October 6, 2006

Easier Said Than Done

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Pizza seems like an easy dinner to make. That’s why I chose it. But I was wrong. In my apartment, we do family dinners twice a week. Other people are adventurous and make things like chili, baked ziti, chicken and even steak. I, on the other hand, embrace my inability to cook, and make things like stir fry (throw the veggies in with a sauce bought at Wegmans and you’ve got a meal!) and spaghetti with sauce. My big meal this year was lasagna. Although lasagna appears to have a lot of ingredients, it is really just like playing with Lincoln logs only culinary-style. You just stack everything up, stick it in the oven and it’s ready in an hour.
This week, I have to cook again, and when my apartment mate asked me what I was making so she could get the ingredients at the grocery store, I had no idea what to tell her. I felt pressured and nervous and I said, “Uh… I’ll make pizza! That’s easy, right? Here, just get a bunch of veggies and some flour, and we’ll do make-your-own-pizza night.” An added perk to this idea was that it seemed to me that everyone would practically create their own dinner, making it their own fault if it came out badly. Happy with my plan and brilliant on-the-spot thinking, I went about my week, not thinking about my night to cook.
On Thursday, I woke up from a nap after class and remembered that today was the day that I, Becky Wolozin, future pizza chef extraordinaire, would begin my career with my first ever pizza dough. I looked up a recipe on foodnetwork.com and carefully wrote out the directions. I went to Wilson Farms to buy “Active Dry Yeast” and returned home to begin the process. I took out all the ingredients and as I was about to begin, I ran into my first challenge. I was supposed to put the yeast in water between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and all I had to measure the temperature with was my finger. I normally wouldn’t think it really mattered that much, but I had a vague memory of my mother telling me something about it being very easy to kill yeast if the temperature isn’t right. Alas, I had no other option, so I just did it and wished really really hard that the little yeasties would survive.
As I continued adding the ingredients, I became confident that it would be easy as pie to make this pizza. Doubling the recipe required some complicated adding of fractions that I’m not used to doing, but that seemed to be the only hurdle in the recipe. Once I had done that, I lightly sprinkled some flour on a cutting board, rubbed some on my hands and dug my hands into the dough. Here is where my perfect plan went askew. I was completely off on my flour to pizza dough ratios, and my hands came out (not very willingly) a sticky, doughy mess. I reached into the flour bag to try and remedy the problem, but it just made all the dough stuck between my fingers become stronger, more elastic and much harder to remove. As I tried to knead the dough, my hands became more and more entrenched in a sticky bog of flour and water. I kept grabbing more and more flour, and kneading and kneading but it only got worse.
I felt like a monster in a horror film that rises from the deep, covered in slime. My fingers looked webbed and had little tendrils of pizza dough hanging off of everywhere. Not knowing what to do, I just kept adding flour and trying to pull dough from the crevices between my fingers.
Thankfully, another apartment mate came in and asked me how long I had been kneading the dough (she had heard my cries of frustration at my first encounter with the sticky mess). She then kindly suggested that I stop, and warned me of the dangers of kneading dough too much. Happy to have an excuse to stop dealing with the mess I had created, I washed my hands and plopped the dough into an oiled bowl to rise for and hour and a half.
I’m writing this as I wait, so only time will tell whether the yeast lived and the dough will rise, whether the dough will be hard as a rock when I bake it, and whether it will taste anything like pizza when I’m done with it. This may have been the first and last attempt of the great pizza chef Becky Wolozin.