In pursuit of perfection
My ode to Pizza, for which the tab “Pursuit of Perfection” was created. I strongly recommend you ensconce yourself somewhere comfortable with a fragrant glass of wine and then get reading. This blog is dedicated to just one dish – Pizza.
I have been on a quest to make the best homemade pizza for years. Everyone loves a good pizza and I love baking bread, so I knew trials and errors would eventually lead me to the best pizza crust. Be under no illusion, a good pizza is all about the dough and the crust. If you are one of those who leaves behind the crusty edges of the pizza, this blog isn’t for you. For me, and for Italians who have invented this amazingly simple but truly loveable dish, the dough makes it (or breaks it).
To be fair, I don’t blame anyone for leaving the crust. Often, it can be too dry, doughy and lacking flavour
Types of thin-crust pizzas (thick-crust pizzas and focaccias are for another blog).
- Neapolitan – this pizza has precise specifications about the ingredients, process and the temperature it must be cooked at. It is baked in about 90 seconds, a feat impossible to achieve in a domestic oven. The pizza is thin, slightly crisp, but quite puffed up around the edges with a soft chew and a lot of flavour. It will have dark spots around the edges due to the intense heat of the wood-fired oven, almost like an Indian “naan”.
- New York style – this pizza, on the other hand, is thin and crispy, to the point that you should be able to hold up a wedge in your hand and it won’t flop over. This is a modern invention, probably designed to bake in ovens that aren’t that hot but still end up with a good crisp result.
What I was after was a light and airy dough, a little crisp on the outside, but poufy around the edges with a slight chew, all baked in the home oven, of course.
My first few attempts were driven by Jamie Oliver’s recipe from his Italian cookbook, which was okay at best. On hindsight, I know that his recipe uses way too much yeast and he uses a rolling pin to roll the dough which is an absolute no-no in my world. Jim Lahey of the “no-knead” fame has a simple and effective pizza recipe, which I recommend if you don’t have a stand mixer. The results are perfectly decent, and I have used it often when we are holidaying in some villa in Southern Europe, with a wood-burning oven and we are in the mood for pizza. It doesn’t need any special ingredients and is very easy to throw together.
After many trials and tribulations, and prodding friends and family for in-depth reviews of the experimental pizzas, I have now settled on the recipe that I am sharing with you. It was inspired by Pizzeria Mozza – an institution co-founded by Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali. We ate there when it first opened in Singapore and I literally fell in love with the structure of the crust. It was thin, but the edges were poufy and airy, not heavy and doughy, and it was glistening. I spent a long time watching the chefs at work in their open plan kitchen, seeing how they handled their dough.
Recipes this week
Why bother with homemade pizza when there are so many takeaway options?
As Giorgio Locatelli explains in his tome “Made in Italy”, pizza has to have “the perfect balance between a thin crisp crust and a softer garnish, which is why you have to eat it within 5–6 minutes of it coming out of the oven”. This is why, in Italy, pizza comes from the bakers, or street vendors, “not even if they threatened you with six years in prison, would you eat a takeaway pizza delivered on a motorbike!”
So there you go, get the oven hot, gather friends and family, and dig your hands into that dough. (If you haven’t already, you’ll want to pour yourself a glass of wine).
Love your pizza? It’s time to cook it too!