A Tale of Two Pizzas

I told you about the Pizza Fail in a previous post. But do we give up after a fail? No we do not. We study what went wrong, ask for help and plan to improve. This is what I accomplished for the next two styles, New York and Teglia – perfect pizzas (well, perfect in my eyes and taste buds).

I wrote about the defiant dough; how it kept springing back when I tried to push it into a circle. I discovered that this is due to the gluten in the dough. Just like us when we get anxious and need to chill, the dough needs to “relax”. That is what I did with the New York Style pizza. I covered the dough and set it aside for 10 minutes. Voila – the dough obeyed.

It wasn’t a perfect shape and the centre was a little thin, but it was far better than the first ones I made. According to Chef Ema Constantini, New York style is a specific kind of pizza developed by the Italian immigrants to that city. They could not find the 00 milled flour they had in Italy so they used what was available – All Purpose. According the dedicated New Yorkers, only New York tap water can be used in the pizza. Because that particular water was not available (and nobody I know was going to New York) I settled for good old Toronto tap water, filtered through a Brita.

After a series of proofing which allowed the dough to rise and the yeast bubbles to form, I added the toppings of pureed San Marzano tomatoes, dry mozzarella and Italian pork sausage.

Remember how I felt the centre was a little thin? I was right. Follow your instincts. I should have used less toppings. The moisture from the toppings soaked through and the bottom crust did not get crispy. I had to use a knife and fork. The edges were still a little too big and puffy for my taste. Rolling out the dough is a balance between keeping the centre thick to hold the toppings, but spreading it out to make the edges smaller. The tang of the tomato, the saltiness of the cheese and the spicy sausage all added up to a tasty slice.

My second style in this post is Pizza Alta in Teglia. This is the street pizza in Rome. It is rectangular, sold in slices and priced by the weight. The more toppings the more the cost. The trick in rolling out this dough is to get the edges into the corner of the pan. I used a 9 x 13 inch pan. There is a formula to help with determining the right amount of dough for the pan. Convert to metric and calculate the area – 24 cm X 34 cm = 816 cm. Then divide by 2 which gives us 408 grams of dough.

I also went through a series of proofing – which lets the dough rest and allows the gluten to expand. This first pizza was a non-cheese vegan recipe. In the final stage, I added a simple puree of San Marzano tomatoes and oregano. I dribbled extra virgin olive oil along the edges and some in the centre. Covered and allowed to proof for half hour. The recipe stated to heat the oven to 500 degrees then place the pizza on the lower rack for 10 minutes. The result was a crust that was charred a little too much for my taste.

The recipe had produced 4 balls of dough. I decided to make 3 teglia pizzas with different toppings and freeze the 4th ball. The second one was made with mozzarella cheese, fresh figs, prosciutto, and balsamic reduction. I was able to determine why the underside of the crust was charred. The bottom heating element remained on, trying to get the oven to 500 degrees. The element was burning the bottom crust.

A conventional pizza is baked in a wood fired oven where the temperature can be 900 degrees. Cooking in my oven then becomes a balance of keeping it in long enough to get crispy but not burnt crust or the toppings dried out. For the final pizza, I set the temperature to slightly below 500. After a half hour, the ready light went off and the bottom element shut off. I placed the pizza in the middle rack for 10 minutes. Perfecto. The crust was crispy and golden. It was firm enough to hold the toppings when I picked it up.

The moral of the tale is an oldie but goldie – if at first you don’t succeed, try again. It’s why I made a 4 ball batch of dough – so I could experiment with stretching the dough, adding different toppings and to place the pizza in different oven environment. The result was success (and 10 slices of leftover pizza).

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