The Elements of Pizza: Our Resident Pizzaiolo Expands Her Repertoire

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Dearest cookbook authors of the world:

Please don’t ask me to measure out 1/10 of 1/4 teaspoons of anything. How does one realistically even go about that process?

I confess, Ken Forkish’s The Elements of Pizza does indeed call for a very accurate scale, and I believe the book assumes a reader will tackle the recipes using said scale, and not actually by measuring in teaspoons and cups. That being said, please don’t include volume (or metric) measurements just for the sake of it, in a way that can’t realistically be utilized.

I am a firm believer in the glory of baking with scales, probably more so than your average cook. I’ve had mine for 7 years, and I wasn’t keen on going out and buying a new one for the sake of this book’s requests. So I chugged along, attempting to measure out minuscule fractions of teaspoons too light for my weak little scale to pick up. But let me tell you, despite the frustration, it was all worth it.

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I am a pizza-making fiend. Though it’s something I’ve always enjoyed, my discovery of our Genius Lahey dough recipe changed my pizza world. I’ve gotten the process down to a science:

  1. Decide to make pizza the next day.
  2. Forget to mix the dough together until the second my head hits the pillow.
  3. Reluctantly get back up, thankful the dough takes only two minutes of prep.
  4. Next evening: Portion out the dough, crank up the oven, blend some San Marzanos together, and relish in the glory of a slice far better (and cheaper!) than most of what I could’ve ordered at a counter.

I was hesitant to mess with my system. To tackle recipes that required kneading. To have to babysit a dough. To be forced to add ingredients to my sauce other than tomatoes, oil, and salt. But… The book called to me.

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I’m a purist, generally preferring a simple slice of cheese pizza, of which this book contains many varieties. Toppings are a matter of preference, but what I really wanted to get down to was the differences in doughs and sauces that Forkish offers.

And so I began—and on the wrong yeast foot: While I generally prefer using instant yeast (what Forkish’s recipes call for), it was active dry yeast that I had on hand, and I decided to give it a go. I started with the Saturday Pizza Dough (using a 1/2 teaspoon of active dry yeast), waited patiently for it to rise, and—not much happened. But I forged onwards: Not wanting to waste my precious can of on-sale tomatoes on a possible dud, I chose to use the dough for one of Forkish’s white pizzas, The Ferdinando. (Garlic bread-lovers, that recipe is for you.)

While I found the browning to be a bit sparser than I’d have liked and that the olive oil pooled a bit (which may or may not have been related to my first try with a pizza peel, a.k.a. my small wooden cutting board), this turned out quite well! My fears of a dud dough were put to rest when I saw huge puffs of bubbled dough rise in the oven (the big bubbles are my favorite), and the garlic-cheese combo was well-balanced.

And the dough! I tested both the Saturday and the 48-72 Hours New York pizza doughs, and both were wonderful to work with. They require some strategy with timing, but if you’re like me and love the feel of a good dough, you’ll especially appreciate these. They stretch nicely, allowing for a good thin-crusted pizza, while not breaking into holes easily and still holding the outer crust’s shape. I even used the Saturday Dough after it had sat in the fridge for two days, and it was still great.

With my concerns put to rest, I took out my precious tomatoes and moved on to the Margherita pizza. Here, the Saturday Dough didn’t quite puff up as much as I would’ve liked, leaving the crust a little tougher. On the other hand, the sauce was delicious, the oil drizzled on top added a nice richness, and I loved the charred bubbles created with Forkish’s broiling method.

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His methods are involved: You preheat the oven, change it to broil 10 minutes before baking, change it back when you put the pizza in, and at the end of baking, change it back to broil again to finish. But the result is a coloring and char that is hard to achieve in a home oven. If you don’t care about that, feel free to bake without ever setting the oven to broil. But if you do, I would recommend rotating the pizza once at the end so that the charring is even all the way around.

The Elements of Pizza includes a handy table matching recipes to the appropriate doughs. Margaritas and Roman pizzas are best served by the Saturday Dough (or any of a few other options), while New York-style pies are better with the 48-72 Hour New York dough. Aside from the flavor difference—a dough risen for longer is going to have more flavor—I didn’t notice many distinctions between the two doughs.

But in an attempt to follow Forkish’s guidance, I prepped the New York dough for my New York pizza and readied the, wait for it, New York Pizza Sauce. The sauce I found a bit sweet (though I think that’s the point), and the dough baked up a bit too puffy, but this was another tasty pie.

One thing I especially appreciated is how flexible this book is. While the techniques can border on fussy (though useful—case in point, the broiling method), the recipes are not only easily adaptable, but also buildable upon each other. The leftover sauce for the Margherita, “Basic Tomato Sauce,” could then be turned into “FWSY Sauce” (which is what I used for my final Tomato Pie); and part of that “FWSY Sauce” could be turned into “New York Tomato Sauce.”

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The only pizza I made that I didn’t love was the aforementioned Tomato Pie, baked on a (unheated) sheet pan. The crust undoubtedly suffers from the pan, but if you don’t have a baking stone, this is certainly a workable option. I also found the whole pizza to be a bit salty (though, again, this could easily be fixed by using a little less cheese, which this pizza loads up on). Also be aware of your pan size: The recipes call for half sheet pans, which tend to be a little bigger than your average sheet pan, so adjust accordingly.

Overall, this book is a great addition to a pizza-lover’s cookbook collection. If you’ve never made pizza before, it might be a bit intimidating, but it’s a trove of great information, and there are certainly some more basic recipes in the book. You simply have to get to them before getting scared off by the big guns.

Personally, I had three major takeaways:

  1. Some new techniques to think about rotating into my cooking: setting the oven to broil both before and at the end of baking, some methods for stretching dough, and the value of a pizza peel.
  2. A couple dough and tomato sauce variations to keep in the back of my head, particularly for dough. I love the simplicity of my standard Lahey recipe and I don’t intend to deviate from it too often, but Forkish’s dough recipes are, without a doubt, easier to stretch and more fun to work with.
  3. Fun topping inspiration! While I didn’t delve too deeply into them, his toppings range from prosciutto and zucchini blossoms to eggs, and are great to flip through when you’re feeling experimental.

Name your pizza loyalties—thin crust? white pizza? deep-dish? anchovies?—and share your pizza-making tips in the comments.

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