Pizza Party!

When I was growing up, Saturday was pizza night. My mom would order pizza, spread out an old table cloth on the family room floor, and my family of five would eat picnic-style in front of the TV. As kids, it was our weekly treat, and for mom, it was her night off from cooking, so a treat for her as well. Usually we’d watch Jeopardy, or James Bond movies when TNT hosted its annual 007 marathon. It’s a mundane childhood memory, but a fond one all the same.

As an adult, I don’t have a TV, let alone cable. And I don’t have to wait for TNT to watch James Bond movies thanks to Netflix. Instead of ordering in, I can be fancy and make it myself. I also don’t have to wait for Saturday to have it. But there is something comforting about pizza on a Saturday night.

Before I moved in with Andrew, my former roommate Andrea and I would make pizza every so often. Actually, one of the first meals we made together after she first moved in was pizza, which made it very fitting when she and her boyfriend, Scott, gifted us a pizza steel for our wedding. So of course when Andrew and I hosted Andrea and Scott for dinner last Saturday, we had to make them pizza using the pizza steel they got us.

Andrea and Scott

Andrea and Scott

With me being me, I wanted to make the dough and the sauce from scratch. That was actually the easy part. I found a good dough recipe on Smitten Kitchen, which is honestly a little complicated to read through, but the recipe itself is very easy. You mix flour, yeast, a little salt, and water in a bowl with a large spoon and let it sit over night. That’s it. You don’t need a standing mixer with a dough hook. You don’t have to kneed. You don’t need to adhere to a precise proofing schedule. The dough will look like this after first mixing:

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Then it turn into this after sitting for about 20 hours:

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The dough is a bit sticky and you do have to work it a little to get it into a nice, round pizza shape, but flour your hands and the sticky dough is not much of a problem. Smitten Kitchen’s dough recipe also contains an easy and tasty pizza sauce recipe as well.

Of course, you don’t have to make the dough and sauce from scratch to have good homemade pizza. You can buy dough and sauce at the store and still have damn good pizza. I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. We know it’s delicious. For me, the difficulty in making pizza at home is with transferring the prepared pizza onto the hot pizza steel for baking. Raw pizza dough is notoriously sticky, and it always sticks to whatever I roll it out on, and through my scrambling to try and get it on the steel, I often ruin the pizza entirely or it ends up misshapen. Using cornmeal to coat the bottom does work, but I have to use so much cornmeal that it changes the texture of the bottom of the finished pizza, making it rough and a little grainy. Like sand. Bleh.

What ended up working the best, for texture and for ease, was to prepare the pizza on parchment paper, coating it a little with cornmeal to help keep the dough from sticking while you’re shaping it. Then slide the prepared pizza, parchment and all, onto the hot pizza steel. It slides on without a problem and if it’s not positioned well on the steel, you can take the corners of the parchment and easily adjust the pizza’s position without burning yourself. It’s probably cheating on some level, but it beats ruining the pizza and getting frustrated.

So after some trial and error with our transferring strategy, we came away with four pretty good pizzas. One pizza did perish in the process, requiring me to dip into one of the Trader Joe’s doughs we bought just in case there was a mishap with one of the pieces of homemade dough. At least I planned that well. In the end our plates were a smorgasbord of bread and toppings, with some salad to make ourselves feel like we were being healthy.

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Slices from four pizzas: BBQ chicken w/ cilantro; ricotta with za’atar and ricotta; sausage and mushroom; prosciutto and arugula.

And of course, there was dessert. What kind of Kim dinner party would this be without dessert? I dug into one of my Food 52 cookbooks and found a recipe for Aunt Mariah’s Lemon Sponge Cups. It uses simple ingredients, most of which I already had, and is baked in ramekins, my favorite dessert-delivery method. What intrigued me about the recipe is that it is described as a mix between a souffle and a custard because as the “cups” cook, a spongey cake forms on the top while a lemon custard naturally pools on the bottom. Yes, please!

The trickiest part about this recipe is beating egg whites and folding them into a very liquidy batter. I always have trouble beating egg whites, you know, the two times a year I need to do it. I never really know when they’re stiff enough. How stiff can egg whites really get? I usually end up over beating them so that they start to liquify again, which did indeed happen while I made this recipe. I should YouTube this and get some tips. Or call my mom, who can give cooking advice on almost anything. (Mom, please leave a comment on this post if you have suggestions for me!)

Because the batter was more liquid than batter, I found it difficult to  fold the egg whites into it really well. It just didn’t meld well. There were  definitely some lumps of egg whites. But I didn’t want to over fold and lose the airiness that would give the cups their light and fluffy texture. So I stopped before I could do real damage.

In the end I would give them a score of 7 out of 10. The cake part of the dessert was excellent. It was spongey, had a lovely lemon flavor without being overpowering or too sweet. Look at my beautiful tops:

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But I lost points on the custard. While it tasted good, the texture was off. It was not very smooth, was a bit runny, and did not hold it’s shape when I turned out the ramekins onto a plate. It just spilled all over the plate in a yellow mess. I’m pretty sure this had to do with my egg white problem. This was the only serving that came out decent:

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I will definitely make this again, but next time, I will serve this directly in the ramekins rather than try to be fancy and turn them out. It’ll hide my custard flaws.

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