Tag Archives: Homemade pizza

Bubbles make great pizza

16 Apr

The last great pizza I had was at Brooklyn Central, a new Neapolitan-style joint in my old neighborhood. We’re talking thin crust wood-fired pizza here. With just the right amount of char and, equally important to me, lots of beautiful bubbles.

“You like these?” I said pointing to one of the three pies on the table, the Margherita I believe. “The bubbles I mean. You think they’re a good thing?”

I was speaking to my friends Tom and Beth, fine pizzaioli in their own right and regular customers of the place where we were eating. Tom, the verbose member of the pair, spent the rest of the pie-eating session advocating the bubbles-on-pizza theory.

Not only that, but he actually knew what he was yammering about. Clearly my friend had studied this crucial topic, so much so that I asked him to share his knowledge with all of us here.

Take it away, genius.

The bubble theory
by Tom Strenk

Bubbles are a sign of great pizza, but they’re more than that. Bubbles give baked goods their tender character, from the delicate sponge of a chocolate layer cake to the flaky layers of a croissant. Depending upon the baked good, the bubbles come from carbon dioxide created by leavening such as baking powder used in cakes or butter folded into puff pastry dough. Pizza gets some of its bubbles from yeast, a beneficial microorganism that converts fermentable sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide.

But the bubbles our friend Meatball was so fixated on at Brooklyn Central derived from a different source: steam. When vaporized, water expands over 1,600 times in volume, according to Paula Figoni, writing in her book, How Baking Works. For this phenomenon to work, though, the dough has to be wet, soft and loose, and the oven must be super hot.

That’s exactly the conditions called for by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, a group dedicated to preserving the Neopolitan pizza tradition. AVPN sets forth the exacting principles governing the one true pizza, and its regulations are many and persnickety. Dough can only be made from ultra-soft double-zero flour, with 1 liter of water to 1.8 kg. of flour ration, with the flour absorbing 50-55% of its weight in water. That translates into a wet, almost sticky dough, with a soft and elastic texture, says the AVPN. Ovens must be hotter than Dante’s Inferno, with a minimum floor temperature of 905 degrees, and a cavity temp of 800 or more degrees; the pizza cooks fast, in 60-90 seconds.

When the pizzaiolo slides that pie (14 inches in diameter, 0.8-inch thick crust, 0.1-inch thick in the center) into the oven, water in the mix vaporizes, the wet glutinous dough is flexible enough to stretch and contain the vapor, then the extreme heat dries and chars the bubbles. The end result: a delicate, light and airy crust.

I got to experience this magic hands-on at Forcella, a New York restaurant devoted to Neapolitan pizza. Under the tutelage of certified pizza master Giulio Adrian, I learned to properly handle the demanding dough, shaping a certifiable crust, topping the classic Margherita with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di Bufala, fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, and baking it in Forcella’s imported Italian oven. I’m sure the AVPN would approve.

Even better, when that blistered, bubbled pie was whisked out on a peel, I got to eat it.

Torn between two pizzas

28 Sep
My friend Tom, the aspiring pizzaiolo whom you met last week, seizes every chance to try and browbeat me into making a pie. “Enough with the pastas already,” he harangues, implying that pasta making is, at best, a dubious skill. “You love pizza. You should make pizza. What’s wrong with you?”
I told you he was a pain in the ass, didn’t I?
In the couple decades I have known him, though, not once had his bullying proved successful. Until now.
Last week, after an item entitled “Roman-style pizza farce” appeared on this blog, an item where I may have mildly criticized his pizza-making abilities, my vowel-deprived compatriot managed to whip himself into an uncontrollable frenzy. Like a good man suddenly possessed (think Father Damien in “The Exorcist” except not as cute), Tom decided that he simply would not rest until I attempted to reproduce a pie he’d made, so as to see if I might make it as well. 
He emailed to me his demands, commented upon them on this blog, Skyped me incessantly to argue his case fully (and freely); the cheap bastard even picked up the phone one afternoon just to insist — insist I tell you — that I walk a mile in his King Arthur-dusted kitchen clogs before so recklessly stomping on them again.
I worry about my friend. And believe he isn’t well. His blood pressure is not so good and so he must be medicated. Did I mention that he drinks? Probably shouldn’t have. Forget I said anything, okay.
And so, after consulting, on Tom’s behalf of course, an eminent mental health specialist in Vienna (or maybe it was Moonachie?), I decided to do the responsible thing and to make a freaking pizza, so that my dear, afflicted friend could just finally calm down. 
Here’s how it started, a dough made with “00” and all purpose flour, adapted from a recipe provided by none other than my nemesis (thanks, nemesis). I’m not sure about this, but methinks it did not rise quite enough, as the dough turned out to be a bit dense. (That, or Tom is one very fine saboteur masquerading as an innocent bearer of alleged-to-be-simple pizza dough recipes.)
Into a baking pan (per Tom’s Roman-inspired method) and topped with a quick fresh tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella (that’s a type of cheese, Tommy).
Fifteen or so minutes in the oven at 550, and there you go.
The “upskirt” shot: Considering that this was my first completely solo attempt at pizza-making, I would argue that it turned out pretty well. It tasted good. But the crust didn’t char properly, and the dough, as I said, was more dense than it ought to be.
An associate (one with strong ties to Tom, I might add) offered a less encouraging assessment: “It’s definitely not the worst I’ve had.”
Oh, joy!
There was enough dough to attempt a do-over, but instead I went in another direction. Just garlic, fresh rosemary, fresh mozzarella and olive oil.
Tasted even better than the first one, but, alas, the dough was of the same (defective) lineage.
You may commence with the brutal criticism now, Tommy. Just watch your blood pressure, okay. 
And don’t call me. Please!