THE DANCER THAT PIZZA BUILT
The daughter had been in Florence for a month last summer before I joined her there. She was getting by on the 10,000 calorie a day dancer’s diet, a major component of which was pizza.
And in Italy, pizza isn’t the calorie-laden thing it can be here. Rather, the crust is wafer-thin, yet magically tender. Toppings are judicious and few. Cheese is gently fluttered over at the end. The objective is a total taste experience in which the crust participates, yet nothing overpowers. It truly is nearly magical. Bottom line: she ate it with utter abandon as often as she could.
Lydia, the trip never would have happened without you and your laser-focused dedication to what you do and love. This is for you, with extreme gratitude for being your mother. Looking forward to the next opportunity to eat pizza with you, whatever the country.
Makes 2 10″ pizzas
FOR THE AMAZING CRUST
1 cup cake flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 1 teaspoon instant)
2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
10 ounces warm (100 degree) water
2 ounces olive oil
1 ounce honey
What?! Cake flour in a pizza crust! No bread flour? It took me a while to vector in on a good way to get that crisp-yet tender crust that I hold as the gold standard, and to do it in one day. I’m happy to build bread over two or three days, but when I want pizza, I want it tonight. The combination of all-purpose and cake flour result in:
- a dough that needs only to come together, either using a stand mixer or mixing by hand, requiring very little actual kneading;
- a dough that proofs relatively quickly, though I’m going to describe how and why you might want to slow it down
- a dough that is very extensible, meaning that it presses out easily because it contains less gluten (the protein in flour), which in larger percentages in a dough can cause it to want to snap back when being stretched.
The small amount of olive oil will further encourage extensibility, and a bit of honey helps ensure great browning.
My friend Suzanne (apuginthekitchen.wordpress.com) has a brilliant method for making a pizza dough. She makes hers in the morning, then sets it to proof in the refrigerator for the day. I call it brilliant because, using her method, you won’t run the risk of under-proofing the dough by trying to make it start-to-finish when you get home from work in the evening, and have dinner ready before your family decides to order out for pizza instead.
- So make your dough first thing in the morning. Measure all the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Swish a measuring spoon through them to disperse the yeast before adding the liquids.
- Measure the olive oil in a liquid measure. Pour the honey in on top of it. This will make the honey much easier to scrape out. Add the water, olive oil, and honey to the mixer bowl.
- Mix on low speed until the dough comes together and leaves the sides of the bowl. Add a tablespoon or so of flour if need be. Stop the mixer when the dough has come together. You don’t want to give this dough much in the way of kneading, otherwise it will tend to be more bread-like, and that just isn’t what you want at all.
- Stop the mixer, remove the hook, and turn the dough out onto a
- board for a moment. Pan-spray or oil the bowl, return the dough to it and turn it over once. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic (NOT a towel!) and let proof in the fridge for the day. Spend your day thinking about pizza. The dough will double in size by late afternoon.
FOR THE ETHEREAL TOPPING
2 – 4 ounces olive oil
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes of your favorite shape and color
2 cloves garlic, peeled, very thinly sliced
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
A handful of basil leaves, chiffonade
- Remove the dough from the fridge about an hour before you’re ready to start shaping pizzas.
- While the dough is warming, set the oven to 500 degrees. If you use a pizza stone, and I heartily encourage you to consider one if you don’t, set it in the oven at the same time that you turn it on.
- While the oven is heating, start prepping your topping. Slice the tiny tomatoes in half lengthwise. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Chiffonade your basil. Chiffonade is French for ribbon. You’re going to cut the leaves in the direction of their cells’ growth so as not to minimize browning. Pull of some lovely, large leaves, probably 3 or 4 per pizza. Lay them one atop the other, stems and tips matching. Roll them from stem to tip like a cigar. Set the roll on your board and slice them as thin as possible. Into ribbons.
- When the dough has warmed, turn it out onto a gently floured board. Divide it in half with a bench scraper (see January 22 post, Do You Have What it Takes). Tenderly round up each half. Work with one at a time. Pat it out, working from the center outwards, using the flats of your palms, not your fingers. Using your fingers will get the dough too thin and uneven in too many places. When it is about 10 inches in diameter and no more than 1/4′ thick, stop. Dust a wooden peel or the back of a baking sheet with cornmeal, polenta, or semolina. Lift the pizza dough onto the peel.
- Drizzle some olive oil over the surface. Use your fingers to spread it around. Scatter the garlic over the dough, followed by some grape tomatoes. Sprinkle with some salt and a few grinds of pepper. Don’t put the basil on yet. Slide the pizza (the cornmeal-polenta-semolina will act line tiny ball bearings) onto the screamingly hot stone. Set a timer for 5 minutes. After that time, open the oven and scatter the basil chiffonade over the pizza (if you add it earlier, it tends to almost burn). Set the timer for another 5 minutes. By that time, the crust should be bubbled and browned, and the tomatoes should be tender and slightly caramelized. If they aren’t, give the pizza another few minutes.
- To remove the pizza, use a hot pad to scooch the pizza back out onto the peel or baking sheet, then slide it off onto a surface on which you can cut it. Finely grate some Parmesan over it, not too much.
- Cut it, serve it, and eat it immediately. Imagine that you are in a country where a musical language is spoken and the light has a golden-sepia hue. Raise a glass of wine. Salute!