Anyone who loves good pizza tries to make it at home…often to discover that making good pizza isn’t easy on the first try. (Aside: when I’m talking about good pizza, I’m NOT referencing American chain-restaurant stuff….no sugary, wonderbread poofy dough, no overly sweetened sauces, no 3″ thick piles of rubbery cheese and cheap, indifferent toppings. I’m talking about pizzas like this, and this, and these, as well as the one pictured below.)
But if you love pizza and live more than a few miles from really good pizza, you keep trying: learning the peculiarities of your oven, feeling your way through your favorite crust styles, exploring different flour blends, learning how to make a simple, fresh-tasting sauce. Thus, when you do manage to hit the ideal, the success is about much more than a tasty pizza right in your own kitchen.
By accident, I hit the sweet spot recently. I say by accident because I wasn’t consciously trying to make good pizza….I was just trying to turn out a simple appetizer before a lunch of bucatini al’amatriciana. But when the stars align, isn’t it nice to be a witness? And isn’t it even better when the alignment is edible?
Bit of luck #1: weeks ago, I found a bag of King Arthur’s high gluten flour in my fridge. I honestly couldn’t remember buying it, so I decided it was high time to turn it into pizza dough for the freezer. I didn’t have enough high gluten flour for the entire batch, so I added a fair amount of bread flour, fermented the dough for an hour at room temperature, then divided it and stashed it in the freezer. Defrosted, the dough proved to be supple, extensible, and easy to work. (As it turns out, many Italian pizzerias use a blend of high-gluten and lower gluten flours in their crusts.)
Bit of luck #2: when I preheated the oven, I forgot to move the pizza stone onto the bottom rack. (I store it on the oven floor.) So the oven and stone were at least 475 degrees before I noticed. I decided to leave it on the bottom to avoid a potential nasty burn trying to wrestle the stone onto one of the racks.
Bit of luck #3: I got distracted during the preheating phase, and the oven was at 500 degrees for at least 40 minutes before I put the pizza inside. Thanks to all those lucky bits, a thin-crust beauty of a pizza slid off the peel onto a super-hot stone, browning and blistering in seconds. As soon as I smelled a faint scorching, I moved the pizza to the top rack so the toppings could brown a bit more.
Accidentally, I stumbled into an entirely new level of home pizza: tender, crisp, slightly charred, and completely cooked in less than 10 minutes. Isn’t serendipity grand? I still had another defrosted hunk of dough, so I tried again a few days later and had equally stellar results. With a repeat performance, it’s no longer serendipity–it’s skill!