Ah, the accidental calzone. All pizzamakers eventually make that mess. Something happens upon launching a pizza that requires just folding over the dough and baking it like its hand-pie cousin. But interestingly, it seems to not normally be a newbie mistake. I was making pizza for quite a while before the accidental calzone happened in my kitchen. And after more than 20 years of doing this, I made one again as recently as a year ago.
But that’s not why you’re here. You’re here because you either desire to make pizza, or you’re already making pizza at home and want to make them even more amazing than they already are.
“Oh, I know this is the right way to do it. But I don’t have time for that.” Yes, that is an actual quote. It wasn’t said about pizza, but it might as well have been. Pizza is so simple, yet for some people that seems impossible. They want to make pizza defy the rules of time, space and biology.
It’s OK to not want to make pizza. But it’s not OK to have a desire to do it while maintaining a hatred for giving nature the time required to do the job well. Do the job badly, and why would you ever want to do it again. Have you ever made something in the kitchen and thought, “That’s disappointing. Let’s do it again tomorrow!”
Can I guarantee she'll make an authentic pizza? Two things, I reply. One, thank you for saying “authentic” and not “perfect.” We seek perfection knowing it I unattainable. Authenticity is far easier. Two, I can’t guarantee anything. This is on you. And the first thing you can do to make it work is to not try too hard.
Is this all of a sudden sounding like Zen BS? But wait, there’s more. By far, the best pizzas I make are when I’m not making them. They’re just happening. And yes, this might sound like a pizza peel covered in cheesy Zen koan. But it’s true.
The first time I made an “authentic pizza,” it was a little bit nerve wracking. I’d tried pizza before and failed. But this time, I’d been reading what I needed to read, I’d done the prep, I had the tools, so the only thing left was for the pizza to happen.
It might not have been as good as what I’m making 20 years later. But it was convincing and round-ish. It looked good and it tasted great. It gave me a reason to continue.
These days I know I can make a pizza. Where I get on edge is when I’m throwing a pizza party. Making half a dozen pies for eight people is always a a little daunting. You’re on a stage. People are watching. They have expectations.
But the first thing I do is give up. I don’t try so hard. I just think about how I’m going to be making a unch of great pizzas. I’ve been at this long enough that there’s no point in sweating it.
In the parlance of some other subculture that puts voice to such beliefs, I give it up to God. My hands do the work. I don’t worry about it because worry doesn’t help.
Follow the steps. Use the tools. Visualize the result.
That third part might be the most useful. Instead of trying so hard to make the pizza, visualize the pizza you’ve made before you make it. What it looks like, smells like, feels like. The color. The caramelization. The texture of the crust. The crunch.
But don’t think too hard on that, either. You already know what all that should be. Just let it happen. There’s a critical voice in your head that will try to second guess everything you’re doing. You’ll be doing it right. Don’t listen to the critical voice that tries telling you you’re doing it wrong. Second guessing is pizza death.
There is one place where I still get hung up: Dough. It’s interesting that my dough has gotten better since removing machinery from the making. People act like their stand mixers are the second coming of Christ on a Cuisinart. They can’t possibly knead their dough by hand.
Get over yourself. Knead your dough by hand. The man who runs one of the nation’s most famous pizza restaurants makes enough dough by hand every day to serve as many as 250 pizzas a night. By that measure, you and I are mere gnats. Our couple of pizzas don’t even appear as blips on the pizza radar. We can muster the temerity to make dough by hand. And we’ll make better dough because of it. There’s no mixer standing between us and the most important part of the pizza process.
To be more blunt: use a mixer, and you’re going to overknead the dough. Your pizza is going to be tough. Don’t do it.
The dough problem I continue to face is measurement. It never works out. Measuring by volume is fraught with inaccuracy. But so is measuring by weight. No matter how I do it, I’m always called upon to make adjustments. My pizza dough ingredient measurement is never twice the same.
This matters because the devil is in the dough. And if you face the same challenge, don’t stress it. Just be patient and make adjustments. Make sure you get to a supple, slightly tacky dough ball, and all will be good.
To recap: I can guarantee nothing because your mindset is in play here. Don’t work too hard at it. Just follow the steps. Visualize the end result. Pizza is as much about your mind as anything. And when making pizza, developing pizza mind is invaluable.
Want to take your first step to authentic pizza? FREE THE PIZZA! has been the #1 new release in Pizza Making on Amazon! Click here to learn more...
A celebrity chef busts Free The Pizza's chops for using parmesan that’s only $20 a pound. What about you?
