Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Finally, a Neopolitan pizza crust that works in a home oven!!!

A few weeks ago, we went to Pizzetta in Mystic and I came home wanting to duplicate their light, crisp, excellent crust.  I've been making pizza at home for years and  although I nailed down the toppings pretty early on, the crust has tormented me for almost all that time.  

I've bought dough from good pizzerias, but such doughs are meant to be cooked at a much higher temperature than one can manage in a home oven and yield (in my opinion) too bready of a crust. I tried making my own dough with recipes from cookbooks, pizza-specific cookbooks and the internet.  Everything I read suggested using high gluten flours to get pizzeria results.  I tried bread flour, mixing bread and all-purpose, tried adding vital wheat gluten, and fiddling with the amounts of water and olive oil, but the end results were always the same. A too-thick, bready crust that everyone else said was good, but that I didn't love the way I loved Pepe's or First & Last. To me, it merely tasted "good for homemade", which is never my goal when cooking.  I want good (preferably great), period.  

My first brush with something close to what I was looking for was actually a recipe for Naan bread.  I noticed that the Naan dough cooked up lighter and thinner than pizza dough but still was slightly chewy.  So I began using it if for pizzas with decent results.     

The Naan recipe got me close and after the visit to Pizzetta, I decide to do an experiment. Counterintuitively, I decided to lower the gluten by leaving out the bread flour, and swapping in some cake flour.   This seems to have done the trick (for now), yielding light thin crusts that have as decent chewiness and cook quickly.    I use a pizza stone and a pizza peel to get the best results.  

Pizza Dough

  • 1 2/3 cup Unbleached All Purpose flour
  • 2/3cup cake flour (I used SoftAsSilk)  *optional 
  • 1/2 packet active dry yeast (about two tsp)
  • 6oz warm water (105-110°)
  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • Pinch of sugar
Whisk the dry ingredients (flours, yeast, salt, sugar)together. Using a stiff silicon spatula, stir in the water and oil until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes.    Once it does, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes until you have a good dough ball. This something that one only knows with practice, so it might take a little trial and error until it feels right.    Divide the dough into 2 balls and place each in a lightly oiled bowl  Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes before using.  If you're not planning to use use it right away, it can be refrigerated overnight. Just remember to allow it to rise and come to room temperature before using it.  (note: the damp towel is key here, as it prevents the dough from having unworkable dry spots)

Making Pizzas

Now that you've done the heavy lifting and made the dough, It's time to make a few pies. The recipe above makes 2 small pizzas.   Any combination that you want can work, although when putting on toppings, I've found that less is more, especially with mozzarella.   

Place a pizza stone on the lowest rack in the oven (Take the other rack out or move it as high as you can. Making pizza requires room to move) & preheat to 550°.  Once the oven is preheated, give the stone a good hour or so to heat up.    Stretch the dough out to about 12" with a thicker rim and place on a well floured pizza peel.  Make sure that the dough can slide freely and position it a the edge of the peel.  Quickly top your pizza and gently let slide it onto the stone from the peel with a quick pull ( it takes practice, watch this guy).  Let the pizza cook for 8 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and browned to your liking. remove from oven and allow the pie to set for 4-5 minutes before cutting.  

A Basic Pie
  • 30oz can Italian tomatoes, crushed and thoroughly drained
  • Fresh or dried herbs (Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme & Basil) 
  • Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiana Reggio 
  • Fresh Mozzarella, shredded 
  • Salt & Pepper

For a basic sauce, I use Vanlia Whole Italian tomatoes (any whole or crushed tomatoes will do), which I hand-crush with a potato masher and drain in a strainer.  This is important, as not draining the liquid will give you a soupy mess of pizza.  Once the tomatoes are drained,  I stir in a tablespoon of Tomato paste and a tbsp of olive oil and a bit of salt.  I don't use garlic on a plain pizza, but if you like it that way, go ahead.

Lightly brush prepared dough with olive oil.  Using a measuring cup, spread out a thin layer of sauce and sprinkle with herbs & pepper( If I have fresh basil leaves, I usually hold those out and put them on top of the cheese). Top with a generous layer of Romano cheese then a sparing  layer fresh mozzarella.  Drizzle a spiral of olive oil over the pie and bake for 8 minutes.

"Summer Pie"

Fresh tomatoes, sliced 1/4 " thick  cut in thirds or quarters, depending on size
fresh herbs (Oregano, Sage, Thyme, rosemary & Basil) 
Olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced 
Pecorino Romano
Fresh Mozzarella, shredded  (or thinly sliced)

Lay the sliced tomatoes on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.  Lightly brush prepared dough with olive oil.  arrange the tomato pieces evenly around the dough, sprinkle with herbs and garlic. Top with a generous layer of Romano cheese then a light layer of fresh mozzarella.  Drizzle a spiral of olive oil over the pie and bake for 8 minutes.

New Haven Style White Clam

  • 1 cup of chopped clams, thoroughly drained
  • fresh or dried herbs
  • salt & pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • olive oil
  • Pecorino Romano
Squeeze excess liquid from clams with a paper towel,then sprinkle with salt.  Lightly brush prepared dough with olive oil.  Arrange the clam pieces evenly around the dough and sprinkle with herbs and garlic. Top with a generous layer of Romano cheese, drizzle with a spiral of Olive oil and bake for 8 minutes.


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