When homemade pizza gone wrong tastes right, but don't try this at home. Just do this one brainless thing instead.
I just made a pizza the wrong way and it was magnificent.
I made it using the not-quite Neapolitan dough recipe in Free The Pizza: A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have.
I'm eating it right now in fact. I'm drinking my fresh morning coffee (an Italian roast), the birds are singing, and I’m eating one of the tastiest cold pizza slices ever.
This all started with a bag of expensive flour that says it's past its best-by date.
I usually just toss flour that’s past its date because I've suffered the heartbreak and embarrassment of no gluten development. (Beware, friends! It can happen to you!)
But this bag was unopened. It was also expensive. And I had just purchased it.
So I made a half batch of dough with twice the normal amount of yeast.
I also didn't follow all of my own directions. I'm such a gadfly!
I also made the dough with the intention of using it within 5 hours. (I rarely use a new dough before 36 hours. It just tastes much, much better. The yeast in there get busy and make magic--but not this day!)
I made the dough using autolyse, which is a process where the flour is allowed to sit and hydrate. After mixing all the ingredients into a shaggy ball, I let the ball sit for an hour and hydrate itself.
Then, kneading for 5 minutes, resting for 10 minutes, kneading again for 5 minutes, resting for 10, then kneading for a moment and checking windowpane. (The excitement now is palpable, right?)
Windowpane? Check! Let the fermentation begin!
Instead of doing three folds of the dough over the next hour, I just left it alone. I covered it for a two-hour bulk ferment, then divided it into two balls and let them proof at room temp for another 3 hours.
Meanwhile, this was an excuse to try another experiment.
I placed the baking steel on the middle rack of the oven, then placed another steel on a rack 6 inches above it. Instead of using the broiler method to get that fantastic char on top, I was using the double-steel method to see if it did any of the great things it promises to do.
My wife and I also had plans to go to dinner at 7 PM. So, at 5:15, I made a pizza.
Just one pizza. Small, at 12 inches. Cheese and sauce only.
The sauce was made from Bianco de Napoli organic tomatoes, heavily seasoned. (Heavy seasoning is something I do against the advice of the purists.)
The blend of hard-aged cheeses went down next: equal parts Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano, and sharp provolone.
That was followed by a Galbani low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella. Then into the oven.
The oven had been set at 550° and preheated for almost an hour. Both the top and bottom steels were measuring at almost 590°.
In went the pizza—perfectly.
And I wait, timer set at 3 minutes.
Occasionally, I peek at the pizza. The pizza peek is one of Those Things. Gotta see what's happening, especially when the boiler is engaged. (It's not engaged here, but habits die hard. I suspect it’s a fascination with transformation.)
While turning the pie at 3 minutes, I decide the photograph of it would be titled “When Cheese Attacks.” The molten cheese is bubbling angrily and looks as if it wishes to envelop Cincinnati.
At 6 minutes, which would be a long time when using the broiler, the pie is not yet looking as fully done as I'd like.
But I have no choice. It must be retrieved. The cheese has broken.
I let the pizza cool enough so it sets and can be eaten without involving a medical emergency.
The pizza's oven spring is not so good. The crumb is somewhat on the dense side.
But, behold the pizza!
The flavor of the dough is great, as is the flavor of the tomato and the flavor of the cheese and the flavor of everything they contain. This is pizza flavor synergy in action.
My wife does not wish to eat a lot of unnecessary bread. I give her a 1/8 slice of a 12-inch pizza.
She is understandably underwhelmed. She's tasted almost all of the 1000 pizzas I've made over the last 20 years.
This is nowhere near the best.
But here's the thing: I'm still loving the flavors. The Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes are great. The cheese blend kicks it up. Problems aside, we're witnessing some of the addictive auwalities of pizza at their best.
I eventually eat half of the 12-inch pizza, minus the 1/8 slice eaten by my wife. (We won’t be having dinner for several hours, and I anticipate it to be a modest repast.)
The remaining slices go into a bag and into the fridge.
I also admit, I ate two of those right before bed. The savory, cheesy tomato goodness cuts through like a knife and sings a siren song to my palate.
I am weak.
My pants don't fit.
Damn the siren song!
And the next morning, here I am: eating that final, cold slice with a cup of good, strong coffee.
Savory cheesey tomato goodness meets a mediocre crust with great flavor.
So many small things were done so wrong here.
And so much of it worked out so well.
I don't yet know if I'm chucking the flour. I have one more pizza to make.
We will see if the next pizza springs.
But I have my doubts.
And the lesson here?
Always check the best-by date—especially when you’re buying the flour or the yeast. With old flour or yeast, the chemistry is compromised. Checking can save you time, money, and unnecessary calories.
I bought this flour two weeks ago in a New England supermarket without checking. It traveled in the car and was back on the Mississippi Gulf Coast before I noticed it was six full months past its best-by date.
That’s why I’ve tested it to see if it flies. Twice the normal amount of yeast should have made it pop to excess--yet it did not.
I do these silly things so you don’t have to.
Wish me luck.
P.S. After making another pizza, the verdict is: To the trash can! The flour just doesn’t perform. So sad…
If you’d like to know more about the simple science of making pizza the right way, check out my simple, silly guide on how to make pizza in your home oven, called (oddly enough), Free The Pizza: A System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have.
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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