Italian

The Elements of Pizza: Our Resident Pizzaiolo Expands Her Repertoire

April  5, 2016

Dearest cookbook authors of the world:

Please don’t ask me to measure out 1/10 of 1/4 teaspoons of anything. How does one realistically even go about that process?

I confess, Ken Forkish's The Elements of Pizza does indeed call for a very accurate scale, and I believe the book assumes a reader will tackle the recipes using said scale, and not actually by measuring in teaspoons and cups. That being said, please don’t include volume (or metric) measurements just for the sake of it, in a way that can’t realistically be utilized.

I am a firm believer in the glory of baking with scales, probably more so than your average cook. I’ve had mine for 7 years, and I wasn’t keen on going out and buying a new one for the sake of this book’s requests. So I chugged along, attempting to measure out minuscule fractions of teaspoons too light for my weak little scale to pick up. But let me tell you, despite the frustration, it was all worth it.

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Top Comment:
“Yes, the intermittent broiling of pizza works really well for most that love to micromanage the oven to achieve specific results; I stumbled upon it a couple years ago when I had an oven that went on the blink. Do you use the solid steel or the hollow design that supports the inner air heating? I'll share the perfect omelette making method if anyone is interested. It has amazed many, and was downloaded to me from a great, great aunt over 100 years old 40 years ago; and a direct descendent of John Hancock which seems to add centuries to methodology of the subject omelette.”
— Steve B.
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I am a pizza-making fiend. Though it’s something I’ve always enjoyed, my discovery of our Genius Lahey dough recipe changed my pizza world. I’ve gotten the process down to a science:

  1. Decide to make pizza the next day.
  2. Forget to mix the dough together until the second my head hits the pillow.
  3. Reluctantly get back up, thankful the dough takes only two minutes of prep.
  4. Next evening: Portion out the dough, crank up the oven, blend some San Marzanos together, and relish in the glory of a slice far better (and cheaper!) than most of what I could’ve ordered at a counter.

I was hesitant to mess with my system. To tackle recipes that required kneading. To have to babysit a dough. To be forced to add ingredients to my sauce other than tomatoes, oil, and salt. But... The book called to me.

I’m a purist, generally preferring a simple slice of cheese pizza, of which this book contains many varieties. Toppings are a matter of preference, but what I really wanted to get down to was the differences in doughs and sauces that Forkish offers.

And so I began—and on the wrong yeast foot: While I generally prefer using instant yeast (what Forkish's recipes call for), it was active dry yeast that I had on hand, and I decided to give it a go. I started with the Saturday Pizza Dough (using a 1/2 teaspoon of active dry yeast), waited patiently for it to rise, and—not much happened. But I forged onwards: Not wanting to waste my precious can of on-sale tomatoes on a possible dud, I chose to use the dough for one of Forkish's white pizzas, The Ferdinando. (Garlic bread-lovers, that recipe is for you.)

The Ferdinando, pre-bake (left) and post-bake (right). Micki's conclusion: A winner! Photo by Micki Balder

While I found the browning to be a bit sparser than I'd have liked and that the olive oil pooled a bit (which may or may not have been related to my first try with a pizza peel, a.k.a. my small wooden cutting board), this turned out quite well! My fears of a dud dough were put to rest when I saw huge puffs of bubbled dough rise in the oven (the big bubbles are my favorite), and the garlic-cheese combo was well-balanced.

And the dough! I tested both the Saturday and the 48-72 Hours New York pizza doughs, and both were wonderful to work with. They require some strategy with timing, but if you’re like me and love the feel of a good dough, you’ll especially appreciate these. They stretch nicely, allowing for a good thin-crusted pizza, while not breaking into holes easily and still holding the outer crust’s shape. I even used the Saturday Dough after it had sat in the fridge for two days, and it was still great.

The Margherita. Check out that char! Photo by Micki Balder

With my concerns put to rest, I took out my precious tomatoes and moved on to the Margherita pizza. Here, the Saturday Dough didn’t quite puff up as much as I would’ve liked, leaving the crust a little tougher. On the other hand, the sauce was delicious, the oil drizzled on top added a nice richness, and I loved the charred bubbles created with Forkish’s broiling method.

His methods are involved: You preheat the oven, change it to broil 10 minutes before baking, change it back when you put the pizza in, and at the end of baking, change it back to broil again to finish. But the result is a coloring and char that is hard to achieve in a home oven. If you don’t care about that, feel free to bake without ever setting the oven to broil. But if you do, I would recommend rotating the pizza once at the end so that the charring is even all the way around.

