Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pizza -- Daring Bakers Challenge October 2008

I felt guilty doing this month's Daring Bakers Challenge -- Peter Reinhart's method of making pizza. Why? Well, first, because I LOVE pizza and any excuse to make it is fine by me. (In fact, it was the subject of my very first post on this blog.) Second, making pizza at home is quite fun. And finally, I've made this particular pizza before, several times, with great success. If you're like me, and have failed to make good pizza for many years, finding a great recipe that produces a wonderful thin-crust pizza is a godsend. All those reasons are why making this pizza -- while fulfilling the challenge at the same time -- seemed like cheating.

The biggest roadblock I faced is that it's fall in Seattle, and a particularly cold one at that. It's fairly difficult to do anything with yeast when your room temperature is far below what it needs to be for optimal yeast activity.

But I managed to "cheat" even here. I used my homemade proofing box! It's basically just a styrofoam cooler with a hole cut out of the bottom, into which a 25-watt light bulb/socket is inserted. It's then flipped upside down over the cooler's lid (though a table or the floor would work fine), and an instant thermometer is inserted into the side. The light switch is one of those sliding kinds, so that I can change the brightness of the bulb to adjust the temperature inside the box (during colder months, it needs to be brighter to maintain the right temperature). The light bulb heats up the inside of the box so that it gets to a balmy 75-85°F -- the perfect environment for yeast to have a relaxing little vacation, encouraging them to multiply themselves. And best of all, I don't have to heat my entire house to do it. I got the instructions for fashioning one from Ed Wood's Classic Sourdoughs book. Since my home stays fairly cool even in the summer, I use it all the time.

Here's my proofing box, which is the key to my success with yeast-related baking.

I've been a fan of having broccoli as a pizza topping since I first discovered the Spinoccoli pizza at Uno Chicago Grill, which is, sadly for me, mostly on the east coast (and none in my state). It's a fairly rare topping, even at pizza establishments that have a wide range of other toppings. That makes making my own pizza even more worthwhile. The difficult part is that I prefer thin crust pizza, and broccoli's kind of heavy (Uno serves deep dish pizza). But hey, I like the challenge! The key to using broccoli on pizza is that you have to use raw broccoli (not frozen or cooked), because that, combined with an olive oil base, keeps it slightly crunchy and chewy -- which is what makes it delicious.

Broccoli, garlic, and mushroom pizza, fresh out of the oven.

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge required that we make a pizza with both sauce and toppings, and toss two pizza crusts the way Peter Reinhart describes in his book. I tried to take photos of me tossing the pizza, but it just didn't work out -- way too hard to capture on film when I'm just me in my kitchen. :-P I'm still a complete novice at it; I can successfully toss it a couple of inches, but no higher than that without compromising the integrity of the dough. I did stretch the pizza dough solely with my knuckles/hands -- no rolling pin -- so hopefully one day I'll be able to toss like a pro.

I suppose I could have made one pizza and simply tossed a second without fully dressing it, but why would I do that? So I made two pizzas. (I still really need to learn how to make pizza dough form a perfect circle. Mine always seem to come out rectangular.) First, of course, I made my favorite broccoli, garlic, and mushroom pizza.

For the second pizza, I decided to try a bit of an experiment.

If you happen to live in Washington like me, then you're likely lucky enough to have one of The Rock's locations at least within driving distance of you -- their pizzas are fabulous. I've always been intrigued by one of their appetizers, the "Brown Sugar Mozz Bread," which claims to be their garlic mozz bread sprinkled with brown sugar. I've never been there with anyone who really wanted to try it (to be fair, their pizzas are so large and delicious that ordering appetizers seems the height of gluttony), but I love sweet/salty combinations, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

The Rock describes their garlic mozz bread as: Our legendary dough, brushed with crushed garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pecorino romano AND topped with mozzarella then baked in our brick oven.

And the Brown Sugar Mozz Bread as: The same garlic mozz bread sprinkled with brown sugar, topped with mozzarella then baked in our brick oven.

Well, I was missing the brick oven, but creating a reasonable facsimile of their garlic bread seemed easy enough, and all I'd have to do was sprinkle it with brown sugar.

The garlic and brown sugar pizza, before being sliced.

Both pizzas were very tasty. I only used a modest amount of sugar, but it was enough for me -- the combination of flavors blended very well together. The only change I'd make the next time would be to take the garlic and brown sugar pizza out of the oven a minute or two sooner. I usually like browned cheese, but I think for this particular pizza you just want the cheese to melt and take it no further.

Here we have minced garlic soaking in olive oil, and broccoli that's been mixed with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, along with some mushrooms, who are just there for the ride.

Recipes for dressing both pizzas are below. Both require that you make the pizza dough as described in Peter Reinhart's recipe, which can be found here. When you're ready to dress the pizza, here's what I did for each of mine.

