The Dirty F-Word And 7 Simple Steps For Making Sensational Homemade Pizza With Your Own Two Hands, Part 1: Style Of Pizza
THE FIRST IN A 7-PART SERIES.
Want to make perfect pizza? That’s fine—as long as you’re prepared for disappointment. Perfection is unattainable. Yet, just pursuing perfection comes with its own satisfaction. And the beauty of imperfect pizza is: Hey, eat it, enjoy it, and it’s still better than take-out.
There’s also a secret ingredient in the pursuit of perfect pizza. It’s available anywhere you live. You can (and should) be using this secret ingredient, whether you’re a total beginner or a serious pro. And it doesn’t cost you anything.
Yes, the secret ingredient is the dreaded F-word: Focus. In pizza, focus is everything. But it also makes people wary and nervous. Focus sounds like work. Focus has become synonymous with intensity. Pizza is fun! Focus sounds un-fun.
The reality is that focus makes work easier. Focus is often an absence of intensity. Focus makes pizza more fun. And focused pizza tastes better.
Let’s start with a quick and revealing etymology of the word. “Focus” always sounds like there's a microscope involved, and we're turning a tube so pieces of ground glass bear down on something tiny in an effort bring detail and precision.
Whew! Not fun! That’s because we’re laboring under a 21st century evolution of an 18th century sense of optical focus. But the word "focus" is much older and much kinder.
The original Latin definition of focus is this: Hearth or fireplace. That’s literal. Figuratively, it can mean “home” or “family.” In post-classical times, “focus” came to mean “fire.”
Interesting then that we’re talking about focus and pizza. It sounds like a good idea. Pizza is nothing without fire and family. We make pizza in a home kitchen and serve it to people we love for the resulting joy it brings.
In pizza, focus is everything. It’s also the first thing you should be doing in pizza.
Here now, seven necessary focus points of pizza. We’ll be covering each one in a series of seven different blog posts:
Do six of those sound un-fun, with the seventh sounding like a re-tread from a motivational speaker? Yep. I get it. Stick with me. You're gonna like this. And we're going to start by covering the first of those seven areas.
What style of pizza do you want to make? Answering that question is not as easy as it sounds. That’s because most people don’t understand pizza styles at all. For most people, it's a binary choice between "That's pizza!" and "That's NOT pizza."
Generally, when people think of pizza, they think of something stereotypical. We’re talking a round crust covered in tomato sauce and cheese. For a few people, pizza is square and thick and covered in tomato sauce and cheese. But most people default to the round pizza.
The 1,700-page, 36-pound, three-volume Modernist Pizza is perhaps the definitive work on the history, science and making of pizza. Thinking as scientists, they developed a pizza taxonomy. They define nine styles of world pizza, and there are variations on each of those styles—plus other several other things that seem like pizza but aren’t.
My silly little, 133-page book, Free The Pizza!, (the kitchen scale says it weighs 12 ounces) is the opposite of Modernist Pizza. The goal is to prevent overwhelm. It keeps things as simple and focused as possible. That’s why the book has only one dough recipe.
The recipe is for a simple, Neapolitan-style dough—except it's made with the wrong kind of flour. After that, the dough is topped with the wrong kind of cheese, and is baked at too-low a temperature in the wrong kind of oven.
It’s a mongrel pizza—and you’ll love it. If you know anything about mongrel dogs, they are fantastic animals. People love them. What could be more American than the love of a mutt--or a mongrel pizza? We are a nation of mutts, proud and pizza-loving! So, at the risk of being called a dog, I'm going with mongrel pizza.
As a friend recently said of what comes out of my oven, “It will ruin you for any other pizza.” That’s quite a compliment. I also humbly disagree. There are plenty of better pizzas out there. Maybe not locally. But the important thing here is focus.
We're focusing on a style, even if it’s a cross-breed. It lets you make a pizza that really is better than most of what you can buy.
Is my focus wrong? Some will say yes. That’s because there’s all kinds of pizza chauvinism and machismo that is nonsense. Your dough is wrong. Your oven is wrong. Your sauce is wrong. Your hydration is wrong. Your cheese is wrong. Your flour is wrong.
Those people are focusing on the wrong thing. What we’re doing here is focusing on a specific style that’s been modified for the newbie home pizzamaker. To borrow from bread and pizza guru Peter Reinhart, the only rule you’re required to follow is the flavor rule that flavor rules.
If you focus on a single style, you become adept at it. Your pizza starts out good, and gets better and better.
A longtime restaurant pro once took a bite of my mongrel pizza and exclaimed: “You don’t want to open a restaurant!? Why!?” The answer is simple: That’s not my focus.
My focus is making the pizza for friends that she was eating as a friend. At that moment in time, that pizza was the amalgamation of all my years making pizza brought together in that single bite that made her so happy that she became ebullient. (In other words, her head kind of exploded. That’s always fun.)
Focus on a style of pizza and that’s how you become proficient at pizza. That style of pizza becomes your companion. You learn how to dance together. You can always acquire more companions for other dances later.
So, what style of pizza do you want to make? The reason I wrote Free The Pizza! the way I did was to eliminate the need for a decision. It’s a book that takes a couple of hours to read at most. At the end of it, you should be able to make a great pizza.
If you want to make other styles of pizza, that’s easy to work out. I recommend my style for the beginner only because it works and the dough is as simple as dough gets. I’m presently writing a book about New York-style pizza. After that will be a book about Detroit-style pizza. Each one is focused.
Next week, we zero in on focus #2: The Oven. (And I know you know I have an opinion about that.)
If you’re interested in giving it as a holiday gift, or just reading more about Free The Pizza! (A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Anytime You Want With The Oven You Already Have), click this link and it’ll take you to 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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