Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pizza for 150+

I decided to try making Pizza for our monthly SoulFood dinner. We're baking them on full sheet pans (18x26). The plan was for about 150-160 people, so we made 12 trays, cutting each tray into 24 pieces. At 288 pieces, it's enough for some people to have seconds, but the slices are big enough that some people won't need seconds. We did simple tomato, cheese, and bacon pizzas.


Per tray, I used the following recipe for the dough:

  • 640g water
  • 1020g flour
  • 150g sourdough starter/poolish (yeast)
  • 20g salt

At about 1.8kg of dough per tray, the total recipe is the above times 12. However, to make it fit in the 20qt mixer, I had to divide the dough into two batches of 6 trays per batch. My rough method for preparing the dough goes something like this:

  1. Add the water and an equal amount of flour to the stand mixer's bowl and another large bowl. Add the appropriate amount of sourdough starter to each bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until barely combined.
  2. In two other smaller bowls, measure the remaining amount of flour for each batch.
  3. In two more bowls, measure the salt for each batch.
  4. After about 20 minutes has passed, begin kneading the stand mixer bowl with the dough hook attachment. Add the salt, and mix on a higher speed for a minute or two.
  5. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add about half of the remaining flour. Once the flour is incorporated, increase the speed and mix until the dough smooths out. It's easier to develop the gluten in the dough while the dough is still very wet.
  6. Gradually add the rest of the flour, and mix until the dough looks smooth again. The dough will not totally pull away from the sides of the bowl as it does when you make it at home. It's just too much dough! If you were using a larger mixer it might though.
  7. Remove the dough from the mixer and scale into gallon-size, oiled bags of 1.8kg per bag
  8. Repeat the process for the other bowl
  9. Refrigerate for 3 days

To make the pizzas, take dough out of the fridge for at least 30 minutes to take the chill off. Pour some olive oil on a sheet pan and dump a dough ball on top. Lather it up and start to press and stretch. Stretch as far as it will easily go, and then let it rest (and warm up) while preparing the other ingredients. It will stretch farther after a rest.


I made a simple tomato sauce using canned whole tomatoes. Normally I follow the procedure I outlined in How to make Pizza, but it would take too long to remove the seeds from that many tomatoes. So we took cans of whole peeled tomatoes and just pureed them in the Vitamix blender. It just decimates the seeds, stem, and all. Then add olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs to taste. Add a splash of wine if you have it. We used about 1 1/2 - 2 large cans worth (I think they were 38 oz. cans). We sliced fresh mozzarella and baked a few trays of bacon for the rest of the toppings.


By now the dough should have warmed up and can stretch over the entire sheet pan. The first time we made these pizzas, I put shredded dry mozzarella on the bottom and added sauce on top because I was afraid the dough would get soggy as it waited to be baked. Because of our schedule, the pizzas have to sit for an hour (during the service) before we can bake them. The next time, I put the sauce on the bottom and I think it turned out fine. I think the oil on the dough helps keep it from getting too soggy. But it's important not to put too much sauce on, to maintain a good balance of toppings.


The first time, I baked the pizzas at 400 degrees in our convection ovens. I'm not sure how long it would have taken; they were removed at 20 minutes and were overcooked. The next time, I upped the temperature to 500 and they were done in about 10 minutes or less. The center slices could have been cooked a little longer, so I think next time I'll try 400 degrees again. But overall, the reaction was very positive.


I'm not sure how many people we had. We were counting on roughly 15 people per sheet tray, with 24 slices per tray. We had about two trays leftover (one which I burned!) but I don't know what the actual headcount was. It was probably around 150, so next time I could possibly make less dough.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Beef Jerky

Whenever I go camping, I like to make a batch of beef jerky.  As a versatile, shelf-stable protein, jerky is invaluable (and really tasty) when you're away from it all.   But most people wouldn't even think to try making beef jerky at home because it requires an expensive and space-hogging dehydrator, right?  Wrong, as Alton Brown's beef jerky recipe proves.  Dehydrators dry by cooking, which produces dry, cooked slices of steak, not true beef jerky.  Alton's method uses a box fan, several air filters, and some bungee cords.  This is effective (albeit kludgy) but a bit cumbersome to set up and for me increased my inhibition to make jerky (I need to go buy filters, set this big thing up, and then I have filters to throw away later).  I also had an issue with the filter fibers sticking to the final product.  So instead, I lay the individual slices of meat on the bars of my oven rack and turn on the convection fan with the heat off (if you don't have a convection oven, just point a regular fan in the direction of the meat).  Equally effective, and no need to buy air filters.

