A Rekindled Interest in At-Home Pizzamaking


Peter Reinhart, the man responsible for my newfound interest in at-home pizzamaking. From peterreinhart.typepad.com

I don't know whether to thank you or throttle you, Peter Reinhart.

See, your Neapolitan pizza dough recipe rocks. Judging by the three pies I made with it last night, I think it's going to completely change the way I make dough for my homemade pizza. At the same time, it's forced me to review my last 15 years of at-home pizzamaking and conclude that it has all been for naught. And that kinda sucks.

Still, I think I've seen the light—literally and figuratively—and if it means I have to scrap the last decade and half of experience, so be it. It's not like I was at a good place with my previous method, anyway.

Old Dogs, New Tricks

Up until a few days ago, I had always made my dough the day of, using a simple combo of flour, salt, active dry yeast, sugar to feed the yeast, and hot water (110°F) to move the fermentation along. After a rising or two, I'd punch down the dough, divide it, let it rest a little bit and then struggle to form it into rounds. My doughs were always so tough to stretch that I'd resort to a rolling pin. As a result, I'd get too-thick, too-tough crusts and I had all but given up on at-home pizza.

Reinhart's recipe flips the script on that, calling for chilled flour, ice-cold water (40°F), instant yeast, salt, and zero sugar. Once you make the dough, you transfer it to the fridge for a 24-hour slow rise, after which you remove it from the fridge, let it rest at room temp for a couple hours, and then stretch it into rounds for baking.

I'm impatient and somewhat impulsive, so I've always hated the notion of making the damn dough ahead of time. That's too much commitment, I always thought. Plus, the few times I'd tried a slow-rise dough, it always ballooned up like mad in the fridge. But, as I said, my previous method was at a dead end, so I had nothing left to lose.

So I gathered the ingredients, procuring some instant yeast from a nearby bakery (it's sometimes hard to find in grocery stores), and set about the task:

Doughmaking (by Slice)

Above, my dough just after using the paddle attachment to mix together the flour, yeast, salt, water, and oil. Right after this, I switched to the dough hook attachment to knead the dough and develop a good gluten:

Doughmaking (by Slice)

When I first bought my mixer, I used it at slow speed with the dough hook, but after watching Alton Brown's pizza episode, "Flat Is Beautiful," I learned that you could mix the dough on medium speed, and I found that it tended to help develop a better gluten structure.

Anyway, I should have taken more pictures of the mixing process to show you some important steps, but I'm definitely making this dough again, so I'll do so in the near future. So I'm just going to bring you to this step now—putting the dough on a baking sheet for the slow-rise in the fridge:

Doughmaking (by Slice)

Reinhart's recipe called for laying out the dough on oiled parchment paper, but I figured waxed paper would work. It didn't. It got soggy and the dough ended up sticking to it. Next time, I'll try parchment. (It's just so damn expensive.)

After you've got the dough laid out on the sheet, you're supposed to put it in a "food-grade plastic bag," but I couldn't find a bag big enough that was explicitly marketed as a food bag. Instead, I bought Hefty's "storage" bag and hoped it was made of the same stuff as the food bags. Here's the dough, in the bag, after the 24-hour slow-rise:

Pizzamaking at Home (by Slice)

Whatevs. It seemed to work. Next time, I might just slip the individual dough balls into smaller food bags.

Here's the dough, after the rise, removed from the bag:

Pizzamaking at Home (by Slice)

See how it's expanded only slightly? I was worried about that because I'm used to my day-of dough recipe expanding to double or quadruple the size.

Here it is from another angle:

Pizzamaking at Home (by Slice)

So, I'm gonna cut to the chase now. This dough was freakin' awesome. It was a complete pleasure to work with. It stretched amazingly easily. I had always been jealous of the pizzamakers I'd seen in the shops around town here in New York. They'd pull a dough ball from the ready-pans and just pound and then pull it without effort into shape. Mine were always tough and too elastic and I'd have to use the damn rolling pin (as I said above)—something you never see in a serious pizzeria.

Here, I was able to achieve the sought-after "windowpaning" effect (remember above, where I said I had "literally seen the light"?) that I first learned of from that Alton Brown pizza episode. It's what you see going on here:

Pizzamaking at Home: Windowpaning (by Slice)

You can kinda see through the dough or at least see that it's translucent. If your dough is the proper consistency, it should do this easily. As Alton described it, it should be easy to stretch, like chewing gum. This dough was so that.

I only used three of my six dough balls last night. Here's Pie No. 1, a plain pie with fresh mozzarella, standard mozzarella, and some Parmasan cheese over a homemade cooked-down sauce (San Marzanos, onion, garlic, a little carrot, some oregano, salt, and pepper):

Pizzamaking at Home: Pie No. 1 (by Slice)

This pie has less color than I'd like. Though detractors have said it looks undercooked, the dough is actually cooked through, with no gumline. But it could use a little more char. I put it in at less-than-optimal oven temps because "Girl Slice" had just come over and was craving a snack. I had been holding the oven temp at 350°F for a variety of reasons (namely I was trying to blog about Top Chef at the time and didn't want the apartment to get too hot during this delay), but I knew if I didn't get Girl Slice a snack, she'd get grumpy, so it went in at the lower temp, cooked through, but didn't get a nice color to it.

Here's the upskirt shot from Pie No. 1:

Pizzamaking at Home: The Upskirt (by Slice)

And here's a cross section, showing what I think is a nice hole structure:

Pizzamaking at Home (by Slice)

Pie No. 1 was a little flavorless. I think the dough needs more salt and will try amping the salinity in future versions of this recipe. I attempted to compensate with Pie No. 2 (also a plain pie) by sprinkling on some salt before baking it. That did the trick. I don't have pictures of that pie because it was so good we tore into it before I thought of shooting it.

But, here's Pie No. 3:

Pizzamaking at Home (by Slice)

I had some smoked pepperoni sitting around in the fridge. It was part of some shipment of sausages and meats we got at Serious Eats as swag and that I snagged in anticipation of future pizzamaking. So I cut off some thickish rounds and threw them on.

Pizzamaking at Home: Pie 3, Pepperoni (by Slice)

Anyway, that's an initial report from my first foray into a brave new world of slow-rise pizzamaking. If you want the recipe I followed, it's here on Heidi Swanson's 101cookbooks.com. Look for more pizzamaking at home here as I fool around with the basic recipe, cooking it in the oven, on the grill, and on my new(ish) 2stone Pizza Grill.

Hasta la pizza, Adam