“Why are you using this garbage!?”
“Garbage? It’s 20 bucks a pound.”
“I’ve got cheese here that’s 40 bucks a pound and you can use it for free!”
“Part of the whole Free The Pizza ethos is about how anyone anywhere can make great pizza with ingredients from their local store.”
“This is a local store!”
Well, now we’re dancing on the edge of silly. And this conversation was all in fun. But it belies some philosophical challenges in the highly opinionated world of pizza making, to wit: don’t let anyone tell you that you need to use the most expensive or most difficult ingredients.
Chop Shop Park City is not just any local store. It’s a farm-to-butcher specialty shop with a wood-fired oven. It’s run by John Courtney, a celebrity chef who has Michelin-star cred and wrote the foreword to my book, Free The Pizza. We were about to have a pizza party. That’s why I was bringing my relatively pedestrian ingredients into his shop, knowing full well that I might end up in a conversation like this.
If you’ve at all followed the fun of the pre-release party for our book, you know that I was more than happy to avail myself of chef Courtney’s morel stash. He had a huge box of morels, and he offered them to me freely. He's a generous man. I added the morels to a pizza topped with wild boar salami (which I’d brought with me). If you’ve never had wild boar, it’s darker and richer than domesticated pork. Morels are noted for their earthy, woodsy, nutty flavor.
Morels and Wild Boar Salami make for a pizza that’s neither pedestrian nor cheap. But it’s still a pizza that would be fun to make and eat at home. And if you wanted to do that after learning the pizza basics, you certainly could.
But I would never suggest that a neophyte with no experience whatsoever should go out and start slapping $30 a pound mushrooms and $40 a pound salami onto their first pizza. Yes, some guys can go out to buy and ride a Ducati Streetfighter as their first motorcycle and live to tell about it.
And while there’s unlikely to be a skid mark or cranial trauma resulting from someone’s first pizza, it’s still a good idea to give yourself permission to make mistakes. And using basic ingredients is part of what’s written on that permission slip.
So, do you have the basics down? Are you comfortable slinging pizza without fear? That’s a great time to start thinking about what you can do to raise the bar. I love using San Marzano tomatoes—even though they’re about 500% more expensive than the store brand. I use organic flour at 300% more expensive than the store-brand flour.
But I didn’t start there. Just like I didn’t start taking photographs with a $1,300 Nikon and I didn’t start racing in triathlons with a $2,000 bike. The first camera I bought was a Polaroid point and shoot. The first “real” camera that was given to me was a 20-year-old, 35mm rangefinder camera. My first racing bike was a used, $300 road bike.
I also have a dirty little secret: I go by taste, not by price. So many people love pepperoni that I feel obliged to make pepperoni pizza. And I have done side-by-side taste tests with more expensive brands against a certain supermarket house brand. The certain supermarket house brand wins every time. (Instead of pepperoni, I prefer Spanish-style chorizo for my own pizzas. Better flavor, I think.)
More expensive doesn’t always mean better taste. But there are things that are outside the mainstream and are more exotic and that one might by tempted to try. Take morel mushrooms, for example. They’re hard to come by. They are almost by definition a foraged product. They can be grown by specialists with specialized equipment. But usually, morels are wild. Hunting them is a cutthroat venture undertaken by serious, well-armed people who laugh in the face of danger. I’m seeing fresh morels selling online right now for $45 a pound.
Maybe you want to start using $40 a pound Parmigiano Reggiano on your pizza, or $16 a pound mozzarella di bufala like they use in Naples’ VPN pizzerias. Go crazy—as long as it’s what you want to do. Nobody should be telling you that it’s a requirement to be building $50 pizzas in your own kitchen.
When I began planning my pizzas for the big Free The Pizza at Chop Shop, I told John about some of the things I was planning. He said, “Don’t worry about it. You do you.” And I did. And it was good. Even if it didn’t always cost more.
Pizza elevated is a fantastic thing. And when you feel like you’ve got your basic pizza nailed, elevate the hell out of it. Or don’t. First and foremost, use ingredients that work. The right flour. Water, salt and yeast. Tomatoes, herbs, oil and cheese. Those are the things that get you started. Once you find that you’re making actual pizza and not a PLO (pizza-like object), feel free to push your boundaries. Find influences. Splurge on fancy toppings. Make a white pizza with bechamel sauce to see what you’ve been missing. Like a great philosopher once said, Man cannot live by store-brand pepperoni alone…
FREE THE PIZZA! The #1 New Release book in Pizza Making is now available on Amazon.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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