The Midweek Modernist Pizza Report: Cross-Crusting, Dough Problems, And Enough Recipes To Make Your Head Fly Off (The Pizza Dough Recipes Chapter)
The Ongoing Modernist Pizza Review, Volume 2, Chapter 7, "Pizza Dough Recipes"
Written by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya
Published by The Cooking Lab; First edition, October 19, 2021
Hardcover: 1708 pages, 32.7 pounds, 13.78 x 10.24 x 15.94 inches
List Price: $425.00
Amazon discount price as of 03/08/23: $294.99
Is Cross-Crusting a deviant pizza behavior? What would happen if you used the “wrong” dough for the type of pizza you wanted? Would you be ostracized? Hell no! This is science!
Welcome to the review of Chapter 7, “Pizza Dough Recipes,” in Volume 2 of Modernist Pizza. This is the one you've been waiting for. Or not. Depends on who you are and how much you care. Some folks will lose their minds. It's DOUGH!
So what does happen if you want to make a certain type of pizza with a different style of dough? Let’s say you want to make New York-style pizza with Neapolitan-style dough? Or thin-crust pizza with the dough for Detroit-style pan pizza?
This is the chapter that talks about a “transgression” that I’ve been making for a couple of years: Using a Neapolitan-style dough in a home oven, which is not hot enough to make traditional Neapolitan-style pizza. What is wrong with that? Am I committing a crime against pizze—especially when I suggest doing it in my own silly little book?
To answer such questions, the first thing that happens if you’re the Modernistas is: Experiments! They found a lot of their doughs to be interchangeable with good results. Some don’t work. Like, the thick-crust doughs didn’t make great thin-crust pizzas. Brazilian thin-crust dough made a lousy focaccia, apparently. But I feel vindicated: when they did the experiment that replicated my personal method of Neapolitan-style dough baked at lower temps, it yielded something I’ve known for years: it was “crispier, but it’s still delicious.” Yay!
There are, of course, photos. We’re talking three and a half pages of photographic evidence of the results of cross-crusted pizzas. It’s only 5am as I’m reading Modernost Pizza and writing this note, and I’m suddenly jonesing for pizza.
Oh, and there are also a couple of photos of their cross-crusting failures. Just in case you ever wondered what a focaccia baked with Brazil-style thin-crust dough might look like, it’s here.
The next section is one that’s going to thrill serious dough heads. It’s Modernist Pizza’s “Our Variations.” Mhyrvold and Migoya briefly explain their pizza dough variations—13 of them, in fact. An uneven baker’s dozen. How fitting! And as brief as each description is, you find that they are economical and informative, as always.
And let’s follow that with another short section that has a lot of gravity for a certain, sad segment of the pizza-loving population: “Gluten-free Pizza Testing.” If you don’t understand why no gluten is a pizza problem, here’s Mhyrvold and Migoya’s simple explanation: “After all, gluten is the critical component that allows the dough to trap gas effectively and gives the crumb its texture.”
Take away the gluten, and you take away the complex construction of bread. When we’re talking about pizza, that means there’s nothing there to hold a pizza together. You get a hard baked slurry with tomato and cheese. Maybe. I just made up that part, but I’ll go with it for now.
In reading the gluten-free section, I’m struck by the familiarity of challenges. I’ve tried with no great success to replicate pizza in a gluten-free edition. I feel a little better about that when reading this book. The challenges illuminated by the Modernistas highlight just how difficult the task of gluten-free pizza is. And if a team with such vast resources as these pros find it challenging, it’s certainly not a task for us mere mortals to solve. But I admit that I’m looking forward to trying their gluten-free flour formulation to see what the heck happens.
Quick! Fast dough! As far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing. I just don’t bother trying. My fastest dough is either a 24-our cold ferment—or else store-bought. And while the “When You’re In A Hurry Section” says I’m wrong, it might as well say I’m right. Fast dough is an unfortunate lesson in compromise. Modernist Pizza doesn’t say it quite so brazenly. But they say enough.
There’s a section of “Common Dough Problems” that will be familiar to many readers. There are also photos and solutions. The “What Dough To Pick?” section advises what dough you might want based on such statements as “I’m in a hurry” or “I’m new to dough,” or (my personal favorite) “I’m modernist.” (Not exactly sure that means beyond embracing a philosophy of cooking that involves a better pizza by trying different things.” But if so, I think I’m modernist with a lower-case “m.” I’m just not as good or as hardcore as these guys.)
Then come The Recipes. I subscribe to a philosophy of a simple pizza manual for the pizza beginner. I give background and then instructions for one type of pizza. My own silly little book guides the newbie from zero to pizza in a very short time. But in Modernist Pizza? That does not happen here. This is the other end of the spectrum. It will overwhelm the newbie. The expert will be thrilled. There will be much rejoicing. For others, there will be tears and rocking in a corner.
For an example of the possible overwhelm, the first recipe is the Master Recipe for thin-crust pizza. There are comprehensive instructions covering two and a half pages. That’s in part because it includes machine-mixing options for six different styles of electric mixer. Then, there are two different “ingredient variations.” That’s followed by another Master Recipe for Brazilian thin-crust pizza, and three ingredient variations on that. Two styles of pizza and we already have seven recipes. See where we’re going here?
And yes: photographs are involved. And as with all Modernist photography, the images are exceptional. Here, that includes possibly the most gorgeous Chicago-style deep-dish pizza ever. It’s topped with (among other things) flowers. And besides the three ingredient variations for that Chicago-style deep-dish pizza’s dough, there’s also a “submaster recipe” adapted from Pizzeria Uno. Then, there are four ingredient variations on Neapolitan dough, including the Modernist version, a poolish dough, a dough containing rye, the AVPN version of the dough, and an emergency dough.
The New York-style recipes are interesting. There are seven total variations, including two submasters. Two of those latter recipes are for the famed and apparently inexplicable Quad-Cities style pizza of Iowa and Illinois. And there are two more submaster recipes for fans of the Modernistas’ least favorite pizza, New Haven-style “apizza” (pronounced “ah-beets,” from a Neapolitan colloquial pronunciation for pizza). A note on the apizza recipe: It’s a bit different than the recipe that Peter Reinhart suggests for apizza. His is a neo-Neapolitan dough containing sugar and oil. The Modernist Pizza recipe contains neither. Wherefore the dichotomy? No idea.
And in a case of potential overwhelm, get ready. After presenting recipes for 10 master doughs and dozens of variants, there are 18 additional pages of further possible variations on those doughs, ranging from levain-raised options to flavored variations to no-knead versions, just to name a few.
This borders on mind boggling. That said, I’m fascinated. For example, while I’ve never loved the pizza that results from no-knead dough, I’m now curious about where these variations can lead for Neapolitan and New York-style.
There are also recipes for purées that can be added to the doughs. They cover purées of sunchoke, grilled corn, pressure-caramelized shiitake mushroom, and pressure-caramelized cauliflower. (Pressure caramelization? I guess my pressure cooker’s not just for lamb shanks any more…)
Next up in Chapter 8: Why we put sauce on pizza, and other answers related to the great questions of life, the universe and pizza.
If the idea of owning a copy of Modernist Pizza attracts you like a moth to the candle flame, you can find it here. If you want a skinnier, simpler, sillier book that teaches only one kind of pizza, you can find Free The Pizza! here.
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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