Broccoli and Mushroom Pizza

I prepare the vegetables while the pizza dough is doing its 2-hour proof out of the fridge and while the oven is preheating so that I finish at about the same time the dough is ready to be tossed and shaped.


  • 2 oz fresh broccoli florets
  • 2 oz fresh white button or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • pizza sauce
  • mozzarella cheese
  • a hard cheese, like parmesan or pecorino romano (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to as high as it will go (mine caps at 500°F).
  2. In a small bowl, combine broccoli, olive oil, and garlic until the olive oil is well distributed. Season as desired. (You can also add in the sliced mushrooms on this step if you like, but I usually leave mine unseasoned.)
  3. Toss pizza dough and fashion into desired shape.
  4. As directed in PR's method, I put the dough right on the peel so that it can be easily transferred from there (and I use a SuperPeel, to make it even easier).
  5. Spread tomato-based pizza sauce over dough. Evenly distribute the broccoli and mushroom toppings onto the sauce. Sprinkle desired amount of mozzarella cheese over the vegetables, followed by the hard cheeses, if using.
  6. Sprinkle semolina flour onto the baking stone just before you're going to put the pizza in.
  7. Slide pizza onto the hot baking stone in a quick motion and close the oven.
  8. Check pizza after 2 minutes and see if it needs to be rotated. It should take 5-8 minutes to bake.
  9. Remove from the oven and wait a few minutes for the cheese and sauce to set a bit before slicing (makes it less messy). Serve and eat hot!

Brown Sugar and Mozzarella Pizza


  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • mozzarella cheese
  • a hard cheese, like parmesan or pecorino romano (optional)


  1. Combine garlic and olive oil in a small bowl and mix well. (This is probably a good place to use crushed garlic that comes in a jar, but since I didn't have any I minced mine.)
  2. Toss pizza dough and fashion into desired shape.
  3. Place the dough on a peel.
  4. Using a pastry brush, brush dough with olive oil/garlic mixture. Be careful here, as the dough is thin and might tear with rough handling. Use as much or as little as you like. I usually use up all the garlic and enough oil to cover the surface area of the pizza.
  5. Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
  6. Using your fingers, lightly sprinkle brown sugar over the top of the cheese. Do your best to evenly distribute, but little pockets of brown sugar here and there isn't a bad thing.
  7. Slide pizza onto the hot baking stone in a quick motion and close the oven.
  8. Check pizza after 2 minutes and see if it needs to be rotated. It should take 5-8 minutes to fully bake.
  9. Remove from the oven and wait a minute or two for the cheese to set a bit before slicing (makes it less messy). This one is especially important to serve and eat hot, as the sugar seems to make the cheese harden a bit more than usual when it cools.


ARLENE said...

Hmm, brown sugar and pizza; an interesting combo. Your pizzas look so professional.

CECIL said...

I love your photos! I have been checking out Daring Bakers posts..and I am so amazed on the variety of sweet pizza. Would never thought of using brown sugar..and WITH cheese! I need to experiment more :)

Anonymous said...

Rectangular or round your pizzas look and sound fantabulous!!!! This brown sugar thing has me so intrigued that I think I am gonna mix up a batch of dough later this eve. Great job and thanks for what I hope to be a very tasty idea!!!!!

Sarea said...

arlene -- Thank you for the compliment! I still have a ways to go with making them round like real pizzas though.

cecil -- Thanks! I know, I was blown away, myself. My friend and I had the same reaction you did when we saw it on the menu at The Rock, lol. "Wait, so you still put cheese on it? AND the garlic?" It doesn't taste as strange as it sounds though -- it's actually good!

sleepingbearinthekitchen -- Awww thanks so much. I really don't know what the secret is to making round pizzas though, maybe one day I'll learn. Let me know how yours turns out!

Dragon said...

I love the addition of the brown sugar to the pizza. Yum!

Ruth said...

Your pizza looks amazing. Brown sugar and cheese is a taste I cant imagine but now I cant get it out of my mind!

HoneyB said...

I would try the brown sugar one in a heartbeat! I'm all for trying new things. :) Your pizzas look great!

LOVE your proofing box!!

Veggie Wedgie said...

This combination of brown sugar garlic and mozzarella sounds really good actually! I might have to try that with vegan mozzarella..

Sarea said...

dragon -- Yeah, it turned out surprisingly well!

ruth -- Thanks! I couldn't imagine it either, until I saw it on the menu at The Rock, lol. Then I was nothing but intrigued.

honeyb -- Hee, I love my proofing box too! Good for you on trying new things, I always try to keep an open mind too, with fairly good success, I'd say. How else do you discover new things to love?

Veggie Wedgie - Let me know how it goes! Would be interested to hear if the flavor combination with vegan cheese works as well.

Anonymous said...

I am so impressed that you made a proofing box! Hats off to your ingenuity!

Anonymous said...

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Thank you for posting such a useful, impressive and a wicked article./Wow.. looking good!
Pizza Equipment