There’s nothing quite like realizing you’ve never made pizza.
Sure, I’ve made my share of “quick, one-hour” pizzas and even this whole wheat disaster (sorry Erin, I’m sure yours was great), but it wasn’t until I read The Pizza Bible–by internationally-renowned pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani–that I realized I’d never made real pizza. Funny thing about blind spots, my dad says, is you can’t see them and until that fated hour, pizza was–most regrettably–one of my cooking blind spots (that’s a real thing).
My sister and I were reading in companionable silence one afternoon when, all of a sudden, I started to swear: over and over. Elise, my sister, looked up–quite confused–and asked me what was wrong, to which I replied: “I’ve never made real pizza.” I then followed-up this statement by babbling incoherently about fermentation and gluten networks, reveling in my newly-found knowledge and gesticulating wildly at the glossy images contained in The Pizza Bible.
Tony Gemignani begins The Pizza Bible by thoroughly explaining the theory behind his pizzas and ends with some fabulous recipes, my favorite of which is the Cal-Italia: a ménage à trois of mozzarella, asiago and gorgonzola, topped with proscuitto, fig jam and a balsamic reduction (sometimes I like to swap truffle oil for the balsamic, or use both).
I finished the book and immediately wanted to make pizza dough, so job well done, Mr. World Champion. However, the list of necessary materials was slightly daunting, so I didn’t try out his master dough recipe until months later, after the Christmas season left me with a second stone, a dough scraper and a peel I didn’t ask for (that was given under serendipitous circumstances).
Armed with the basic necessities on Gemignani’s list, I made the investment in some high-protein flour and a gram scale (which has since proved itself indispensable in the process of making morning coffee as well).
So, if you read The Pizza Bible and find yourself thinking: “Gee Tony, this is great, but I’m not getting all that extra stuff,” know you are not alone. And while you do need some of that stuff, after making the master dough many times, I can pare down the list for you: one can get by with a second stone, a gram scale and a pizza peel (and you could probably use a thin cookie sheet in place of the latter). Now, the process might be easier if you follow all of Gemignani’s suggestions, but if you don’t want to buy all the extras I’d still recommend adding those two or three items to your arsenal.
My only other criticism, besides the daunting shopping list, would be that The Pizza Bible lacks a gluten-free recipe. Tony addresses this issue by explaining that a great gluten-free crust can be achieved, but it’s complicated and that’s why he included alternative flour recipes in lieu of gluten-free. (I appreciated that he included such a note to alleviate my disappointment.)
I’m not really in with the pizzaiolo world, so before The Pizza Bible, I’d never heard of Gemignani. Oddly enough, shortly thereafter, I learned that the head chef of a local pizzeria–Andolini’s–was certified at Tony Gemignani’s school, which made immediate sense: the crusts are very similar. (Sorry, Tony. But now I have a huge foodie crush on you, so it’s okay, right?) For you Tulsa people, yes, it’s pretty much like your kitchen is Andolini’s.
It’s kind of trendy right now for a cookbook to be narrowly focused: it’s an egg cookbook. Or a kale cookbook. Or the cookbook promises to finally explain what harissa actually is. And, y’know, that’s great–if a bit pandering–but this is one hyper-specific cookbook that I wholeheartedly recommend. It’s indispensable for all the readers who think they love pizza as much as I do. (I mean, you’re probably wrong, but it’s cute that you think that.)
- 453 grams high protein flour (you'll need 13%-15% protein, I use King Arthur Bread Flour or order Antimo Caputo through Amazon)
- 4.5 grams active dry yeast (not optional)
- 9 grams diastatic malt (optional, I don't use it)
- 9 grams fine sea salt (not optional)
- 5 grams extra virgin olive oil (also not optional)
- 225 grams ice water (yes, this too)
- 70 grams lukewarm water (please stop asking me that)
- Measure out all your ingredients using a gram scale.
- Proof the yeast in the lukewarm water for about 5 minutes, until it is foamy and smells like it will become bread.
- If you're using malt, add it to the flour at this point. I don't use it because when I looked online, the shipping cost exceeded the cost of the actual product. But the malt helps the pizza brown to a rich golden and adds a slightly nutty flavor, so if you can get a hold of it, I'd recommend trying it out.
- If not using malt, just add the ice water to the flour and stir a few times.
- Then add the yeast and lukewarm water mixture to the flour.
- Start to work the dough with your hands, rotating and pressing it into a single mass. If the dough is crumbly or dry, add tiny amounts of water until all the crumbs are incorporated.
- Work in the salt, as you continue to mix the dough.
- Finally, add the oil and continue to mix.
- Now, you need to knead it a little more. I do this on a clean, slightly floured counter top: take out the dough ball and place it on your counter. As you push the dough towards you with your left hand, push your right hand into the dough at a 45 degree angle, while rotating the dough through this pushing motion. If the dough didn't exist, you'd be pushing your right palm into your left hand and moving both in a circular motion. Use the counter top, pushing down towards it, into your left hand. The smooth surface will help the dough become smooth and solid.
- The dough may have a couple bumps after 2-3 minutes of the above step, but that's okay. Curb your urge to over-knead and put the dough ball in a clean, oiled bowl and let it rise at room temperature for about an hour, covered with a slightly damp towel.
- The dough won't double in bulk, but it'll be noticeably larger. If you want to ferment the dough for two days, moisten the surface of the dough with a few drops of water and refrigerate for 24 hours. Make sure it has room to rise, by 25 to 50 percent. If you want to speed up the process, skip to the next step.
