After having gone the better part of the year without posting any pics, here towards year's end I present my latest Sicilian. Not particularly authentic or artisanal, arguably just a regular American pizza with a very thick crust that has been formed and baked in a pan, but whatever.
I've been laying low with the pics around here as I've been striving to improve my doughs. My earlier Sicilians were plagued with a welter of fail including:
-a crumb structure that was at once very dense and too weak to sustain the toppings without getting crushed (even when parbaked), both of which attributes negatively impacted upon digestibility (to the point where my pies were proverbial gutbusters)
-poor browning, leading to over-long baking times, which in turn led to hardening of the cornicone and excessive browning of the toppings
-a bottom that tended to sog out no matter how long the pie was baked.
It gradually dawned on me that gluten underdevelopment was the root cause of all these problems and that, against a certain conventional wisdom which holds that a Sicilian dough ought to be somewhat undermixed, I would have to go in the opposite direction and take up a fairly aggressive kneading regimen. My cheap-ass antique mixer is of no help here, so now I use it only to incorporate all the ingredients into a ball and do the rest by hand. This means about 8 minutes of hand kneading divided in two stages separated by a 20 minute rest. The resulting dough (counter-risen for about four hours) is extremely robust and amenable to being manhandled without tearing or deformation. A drawback is that once this dough is laid down in the oiled pan, there’s no forming it any further due to springback, no matter how much it’s manipulated (note the “tombstone” shape that resulted from the refusal of the corners to stay flush with the pan).
Another drawback is that parbaking is impossible; even at 450, when untopped this dough will inflate and blister uncontrollably as though filled with balloons (the large cornicone on this pie was unintended and unexpected). Thus the pie was fully topped at the outset and then baked at 450 for 16 minutes. This turned out to be about 2 minutes too little; although the cornicone exhibits what I consider theoretically perfect browning, the bottom lacked the black leopard-spots I like. As a result, I felt the taste to be a little bland, although everybody else thought it was awesome (go figure).
As to the crumb: This beast was *very* heavily topped (we’re talking in terms of pounds here- there was a solid layer of pepperoni underneath the cheese, which itself was topped with bacon, ‘shrooms, and green peppers) and it took a while to top it, giving the sauce lots of time to leach into the dough. As a result, the crumb was of course not quite as impressive as the best exemplars on this forum- but it maintained a surprisingly good height in the face of the extreme stress and even displayed many large voids at various points. Moreover, it was eminently digestible, and did not leave me feeling stuffed or sleepy.
The bottom was leathery with good pull (perhaps a bit too much) and stayed that way. With my old pies, grease and humidity would shoot right through the crust, rendering the bottom soggy and indeed leaving the parchment paper covered with yellow beads. This one left exactly one such bead.
Finally, the beautifully-browned cornicone was not hard or crunchy except in a few spots where it had been deflated due to my having popped a few troublesome-looking blisters before baking.
Overall, I rate this one a win, but not an epic win. I still think the taste was a bit anemic and bland. Maybe put the dough in the fridge for a few days next time out, or use a poolish.