My Search for the Perfect Pizza – Episode 2
Wherein the author briefly mourns the loss of a kitchen tool, then celebrates the arrival of it’s replacement. The celebration isn’t the greatest – another formal try at Perfect Pizza – details included – with pictures!
I’ve previously described my search for the perfect pizza – Pesto and Fresh Tomato. Other things in my life have intervened, preventing my first serious attempt since settling on using Mom’s Pizza Dough. From the point of view of pizza making, here’s the worst thing:
The burns are the result of overloading a pepperoni pizza, combined with a long inbound international phone call. Cheese spills over edge, time causes burning. I don’t know how I cracked it, but as you can see, it is most definitely cracked. It took me a few weeks, but I finally replaced it with this brand new bouncing (ok, not really bouncing) baby stone (baby pizza stones are born full size, and grow wiser, but no bigger, by seasoning!):
Finally, I’ve got the tools for my next try! While I’ve not been trying to cook My Perfect Pizza, I have been thinking about it, and I’d decided that my failures prior to my first post were not only failures in detail, but failures in process. You see, I’d been going about it hit-or-miss. I hadn’t been keeping track of the problematic details, so each try was essentially separate from the previous ones. No lessons were learned. It’s time to end that. Let’s focus on the ingredients:
That’s right – there’s only four ingredients. Two of them (the tomato and the cheese) are essentially indivisible. Unless I start growing my own tomatoes or making my own cheese, I’ll be sticking with what I can find at the store or farmer’s market. The dough and the pesto are more complex, but I’ve decided to stay with store bought dough and pesto until I pay more attention to, and record the details of, my efforts – successes AND failures.
And so as to not keep you waiting, here are the results:
- Lousy picture! Taken with cellphone under light that wasn’t the best (and that’s an understatement!) Not really related to cooking the pizza, but I’m putting “take better pictures” on my things to do list – later – MUCH later.
- Crust too thin and chewy. Related: Edge didn’t brown well because fillings were getting mushy. Proposed solution: spend more time on rolling out the dough well. Objective: Larger and thinner crust that cooks well in a time that doesn’t overcook the topping.
- Topping/Sauce quantities and balance: Not bad – toppings didn’t overflow. Balance NOT noted because of the next problem:
- way, Way, WAY too salty!
- Quality of other toppings were definitely NOT problems. However, because of the overwhelming saltiness, I can’t in good conscience call them successes. Tomato was a ripe heirloom purchased 2 hours earlier with sweet taste that I sampled after slicing. Cheese (Mozzarella only) also sampled after grating – no problem.
Let’s take the saltiness first, since since it overwhelmed any chance of constructive discussion/criticism of the resting of the toppings/sauce.
I was extremely surprised by this. Where did the salt come from? It wasn’t the dough – I’ve undercooked Mom’s before and it wasn’t salty. It was neither the tomato nor the cheese, both of which I sampled before cooking, so it must have been the Pesto. So I sampled the Pesto – which I hadn’t done previously because it’s my first store bought Pesto and samples weren’t available in the store. Yep – definitely the Pesto. Sigh. I’ve put a label on it (Warning – Extremely Salty – Use only in recipes that call for additional salt, then reduce or don’t use the salt!) so I simultaneously don’t waste it, but don’t try to use it in my quest for the Perfect Pizza again.
OK then, I’ll have to try a different pesto. Now on to the dough…Here it is before rolling/shaping/throwing: Whoops! I thought I took that picture, but now I can’t find it. It’s not that important, as it’s the AFTER rolling/shaping/throwing that’s the important bit:
In addition to it’s non roundness, and what the picture doesn’t show, is that it’s only about 10 inches across at the widest point. Why didn’t make it bigger/thinner? The answer is related to my prior attempts. You see, EVERY previous attempt was done with only half the dough. I am cooking for only myself when I experiment, so I don’t want a pizza for two – just a pizza for one. The one consistent failure that I can identify from prior attempts is that there just wasn’t enough dough to try any of the shaping/throwing techniques I’ve watched throughout my life on TV and at Pizza parlors. So THIS time, I decided to use all the dough. Sadly, I didn’t RTFM before topped my pizza. My specific mistakes here were that I didn’t START with a nice round ball (It’s almost impossible to achieve roundness if you don’t start with roundness) and I stopped at roughly 10 inches when the dough instructions clearly state it should make about a 14″ pizza. This is roughly twice the size (in area) that I achieved, so it’s no wonder that my dough was chewy and didn’t brown well!
So for my next attempt, I hereby resolve to
- Take far more care in rolling/shaping/throwing the dough and
- Try another brand of pesto. And pay attention to how close to the front Salt appears in the ingredients list. Farther down is better!
- Use the same ratio of cheese/pesto/tomato. Since the salt overwhelmed evaluating this, I’ll stick with what was OK (not great) about last night’s attempt. I will end up doubling the quantities – since my Pizza will (should) have twice the area – but I’ll keep the ratios.
One question you might ask is: Why not make my own dough and pesto? My answer is simple. As for the dough, why mess with a good thing (Mom’s) when there are far more serious problems in my pizza cooking skills? And as for the Pesto: It seems that when I make it myself, it’s never the same twice! I’m trying to control the variables here, not let them multiply. There will come a time when I make my own Pesto again – but I want to nail down the crust first, then pay much closer attention to topping/sauce balance first. Only after I’ve repeatedly achieved a crust and topping/sauce balance that is much closer to my idyllic pizza will I start experimenting with the pesto. Experimenting with the crust will be the after that.
Watch this space for Episode 3 – although I make no promises as to when it will appear!