Flank steak really is the best meat for jerky because it's lean and well-grained.  Slice with the grain so the final product is a long strand of fibers which I like to eat as if it's string cheese.  When you slice the meat, slice as thin as possible, but if you get some thick pieces, smash them with a meat pounder (or something else flat and heavy).  I also like to cut out the larger fatty veins that run through flank steak, since fat doesn't really dehydrate well.

At the campsite, a batch of jerky tomato sauce is really tasty and just one of the many uses for beef jerky.

Before drying

After drying

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Pork "BBQ" for a crowd

I was tasked with cooking for extravamanza, a men's get-together at Church. We had roasted pork "BBQ", coleslaw, black-eyed pea salad, and cornbread. We had a little over 50 people and lots left over. Below is just a brief summary of the recipes and a recap of how it went.


We procured 5 whole bone-in Boston Butts, about 9-11 pounds each. We rubbed them with a variant of this rub recipe, adding extras like cumin, chili powder, thyme, and whatever else was in the pantry. We roasted them overnight for 9 hours in the convection oven at 200 degrees (that's probably about 225 in a non-convection oven) which was the perfect amount of time. They rested for over 1 1/2 hours before pulling, and were still pretty hot. I made a sauce from cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, brown sugar, pan drippings, cayenne, white wine, and black pepper. I probably made 3+ quarts of sauce which was more than enough. We tossed it with the pork and served some on the side. We had plenty left over, so we could get 4 and maybe even 3 pork butts next time.


We shredded 4 heads of cabbage, 6 red onions, and 6 carrots. They got tossed in a bowl with 3 Tbsp salt, 3 Tbsp pepper, and a mixture of 8 c. mayo, 2 c. cider vinegar, and 1/4 c. sugar. It was covered and rested overnight. It was good, but we could probably have reduced the amount by 1/3 or even 1/2 and still had enough.


We had sandwich rolls, so this probably limited the amount of cornbread people wanted to eat. Here's the recipe:
  • 8 c. all-purpose flour (or a mixture of AP/whole-wheat flour)
  • 4 c. cornmeal
  • 5 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 c. sugar
  • 4 c. melted butter
  • 16 eggs
  • 4 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. corn syrup
Mix the sugar, butter, and eggs. Add the milk, then the corn syrup. Separately mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt and add to the wet ingredients. Mix just until combined and spread onto one full-size (18x26") sheet pan lined with parchment. Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes until done.

Black-eyed Pea Salad

We roughly used this recipe, but scaled up using about 6-7 qt. of cooked black-eyed peas. So it was about a x9 recipe, and it was ok but I thought it was a little bland. We didn't let it sit overnight, but I'm not if that makes a huge difference. This would be better in the summer when I could add fresh tomatoes to brighten it up. We also could have probably halved this recipe and still had enough.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to make Pizza

I'm often asked how to make pizza. While I never mind sharing what I've learned, I've been hesitant to post a specific method online because there are so many other resources online for learning how to make pizza. But for my friends who do ask, it is useful to have a transcribed version of the often tedious-sounding recipe which I recite. It also serves as a complement to the myriad of pizza posts that I wrote back in 2007 when I was first learning myself.

400g filtered water (chlorine isn't good for yeast)
~680g flour (bread is ideal, AP is okay)
~75g yeast starter
15g salt
drizzle of olive oil (optional)
spoon of sugar/honey (optional)

Combine all the water, 400g flour, and the yeast in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel and rest at least 15-20 minutes. This is called the autolyse and it helps develop the gluten without overworking the dough. The autolyse is important if you're using a machine to do your kneading; if you're kneading by hand skip this and mix all the ingredients at once (it's very hard to over-knead by hand).

See how the wet dough stretches? That's the gluten holding it together.

After 20 minutes, begin kneading the dough with the dough hook attachment of a stand mixer (speed #2 on the KitchenAid mixers). Add the salt, olive oil (if you want), and the sugar or honey (if you want). I've yet to detect what difference the oil makes, and the sugar is mainly to help the crust brown. However, the yeast eat it and if you age your dough long enough, it probably won't make a difference.

Weigh the remaining 280g flour in another bowl, and begin sprinkling it over the kneading dough, about 1/3-1/2c at a time. There are two primary reasons for kneading:
  1. Evenly mix the ingredients
  2. Develop the gluten: as you mix flour and water, protein strands in the flour called gluten get stretched out and make the dough elastic. It's how dough stretches without tearing, and how it traps the bubbles of CO2 produced by the yeast.
If you use a machine to knead, it's possible to over-knead to the point where you ruin the dough. Gluten develops easier when the dough is wet because there is more water to let the gluten move around. So that's why I knead early while the dough is wet, and only gradually add more flour in. I usually add some of the flour, wait 2-3 minutes, and continue slowly adding flour. Eventually the dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl, but it will be very rough. Knead for another minute and it will smooth out. You can add more flour but not too much; if it's cleaning the sides of the bowl you're just about done. I rarely use all my four. The dough may look rough still, but let the dough rest for 5 minutes and give it a quick knead. You'll notice the rest made it much smoother.

