Like most Americans, I love pizza. But when I was younger, I lived out west. We didn’t have pizza shops on almost every corner in Colorado. There were some, but they were few and far between. Until Pizza Hut moved into my area, I was forced to get my pizza fix sitting in a huge room, surrounded by children and arcade games, watching an overgrown animatronic mouse leading a band with only one volume – loud – in the kiddie kingdom of Chuck E. Cheese.
It never entered my mind that three kids later, I’d have attended enough of the overgrown rodent's establishments that its theme song haunted me in my nightmares.
The thing about pizza, however, is that for such a simple food, there are hundreds of thousands of ways to make it. I prefer thin crust, while the crust can’t be thick enough for Matt. The kids prefer an in between crust. We’ve purchased pizza from chain stores such as Domino’s or Pizza Hut, tried the take and bake kind, tasted the pizza of each and every pizza shop in town, and even gave the frozen variety a shot. What did we learn? That there’s not one pizza out there that will satisfy everyone’s taste; and that’s not even taking toppings into account.
Years ago, we owned a restaurant where Matt used to make pizza. He decided we should make it ourselves. Matt could adjust each pizza crust’s thickness, and we could top them with whatever we liked. Sounds simple, right?
But since when has anything in my life been easy? Did I really think this would prove any different?
We began with purchasing dough balls from the store. The dough balls at one grocery store were large enough to make two pizzas, but were costly. Another place had normal-sized dough balls, but they were often out of them. Yet a different store carried them for a reasonable price, yet most often, they were whole wheat. We all love whole and multi-grain breads, but the vote on the wheat crust was a resounding "no." Besides, we’re eating fatty meat and greasy cheese-laden pizza. Wheat crust doesn’t magically cancel that out and make it healthy.
Then, Matt bought a cook book called something like restaurant secrets. He reported that he read an entire chapter on pizza dough, what makes the best crust, and what ingredients made the perfect pie. Of course, all purpose flour is easy to get and use, but according to the secret recipe, is not even close to ideal for a crunchy crust with a soft center. The flour that would yield perfection was high in protein, or, gluten; and the stores in our town didn’t carry anything close.
I checked every grocery store in our small burg. I went to the Wal-Mart, and even (though I have no idea why) checked the hardware store. When I asked managers if they carried it, they explained that a lot of folks were limiting their wheat product intake, and high protein flours didn’t sell.
Swell; half the world is running away from gluten and I’m hunting for it like I’m on safari.
I went online, where high gluten flour is plentiful. And expensive. After I got over the shock of the price for this flour, the shipping charges doubled the cost. I thought a trip to my local health food store might help.
Off I went, naively thinking that I’d solved my dilemma. As I searched the shelves for my fugitive flour, the owner asked if she could help me. When I asked for high gluten flour, she looked like I’d asked her for a pound of crack. Needless to say, there was none of the heinous extra high gluten flour mingling with the gluten-free soy flour.
After exhausting every avenue, I reported to Matt that we were going to have to continue to use store bought dough balls. And that’s when he piped up with, “You can buy pure gluten and add it to regular flour with pretty much the same results.”
Really, Sir Helps a Little? NOW was the time you mentioned this little kernel of knowledge; after I had spent two weeks scouring every nook and cranny of our little borough?
I went to the grocery store and there - on the bottom shelf, nestled between and half way hidden by other apparently less evil products, was Hodgson Mill Vital Wheat Gluten.
Wanna know what else I discovered? On Fridays, large cheese pizzas are on sale for $5.99 and I don’t even have to turn my oven on. An idea formed. I threw flour all over the kitchen, turned the oven on and as soon as I heard Matt open the door, I threw that bad boy into the oven then made a production out of taking it out when he walked in the kitchen, trying to pass if off as homemade.
I’d forgotten one vital component in my ruse – I didn’t hide the box well enough.
I finally got the hang of crust making, but now it's summer. Even though I have the air-conditioner set to “snow,” I’m not heating my oven up to 500 degrees to bake a few pies. Pizza making can wait until fall.
Besides, I’m not ready to begin part two of the great pizza experiment – the sauce. With my luck, the best sauce will come from a tomato cultivated by a guy named Aloyoshenka Sivortsova and grown only along the shores of the Daugava River in Belarus.
I think I’d better start keeping an eye out for cheap air fare.
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