Thursday, June 17, 2010

All in the Family - Pizza, Focaccia and Calzone

Lately I have been making different kinds of flat bread, I don't know why. Maybe it's the short baking times and the fact that it's blazing hot outside (finally!). In any event, I wanted to make something today that is both quick and universally liked, almost. Something that says summertime just about anywhere. Now I know you can get good pizza at the shop down the street. But there is nothing quite so satisfying as making your own. Also, there is the added advantage that you can top it with just about anything you have on hand. Any left over veggies just waiting to be baked on a pie? Just throw on a few onions, mushrooms whatever! And, of course, lots of good cheese. What makes or breaks a pizza ultimately is the sauce and the cheese. Everything else is decoration according to your personal taste. Pizza is a meal unto itself. Well, almost. A little green salad on the side, maybe a bottle of red wine, nothing fancy required, and you have a meal. But, and here's the rub, so to speak, pizza can be a little messy. Especially when it's loaded with all those toppings, and the melted cheese is flowing everywhere. With thin, crispy New York style crust.

Unless of course you prefer the Chicago style pizza with the deep thick crust. 

Either way is just fine, thanks.

Enter the calzone. Probably the easiest way to describe a calzone is an inside-out pizza. It's the same dough, after all. But instead of leaving it flat, you put in the 'fillings' and close it up like a samosa (deep-fried filled Indian pastry) or an empanada (deep-fried filled Argentinian pastry). A calzone does not really resemble either of those pastries, of course. BTW, they are all delicious, in case you were wondering.  It's just closed up and filled like them. Same dough, same fillings. No mess. Just walk down the street with your closed up inside-out pizza!! No need for a green salad because it's the ultimate Italian street food. However, if you're sitting down, at a roadside cafe for instance, a salad goes with a calzone just fine.

Focaccia is a close relative of both the pizza and the calzone but with a twist. Whereas the pizza and the calzone are topped (filled) with lots of gooey cheese and other yummy stuff, the focaccia is quite stingy in that department. The dough is the same only allowed to rise so it's a little thicker. The toppings are often no more that undiluted tomato paste brushed lightly over the top that has been lightly covered with olive oil. A little kosher salt grated on top and then into the oven. The focaccia is really the only 'real' flat bread of the three. Pizza is really a vehicle for the topping and cheese. Calzone is a container for the same. Focaccia is bread. Serve a hearty tomato soup and a side salad with the focaccia which will soak up the remnants of your soup quite nicely. Fast, and satisfying, take your pick, pizza, calzone or focaccia.

Here are the recipes based on recipes from one of my favorite baking books of all time: The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes by Beth Hensperger. This a truly indispensable book for anyone taking bread baking seriously filled with great recipes, personal anecdotes and very useful tips. Consider it for your collection.

Basic Pizza Dough

This makes one 16 - 18 inch , two 10-12 inch , three 8 inch or ten 4 inch crusts

1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
a pinch of sugar or 1/4 teaspoon honey

2 1/2  to 3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cornmeal or semolina for sprinkling
Tomato sauce
olive oil for brushing (focaccia and outside of calzone)

1. Pour the warm water in a bowl, dissolve the sugar (or honey) then stir in the yeast. Let it sit for about 10 minutes until nice and frothy.
2. If you are mixing by hand, put the olive oil, salt and 1 cup of the flour in a bowl along with the yeast mixture and mix until smooth and liquidy. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time and mix with a wooden spoon until a smooth tacky dough is formed that clears the bowl. Remove from the bowl to a lightly floured surface and knesad for a few minutes to make a smooth dough. It should be quite springy, soft and smooth. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil (prevents drying out) and cover. Let the dough rise until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours).

If you are mixing with an electric mixer, place the yeast mixture along with olive oil, salt and 1 cup of flour in the bowl and mix using the paddle for a few minutes then add the flour 1/2 cup at a time until a smooth dough is formed. Switch to the dough hook and knead for a few minutes to for a smooth, springy dough. Let it rise in the bowl, lightly oiled for 1 1/2 hours until doubled.

3. For pizza:

At least 20 minutes before baking re-heat the oven to its highest setting or 500F (250C). If you have a baking stone place it on the floor of the oven so it heats through while the oven is heating.

Roll out the dough into a disc then carefully place on a floured baker's peel or a pizza pan. Brush on olive oil. Coat with tomato sauce then the toppings. Bake with the pizza pan directly on the stone for about 10 to15 minutes if on a pan or only about 8 to 210 minutes if baked directly on the stone. The high temperature will assure a nice crispy crust.

4. For Calzone:

You can use the same dough as for a pizza, or substitute about 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1 2/3 cups all purpose flour. The method for making the dough is the same. For the filling try some frozen spinach (thawed and drained) along with ricotta cheese, garlic, eggs and mozzarella all mixed together.

After is has risen, divide the dough into three pieces and roll out to form an 8 inch circle. place a few tablespoons of filling in the center of each circle leaving space to close it up. Fold the circles in half and press to seal. Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil and bake at 475 F (235 C) for about 18 to 20 minutes. The calzone will be puffed up and golden brown (and delicious, did I forget to tell you that?).

5. For Focaccia:

Make two recipes for basic pizza dough for an 11 by 17 inch (28 by 43 cm) focaccia.

After the dough has risen, lightly oil a 11 by 17 inch (28 by 43 cmbaking pan then, after deflating the dough, press it out to fill the pan using your fingers. When the dough fills the pan, cover it lightly with plastic wrap and let it rise for about 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile preheat the oven (with a baking stone if you have one) to 400 F (200 C). When the dough has risen, gently indent the surface with your fingers, then brush the surface with herbed olive oil. Sprinkle kosher salt over the surface and maybe some rosemary. Yum! bake 20 to 25 minutes for smaller rounds if directly on the baking stone, or 35 minutes or so (until nicely browned) for the larger pan. Serve as a side with a hearty soup and a green salad.

 Oh, almost forgot - yum!!


  1. Definitely YUM. There's something about homemade pizza that can't be duplicated at a restaurant. Mind you, they can say the same thing. But, generally, I prefer home-style dough. I tend to use more honey than you, or date syrup. Also yummy. I also like to brush the dough with garlic-infused oil and sprinkle a little zatar before baking. We might just have to have a bake-off one of these days! :D

  2. I could not play tennis this morning because it started to rain, so I turned to my computer and the TFL. I came upon your post and I am looking at your bakes and especially the knotting and braiding techniques. Have to try them all sometime.
    Good luck in your baking and selling!
    Salma from NJ