Saturday, September 6, 2008

Good Pizza ... Oh My!

Good pizza. Such a simple pair of words. Pizza itself seems so simple. Just some dough, a little red sauce, and cheese ... in its most basic form. Toppings are nice, but optional. A good cheese pizza is heaven unto itself.

Pizza is a balance of its ingredients: crust, sauce, cheese, toppings. Too much of one and the others suffer. If one is bad, the others cannot make up for it. This makes good pizza hard. And, great pizza near impossible. There are just so many places where one can go wrong.

I've had great pizza. It is amazing. And, surprisingly, it is not some giant pie heaped with toppings and dripping with cheese. It was a well-balanced pie with high-quality toppings, cheese, crust, and sauce. Not too much or too little of any.

As I've written before, many commercial pizza places fall short on one or more of the basic aspects of the pizza. I think it would be better to be mediocre at all four ... rather than good at three and bad at one.

This recipe yields a decent crust. For the amount of effort required, it's pretty good. Still, not great.

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 60g grated Parmesan cheese
  • 250g shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat your oven ... now! You want it as hot as possible for this. Mine gets up to about 460F (238C).

Mix the yeast, sugar, and water together. Set aside.

The original recipe calls for whisking the dry ingredients together, setting on the counter, making a hole in the middle, then pouring in the yeast-sugar water. Here's where I say ... no!

I put the dry ingredients into my mixer bowl and whisked them a bit by hand to properly disburse the salt. I'm told this aerates the flour, too. Not sure I believe this.

I poured in the olive oil (be sure to use good olive oil ... it makes a difference) and the water mixture. Then, I used the bread hook to mix slowly for a minute or so. I ended up adding an additional 1/2 cup of flour to get the right consistency. The dough should be slightly sticky.

Once mixed, I turned the mixer on medium to knead the dough. I let it knead for 10 minutes. When done, the dough will still be slightly sticky and quite smooth.

I put the dough in another bowl and tossed in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Put a clean kitchen towel over it and let the dough rise for about an hour.

I split the dough into two equal parts. For each, I rolled into a ball using my hands. Then, pat it down into a disk on the counter (with some flour down). To the amazement of my son, I tossed the disks into the air to get to the right size. Never done that before, it was rather fun. Easier than I thought it would be! Harder than those pizza guys make it look.

I used the pizza sauce that I made (and froze). Just put a big dollop in the middle and spread it outwards in a spiral motion using the back of your spoon. You want less sauce on the pie than you think. Too much sauce makes your cheese and toppings fall off. That's no fun!

Finally, I put on the cheese. Notice it's not all that much. It's the combination that makes it good. The bit of Parmesan adds a nice slight bite that I like.

I put these in for 10 minutes each at about 460F (238C). They came out looking amazing. I was shocked.

Pretty easy for a pair of 12-inch pies!

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Loved it. Some even giggled when they got a second slice.

Test Group C: Very good! Bring more whenever you like. Was surprised that it was just a cheese pizza (good surprise, thought it had more on it).

Test Group M: Good!

Potential Improvements

Alton Brown has a crust recipe that involves slow-rising the dough in the fridge for 12-18 hours. This sounds like a very good idea. Let the dough have the time to develop a good flavor.

Potential Variations

With the addition of toppings, there are too many variations to mention.

I think I'll try freezing a crust or even a completed pizza. Let's find out if I can make my own frozen pizza designed for later quick-and-easy resuscitation.


It was so good to eat pizza that tasted good, had a good crust, and used decent cheese. This one is definitely a winner.

That said, there's room for improvement. The crust was present, had tooth, but wasn't great. With practice and probably a different base recipe, I'm sure I can do better.

Still, it was really nice to have my first good pizza in 15 months.

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