There’s nothing like realizing you’ve never made pizza.
Sure, I’ve made my share of “quick, one-hour” pizzas, but it wasn’t until I read The Pizza Bible–by Tony Gemignani–that I realized I’d never made real pizza. Funny thing about blind spots, my dad says, is you can’t see them and, until that fated hour, pizza was one of my cooking blind spots.
My sister and I were reading one afternoon when, all of a sudden, I started to swear. Elise (my sister) looked up– confused–and asked me what was wrong, to which I replied: “I’ve never made real pizza.” I then babbled incoherently about fermentation and gluten networks, reveling in my newly-found knowledge.
It was, in a word, euphoric. You see, I love pizza. No, not like you love pizza. I mean, I love pizza. It’s what I want on the best and worst of days, with some wine on the couch. And, turns out, it’s simple to make gourmet pizza at home.
Tony Gemignani begins The Pizza Bible by explaining the theory behind his pizzas and ends with some fabulous recipes. My favorite is the Cal-Italia: a ménage à trois of mozzarella, asiago and gorgonzola, topped with proscuitto, fig jam and a balsamic reduction.
I finished the book and immediately wanted to make pizza dough, so job well done, Mr. World Champion. However, the list of necessary materials was daunting, so I didn’t try out Gemignani’s master pizza dough until months later, after Christmas left me with a second stone, a dough scraper and a peel.
Armed with the basic necessities on Gemignani’s list, I made the investment in some high-protein flour and a gram scale.
So, if you read The Pizza Bible and find yourself thinking: “Gee Tony, this is great, but I’m not getting all that extra stuff,” know you are not alone. And while you do need some of that stuff, after making the master dough many times, I can pare down the list for you. One can get by with a second stone, a gram scale and a pizza peel. Now, the process might be easier if you follow all of Gemignani’s suggestions, but at least add those three items to your arsenal.
My only other criticism, besides the daunting shopping list, would be that The Pizza Bible lacks a gluten-free recipe. Tony says a great gluten-free crust can be achieved, but it’s complicated and that’s why he included alternative flour recipes instead.
I’m not really in with the pizzaiolo world, so before The Pizza Bible, I’d never heard of Gemignani. Shortly thereafter, I learned that the head chef of a local pizzeria–Andolini’s–was certified at Tony Gemignani’s school. (Which makes sense: the crusts are quite similar. So for you Tulsa people, yes, it’s pretty much like your kitchen is Andolini’s.
It’s trendy right now for a cookbook to be narrowly focused: it’s an egg cookbook. Or a kale cookbook. Or the cookbook promises to finally explain what harissa is. And while that’s not my preference, this is one hyper-specific cookbook that I recommend. It’s indispensable for all the readers who think they love pizza as much as I do. (I mean, you’re probably wrong, but it’s cute that you think that.)
Reading The Pizza Bible was truly a religious experience for this prodigal son. (Sorry guys, I had to.)
- 453 grams high protein flour (you'll need 13%-15% protein, I use King Arthur Bread Flour or order Antimo Caputo through Amazon)
- 4.5 grams active dry yeast
- 9 grams diastatic malt (optional, I don't use it)
- 9 grams fine sea salt
- 5 grams extra virgin olive oil
- 225 grams ice water
- 70 grams lukewarm water
- Measure out all your ingredients using a gram scale.
- Proof the yeast in the lukewarm water for about 5 minutes, until it is foamy and smells like it will become bread.
- If you're using malt, add it to the flour at this point. I don't use it because when I looked online, the shipping cost exceeded the cost of the actual product. But the malt helps the pizza brown to a rich golden and adds a slightly nutty flavor, so if you can get a hold of it, I'd recommend trying it out.
- If not using malt, just add the ice water to the flour and stir a few times.
- Then add the yeast and lukewarm water mixture to the flour.
- Start to work the dough with your hands, rotating and pressing it into a single mass. If the dough is crumbly or dry, add tiny amounts of water until all the crumbs are incorporated.
- Work in the salt, as you continue to mix the dough.
- Finally, add the oil and continue to mix.
- Now, you need to knead it a little more. I do this on a clean, slightly floured counter top: take out the dough ball and place it on your counter. As you push the dough towards you with your left hand, push your right hand into the dough at a 45 degree angle, while rotating the dough through this pushing motion. If the dough didn't exist, you'd be pushing your right palm into your left hand and moving both in a circular motion. Use the counter top, pushing down towards it, into your left hand. The smooth surface will help the dough become smooth and solid.
- The dough may have a couple bumps after 2-3 minutes of the above step, but that's okay. Curb your urge to over-knead and put the dough ball in a clean, oiled bowl and let it rise at room temperature for about an hour, covered with a slightly damp towel.
