Usually when Dan and I go on vacation, we bring a long list of restaurants we want to try. In Vermont, our friends Mindi and Tom took us to a few breweries, ice cream spots, and one very nice little place for lunch, but we cooked dinner every night. Which was exactly the right thing to do.
I let out a yelp when I saw their kitchen, partially out of excitement, but mostly out of jealousy. My kitchen sucks so bad, people. Not only do they have tons of counter space, they have a huge, stainless steel fridge, three (!) ovens, and plenty of cabinets and drawers to hold everything. (I am sure all of these details are embarrassing Mindi very much.)
But more than all of that, the kitchen was a place we could spend time together. It was so relaxing spending the evenings chopping and stirring alongside one of my closest friends. We listened to music, caught up on all the important stuff, took turns refilling each others' glasses. We drained an impressive number of wine bottles.
On our last night in town, we decided to make pizza, which turned into a pizza-off. Tom went the wholesome route with a whole wheat crust, marinara sauce, sauteed peppers and onions, and local goat cheese. I went the not-so-wholesome route with a regular crust, marinara sauce, spicy Italian sausage, and pre-shredded mozzarella from a bag.
Cooking alongside people--something I don't have the space to do at home--is pretty enlightening. I didn't know Tom could make pizza dough, or the proper ratio of whole wheat flour to white flour. I showed him how to use a pizza stone. Which is essentially taking it out of the box, but still. Mindi told me that the way I cut avocados is completely wrong (in half, instead of lengthwise). As a native Floridian, the statement was a bit hard to take. But she was right.
Anyway, back to pizza. Tom and I rolled out the dough, dressed it with toppings, and slid the pies into the oven. I contemplated sabotage but didn't go through with it. About twenty minutes later, both pizzas emerged golden brown and bubbling. Slices were eaten. And seconds, and for some people, thirds. A tie was declared. The slight sweetness of Tom's crust was a nice match for the tangy goat cheese. And my pizza had sausage, which...come on.
More than the tastiness of the pizzas, the main thing I remember is a growing sensation of anger as I chewed Tom's perfectly cooked crust. I thought that the many, many pizzas I had made at home were fine. At times, even delicious. Compared to Vermont-oven pizzas, not so much. Tiny kitchen, I hate you sometimes.
Although it does give me another reason to come back. Guys, can I stop by to use your oven next Wednesday?
Tom's whole wheat pizza crust
Tom's crust is actually a whole wheat version of King Arthur Flour's recipe, a Vermont-based company known for its very high quality flours. Mindi and Tom swear by their products, and after tasting the results, I do as well. Tom made a few adjustments to the pizza making process, which I attempted to reproduce below.
2 tsp. active dry yeast
7/8 to 1 1/8 cups lukewarm water*
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour
1 small handful, cornmeal
*Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.
Dissolve the active dry yeast with a pinch of sugar, in 2 Tbsp. of the lukewarm water. Let the yeast and water sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded. Combine the dissolved yeast with the remainder of the ingredients.
Mix and knead everything together—by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle—till you've made a soft, smooth dough. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, it should take 4 to 5 minutes at second speed, and the dough should barely clean the sides of the bowl, perhaps sticking a bit at the bottom. Don't over-knead the dough; it should hold together, but can still look fairly rough on the surface.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow it to rise till it's very puffy. This will take about 90 minutes using active dry. If it takes longer, that's OK; just give it some extra time.
Divide the dough in half, for two pizzas; or leave it whole for one pizza. Shape the dough into a rough circle. In either case, don't pat it flat; just stretch it briefly into shape. Allow the dough to rest, covered with an overturned bowl or lightly greased plastic wrap, for 15 minutes.
Use vegetable oil pan spray (or a bit of olive oil, spread with your fingers) to lightly grease the pan of your choice. Or, if you are using a pizza stone, skip this step. On a clean, dry surface sprinkled with cornmeal, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. Place the rolled out dough in the prepared pan or stone. Press it over the bottom of the pan, stretching it towards the edges.
*Allow the dough to rise, covered, until it's noticeably puffy, about 90 minutes. (* Tom skipped this step, but it is recommended by KAF.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Add your toppings to the pizza, and bake it on the lower oven rack about 20 minutes. The crust should be nicely browned, both top and bottom, and the cheese should be melted. Check it midway through, and move it to the bottom rack if the top is browning too much, or the bottom not enough. When done, serve immediately.