by j4c11 » December 8th, 2016, 11:57 am
I've been working on achieving the perfect pizza for about 8 years now . Obviously "perfect" is going to mean different things to different folks, but along the way I have learned quite a few valuable lessons that I think apply to all pizza making. Some of the lessons were already out there when I first started, but I considered them snobbery and went the easy route. The easy route takes you into the weeds, as always.
Here's my tips for a great pizza:
Never blindly follow recipes. Conditions vary from kitchen to kitchen, ingredients vary, tastes vary. If a recipe calls for 20 minutes cook time and it's starting to look done after 15, don't let the stuff burn just because the recipe said 20. If the recipe calls for 3 minutes mix time and it still looks lumpy, give it some more time. Have your common sense with you and apply it.
For pizza dough it is best to use a sourdough yeast. Sourdough yeast not only imparts flavor to the dough, but it also changes the dough characteristics by making it more acidic. Sourdough feels different, stretches different, caramelizes different, tastes different. It is a bit more work but well worth the effort. I have been using an "Ischia Island" sourdough culture for the past 8 years. Care is easy, I store it in a couple mason jars in the fridge and it has gone up to 8 months without feeding. Some flour, a little bit of sugar and some warm water and it never fails to resurrect to once again produce the perfect dough. The culture is available commercially and if you do decide to go that route, follow the directions to the letter for activation and have patience, it will take a while and it will smell bad before it smells good.
Pizza dough is made with high protein flour, salt, water, yeast and nothing else. The process is simple: add the flour, yeast and salt to your KitchenAid bowl and an equal amount of warm water by volume(e.g one cup flour, one cup water). Mix with the paddle attachment on medium for 3 minutes, this will result in a very wet mixture. Cover the whole thing and allow to sit for 30 minutes to absorb the water and hydrolize. After 30 minutes rest time, begin mixing again at high speed for 3 minutes, then switch back to medium and add flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to form a ball on the paddle. Switch to the hook attachment. Continue to add flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl. Dough consistency should be that of a baby's behind - soft and smooth.
PRO TIP: when using a KitchenAid, the dough tends to form a ball on the hook and then just spin around. To overcome this, lift the mixer head slightly every 15-20 seconds, it will "throw" the dough off the hook.
Once the dough is well kneaded, it should be cold fermented for about 3 days. Bummer, but this is not something you want to skip if you want that light crisp bubbly crust. Cut the dough into individual portions, form into a ball and store in the fridge inside lightly oiled plastic containers. The containers should be sealed, leaving one corner slightly open to allow gasses to escape. The dough should be used no sooner than 3 days and no later than 7 days after placing in the fridge.
The pizza sauce is the hardest to master, but the secret lies in its simplicity. Use whole peeled canned tomatoes which you can crush with a fork into a rough sauce. Drain out about 90% of the liquid and add garlic powder, salt, pepper, italian seasoning and fennel. Put it in a jar and allow it to sit for 3 days with the dough in the fridge. The sauce will cook on the pizza.
Good mozarella is hard to find. Do not use the Bel Gioso Mozarella balls in whey, as tempting as they look, they have vinegar as a preservative and taste awful on pizza. Get the best whole milk mozarella blocks you can find. BUY BLOCKS, NOT SHREDDED. This is important.
Cut a rectangular piece of cardboard large enough to hold your pizza. Flour the cardboard well. Take the dough out of the fridge, uncover and let sit at room temp for 30 minutes. Stretch the dough ball into pizza shape using flour to keep it from sticking to the surface and your hands, place it on the cardboard and apply the sauce. Cut the cheese into chunks, about pinky finger size, and spread evenly over the pizza. For a 16" pizza you should use about half a pound of cheese.
(Let's take a detour here and explain why were not shredding the cheese. Shredded cheese immediately melts and forms a layer on top of the sauce. This layer prevents moisture from evaporating out of the sauce, which has 3 effects: first, it makes for soggy pizza. Second, it limits the temperature at which the tomato cooks, basically boiling it. Loss of flavor ensues. Third, it causes the cheese to slide off the pizza when you take a bite.)
Apply toppings as desired. Once pizza is assembled, shake the cardboard back and forth to make sure pizza is not stuck to it.
The more you use the cardboard, the easier it gets and the less the dough sticks.
Pizza should be cooked at 550-600 degrees Fahrenheit on a pizza stone. The stone help to draw moisture out of the dough and create a crispy crust. At this temperature, cooking time is ~5 minutes, but will vary depending on conditions. When the stone has been pre-heated and is up to temp, slide the pizza off the cardboard and onto the stone. The pizza is done when the crust caramelizes and the cheese is uniformly melted.