Pizza Day, Part Two: Advanced Doughbending
June 27, 2011
So in Part One of my pizza-making series, I detailed how to bake quite-nice pizza in an oven at home, and earlier this week, Melissa Clark of the New York Times did a writeup on how to do, largely, the same thing. She also has a neat video on dough technique, which, you might say, obviates the need to write this entry.
However, I kind of feel like the way she – and many food writers! – advocate a sort of oven technique that seems a little unsafe to me. Call me a wimp, but I’ve always been uncomfortable sliding pizzas right onto the pizza stone. I don’t have a pizza peel, and neither does Melissa, but she slides her pizza from a floured baking sheet right onto the screaming-hot rock, barehanded (because it’s too delicate an operation to attempt in gloves). This is not for me. I’ve burned my hands on pizza stones and spilled toppings far too many times to really be down with this technique any more. I figure a pizza peel probably makes it better, but I don’t like pulling anything out of the oven without hand protection. I like using Lincoln Electric welding gloves, which is something I learned from Alton Brown – they’re awesome because they give you added grip and maneuverability. Fingers, man! Why would you prevent yourself from having fingers? Oven mitts don’t mean much to me at 500 degrees, honestly – I’ve melted at least two pairs of rubberized mitts, and burned my hands inside ‘em like Johnny Tremain. Okay, not that badly.
Anyway, this is why I recommend using a baking sheet or a mesh pizza pan, because you can transfer them in and out of the oven using heat-proof gloves. If you screw up (and believe me, if you make as many pizzas as I have, you will screw up, occasionally and spectacularly), you don’t risk losing the feeling in your hand for a week, or worse.
But Melissa also warns against the use of rolling pins, and I’m not really sure why. She says it’ll flatten the dough, but she says it in a sort of jocular way that doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of weight behind it. What’s wrong with flattening the dough – isn’t that what we’re meant to do to pizza anyway? I could be very wrong. Maybe there’s a proper pizzaiolo explanation for why you shouldn’t use a rolling pin. If it has made the pizzas I have made over the past few years not as good as they could have been, I apologize to the people who have eaten them.
Nevertheless, you’re reading this because you wanted to learn the technique, and I assure you it is neither fiddly nor complicated. With very few exceptions, The Clean Platter is almost never Fiddly or Complicated.
So let’s assume you’ve got a ball of dough, created with the recipe in Part One. Or let’s assume you’ve got an absurdly enormous collection of dough, because you’re throwing a pizza party, and you made a decuple (10x) recipe. This was enough to make twenty pizzas. (The fourth bowl is not pictured.)
So, let’s get into this.
For slightly less casual enthusiasts of the pizzetic arts
- Divide the dough into equal-sized balls. I understand this can be a little obnoxious if you’re making more than a two-pizza portion of dough, so I just measured one of the dough-balls I had in the freezer: they should probably weigh 11 to 12 ounces, figuring an ounce of dough per inch of pizza diameter. Roughly.
- Flour your work surface lightly. I like to use a little kitchen worktable which comes up to about bellybutton height on me, but if you don’t think your kitchen surfaces are clean enough to rub flour on, then use a cutting board, preferably a wood one with a kitchen towel under it. Wooden cutting boards don’t have as much nubbly texture as poly (plastic) ones do, and putting a kitchen towel under a cutting board prevents it from moving. I put a towel on the table every time I have to use a knife. Actually, I should probably make that a Kitchen Axiom, with apologies to Douglas Adams:
Kitchen Axiom No. 9: Always know where your towel is. And then make sure it’s under your cutting board.
Once you’ve floured your work surface, place the dough ball onto it and dust the top of it with flour as well. Then punch it down. You are advised to keep your thumbs outside of your clenched fingers when throwing a punch, but you needn’t follow my rather extreme example. Punch it, my friend.
- It is definitely possible to do all of this dough work with your hands alone. Flatten the ball into a round with your knuckles or the heel of your hand. Then pick it up by one end and let it hang in the air – slowly rotate the dough and let gravity do the majority of the work widening and stretching the dough into a round. A similar principle, if I have my physics right, is at work when you actually do dough-tossing (which I have yet to truly attempt. I’ll let you know when that’s necessary for good pizza. If you want to learn, more power to you. I speak from a sour grapes position when I say it’s unnecessary).
- But I generally use a rolling pin. Working from the center outward, I roll the pin over the dough in long, medium-force strokes, giving the dough a quarter turn after each roll, and flipping the dough after every, oh, fourth or fifth pass with the pin.
- When you’re done, the pizza dough should be fit the baking sheet of your choice. And who the hell cares if it isn’t perfectly round? Tug on it until it approximates a circle; they ain’t paying you to make tasteless frozen pies. Probably nobody is paying you at all, in fact.
- Your pizza is at its required thickness when it satisfies the Window Test – when you hold it up, you can see light through it. If it rips when you do this, oh well! Fold it up and start over – it’ll take two minutes to fix it.
- And there you have it! Put the dough round on your baking sheet/pizza pan, top with your favorite toppings, and bake at 500 degrees until the crust has gotten well-browned, and to your desired crispness. I like it pretty crunchy, but that’s me and my desires. What sort of toppings go on a pizza? How much cheese to put on? What to use for sauce? Jeepers. I guess that’s another entry.
What follows is a series of enticing photos taken by my lovely girlfriend of the latest pizza party I threw. Whoever came up with the best savory pizza won this jar of mushroom salt, a recipe which I got from Melissa Clark, whom I respect immensely, despite having chided her in the beginning of this very entry.
It makes a great gift, and in fact, I made another, larger jar for my dad for Father’s Day.
Whoever made the best dessert pizza won a freshly-canned jar of strawberry preserves. I called it the very essence of June. Nobody seemed to chide me for being pretentious, which pleased me.
Clockwise from the top:
- Adam’s Thai Red Curry Noodle Pizza (Savory)
- Adriana and Noah’s Port-Stewed-Fig and Mascarpone Pizza (Dessert)
- Philip’s Islamabadass – Pakistani rose-petal jam, mascarpone cheese, and cardamom (D)
- Max’s prosciutto, poached egg, and brie pizza (S)
- Rachel and Ben’s pineapple-mango pizza (S)
- Carolyn’s Hot Date – (inspired by tapas) pitted dates, diced bacon, slivered almonds, parmesan cheese (S)
These pizzas are starting to get so complicated they’re beginning to scare me. I like it, but I think I should make a point of saying, in the next email invite for Pizza Night, that mozzarella cheese is a perfectly acceptable sort of thing to put on pizza. But we can’t afford to be purists – not when culinary genius like this blazes onto your plate.