A Pizza Story.

First, I shall apologize for not blogging in about 6 weeks or so.  My 6 year old laptop finally kicked the bucket, so I was out of a computer for a while.  However, I’m the proud owner of a shiny new Macbook, and I’m back in business.

Now, on to the food.  I’ve had a huge obsession as of late when it comes to making pizza at home.  I’ve been chasing the perfect pie much like the whale was hunted in Moby Dick.  Before attempting to play pizzeria at home, I did some serious reading on what makes a good dough in terms of both preparation and baking.  After hours of research, I got elbow deep in the good stuff.

Attempt #1:  Making pizza for Valerie, Patrick, and Sarah.  For the dough, I used this recipe.  The only thing I changed was the flour.  I used AP flour rather than “00” flour.  I understand that “00” flour has a higher protein content, therefore allowing for the release of more gluten (kneading releases gluten from protein in the dough etc. etc.).  Higher gluten = better crust flavor.  More on this later.  Regardless, AP flour suffices.  I made the dough in the afternoon, let it rise, and then stored it in the fridge.  I had great difficulty stretching the dough when it came time to cook.  As for baking, the only way to go when making pizza at home is using a pizza stone in an oven that has been preheated to 475-500 degrees.  The oven needs to rock steady at this temperature for at least 30 minutes as well to give the stone time enough to get hotter than the sun.

The dough yielded two very small and bready pizzas due to the difficulties stretching the dough.  The bottom was certainly crispy, but for me, the overall package didn’t cut it.  FYI, I topped the pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, salami, kalamata olives, mushrooms, and roasted red peppers.

Attempt #2:  The following weekend, I wanted to give pizza another shot, so I recruited friends Maggie and Phillip as victims.  After careful reasoning, I got in in my head that the dough’s poor performance the first time was due to me a) refridgerating it and b) not letting it rest on the counter long enough, allowing it to come to room temperature before stretching.  For this go around, I made the dough right before I was ready to cook the pizza.  This extra preparation still yield a pretty bad result.  Drats.

Before my next attempt, I needed further research.  I consulted Alton Brown and his infinite wisdom.  The Good Eats episode “Flat is Beautiful” covers the process of making pizza at home (part 1 and part 2).  As always, Alton Brown had all the right answers.  GLUTEN.  I had not been kneading the dough for long enough; therefore, I hadn’t been developing the proper amount of gluten.  I had previously only been kneading for 7-10 minutes.  I needed (pun intended) to step up my game.

Attempt #3:  While at my parents’ house for Christmas, I decided to make pizza for my dad’s birthday.  I continued on with the Tyler Florence recipe, but I went for the extra long knead.  15 minutes.  By hand.  Non stop.  It was back breaking work (especially since I was making two batches!).  I also made the dough 24 hours in advance and did the refrigerator rise as shown in the Good Eats episode above.  These pizzas were to be topped with olives, mushrooms, cheese, and spinach.

Overall, the extra knead yielded a damn good result.  The pizzas streched much better, allowing for a crisper crust.  I was finally proud of my output.

I was going to retire from pizza for awhile when I was perusing the local Trader Joe’s this morning.  In the fresh foods section, they sell pizza dough rounds for a whopping 99 cents.  I was lured in and decided to purchase the whole wheat round not expecting too much.

Attempt #4:  The whole wheat dough round from Trader Joe’s stretched quite large.  I was able to make a 14 inch circle with this little ball.  So far, so good.  I topped this bad boy with some tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, hot italian sausage (chicken sausage), and roasted red peppers.  I threw it on the preheated pizza stone for about 10 minutes, and the result was…well…it…was…perfect.  Seriously.  This pizza tasted better than almost any pizza I’ve had before, anywhere.  I’m assuming that since the dough was kneaded for a long time by a machine that it had a high gluten content which produced a super crisp crust for me when stretched and baked.  I guess I’m going to put off making crust for a while and just stick to the Trader Joe’s dough!

I learned a lot from my 1 month journey with home pizza.  I used to be afraid of working with dough but no longer.  I also learned that good pizza is made on a stone at home.  Accept no substitutions.  Treat yourself to the 20$ stone and take care of it.  It’s well worth it.  I also learned to always stretch pizza by hand.  Don’t use a rolling pin.  It knocks the air out of the crust.  Seriously.  Don’t do it.

I’m sure you are wondering why I went through all this trouble when I could just pick up the phone and order delivery or eat a frozen pizza that tastes pretty decent.  Well, first of all, Washington, DC has bad pizza.  Delivery pizza here sucks.  There are some strong pizzerias that produce authentic  and overwhelmingly delicious pies (2 Amy’s and Pizza Paradiso come to mind), but a) they aren’t close to my house, b) they don’t deliver, and c) look at the prices on the menu.  These aren’t pizzas you eat while watching football on TV.  Making pizza at home is cheap.  The cost of producing the dough is non existent because it’s mostly made of pantry items.  I always seem to have some cheese and tomato sauce lying around the house.  Creating something tasty at home always leads to a sense of personal satisfaction as well (at least for me it does).  Plus, I can control the quality of my ingredients and toppings.

I wish I could give you all a picture of my pizzas, but unfortunately, I can’t find my USB cable for my camera.  I’ll get some up in the next week or so.  Until then, I hope that I’ve inspired one or two of my readers to get in the kitchen and make some dough.

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3 responses to “A Pizza Story.

  1. So I’ve been trying to make pizza for a while now, as it’s a great meal and super cheap. I’ve been pretty happy with the results, but I wouldn’t call it restaurant quality. Thanks for the blog and all the info…I’ll have to check out those Good Eats episodes.

    Do you do anything special for the pizza sauce — just a can of sauce?

    Also, one thing I did learn in my many attempts to make pizza is that if the dough isn’t stretching well, just stretch it out to what you can, cover it with a towel for 10 minutes, and work on it later.

    Also, since I’ve moved to SF, I’ve been converted to Chicago style pizza. Partly because there’s an amazing Chicago style pizzeria about 4 blocks from my house and the fact that I haven’t found a good NY pizza place yet.

  2. I really appreciate you breaking your back for me, it was delicious. #4 sounds good too.

  3. Ryan – I’ve just been using Trader Joe’s pizza sauce. It’s about $1.50 a jar, and it packs enough sauce for about 5 pizzas. If I was inclined to make my own, I would start with a can of unsalted tomato sauce and add whatever spices float your boat.

    I highly recommend watching the Good Eats episodes. They definitely contain pertinent info to pizza success.

    I too like Chicago pizza but certainly not over NY style. I’ll have to check out this Chicago style place when I finally make it out to SF.

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