I was fresh off a cross-country flight. I’d arrived at our host's house and started making dough so it would have time to ferment properly. And in the process, I made a mistake. A small one. And I decided to live with it just to see what would happen.
It ended up being some of my best pizza ever.
A lot of pizza newbies get caught in a trap of believing that great pizza is about great dough recipes. But really, great pizza is more about what you do with those recipes and how.
Here now, the crazy secret ingredients to killer homemade pizza: Time & Patience! (Plus two more unexpected tips, all from pizza guru Peter Reinhart.)
So I was talking with Peter Reinhart last week. He's the guy whose first pizza book 20 years ago got me making killer homemade pizza. And now, we sometimes talk about pizza because he's an incredibly nice guy and it’s one of his favorite things to do.
I said to Peter, “If you were talking to a newbie pizza maker, somebody who maybe hasn't even touched dough yet, what would you say are the three most important tips you can provide before diving into this?”
When he was done speaking, I told him that I’ve said something similar, though without nearly the same eloquence or authority. That’s why he’s a James Beard Award-winner and a professor at world-famous Johnson & Wales and I’m a semi-professional geek with a blog. So here now, I share Prof. Reinhart's insights with you and embellish them with some of my own geeky nonsense.
We had the microphones out and were recording an interview with a well-known ad man about his business. At some point, the topic of pizza came up (as it often does). The ad man says, “My friends who make pizza tell me that the secret to making great pizza is getting the dough right. Is that true?”
I tried to answer, but I hesitated. I started answering again—and hesitated. Finally, I said, “Yes. Sort of.” My mind was racing through all the things that can screw up pizza, and bad dough was far from the only one.
It took me a couple of years to realize the reason for my hesitation. After 20 years and easily a thousand pizzas, it finally dawned on me. And it has nothing to do with dough. It has nothing to do with equipment. It has nothing to do with going to Amazon and buying a crappy, $900 outdoor pizza oven and bags of overpriced flour imported from Italy which was probably ground from wheat grown in the United States to begin with.
You've made your dough, you've waited three days, you're excited to share some pizza--and you can't make it happen? There's no little blue pill for this. And for the pizza newbie, stretching dough is filled with angst under the best of circumstances. And there's a lot going on with pizzamaking. Lots of moving parts. They're simple. But it's a lot to keep track of if pizza is not yet a habit.
If you can't stretch it, chances are good that you've made a simple mistake. In freeing the pizza, you haven't freed the dough from the fridge soon enough. It doesn't sound like such a big deal. But if you don't bring the dough to kitchen room temp at least an hour before you're ready to use it, there's a good chance you're going to encounter resistance. The dough is just too cold to be usable
Here's a simple way to make sure you've got your timing right. Are you turning on the oven? Take out the dough. Between the time it takes your oven to reach temperature and the hour you need to preheat your baking surface, you've got about 90 minutes before you're making pizza.
Just make sure that when you turn on that oven, the dough is on the kitchen counter. This is a simple mistake. I've made it myself. And there is no good way to rectify it other than waiting patiently. (No, putting the dough in the microwave for 30 seconds is not a solution. Do not ask me how I know this.) Cold dough is un-stretchable dough. Cold dough will break your heart.
I'm going to be providing aid in this department with a free document for all my pizza peeps. It's going to be sort of a pizza pre-flight checklist. I've been doing this long enough to realize that even the most seasoned pizzamaker can make rookie mistakes out of simple oversight. (Do not ask me how I know this, either.)
If you'd like your copy of the checklist when it comes available, just join the pizza list. Click here to be taken to the signup form at FreeThePIzza.com. And if you've already joined the list, you'll be notified soon.
Free The Pizza!
There’s no disappointment to match the problem that says, “If I eat pizza I go to the ER.” Celiac and its lesser cousin, gluten intolerance, are a scourge.
If you’re one of those people who thinks gluten issues are a mere fashion statement, trust me: you need be close to someone with a gluten problem only once to realize oh, no—this problem is for real. It’s just not real for everyone who claims it. That notwithstanding, I have an opinion on this. It’s also going to make somebody angry.
I refuse to make a gluten-free pizza dough. The reason why is not that I’m against your gluten problem. I’m against MY gluten problem. And my gluten problem is that I’ve been unable to make a gluten-free pizza crust that’s acceptable.
I’ve tried several times. It's been awful. The commercially available processed products taste better, but I don’t make them. I’m not a processor. It’s cheaper and easier for you to buy a frozen cauliflower pizza shell than it is for me to teach you how to make one from scratch.
That said, I have eaten a very credible, gluten-free Detroit-style pizza. I also made some calculations looking at the price of the ingredients. Mother of pearl. Pizza is supposed to be affordable. You shouldn’t have to take out refinance the house to buy the ingredients.
The ultimate goal at Free The Pizza is to share the joy of making and serving pizza to your friends and family. That joy diminishes when concessions are made to a sub-par, overpriced results. I’d rather make you something else.
That said, I’m also a cockeyed optimist. I like to think that this will not always be the case. In a perfect world, some doctors somewhere will wave a magic wand and celiac and gluten intolerance would disappear.
Barring that, I will eventually be able to offer some solution for gluten-free crust that is easy and affordable. Until that time, I prefer to not enter the foray. I will feel your pain and put something else on the menu. And perhaps, in our lifetime, science will make great pizza possible for one and all. Until then, Free The Pizza (and spare the gluten)!
Pizza dough schadenfreude: are you ready for maybe the dumbest experiment ever? Then Again... PART II
So, last week, we described the impromptu silliness of trying to make a pile of no-knead neo-Neapolitan pizza dough on the fly. We are also realistic enough to know it may not work. But, we have a pizza. So far, there is no clear and tragic failure in which y'all can take delight. No schadenfreude. That's the good news.
But the resulting pizza is a resounding, "Meh?" It's an OK pizza. Not great. Not awful. The pizza itself was of uneven thickness, making it uneven in flavor. The thicker parts tasted better.
The big challenge here was stretching the dough. As with my previous, albeit brief foray into no-knead pizza dough, it was very elastic and sticky.
It's hard to stretch, but that may also be operator error. So we're going to be trying more. Folks are attracted to no-knead recipes, and it's understandable. I've made no-knead bread with great luck.
So, on this National Pizza Day, we've made an effort and will continue to work on it. If and when it works out, we'll make the recipe available.
Free The Pizza!
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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