Sunday, January 9, 2011


up, up and...

Never, ever take pizza for granted. You thought it was simple? Some flour, yeast, salt, olive oil for the crust. Some tomato sauce or whatever over that, then whatever you want.

Easy? Yeah? Hey, Pal. Tell ya what. Try makin' one some time and tell me all abouddit.

First, the dough. A perfect harmony of springiness and elasticity, capable of being stretched, thrown in the air and shaped to the perfect thin crust shape. Not enough stretchiness and it tears, leaving sauce-leaking holes. Too much elasticity and it shrinks back as soon as you shape it. Worse, it has to taste good, too.

The crust needs to taste wheaty, toasty, crunchy and chewy all at once. It should not taste yeasty. It has to be cooked all the way through, no raw doughy line - despite the detail where it can go from wafer thin Neapolitan to thick and bready, or anything in between.

Shaping it can be easy or... whoops! A pizza can be completely hand shaped. Tossing is optional. But what fun is a pizza that you can't toss? Of course, it works much better as a pizza than a hat. Place the partially shaped dough on your knuckles, the fingers of both hands curled down. With a deft crossing/twisting movement, the dough is propelled skyward, perfectly vertically, spinning rapidly and widening. If any unwanted vectors emerge, the dough veers perilously off course where it must be intercepted before it hits a solid object or, worse, the floor. The catch must be correct, too. A bad catch leads to folded over dough and more work.

The sauce is relatively simple. Just the right stock base, tomatoes, herbs, etc. in the right proportion. Or pesto, cream or oil based. Well, not simple exactly but at least something I'm familiar with.

If all this is good, the thing still has to be baked. If you have a 650° F stone lined pizza oven, this will probably not be a problem. If you have a wood-burning oven, even better. If you're at home, you'll probably be OK if you get your pizza stone hot enough.

So, my first attempt to make my own pizza from scratch basically rose to the level of your average supermarket frozen pizza. The sauce was better. The toppings were about the same. The crust, however, just didn't make me want to sing like Caruso. It was too dry, too crunchy. Not that wonderful mix of bubbly, chewy and crispy that I was looking for. Back to formula.

The next time I go to a great pizza place, I'll certainly be much more appreciative!

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