Thursday, May 1, 2008

Better than delivery

Like most universities, mine was within walking distance of an incredible, crowded, all-night delivery, extra-cheese-with-everything pizzeria. The place was called Pugsley’s and the pies were substantial and doughy and about as delicious as any variation I have tried over the years. As a bonus, it was also located in the Little Italy section of the Bronx. I like to think that meant that the seasonings were even more authentic, and the mozzarella was freshly acquired every morning from Arthur Avenue. Throughout my undergrad years, Pugsley’s was a 2:00 a.m. godsend and perpetual student hangout. There was karaoke, outdoor seating, and a gong in the kitchen. And even though, in reality, it’s only a subway ride away, I know that I can never board a train back to the Pugsley’s I knew as an undergrad.

Nowadays, I don’t call for delivery at all hours of the night, not just because I’m sleeping off my day at the office, but because I find such an enriching fulfillment in making my dinner for myself. This may wear off as I grow older, but for now, creating my meals with my own two hands is an experience I positively savor (just like the food itself). And of course, it’s one thing to put together a sandwich for myself, and another thing entirely to make my own pizza, from the crust up.

I see myself someday baking artisan breads in a stone oven, using ingredients I just picked up at the local market. There’s sunlight pouring through the windows, and a familiar woodsy scent intermingling with the smell of dough. For the time being, though, if I want to make bread, I do it in the “quaint” apartment-sized kitchen that I’ve got. Even without a sunny window, I made this whole-wheat pizza crust, kneading and all – maybe there wasn’t the aroma of a stone-oven, but I can confidently say that there is nothing like the smell of warm rising dough.

In the end, although I was quite proud of myself, I found myself slightly disappointed with the pizza dough. Not that it wasn’t good, it was simply too bland. I was looking for a bare-bones recipe, and I definitely got it. I’m sure it can be jazzed up with some herbage, or a flavorful assortment of toppings, or honey in place of the sugar. I went with broccoli and a generous helping of Italian seasonings and Parmesan cheese, resulting in a crisp, thin-crust pizza that still was generally quite tasty. In the future, I’ll think of this as a template for a crust recipe, and I know I’ll again take pleasure in the total baking experience.

Whole Wheat Pizza

Makes two pizza crusts


1 teaspoon white sugar
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour


In a large bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top, and let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy.
Stir the olive oil and salt into the yeast mixture, then mix in the whole wheat flour and the all-purpose flour until dough starts to come together. Place dough on a surface floured with the remaining all-purpose flour, and knead until the dough becomes smooth, about 10 minutes. Place dough in an oiled bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover loosely with a towel, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
When the dough is doubled, place the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 2 pieces. Form into two tight balls. Let rise for about 45 minutes, until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll a ball of dough with a rolling pin and gently pull the edges outward, while holding and rotating the crust. When the circle has reached the desired size, place on a well oiled pizza pan. Add toppings.
Bake for 18 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden at the edges, and cheese is melted on the top.

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