Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pizza 101

Earlier this evening the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Southeast hosted a social networking happy hour at Piola Brickell that was preceded by Pizza 101: "we invite you to learn how to make a real Italian pizza with one of Piola’s master pizza makers! They will teach you all the tricks you need to know to make a superb pizza, while you make it with them right then and there. As a final reward for your efforts, you will get to eat the pizza you made during the class and share it with your friends!!"

I've got no particular need of the networking, but my pizza skills could sure use some work. So, off I went.

Parking's a pain in Brickell, but I got there more or less on time which meant, of course, waiting a good ten minutes for Piola to get their act together and for anyone else to show up. Once they did, they got four of us lined up along a table, dumped a truckload of flour on it and handed out discs of dough for us to work with.

The instructor did far more flirting than teaching, but I managed to pick up a few pointers. First of all, the texture of the dough was unusual. Soft, but not wet. Elastic, but not tight. That seemed to be the biggest trick of the night and I wish they told us how they managed it. I suspect part of it is from intensive kneading following by a lengthy rest to relax the gluten. The hydration level was hard to pin down, though. It can't have been too high as the dough didn't seem to pick up any of the flour, but normally a dough that dry is stiff. I dunno.

I'm also not sure why they used so very much flour. The dough didn't seem in any risk of sticking to the work surface. I presume it served some important function, though. There was a big minus as they never warned us to shake off the excess and we had big problems with baked on/caked on chunks of flour on the finished pies.

The chef demoed stretching the dough, so even if he didn't try to explain it, we had a model to follow. I've seen some folks say to use your knuckles, but he used his fingertips. He also had an interesting technique of letting half the dough droop off the side of the table while he rotated it around, letting gravity stretch it out. It worked pretty well for me too, but the texture of the dough was very forgiving. I'd want to be really confident any dough I made at home wasn't going to tear before trying it.

Most folks used tomato sauce and they showed us the technique you probably know of spooning a dollop in the middle of the pie and then using the back of the ladle to swirl it outwards. It was hard to judge just how much to use since a little goes a long way, but never quite as far as you'd like. Then a couple handfuls of shredded mozzarella and a pretty good selection of toppings. I lot of folks, I think, overloaded both with cheese and with too many and too much toppings. I believe it's traditional (and just a good idea) to use no more than three. I went with ham, roasted peppers and basil. OK, also some ricotta, but I went light on the mozzarella so the ricotta was intended as part of the cheese element, not a separate topping.

Here's before:

and after:

It turned out OK, but I had problems with excess flour and I like a spicier sauce than Piola uses so their unexpectedly sweet sauce threw off the balance of flavors a bit. One other point I learned from someone else's pie was that anchovies are to be used sparingly no matter how high quality they are (and these were really nice ones).

I think the big takeaway here was that getting the right texture on the dough at the start makes the process go much smoother and faster and gives you a better texture and flavor at the end. Does anyone have a favorite recipe they'd like to share?


Russell Hews Everett said...

Right here.

This has become our new default pizza dough. I made another round of it last weekend that I'll get up in a post soon. This crust is awesome. I also recommend the mushrooms, soft egg and arugula/dandelion green/watercress as toppings.

kat said...

this has been our go to pizza dough Though if you read my note in the recipe I use a lot less water than it calls for. I also knead it until it can pass the window pane test.

billjac said...

Russell, what are the beer and honey for? Both bring chemical effects along with their flavors; what are you utilizing and to what end?

Kat, from the picture it looks like you make your pizza crust quite thick. Have you tried rolling dough from your recipe out thin? What's the final result like?

Russell Hews Everett said...

Mmm well I'm no Alton Brown here but it seems to me the honey will give the yeast something quick and easy to chow down on and will offset any bitterness from the beer that might get amplified by the baking. The beer is mostly there for flavor, use a malty beer, I've been using my Oktoberfest, but a fairly hoppy Czech Pilsner would work great. The co2 helps make it a bit lighter, and I'm sure the acidity (beer is usually 4.5-ish) helps with something, and in a soda leavened bread this would be the acid that sets it off.

LaDivaCucina said...

I wanted to go to this but was committed to a VIP art event for art Basel that ended up being a fizzer. Wish I would have come to this like I originally intended!

billjac said...

Honestly, you didn't miss much. The pizza was amateurish and the pedagogy non-existent. Unless you can speak Italian--then you could have picked up more of use and done some networking to boot.

LaDivaCucina said...

Bill, I love how I can always count on your honesty! I just bought a new food processor with a dough attachment. Perhaps it will help me get over my dough-phobia!!! I love thin crust pizza and can't wait to make some!

billjac said...

It's always alarming when people praise my honesty. I know that if I haven't just inadvertently offended someone it's just because they didn't happen to be in the room at the time.