingly, a recipe from my German “mom” Hilde for pizza dough was the exact same recipe as the one the Italians gave me. Hilde uses it to make Zwiebelkuchen, which is like focaccia only topped with a wonderful creamy onion and bacon mixture. Yes, the recipe is in my book!
Photo for No Apparent Reason:

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