13 March 2011

Eat pizza, not crow

For this post, I will surely owe a few friends a slice of pizza.

A group of my girlfriends have had a long-running discussion about whether or not to par-bake a pizza crust. To be honest, I'm probably the only one still interested in the conversation, but others' lack of interest has never stopped me from talking before.

I used to think that par-baking, short for partial baking, a homemade pizza dough was for amateurs. And then I had to make 20 pizzas for one event, and in the name of practicality, I had to find a quicker, easier way to bake 20 pizzas in an hour -- no big deal for the pizzeria down the street but a major feat for a home kitchen. It turns out that par-baking was right, and I was wrong.

And somewhat sheepishly, I've gone on par-baking pizzas and not saying a word. When I've served pizza for a birthday party, par-baked. When I made heart-shaped Valentine's Day pizzas for a kitchen full of boys, par-baked. And when I made a pizza to deliver to some friends, par-baked.

It's fairly simple. Prepare the dough as the recipe states and then form your pizza crust and bake it on a pizza stone just until the crust is firm enough to hold together and be easily lifted off the stone. Then remove it from the oven, cool on a cooling rack and top later. But just recently I took it one step further, and I made two individual pizza crusts, par-baked and then froze.

I would call myself a genius except that it's taken me years to figure this out.

With Daylight Saving Time, today was riddled with wonky naps, a constantly crying baby and a mom who couldn't take a 2-year-old drumming his set of pots and pans another beat. And then came the dinner hour, creeping up more quickly than I'd anticipated. "What to cook, what to cook?" I mumbled, foraging the the pantry, fridge and freezer.

The pizza crusts! They thawed within 10 minutes, and after another five they were topped and in the oven. Take that, Rachael Ray.

If you need a good crust recipe, this is my go-to. You can even sub half of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat and still get a good result. Here are a few more tips for the best par-baked pie.
  • To ensure good browning, use a pastry brush to baste the outer edge of the crust with olive oil just prior to par-baking.
  • Once a par-baked crust has been removed from the oven, cool completely on a cooling rack before freezing or storing for later use.
  • If your freezer is as full as mine, you might be best trying to freeze individual-size crusts. Actually, this is best, though, because then you could choose to bake as many, or as few, pizzas as you want.
  • If freezing, place a sheet of wax paper between stacked crusts to ensure they don't stick together and place in an airtight bag or container to freeze.
  • To finish a par-baked crust, thaw (if frozen), top with sauce and additional toppings and return to the oven either on a pre-heated stone or directly on the wire oven rack and finish baking until cheese is browned.
  • Par-baking is a fantastic way to take the edge off of entertaining with pizzas. You'll have time to clean up yourself and your kitchen from a fine dusting of flour, and you won't stress about shaping dough in front of an audience.


Erin M. said...

As someone who remembers that heated debate and argued your side, I have to admit: I have been par-baking, too! My new favorite pizza dough recipe is at http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/pizza-crust-recipe. It calls for par-baking, and I like the now-or-later flexibility.

The cook in her kitchen said...

Flexibility is key when you're feeding kiddos. I'll have to check out the King Arthur recipe. I liked the raisin bread!

Stephanie said...

I read your blog, but all I could think of your look of shock when Dina said she par-baked. She might as well had said she'd snorted a line of coke before book club, from your expression. I think I will have to make pizza this weekend in honor of you ladies.

The cook in her kitchen said...

"Snorted a line of coke before book club"? Wow, I'm not sure if I'm more impressed with what must have been a horrifying look or your hilarious way of describing it. It was, indeed, one of our more memorable food discussions. Too funny!

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