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!
Celeste, great recipe but even better the way you told it. I enjoy your work.
Thanks, Joe! The pizza was even better than the anecdote. Glad to know y’all enjoyed Wayne Jacobs smokehouse, too.
“Weeks ago, I found a bag of King Arthur’s high gluten flour in my fridge.” This statement reminded me of a blog I am fond of reading. A section of the blog is called Other People’s Pantries. Basically, people send in pictures of their pantries and the foodie voyeurs out there take delight. Celeste, I want to see your pantry. If you “find” stuff like high gluten flour in the fridge, I am sure the pantry will be beyond words. How about a picture studded post on your pantry?
What a cool site; some of those pantries are nothing short of amazing. But Koogie, you’ve got me all wrong. I don’t even HAVE a pantry. I have three pull-out wire baskets (aftermarket) inside standard-depth cabinets on one side of the kitchen, two ledge shelves stacked w/spices, and another small pull-out stuffed full of seasonings & extracts, etc on the other side of the room. Add to that a few flour canisters on the countertop and that’s it. My prewar cottage has a small kitchen…the largest uninterrupted expanse of countertop is not more than 30 inches long. The decade-old Amana gas stove has two missing buttons (I have to search for the oven’s on/off switch whenever I bake, it tends to roll around & get lost). Like so many things in life, it’s not what you’ve got, but how you use what you have….
Oh, and about the flour: I keep the less-commonly-used flours in the refrigerator to deter bugs. The only well stocked section of the fridge is the cheese drawer! Right now it has two kinds of pecorino (young & old), parmesan, gruyere, a raw-milk farmstead cheddar, shredded part-skim mozzarella, shredded sharp cheddar, and a vaccuum sealed hunk of Halloumi that doesn’t expire until next year.
The family and I are going to bake our own pizza this weekend. Any suggestions for a sauce recipe. I like a mild sauce, nothing too overwhelming. Also any ideas on some good pepperoni?
I also like a simple pizza sauce. The absolute easiest one: get a can of peeled tomatoes (whole or diced), puree, and season with a tiny pinch of dried Italian seasoning. That’s it: very light, fresh-tasting, no cooking required. If you can find imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes, even better but no absolutely necessary (one brand is Cento, fairly common in area grocery stores). When I’m really in a hurry, I tend to use Newman’s Own marinara sauce, straight out of the jar.
Ah, the pepperoni question: if you look at the photo above, I used the (newish) mini Hormel pepperoni….aka “meat skittles”. The tiny bits got pretty crispy, if crunchy pepperoni is your thing. Honestly, Hormel’s stuff is pretty blah & greasy, but my better half likes it. The large, 3-4″ diameter, deli-sliced stuff is a little better, but I think it needs to be sliced into strips or pieces….who wants to bite into a gigantic pepperoni slice? Not me.
I like those mini-pepperoni, no biting into a piece and having it slide off of the pizza and dripping onto your chin.
beats my domino’s
My local bad-pizza universe has expanded to include Domino’s, Sicily’s, AND Papa John’s, plus two bad independents. I can’t understand who’s eating all this pizza in an area of ~10,000 ppl. Seems like an excessive amount of pizza, no? We’ve got pizza & chinese coming out the wazzoo….