Tag Archives: 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.

The best homemade pizza

18 Mar
It’s a beautiful thing, right?

A homemade pizza, baked in a standard gas oven. I don’t know about you, but this is the first such specimen I have ever seen that looks quite like this.

The dough recipe is from Jim Lahey’s book, “My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home.” Lahey is revered in his circle for good reason. His Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan produces some of the finest breads you will ever lay hands on.

And so when Mister Meatball‘s in-house pizzaioli Tom and Beth spied Lahey’s recipe in the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit, it didn’t take long for them to get to work.

Poor me.

The full recipe is below, but here’s how it starts: with a dough that rises for around 18 hours.
Lahey’s recipe makes a lot of pizza, six of them actually.
And so the batch needs to be carefully divided and handled.
Look at those beautiful bubbles. I’ve never seen a homemade pizza dough act quite this way before.
What can I say? My head’s still spinning.

Tom and Beth insist that they will never again use another recipe. And that’s good enough for me.

Makes 6 10″ to 12″ pizzas

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (1000 grams) plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball.

Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for 2-3 hours before shaping.

To Make the Pizzas
During the last hour of dough’s resting, prepare oven: If using a pizza stone, arrange a rack in upper third of oven and place stone on rack; preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500°-550°, for 1 hour. If using a baking sheet, arrange a rack in middle of oven and preheat to its hottest setting, 500°-550°. (You do not need to preheat the baking sheet.)

Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough generously with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10″-12″ disk.

If Using Pizza Stone
When ready to bake, increase oven heat to broil. Sprinkle a pizza peel or rimless (or inverted rimmed) baking sheet lightly with flour. Place dough disk on prepared peel and top with desired toppings.

Using small, quick back-and-forth movements, slide pizza from peel onto hot pizza stone. Broil pizza, rotating halfway, until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, 5-7 minutes.

Using peel, transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat, allowing pizza stone to reheat under broiler for 5 minutes between pizzas.

If Using a Baking Sheet
Arrange dough disk on baking sheet; top with desired toppings. Bake pizza until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas.


Being Stephen Lanzalotta

19 Oct
I am not a baker.
But, you may be aware, I have this cool new wood-burning oven in the backyard, and I just had to give it a try.
Thing is, the idea was to evaluate the oven’s bread-making abilities, not mine. And so rather than bumbling through a dough recipe I’d be unfamiliar with, I headed over to the most gifted bread/pizza maker in town and procured a blob of his dough.
Note to local readers: It’s Lanzalotta’s, from the bakery out back of Micucci, the same dough used for the Sicilian Slab and the Luna bread.
Note to everybody else: Save the indignation over copping out on the dough prep for somebody who cares. I already know I’m a spaz with the yeasty, floury stuff. Why torture myself?
Soon as I laid eyes on the blob I knew I was in good hands. It smelled swell enough to eat, and felt like a wet cloud of puffy, doughy goodness.
Did I mention the new pizza peels I bought? The wood one’s for sliding stuff into The Inferno.
And the metal one’s for taking stuff out.
I laughed. I cried.
Then I ate the whole freaking thing.