Sunday, January 16, 2011

hey, you guys - you know what i'm in the mood for?

Over the past couple of years I've made lots of different kinds of pizzas.  Dreamt them, shaped them, sauced them, cheesed them, topped them, baked them and ate them gladly.  In this time, between inquisitiveness and practice, my tools and know how have improved to the point where I'm eating some of the tastiest pizzas I've had outside of a pizza or wood burning brick oven.       

Some seemingly minor but truthfully major advances in my technological world include an oven and cookware upgrade.  When we renewed our lease we went from a beat-up can that could hardly reach 375 to a brand new oven that reaches 500 in 15 minutes and counts down along the way.  I also went from a stubborn corner-cut to one of the best gifts of all time - my pizza stone evolved from 6 unglazed quarry tiles that slid around and were difficult to clean to a glazed ceramic stone from Emile Henry that produces fantastic results and is pretty easy to clean.  Without these improvements, home pizzas just wouldn't be the same.

Until about a year ago I was sourcing pre-made dough from just about wherever I could - from pizza shops and specialty markets or acquiring it after a late night of wading through some discarded treasure (or waiting for friends to return from the task).  

The more pizza I made the more I wanted to make my own pizza dough.  Finding the right dough recipe wasn't terribly challenging but required some poking around... As my pies improved, I experienced how a great dough could inspire better sauce and better cheese, overall better pizza.

Here are a couple of recipes I was working with/testing at home:
  • A dough recipe from an issue of Saveur devoted to LA food.  The recipe was adapted from Pizzeria Mozza in LA (Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton and Joseph Bastianich).  I found it was too bready and not quite what I was looking for.  I read online that others who tried the recipe and/or dined at the restaurant felt similarly.
  • Jim Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough - the bread guru's recipe featured on a neat blog I just stumbled on... highlighting the Pizza Patate which is one of my favorites.  Jim Lahey's recipes can bring out the artisan in everyone - they're super accessible and the long rises make for yeasty and rustic crumbs or in this case, crusts.  With this particular recipe what you have is a large spongey dough that is stretched across a sheet pan after rising for about 2 hours with absolutely no kneading.  The dough is flavorful but the bottom isn't as crispy as I'd like (that's why the stone is so handy).
Maybe it's a little corny and has nothing to do with taste, but placing the dough on a sheet pan and tossing it in the oven just doesn't excite me.  I really enjoy the part where you get to slide the pizza off the peel (or whatever you're using) and the satisfaction of hitting the stone, peeling it back real easy, closing the oven and coming back to a golden bubbling crust some minutes later.  And so I kept looking and found a dough that allowed me to do just that and tastes and feels great.

Here's my adaptation of the recipe that's become my standby - sourced from's Pizza Primer - originally from Peter Reinhart's American Pie (why don't I own this?).

Ingredients (Makes 4 10-inch pizzas):
5 cups bread flour (hard, high-protein wheat makes for a stronger dough)
1 Tablespoon honey
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/5 teaspoon active dry yeast*1 3/4 to 2 cups room-temperature water

*if using active dry yeast, bloom in 1/4c warm/hot water (85 - 110 degrees) with 1/4 tsp sugar for 5 minutes or until bubbling/noticeably active - you'll see bubbles and a lighter shade of brown expanding and surfacing - just be patient.  When incorporating into dry mix, subtract 1/4c h2o from the 1 3/4 - 2 c room-temp water called for.  Also a good idea to use 20% more yeast when using active dry, hence 1 and 1/5 tsp.  The original recipe calls for 1 tsp instant yeast which would also be fine to use without blooming.


Measure out first four ingredients into a large mixing bowl, measuring the olive oil prior to the honey in the same spoon for ease of pour.  In a separate smaller bowl, bloom yeast.  Once noticeably active, incorporate yeast and 1 1/2c room-temp h2o into large mixing bowl.  Mix with a wooden spoon until dough forms - you still have the option of adding up to 1/4c more water if you need to but just do so a very little bit at a time as needed - you don't want your dough too wet.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Mix for an additional 5 minutes, adding more water as needed.  The dough will be wetter and tackier than bread dough but should pull away from the sides of the bowl with ease - sticky to the touch but not stuck to your hand.

With floured hands, remove dough from bowl and set on a lightly floured surface. Divide the mass into four equal parts about 10 oz each, using a sharp chef's knife or dough scraper.  Shape each dough as though you were shaping boules (note: dough won't be quite as loose and gassy as the one seen in this video) and set on a lightly oiled pyrex dish.  Lightly oil the top of each dough with your fingertips and tightly cover with plastic wrap.  Now you could either let your dough rise at room temperature for 1 to 1 1/2 hours and it would give you fine results (for a shorter rise, instant yeast would probably be best)  or you could give it a slow rise in the fridge for up to 24 hours or so, letting the yeast work nice and slow, developing the flavor of your dough.  If you opt for the slow rise, be sure to pull your dough from the fridge 1 - 2 hours before you make your pizzas to bring it to room temperature, allowing some time to relax and rise a bit more.  This dough apparently also freezes well for up to 3 months.  Just wrap in oiled plastic and thaw out in your fridge when you're ready to use it.

Some notes on making your pie:

Now that you've got your dough, you're ready to make your pizza.  Here's a video tutorial I just found on how to shape the dough by hand.  I usually follow these two steps but then proceed to work the dough over my knuckles until I have a pie between 10 and 12 inches in diameter.  I say just do it whichever way works best for you, keeping your surface and hands lightly floured and laying your pie down on a floured/corn-mealed peel when you're ready to top it (unless you've got a thin peel you can easily slide between the pie and your work surface).  This dough recipe also lends itself well to calzones and pinwheels.

For my sauce I like to use canned whole tomatoes (San Marzanos ideally) that I strain, seed, and then puree using an immersion blender.  I used to just add a little bit of salt to the puree but now I add some olive oil as well which brings out the flavor of the tomatoes. That's it - tomatoes, salt, and oil.

For cheese, fresh Mozzarella is always a good idea.  Claudio's in the Italian Market makes the best in the city.  In addition to Mozz, a little bit of Taleggio and Fontina Val D'Aosta go a long way.  Both are deep in flavor, mushroomy, and a little bit stinky - they melt beautifully and are glorious on just about any kind of pizza.  I like using all three - the sum of the angles of that triangle, too monstrous to contemplate. The mozz and Taleggio can be shredded/portioned by hand, the Fontina grated. I try not to smother my pizza in cheese, to give the sauce some space so that there isn't a layer of cheese covering the pie.

...and remember to lightly pour some olive oil on your pizza before you toss it in the oven.

Here are a few examples of pizzas I made using this dough recipe, each featuring different toppings.


Left: Butternut squash puree for sauce, ricotta, fried eggplant, shallots, sage
Center: San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, taleggio, fontina val d'aosta, capers, garlic, artichokes, roasted sweet potato, and Jamon Mangalica
Right: San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil

One more thing: Last time I baked some pizzas, I found the bottoms of the first couple were burning before the crust was baking through, so I lowered the temp just 20 degrees, from 500 to 480 - it made a big impact.  I guess just find the temp that works best for you.

And now, an inspirational video about three young mens quest for some real Brooklyn pizza that should help you on your way as you embark on your own personal quest towards making excellent pizza at home.

Sweet dreams.

1 comment:

  1. alex, i laughed through that entire video and i don't know why ...
    yay! PIZZA!