Friday, April 13, 2012

Pizza a Mano

Nearly two weeks ago, Laura, a young woman who lives near our rancho asked if I would be willing to teach her and three of her cousins how to make pizza. I was doubtful at first that I would have the energy to conduct even an informal class in Spanish. But the more we talked about it, it seemed not only feasible, but great opportunity to do something interesting and, above all, fun.

We knew Laura from when she was in school. She'd bring her English homework to us to be checked and corrected. Making pizza would be a lot more fun. We were only acquainted with her three cousins, daughters of Norma and Lalo. Lalo cooks and sells carnitas each Sunday morning with the help of his daughters Norma, Anaïs and Lilian.

On Monday, Laura came by and we confirmed that we would meet here on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. Meanwhile, I prepared a basic list of pizza dough and sauce ingredients, with brief notes on technique, all in Spanish. But the bulk of the technique would be taught and learned by hands on practice. Pizza a Mano.

The students arrived, and first assembled for a group photo.

From left: Lilian, Laura. Norma and Anaïs
I'd decided that we would begin, logically, with making the dough, then the sauce, grate and prepare the cheeses, and finally, prepare the toppings. We would make one basic cheese and tomato pie, then we would go where our fancy led us. Two batches of pizza dough would yield four medium large pizzas.

It was not likely that any of my students would have dough mixers at home, so the mixing and kneading would be strictly a mano.

The girls took turns at various tasks, with my guidance. I chose the toppings, based on availability and my creative whims. I'd cleared off most of our ample, tiled counter top, and with the wooden baker's table, we had plenty of room for the practical side of the class.

Hand kneading dough was not wholly unfamiliar to some, as some had made tortillas de harina at home.

When the first batch of dough was fully kneaded, we took
a break and looked at pictures of another cousin, Licha's quinceañera last December. (Everybody is kinfolk around here.)

Break time over, we turned to preparing the sauce. I explained that the Italian or Spanish canned tomato products that I use are not available in Pátzcuaro, but are in Morelia. I had a box of Del Fuerte Puré de Tomate condimentado, one of the better brands, and best suited to Mexican recipes, but less so for pizza sauce. It's too thin, lacking in pieces of tomato, the flavor is not right, and to make it work, you'd need to add quite a lot of tomato paste. (It's thickened with food starch!)

It could serve in a pinch, but we proceeded with Cirio pomodori pelati and Passata Rustica, available at Wal-Mart and Superama, and thickened with a small can of S&W Tomato Paste, purchased by the carton at Costco. I used a very reliable sauce recipe from the Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, but cut back or eliminated some of the more extreme seasonings, such as sugar and cinnamon.

The dough had risen very well over an hour, and we divided it in two and lightly rounded them. While they rested, covered, we made another quantity of dough.

The first dough balls now rested enough to allow us to apply our hands to extending to dough, either by hand or a rolling pin. It's possible but slower by hand, but arguably makes a better base. Rolling out with the rolling pin ("rollido") took some practice to make an even circle, but the results were stellar.

Our first pizza was a basic but very nice cheese pizza.

The second dough ball was transformed into a Pizza Las Cuevas, con nopal, chile Poblano asado, tocino, y cebolla and the usual sauce and cheese.

Everyone was having a good time, especially eating the pizzas.

The second batch of dough was getting a little ahead of us, so we got up to deal with it.

The last two dough balls became a Pizza Verde, con acelgas, longaniza verde.

La Última Pizza del Día had Obertal chorizo Español y piña fresca, con chile Poblano crudo. Simpler, once again, but surprisingly good.

We divided the extras for take home. The approximately 4 hour class was successful in that the students learned new skills, saw the possibilities of creating pizzas with what was at hand. The food was good, but even better, the group was attentive and pleasant to work with. I hope that we can do another class, in the not too distant future.

Pleased as Punch


Calypso said...

Tough duty teaching four pretty senoritas how to make pizza. The pie looks good!

"Word verification is a simple, painless process"

A TOTAL pain in the neck!

Anonymous said...

Sr Cuevas,
Looks like a very well spent day with delicious results! Thanks for sharing, and we look forward to your next class! Cheers!
Dan in NC

Don Cuevas said...

Calypso, it was such tough duty that after, I needed a 3 hour nap. :-)

About word verification: from what I've seen when commenting on other Blogspot blogs, it has become more of a hurdle than when I started with it. I'll consider turning it off, but leaving admin approval on.

Don Cuevas

Steve Cotton said...

What did you use for cheese? With one exception, the cheese on the pizzas I have had in Mexico leave an astringent chemical taste in the back of my mouth. Not horrible. But unpleasant. Like a cheap Merlot.

Don Cuevas said...

Calypso, enjoy the gift!

Dan in NC, I hope to do more classes.