- The dough won't double in bulk, but it'll be noticeably larger. If you want to ferment the dough for two days, moisten the surface of the dough with a few drops of water and refrigerate for 24 hours. Make sure it has room to rise, by 25 to 50 percent. If you want to speed up the process, skip to the next step.
- After an hour's rise, carefully remove the dough from the bowl to degas. The yeast is activated and a gluten network is forming, so don't rip, smash or otherwise manhandle the dough. I usually push on the dough in the bowl to deflate it and then pick it up, quickly moving it to rest on the counter. Tony weighs his dough exactly, but I just half the dough at this point and form balls with it. When you're forming the balls, you'll want to carefully fold the disk of dough into halves, then pinch the ends to create a seal, repeating this motion a couple times until the dough is a tight ball. If it happens to rip, pinch the rip to seal the dough again. You should end up with two smooth balls of dough, any seam or edge tucked underneath the ball.
- Ferment the two balls on a cookie sheet covered in parchment (the dough will get sticky), wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and foil over that, if you want to go all out. This should happen overnight, or for 24 hours. (And that's another 24 hours, if you chose to do the bulk fermenting step before balling the dough.)
- You'll want to take the dough out of the fridge at the same time you heat the oven, about an hour before you want to make the pizza. Let the dough sit out wrapped, until it comes to room temperature.
- Once you're ready to make the pizza, have your ingredients ready and heat up your oven as hot as it will go (with the stones inside) for about an hour. I use that hour to prep my sauces and toppings, then shape my dough right before I am ready to bake.
- To form the pizza dough, carefully peel back the plastic and separate the dough balls. I use a metal cutter, but you could use a spatula or something with a good edge to achieve the same result. After the disks are separated, carefully lift them off the pan onto your floured counter top. I use a mixture of the bread flour and fine cornmeal to dust the dough, in an effort to mimic a semolina texture.
- Flatten the dough into a smooth, circular disk and push about an inch inside the edge all around the circle, to create the crust. Continue pressing the dough to widen the circle, without smashing the outside rim.
- I typically get the inside of the crust pressed out thin (as thin as possible, without causing the dough to tear or rip), then lift the dough onto my hands and stretch it out, moving my fists from the center of the dough to the outside, while gently turning the dough. It's going to feel like you're tossing and stretching the dough at the same time; you'll feel like a world champion.
- I then place the dough on a lightly floured pizza peel and top the pizza, working quickly to make sure it doesn't stick to the peel.
- Bake at 450 to 500 degrees (on your top rack stone) for 6 minutes, but be wary, because every oven is different. You'll want to transfer the dough (to the bottom stone) when the crust is beginning to brown and the cheese is melted, but not brown. Bake for about 5 minutes after transferring the pizza to the bottom stone.
- Remove from the oven when the cheese is golden brown. The bottom of the crust should lift easily and be evenly browned. Let it rest for about 5 minutes, then slice and let it rest a little more if the cheese is still runny.
- Top with any finishing ingredients and serve (I let mine rest on a big wooden cutting board and serve directly from it).
- If you're making a second pizza, make sure you give your stones a quick brush over the sink before returning them to the hot oven. You don't want nasty burnt flour on the bottom of your second pizza after all that work.
- If I am making a second pizza (one pizza will feed 2-3 people), I prep the second while the first is baking, so that I can heat the first while it is hot and the second is baking. Pro tip.
- Serve and enjoy!
Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by Blogging For Books, in exchange for my honest opinion. I’ve been impressed with Blogging For Books: they sent me The Pizza Bible last year and haven’t bugged me about following through on my end of the deal.
Notes: 1) You’re going to have to plan ahead if you want to make real pizza. If that’s bad news for you and your cluttered existence, the good news is that this master dough is a breeze to throw together before you go to bed. You can also skip the bulk fermenting and use the dough the next evening. 2) I have been using King Arthur’s bread flour and it works well in the master dough recipe. I couldn’t find any of Gemignani’s flour suggestions, even in Whole Foods, so I looked instead for the right percentage. You want a flour that’s 12%-14% protein. 3) Use good ingredients: the right percentage flour, filtered water, fresh olive oil, real sea salt, etc. There aren’t many ingredients, so there’s no where for bad-tasting ingredients to hide. 4) I love experimenting and making the pizzas special by adding what Gemignani calls “finish line ingredients.” Pictured above is parsley and garlic gremolata on a pepperoni pizza and fried leeks on a venison and morel pizza (with a white truffle bechamel!). 5) The more you make this dough, the easier it gets. If you need more clarification on the steps, check out this recipe (which you can make without the starter). And here’s a video of Gemignani on YouTube (where you can find many more). You should also visit Gemignani’s website and order the book, because you need the Cal-Italia in your life.
Recipe slightly adapted and reprinted from The Pizza Bible: The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and more, by Tony Gemignani, Copyright © 2014, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.