“What's the home pizza cooking mistake that cost you the most failures before realizing what it was?”
Earlier this week, a bunch of people I don't know went nuts for something I said about pizza. It was so surprising, that I’ve changed the plan for today's "Saturday Afternoon Pizza Post."
I was lurking around Quora, the “social question-and-answer website and online knowledge market.” That’s how Wikipedia describes it. I call it a social-media dogpile for people with the patience to read and write.
Someone asked, “What's the cooking mistake that cost you the most failures before you realized what it was?” Oh, is that an easy question to answer.
There are many cooking failures I’ve experienced, but none greater than pizza. I answered the question with about 600 words and one photograph.
And the dogpile began. It was unbelievable. People were going nuts for the answer. I have no idea why, other than it maybe it touched a nerve that they all understood. So I’ve decided to share that answer here. (Cleaned up and better edited, of course, for your Free The Pizza inner-circle reading enjoyment.)
So here it is. As shared on Quora, with periodic enhancements for you, dear reader…
By far, my biggest cooking mistake and most frequent failures were trying to make pizza. The big problem with making pizza at home is that Americans are conditioned to want things quickly and easily. That was certainly me. And once in awhile, I’d try to make pizza. It was always awful.
The reason my pizza was always awful is I was seeking the quick and easy solutions—which NEVER produce a good pizza. The mistakes include:
The thing that you learn if you take the time to study pizza is that when it comes to pizza dough, patience is everything. Using less yeast and waiting three days to make pizza makes a fantastic tasting crust. Letting the oven heat up for 90 minutes from zero matters. Letting the dough rest before baking makes it easier to stretch. All kinds of simple things make a huge difference.
But when actually baking the pizza, it’s the opposite: high heat and quick baking are essential. Using a high-quality stone--or (better yet) a nice, thick baking steel--does something very important: it makes the pizza dough “pop” the same way as in a professional pizza oven. That pop is called oven spring. That's one of the key challenges in making pizza, and steel helps make oven spring possible.
Now, we’re not talking about Neapolitan-tyle pizza, which requires a 900-degree oven. But a steel heated for an hour at 550F reaches 620F in my oven. And that makes a fantastic pizza crust. Placing the steel in the top third of the oven, and using the broiler when the pizza goes in, a typical bake in my home oven is about 6 minutes. My pizzas now look like this:
That’s an American-style artisan pizza made with a 3-day cold fermented dough, topped with low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella, pecorino Romano and Spanish chorizo, and garnished with scallions and cilantro. It’s mighty good. And anyone can learn how to do this.
I’ve been making pizza for over 20 years now, and I’ve even written a book about it. That’s because I hate to see people led astray and talked into making the same mistakes I did.
When you have context, understand the truth, and have some good, basic tools, pizza is surprisingly easy. And almost everybody loves pizza. I even have people in my kitchen telling me it’s the best pizza they’ve ever had.
(My pizza is pretty good, but it’s not the best I’ve ever had—but that’s only because I’m a fanatic. I’ve been to some of the world’s best pizzerias. That said, I do hold my own. I live across the street from a pizza joint, and I’d rather make pizza myself. There’s always dough in my freezer, tomatoes in my pantry and cheese in my fridge.)
If you’re interested in my book, which is less a cookbook and more just a fun-to-read manual for how to make a pizza, it’s on Amazon. It’s called Free The Pizza: How to Make Great Pizza Whenever you Want With The Oven You Already Have. I don’t make a lot of money on this thing. But I do get to share the joy of making pizza with the kind of people who care about such things. And that’s the best. Enjoy!
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?
When you click those links to Amazon (and a few other sites we work with), and you buy something, you are helping this website stay afloat, and you're helping us have many more glorious photographs of impressive pizza.