Steve Cotton, we used Lala or Alpura Brand Queso (estilo) Oaxaca. Works great as a substitute for mozzarella (we can get decent mozz, at Costco, in Morelia. But I think I may prefer the above brands of queso Oaxaca. We also had a small chunk of Provolone Fuerte, which my lovely students grated in to the mixture. It adds a bit of a kick.)

Don Cuevas

Tancho said...

Next thing you will see is a pizza cart down the street from you?
Or perhaps a outside wood burning oven in your yard?

I'll have to give you some home made Mozzarella, one of these days....since we have fresh milk and I can't drink that much milk, I'm trying my hand at cheese...

Don Cuevas said...

Tancho, the fantasy is a wood burning oven in our ample yard; pizza service from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the whole operation staffed by the students. We'll rent them the dining space on our porch, chairs, tables, etc. Of course, there'd be pizza para llevar.

The two, home based taquerías here might become jealous.

Dream on...

Don Cuevas

Brenda Maas said...

Sounds and looks like fun.

I had fun teaching my landlords daughter in law to make dinner rolls as she had never made a yeast dough roll and loved the ones I shared with them along with the cinnamon rolls.

To begin with I gave her my translated recipe and she tried on her own. Her finished product was to say the least a failure lol. They were hard as a rock and she used them to throw at her husband and Roy as they laughed at her results. Bad buns, fun times lol. She tried again with much the same result and blamed the ingredients until I told her that I use the exact same ingredients as she had.

I then went over to her house and helped her and her mom and a bunch of ladies make over 200 mini buns that we put a filling inside of for a fiesta.

They watched and I explained that the water can't be too hot or you will kill the yeast as that is what I thought she might have done previously.

We worked hard all afternoon and the finished product was tasty and disappeared rapidly at the fiesta, so much so that she wants me to join them to do it again for another fiesta coming up.

Lots of fun and gossip with about 8 ladies in the same kitchen lol.

Don Cuevas said...

Brenda, I warmed the water for the pizza dough in the microwave and had all of us finger test it, so they would have an idea of how warm it needs to be.

By the way, we used he readily available Tradipan Levadura, instead of my usual Sierra Nevada brand.

Don Cuevas

Brenda Maas said...

When I gave her the recipe I told her "agua tibia", so am not sure if that was her problem or not; but when I went over to her house and did it with them, I had them feel the water and when I told them that too hot a water would kill the yeast, they seemed very surprised and repeated it several times. They do not seem used to using yeast as much here like we do up north; but then as they told me when yeast breads are so available in the bakeries to buy why bother. Some people here still do not have ovens either.

I used to use Tradipan yeast; but have been unable to find it lately. The last bag I bought was the brand NEVADA, which we never had here before, both these brands are the instant yeast. I have been unable to find the old fashioned slow rising yeast here as yet.

Don Cuevas said...

Brenda, where are you located in Mexico? In Pátzcuaro, old fashioned cake yeast is sold in the older, more traditional supermercados and in some of the tiendas de abarrotes.

In fact, one of the alumnas asked me why I didn't use it. I told them that the levadura instantánea was more stable, reliable and lasted longer under refigeration.

Don Cuevas

Marie said...

Very nice of you to teach them how to make some za!

I've yet to meet a single woman in the nearby villages who has used their oven before. One woman used hers to bake an apple crisp of mine before a group event, and I had to explain how to use it.

The only oven I know of in the two smallest villages near us that is used regularly is Doña Licha's. It is an adobe/brick oven. She bakes bread, and teaches a class on how to cook 'traditional' Mexican breads (comida included). I'm tempted to bring her some pizza dough and fixins...

Don Cuevas said...

Marie, there's at least one horno de leña nearby, over the ridge, in the next village. Every week, Mariela, a young mother, comes with a basket of pan ranchero to sell. Doña Cuevas buys some, 5 pesos a piece, but I am not fond of the stuff.

Don Cuevas

Anonymous said...

What an exciting post! That's wonderful you are teaching them to make good pizza. Here in Cd. Mante a good pizza is hard to find! I tried to make one once, when we had access to an oven, but my dough didn't turn out too well. But we had fun, I'd like to try again. If your recipes are a secret, maybe you could post this pizza recipe, with Mexican ingredients?

It's neat to be able to show people how to make foods, especially deserts that they have never tried. I like to show people how to make cookies and brownies (in their oven!)


Don Cuevas said...

Lorie, nice to have your comment.

The recipes used in the class were based on the pizza dough and sauce recipes in "The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two", by Anna Thomas. Pages 218-219. The toppings were my own creations.

By the way, El Nacimiento del Río Mante was the second spot at which we camped, on our first trip to México, in 1980. I recall it well. I even remember what we prepared for our supper. Guacamole smashed up in an aluminum camp pot, plus totopos. Well, that's another story...

Don Cuevas

Brenda Maas said...

I guess my last comment disappeared somewhere into cyber space lol.

I live in Guaymas, Sonora.