The Elements of Pizza includes a handy table matching recipes to the appropriate doughs. Margaritas and Roman pizzas are best served by the Saturday Dough (or any of a few other options), while New York-style pies are better with the 48-72 Hour New York dough. Aside from the flavor difference—a dough risen for longer is going to have more flavor—I didn’t notice many distinctions between the two doughs.

The New York Pie. Photo by Micki Balder

But in an attempt to follow Forkish’s guidance, I prepped the New York dough for my New York pizza and readied the, wait for it, New York Pizza Sauce. The sauce I found a bit sweet (though I think that’s the point), and the dough baked up a bit too puffy, but this was another tasty pie.

One thing I especially appreciated is how flexible this book is. While the techniques can border on fussy (though useful—case in point, the broiling method), the recipes are not only easily adaptable, but also buildable upon each other. The leftover sauce for the Margherita, “Basic Tomato Sauce,” could then be turned into “FWSY Sauce” (which is what I used for my final Tomato Pie); and part of that "FWSY Sauce" could be turned into “New York Tomato Sauce."

The Tomato Pie. Photo by Micki Balder

The only pizza I made that I didn’t love was the aforementioned Tomato Pie, baked on a (unheated) sheet pan. The crust undoubtedly suffers from the pan, but if you don’t have a baking stone, this is certainly a workable option. I also found the whole pizza to be a bit salty (though, again, this could easily be fixed by using a little less cheese, which this pizza loads up on). Also be aware of your pan size: The recipes call for half sheet pans, which tend to be a little bigger than your average sheet pan, so adjust accordingly.

Overall, this book is a great addition to a pizza-lover’s cookbook collection. If you’ve never made pizza before, it might be a bit intimidating, but it’s a trove of great information, and there are certainly some more basic recipes in the book. You simply have to get to them before getting scared off by the big guns.

Personally, I had three major takeaways:

  1. Some new techniques to think about rotating into my cooking: setting the oven to broil both before and at the end of baking, some methods for stretching dough, and the value of a pizza peel.
  2. A couple dough and tomato sauce variations to keep in the back of my head, particularly for dough. I love the simplicity of my standard Lahey recipe and I don’t intend to deviate from it too often, but Forkish’s dough recipes are, without a doubt, easier to stretch and more fun to work with.
  3. Fun topping inspiration! While I didn’t delve too deeply into them, his toppings range from prosciutto and zucchini blossoms to eggs, and are great to flip through when you’re feeling experimental.

Name your pizza loyalties—thin crust? white pizza? deep-dish? anchovies?—and share your pizza-making tips in the comments.

6 Comments

Lori U. February 19, 2018
Just curious - did you use the 00 flour? I received the book for Christmas and have been experimenting with the 24-48 hour dough. Over the weekend I tried it with both 00 flour and regular (unbleached white King Arthur flour); there was a difference, but we liked both pizzas. I would love to understand the science behind the difference, though. Had to add A LOT more of the regular flour than what I had measured out, and of course, with more flour, that dough was much thicker and a little puffier. What does it all mean . . . .?
 
Steve B. April 8, 2016
Where can the subject book be procured most easily/quickly? Yes, the intermittent broiling of pizza works really well for most that love to micromanage the oven to achieve specific results; I stumbled upon it a couple years ago when I had an oven that went on the blink. Do you use the solid steel or the hollow design that supports the inner air heating? I'll share the perfect omelette making method if anyone is interested. It has amazed many, and was downloaded to me from a great, great aunt over 100 years old 40 years ago; and a direct descendent of John Hancock which seems to add centuries to methodology of the subject omelette.
 
Doug April 5, 2016
I discovered Jim Lahey's book a couple of years ago and it changed my pizza world too. For best results, use the Baking Steel instead of a pizza stone. The results are very close to that from a wood fired oven.<br />www.bakingsteel.com<br />
 
Smaug April 5, 2016
Measuring and pizza? Two things I never would have thought to associate.
 
Author Comment
Micki B. April 5, 2016
It was for the yeast in one of the dough recipes.
 
Smaug April 5, 2016
Seems like you run into this sort of nonsense more and more in recipes these days- I suppose it's the result of writers (or, more likely, ghost writers) dividing up restaurant recipes without bothering to try to adapt them.