Give it the "windowpane test". Cut off a small piece, dust it in flour, and gradually stretch it out like a mini pizza. If it stretches without tearing, you're done kneading. If not, knead for 2 more minutes, rest 5 minutes, and try again. But don't worry too much about the windowpane test--your pizza will still taste good.

This recipe makes four approximately 12" pizzas. Weigh the dough and divide by 4. Then cut the dough into 4 pieces and scale them so they're all the same weight. Knead each future pizza by hand into a ball, and store in a plastic container brushed with oil. Into the fridge they go!

A note on rising:Commercial yeast is bred (pun intended) to rise really fast. But what's really important in bread is depth of flavor which can only come from a prolonged rise. Wild yeast like the one I'm using works much slower so it's much easier to prolong the rise. To prolong it even more, my dough rises in the refrigerator, which besides developing flavor, allows me to make the dough ahead of time and use it later in the week. Speaking of wild yeast, I developed mine from scratch using a method from a bread book. There are many myths and legends and a few facts available online about yeast starters. If you're serious about starting one, check out a book or look at mine. Even easier, borrow some of my yeast. Once you have a healthy starter, maintenance is easy. Keep it in the fridge, and 1-2 days before you make dough, take it out, discard most of it, and add flour and water and mix so that you've at least doubled it. In 12 hours it should be risen and bubbly. Discard half and double again with flour and water. After the second feeding has risen, it's ready to use in your recipe.

I would wait a minimum of 2 days and up to about a week before using the dough. On the day you want to make pizza, take out the dough about 1-2 hrs before you plan to eat. About 45 minutes prior, turn on the oven to 550 with baking stone inside.

To prepare the pizza, take one dough ball out and dip it in a bowl of flour. Gently flatten it out into a disc and use your hands to stretch it. When it's bigger, you can use your fists to stretch it as thin as you'd like. Don't roll it, it's too harsh and you'll squash all the bubbles. If you have a pizza peel, flour it and put the pizza on that. Add the toppings and slide into the oven. If you don't have a peel, put your pizza on parchment paper and slide it in the oven using the back of a cookie sheet like a big spatula. In my oven, it's done in about 6 minutes, but your mileage will vary.

A note on toppings:
I never cook a sauce. I use canned whole Italian tomatoes. Remove the seeds by picking each tomato up and bursting the seeds out. Shake it around in the juice from the can to wash off most of the seeds. Put the pulp in another bowl and discard the stem. Eventually you'll be left with a bowl of juice and seeds, which you should strain. Blend the tomatoes so that there are still some chunks left, and strain it with a fine mesh strainer to remove some of the liquid. A clear liquid will come out which you can discard--this thickens the tomatoes without cooking them down. Just strain to your desired thickness and season with salt, herbs, olive oil, and a splash of wine. Then it's ready to use on your pizza. A pre-cooked sauce will not taste nearly as bright and fresh as this method. And don't go overboard on the toppings: balance and moderation is key.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Soulfood Notes, 1/30

In our first week back from rest month, I decided to change up the menu and make lasagna. I used this recipe from the book On Top of Spaghetti which is an excellent book that I highly recommend. I really wanted to make fresh pasta for this meal, so I came in on Saturday to crank it out. Not knowing exactly how much lasagna to make, I planned for 150 people, which (according to the recipe) meant 25 lbs. of fresh pasta. Now, fresh pasta isn't difficult to make. But on this scale, one small consumer-grade pasta roller doesn't do the job. Six hours later, with some help, all the pasta was done. One tip: if you don't use the noodles immediately, dust them with coarse cornmeal. Flour will just be absorbed by the noodles and you'll end up with a lump of dough.

The recipe went really well, but it took 2 hours, which meant we were 30 minutes over. I underestimated how long it would take to boil 25 pounds of pasta, as that was the biggest time constraint. We made 12 hotel pans of lasagna: 6 without meat, 1 with meat but without dairy, and 5 with meat and dairy. In the end we had 4 trays of no-meat lasanga left over, and I believe the count was about 120 people. The team's general consensus was that this would be manageable next time if we cut the amount by 2/3 and only made 8 trays.

We also made a salad with baby spinach, dried cranberries, and cucumber with a lemon vinaigrette which I think turned out really well. I believe we had 2 large boxes of spinach which turned out to be just the right amount (need to find out size). Luckily we were given leftover berry crisp to serve as dessert.