I ruminate about pizza from time to time. “Time to time” is, of course, a relative term. I’m not saying I think about pizza as often as, say, every seven seconds, but it’s certainly on my mind several times a day.
That said, I’m not obsessed, liked my friend Philip Rosenberg. Philip, his son (Christopher), and his godson Gus Hoffman’s brother Sam are featured in The Fiery Furnace, written by Renée Downing for the March April issue of Edible Baja. (Edible Baja is a beautiful magazine.) Philip is a consummate professional. He’s a two-oven man. He’s got a notebook/spreadsheet which tracks flour sources, hydration percentages, rising times, etc. He buys flour in bulk from specialty millers. Philip is serious about his pizzas!
Me? Not so much. I do measure ingredients now, by weight measured in grams. I don’t use “a cup of this and teaspoon of that.” That concession to competency aside, though, I use store-bought flour, Costco yeast, and tap water, beer, or Champagne.
Note the fact that I have focused totally on the crust. For me, that’s the ball game. I use Trader Joe’s Fat Free Pizza Sauce, and with a good crust, decent cheese, and other toppings, all is well in the world!
I do need to share a few thoughts about the pizza thing.
- Liquids. Beer? Champagne? Late last year I was inspired by Attention: Pizza Dough with Beer and Three Champagne Pizza Recipes, both by Andris Lagsdin for BakingSteel.com. Lots of success with both liquids. Cut down on sugar a bit—there’s plenty in the beer or Champagne—and add a few extra grains of salt to avoid an overly sweet crust. And, although the beer recipe calls for pumpkin beer, that was a bridge too far for me.
- Let it rise. Recipes for yeast-based products measure rising time in hours, usually at the lower end of single digits. I think the short rising time assumes a desire to go from raw ingredients to bread or pizza in one day. Bad policy! This piece was prompted by a 15-day cold rise report. Yeast lives, and like some among us—and up to a point, only—the longer it lives, the more interesting it gets. The Pizza Lab: How Long Should I Let My Dough Cold Ferment? by Kenji López-Alt for SeriousEats.com explains. (I suspect that, just as some among us may be past their “sell by” date, a 15-day rise may not a bad idea.)
- Mise-en-place. Mise-en-place means “putting in place” in French. In the kitchen, it’s a fancy term for having everything ready when you start cooking. Pizza demands mise-en-place. If you’ve shaped your crust and are ready to start grating your cheese, you’ve failed!
- Baking Steel. The best pizzas I’ve ever had, anywhere, came from my friend Philip’s pizza oven, and that universe includes pizzas from some world-renowned pizzerias. That said, my pizzas are much, much better than they were before I bought the Baking Steel. Inspired by Nathan Myhrvold, the Baking Steel is the best product I’ve found, short of having a wood burning pizza oven.
- Cornmeal or Semolina. A pizza peel—the long handled wooden or metal paddle used as a base for forming the pizza and getting it into the oven—is a must have tool. Cornmeal or semolina is an essential part of using the peel, however. Either product, sprinkled lightly over the peel before the dough goes down, provides a set of “ball bearings” which allow the pie to slide off the peel, onto the baking surface. Instructions: (A) Peel sloping slightly downward, end just above the mid-point on the surface. (B) Quick wrist action, jerking peel back toward you, laying the pie down on the surface. Eccolo! [Note: Loading on ingredients will make the effort more difficult. Pizza is a simple food, not a casserole on dough!]
- Greens. I believe my first pizza con arugala came out of the kitchen at Scordato’s Pizzeria in Tucson. Increasingly, it’s a standard for me. The greens get added when the pie is done. The heat wilts the greens adequately, leaving just enough light crunch to complement the other textures. Greens also cut the richness associated with melting cheese and hot, salty meat. I like arugala because of its spicy notes, but Romaine—chiffonade it—or spinach both work well.
So now it’s time to eat. Alas, you’re not seeing anything. Stay tuned; pics when the pies are baked!