Wait a minute Allison, isn’t this, well, just a pizza?
I had a feeling this was going to come up. No, this is not just a pizza. This is more of a grown-up version of the extra-cheesy, extra-greasy stuffed crust pizza of years past. And it has homemade mozzarella cheese.
I may not recall my last McDonald’s encounter, but I vividly remember my last visit to Pizza Hut. The day after Obama won the presidency and following two nights in Memphis, Tennessee, Alejandro and I climbed on Route 40, making our way west toward our new home in California. Oklahoma, Arkansas and 665 miles stood between us and our next stop in Amarillo, Texas.
Halfway through Oklahoma we had hungry pangs that were not quite quelled by so-called famous wild boar jerky. We pulled into The Hut – as the cool kids call it these days – for a quick lunch on the road. I can tell you one thing that is not quick about Pizza Hut: Digesting it. Two hours after plowing through a stuffed crust pizza I felt like the Roadrunner with an anvil in my stomach.
How do I know it was two hours? Well, this coincided with the first of two instances on our road trip where I thought I was going to die (the second involves a flat tire, a sandstorm and a foreboding stranger. Let’s save that for another recipe). The sky turned black, big balls of hail slammed on the windshield, and 18-wheelers skidded sideways before overturning in front of us. An Oklahoma storm. As life flashed before my eyes, I approached my impending doom with the realization that Pizza Hut was my last meal on earth. Great.
Five minutes later, the sky was blue and birds were chirping. Wish I could say my stomach cleared up as fast as the weather.
Recreating the Pizza Hut pizza, I tried to replicate the distinct texture of their crust – chewy, crisp on the bottom, thick but not flaky like Chicago-style. I read in Cooks’ Illustrated that they accomplish this using powered milk. My recipe calls for whole milk instead, along with a pinch of cane sugar and a quarter cup of olive oil. Don’t let the homemade cheese scare you, it’s super easy to make and very very worth the 30 minutes of cook time. Be sure to pull the mozzarella for the full 2 minutes, or it will release too much liquid when melting onto the pizza. I used Molinari hot salami in place of traditional pepperoni, and organic cream-on-top milk from Straus Creamery for the cheese. I also snagged the last of the season’s tomatoes from Happy Boy farms for the fresh sauce.
So am I crazy for going to this length for homemade stuffed crust pizza? All I can say is if this were the meal to end my days, I would die happy.
Stuffed Crust Pizza
Makes 2 eight inch pizzas. Cook time: less than 2 hours
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 package instant yeast
2 teaspoons organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup organic whole milk, warmed to 100F
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Butter for greasing your pan
2 pounds organic, ripe tomatoes, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoon tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
A pinch dried oregano
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 gallon of cream-on-top whole milk (make sure your milk is NOT ultra-pasturized!)
Vegetable rennet (either liquid or solid form)
1 ½ teaspoons citric acid
(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
Mix together warm milk and olive oil in a small bowl.
Preheat your oven to 200F. Then shut off. Arrange a rack on the lowest point in your oven.
Sift together flour, sugar, yeast and salt into the bowl of a stand-mixer. Using the dough hook on low speed, slowly pour in the milk mixture. Increase the speed to medium and knead for 5 minutes. Remove from the mixer and shape into a ball.
(Don’t have a mixer? Pour the sifted flour, salt, yeast and sugar on your work surface. Make a well in the middle and slowly pour in the milk mixture, as you combine it with the flour. When dough comes together, knead for 8 minutes.)
Grease an oven-proof bowl with a tad of olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in warm oven for 30 minutes – it should double in size.
(During this time, make the sauce. Recipe below…)
Use butter to liberally grease two eight-inch cast iron pans. Remove the dough from the oven and cut in half. Working with one half at a time, gently roll the dough into a circle. Lift the dough from your surface and use your knuckles to stretch it until it fits in the pan, with some the dough coming up the sides on the pan. Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and let rise again for 30 minutes. Repeat with second pizza. Preheat you oven to 425F.
(During the second rise, make the cheese…)
Take small slices of the cheese place it in a ring around the parameter of the pan. Fold the dough over the cheese to form the stuffed crust.
Spoon about 1/4-1/2 cup of sauce onto the dough. Top with thin of the cheese, then a couple slices of pepperoni. Bake for about 20 minutes.
Set your broiler on high and broil the pizza for about 1 minute, until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
Heat up about one tablespoon olive oil in a small sauce pan. Add chopped garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sea salt, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add tomato paste, lower the heat, and cover. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste again for salt.
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese (from Ricki’s cheesemaking):
Fully dissolve ¼ tablet of vegetable rennet in ¼ cup of cool water.
Fully dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons citric acid in ¾ cup of cool water.
Pour milk into an 8 or 10 quart stainless steel pot. Stir in the citric acid. Slowly heat up the milk to 90F, while stirring.
Stir in the vegetable rennet. Continue stirring for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit still for 5 minutes. The curds should now have separated from the whey. Take a knife that can reach the bottom of the pot, and cut the curds horizontally and vertically to form squares. Turn the heat back on low, and gently stir the curds for 2 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to a microwave-safe bowl. Try to drain off as much of the whey as possible. Microwave on high for one minute. Drain off more of the whey, and microwave for another 30 seconds. Drain again.
Pull the mozzarella between your hands and roll and shape into a ball. The more you pull, the firmer your cheese will be. Since we’re using it for pizza, we want it quite firm – about 2 minutes worth of pulling (if I were eating the cheese on its own, I would skip pulling although and just shape into a ball for extra creamy mozzarella).
Where I Shopped:
Straus organic cream-on-top milk: Star Grocery, Berkeley
Early girl tomatoes, garlic: Happy Boy Farms, Berkeley Farmers’ Market