I have a fear of yeast (the baking kind, not the lab kind). I never make recipes that involve yeast, rising, proofing, kneading or any other equally intimidating words. They bring up images of rolled up sleeves, beads of sweat forming on the forehead, and of little cups full of breeding, breathing, scum colored yeast. Blech. I cannot tell you why I have such a strange and powerful aversion to an organism that has served mankind for centuries, but I do.
I am here to tell you that I have made a small step toward conquering my yeastophobia. Under strict and patient supervision, I assisted in making my very first homemade pizza, complete with a made-from-scratch, yeast-leavened crust. It was scary, I won’t lie. But I made it through, ate pizza, and lived to tell the tale.
My kind supervisor added yeast to a warm water and sugar bath to wake up the little buggers and coax them into eating mode (I could not be trusted with such a key step). After the yeast solution was added to flour and salt it came time to knead the dough. For five whole minutes. Yeah, I know! Five minutes is a lot! I kneaded, I grunted, I got tired and whiney but it was worth it - the dough rose beautifully. I got to punch it down with a disproportionate amount of glee (and a little vindictiveness), after which it was rolled out by my attentive and generous supervisor (I still hate rolling pins and had to defer). The rolled out dough was covered in a thick, deep green Greek olive oil, a home-made tomato sauce with tons of browned garlic, and then it was time for the toppings.
I really have no self-control. Practically the entire contents of my fridge made their way onto this pizza. I roasted a red bell pepper and three Anaheim chiles, sliced green zebra heirloom tomatoes (note that all the vegetables were green…), tore prosciutto di Parma, cut rounds of fresh mozzarella, and what the hell, plopped a raw egg into the center. I am sure I could have found something else to sprinkle, layer, or shower on top (capers were up next … but they were vetoed) but the crust had to go into the oven before it became soggy.
Twelve minutes in a 600F oven, no pizza stone, no fancy equipment, just crossed fingers and a few bated breaths and there it was – a crunchy crust baked all the way through to the center, bubbling cheese, crispy prosciutto, melted tomatoes, and creamy, oozing egg in the middle. And let me tell you, it was fantastic – the taste of the pizza no doubt enhanced by the flavor of my victory over yeast, but delicious nonetheless. What lies ahead in my journey with yeast – cinnamon buns? Bread? Panettone? Who knows. But it all sounds a little less scary now.