I wasn't talking about cake yeast, I have actually never used that, my mother didn't even use that. I meant the yeast that has a normal rise time and is more granular; but not instant. It needs to be mixed with sugar and warm water and let to sit for a few minutes before you add it to the dough mix.
I have never seen it here and was going to ask at the bakeries; but the landlords daughter told me that they use huge cans of yeast which makes sense so I never have asked.

When I first started using the instant yeast in Canada it seemed to me that the rolls, breads, etc. dried out faster than with the traditional yeast; but that was years ago, so I could have a faulty memory.

For super markets here we have Soriana, Santa Fe and Ley along with the millions of smaller minis and abarottes. Very few of them stock any type of yeast at all. All of them have tons of baking powder though lol and that is what they will show you when you ask for levadura.

I keep my yeast in the deep freeze.

I am just taking fresh baked buns out of the oven. Yummy.

Don Cuevas said...

Brenda, it seems that you are a serious home baker.

I know the granular, non-instant yeast you are referring to. It came in large, pressure lidded cans. you had to presoak it it warm water to activate it. As a professional baker, back when, I never cared for that granular stuff because I was always under pressure of time.

It is very likely that breads made with the potent instant active yeast dries out faster. In general, faster fermentation results in poorer bread. But in the case of pizza, when you eat it that day, it would make little difference.

Usually, for non sweet doughs, I use smaller than average amounts of instant active yeast. I have lots more time, now that I'm retired, and the cooler ambient temperatures in this part of upland Mexico lend themselves to slow rises. Pizza, of course, in a class environment, being a different thing. Some pizza bakers like to mix the dough and refrigerate it overnight, which is said to improve the flavor. But under the class circumstances, i just wanted to demonstrate the easiest and simplest method.

Don Cuevas

Brenda Maas said...

Home baker, yes. Serious, not so much lol.
I learned to bake buns from my mother at probably 10 or 11 yrs. of age. Her go to bun recipe was for "overnight buns". You set them up at around 5 pm and then baked them in the morning.
Being an impatient person I love the fact that you can go from start to finish of baking buns in 2 hours with the instant yeast.
Living here where it is very hot in the summer I don't bake at all for a few months and can hardly wait for the fall weather to come so I can make fresh buns and bread again.
Anyway off to test the fresh buns with butter and miel de abeja.

sparks_mex said...

From someone who has had the pleasure of your home cooked pizza ... I say Never better in Mexico.

Maybe these girls will start a parlor and have a different twist that will work for them

Don Cuevas said...

Brenda, we have never been to Guaymas, although a Mexican friend wanted to take us there, when we were staying with him and his family in the cool mountains near Nacozari, SON.

We chose to live in the Pátzcuaro, Michoacán area in a large part for its temperate climate. We are now beginning the "hot" season, of April and May, yet this year, the highs have been moderate, Today, a high of 84º and a low of 50º F. The summer months are cooler because of the afternoon and evening rains.

Sparks, thank you! I recall that we had you to lunch at our house, but I didn't remember what we ate. My memory must be slipping!

If the señoritas ever wanted to open a pizzeria, I would be pleased to be their advisor.

Don Cuevas

PS: After turning off word verification yesterday, there have already been about five spam comment attempts, but Blogspot's spam catcher has filtered them. But I still get email notifications of that garbage.

Andean said...

I recently made chicken parmigiana in Mexico for the first time. I used fresh queso de Oaxaca(it was not packaged), it melted very well, just like mozzarella cheese. And it's sold locally here in Melaque. Your pizza sounds delicious.

rayosx said...

What a fun thing to do and how nice of you to invite the girls to your home for a pizza baking party. I would enjoy that.

I too have had the pleasure of experiencing your pizza..yum, yum! I have not been impressed with most of the pizza I have bought in Mexico. Yes, I think a pizza cart is a great idea!

Don Cuevas said...

¡Hola, Rayos, y bienvenidos!

I'm sure that if the girls or anyone else local wanted to open a pizza business here, they would adapt the pizza to local tastes. That probably means sliced hot dogs on pizzas and catsup on the side.

I am proud to say that none of the girls asked for salsa catsup nor anything else to put on the pizzas we made.

I am trying to use up the Del Fuerte Puré de Tomate Condimentado that I opened in a casserole or stew of calabacitas and other vegs.

Speaking of food carts, I want to mention that aproximately once a week, a mobile hamburger cart stations itself in our "centro". I haven't tried one. Leg and arm powered Ice cream pushcarts are an everyday sight here. They are dropped off and picked up by a truck. The truck can fit three pushcarts in back. I think that the route and day of the pushcart vendors is a long one. We also occasionally see "Bonice" ice pop vendors carrying their insulated bags or pulling a little wheeled luggage type conveyance. I can't imagine that their income is great as we are in a less populous area and the ice pops are sold cheaply. Might be a good job for a teenager wanting some dinerito. (I sold hot dogs and Cokes at the Yale Bowl stadium in New Haven, back in the '50s. Very physical, sweaty work. But I earned some coins.)