Anyone Tried Bittman's Pizza Crust Recipe?


[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

In today's issue of the New York Times, there was a whole section on pizza. The Times isn't exactly deep into the pizza game, so this stuff is hardly essential reading for Slice'rs. Pete Wells has a nice piece on the Montanara—the fried pizza first introduced to New York at Forcella and to Slice'rs about a year ago—in which he deduces that its Italian roots have allowed its recent popularity. A fried pizza from Wisconsin wouldn't be taken up so readily by New Yorkers.

Melissa Clark implores you to use store-bought pizza dough to make calzones instead of pizza. A fine, tasty sounding idea, if not earth shattering. Eric Asimov even jumps in the pizza game, suggesting champagne as the perfect pizza wine.

Then we get to Bittman and his column on homemade pizza. As always, he's easy to read, inviting, and self-deprecating ("I'm not really that good at making pizza. In fact, two or three of my close friends do it better, and I know of others.").

But man, does he rag on the state of New York pizza. His first claim is that at "a highly acclaimed pizza joint in Manhattan," he was served "a perfectly ordinary, overly poofy, drearily sauced pizza." Fine, I can buy that. I think the problem lies more with what passes as "acclaimed," rather than the state of New York pizza, but then he goes on to say "do you really want to eat a bialy with tomato and cheese, as seems to have become de rigueur?" and that his homemade pizza was "better sauced than the one I ate a few days later in Midtown."

Well, now we see what the problem is: Bittman is talking about midtown pizza, which, to be fair, is at best mediocre (with few notable exceptions). I've certainly never had a pizza in New York that could come close to being described as a bialy.

Short story: He's setting up a straw man argument for making pizza at home, which is unfortunate, because you don't need to insult the hard working (and much appreciated) piemen of New York to convince people to try making pizza at home.

You should, however, supply them with a recipe that's going to provide good results.

Bittman does indeed supply a recipe in The Times, but it's not a very promising looking one. It starts off on a strange foot with a hydration level of only 53% (1 cup/8 ounces of water to 3 cups/15 ounces of flour), a good 10 percentage points lower than any successful pizza dough recipe I've ever used, and about 20 percentage points lower than the recipe I use most often these days. Is it impossible to make good pizza with low hydration dough? Well, nothing is impossible, I suppose, but there's nothing radical in the recipe to suggest that he's somehow compensating for the low hydration.

The recipe also calls for an initial rise of only 2 hours (he even suggests you can wait only 20 minutes if you're in a rush), followed by another 20 minutes after shaping.

Now, I haven't made the actual recipe, and I'm not one to dismiss something off hand, but absolutely everything in my pizza and bread-making experience indicates to me that this recipe is going to make exceptionally dense, underflavored pizza.

It's unfortunate, because as usual, Bittman fights for a noble cause—more people should be making pizza at home!—but doesn't provide them with the tools to do the job well. There is something to be said about low hydration doughs and their ease of handling, but he does a disservice in not mentioning the relationship between water and texture in good dough.

What's the deal? Have any of you tried this recipe (It's also in "How To Cook Everything")? Were you happy with the results? Is there magic in the mix?

(p.s. our own New York Pizza Crust Recipe is a keeper.)