- After an hour's rise, carefully remove the dough from the bowl to degas. The yeast is activated and a gluten network is forming, so don't rip, smash or otherwise manhandle the dough. I usually push on the dough in the bowl to deflate it and then pick it up, quickly moving it to rest on the counter. Tony weighs his dough exactly, but I just half the dough at this point and form balls with it. When you're forming the balls, you'll want to carefully fold the disk of dough into halves, then pinch the ends to create a seal, repeating this motion a couple times until the dough is a tight ball. If it happens to rip, pinch the rip to seal the dough again. You should end up with two smooth balls of dough, any seam or edge tucked underneath the ball.
- Ferment the two balls on a cookie sheet covered in parchment (the dough will get sticky), wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and foil over that, if you want to go all out. This should happen overnight, or for 24 hours. (And that's another 24 hours, if you chose to do the bulk fermenting step before balling the dough.)
- You'll want to take the dough out of the fridge at the same time you heat the oven, about an hour before you want to make the pizza. Let the dough sit out wrapped, until it comes to room temperature.
- Once you're ready to make the pizza, have your ingredients ready and heat up your oven as hot as it will go (with the stones inside) for about an hour. I use that hour to prep my sauces and toppings, then shape my dough right before I am ready to bake.
- To form the pizza dough, carefully peel back the plastic and separate the dough balls. I use a metal cutter, but you could use a spatula or something with a good edge to achieve the same result. After the disks are separated, carefully lift them off the pan onto your floured counter top. I use a mixture of the bread flour and fine cornmeal to dust the dough, in an effort to mimic a semolina texture.
- Flatten the dough into a smooth, circular disk and push about an inch inside the edge all around the circle, to create the crust. Continue pressing the dough to widen the circle, without smashing the outside rim.
- I typically get the inside of the crust pressed out thin (as thin as possible, without causing the dough to tear or rip), then lift the dough onto my hands and stretch it out, moving my fists from the center of the dough to the outside, while gently turning the dough. It's going to feel like you're tossing and stretching the dough at the same time; you'll feel like a world champion.
- I then place the dough on a lightly floured pizza peel and top the pizza, working quickly to make sure it doesn't stick to the peel.
- Bake at 450 to 500 degrees (on your top rack stone) for 6 minutes, but be wary, because every oven is different. You'll want to transfer the dough (to the bottom stone) when the crust is beginning to brown and the cheese is melted, but not brown. Bake for about 5 minutes after transferring the pizza to the bottom stone.
- Remove from the oven when the cheese is golden brown. The bottom of the crust should lift easily and be evenly browned. Let it rest for about 5 minutes, then slice and let it rest a little more if the cheese is still runny.
- Top with any finishing ingredients and serve (I let mine rest on a big wooden cutting board and serve directly from it).
- If you're making a second pizza, make sure you give your stones a quick brush over the sink before returning them to the hot oven. You don't want nasty burnt flour on the bottom of your second pizza after all that work.
- If I am making a second pizza (one pizza will feed 2-3 people), I prep the second while the first is baking, so that I can heat the first while it is hot and the second is baking. Pro tip.
- Serve and enjoy!
Policy bite: Please comment on the dietary guidelines recommendations, which were recently issued by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). You’ve got until May 8th. I know it’s a lot to read through, but one hot-button issue is whether the guidelines should suggest less meat, specifically red meat, in favor of other animal sources like fish, or plant alternatives. The other major hot-button issue is whether the guidelines should make recommendations regarding sustainability and the environment. Big business is upset about the proposed recommendations, but since approximately 80% of us are getting the protein we need and 90% of us are not getting the vegetables we need, I think a recommendation to cut back on meat is both necessary and courageous of the DGAC. Furthermore, I think that the nutritional value of our food is inexorably tied to how we treat the land and organisms that produce our food, so it seems silly to me that people are upset about the DGAC’s consideration of sustainability and the environment and I believe any recommendation that can make people think more mindfully about their consumption is worthwhile. If the only people commenting are those who stand to lose from the recommendations, we’re in trouble. Lend your voice to the conversation, if you can!
Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Blogging For Books, in exchange for my honest opinion (to be posted) on their site and mine. I’ve been pretty impressed with Blogging For Books, because they sent me The Pizza Bible last year and haven’t bugged me once about following through on my end of the deal, which really surprised me.
Notes: 1) You’re going to have to plan ahead if you want to make real pizza, so if you didn’t have a reason to menu plan before, there you go. If that’s bad news to you and your cluttered existence, the good news is that this master dough is a breeze to throw together at night before you go to bed. And I actually haven’t fermented the full two days, so you can skip the bulk fermenting and use the dough the next evening. 2) I have been using King Arthur’s bread flour and it works well in the master dough recipe. I couldn’t find any of Gemignani’s flour suggestions, even in Whole Foods, so I looked instead for the right percentage. You want a flour that’s 12%-14% protein. 3) Use good ingredients: the right percentage flour, filtered water, fresh olive oil, real sea salt, etc. There aren’t many ingredients, so there’s no where for bad-tasting ingredients to hide. 4) I love experimenting with different sauces, toppings and making the pizzas special by adding what Gemignani calls “finish line ingredients,” like a parsley and garlic gremolata on a pepperoni pizza, or fried leeks on a venison and morel pizza (with a white truffle bechamel!), as pictured in this post. 5) Don’t be daunted by the steps, because the more you make it, the easier it gets. Here’s a link to a similar recipe (which you can make without the starter), if you find my directions confusing. And here’s a video of Gemignani on YouTube (where you can find many more). You should also visit Gemignani’s website and order the book, because you need the Cal-Italia in your life.
Recipe slightly adapted and reprinted from The Pizza Bible: The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and more, by Tony Gemignani, Copyright © 2014, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.