Like most classical comedies, this begins with a hapless struggle, and ends with a party.
But, for the record, I am not… completely hapless.
I do, admittedly, hide behind schtick. I joke about barely being able to dress myself, and fess up to cutting my hands with condiments (this has happened) and having remnants of floor dust that date to the Clinton Administration. It’s funny. But sometimes my self-deprecation takes on a cynical edge, and I find myself in a Stockholm Syndromey relationship with the universe: hiding within a bubble of sarcasm and corseted into mirthless routine.
The arc of this past year has been my effort to change this. And, truth is, I do okay. The other truth? 2012 has been the best year I’ve had in at least two decades. I’ve lost enough weight to no longer cringe when I see a mirror or a camera. I saved money and made plans to go to Asia next year. I’ve been surrounded by friends. I kissed a girl. I’m driving a little car to a job that lets me buy Valrhona Cocoa. Plus I have dental. And a really good boss.
The key? I learned something. Life’s challenge does not lie in getting what you want. That part is easy. The real trick is figuring out what you want.
Which brings me to pizza.
I have agonized over homemade pizza this year. All year. I’ve made it for friends, for upstairs neighbors, to give to hungry jobless friends, for me when the day turned sour. Despite the abundant compliments, (dude, it’s homemade pizza), I was never really satisfied. So I’ve continued to tweak and worry.
But the agony was manageable. Like I said, the key is figuring out what I wanted, and this had been clearly articulated, at least in my brain. The rest is all reverse engineering.
I do not have unrealistic homemade pizza expectations. But I simply refuse to accept that it’s impossible to achieve the following:
a. thin, crispy crust, dotted with bits of char on the bottom
b. evenly browned top, some char acceptable
c. cheese that is melted without burning.
d. fat from the toppings should be burned away, not rendered out into the pie.
e. interior of the dough will be airy and have a slight tang
It took six months, several burn marks on my hands, countless Sunday mornings scrubbing leftover dough remnants from my counter top and one apartment building evacuation (linked smoke alarms)- I think I found what I wanted.
The recipe represents a slight tweak from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Basic Neopolitan Pizza Dough on the Serious Eats website, (You’re all reading this every day, right?). The proportions remain the same, but I prefer to go skillet then broiler.
Kenji can explain the nuances of the process much more effectively than I can. But one baking-nerd tidbid I discovered during this Dough-mage is that professional bakers distinguish between “extensibility” and “elasticity” when considering flour, the former being the quality of a dough to expand without again contracting in the oven. This tends to yield a thinner, crispy crust, but one that remains tender (due to less toughening pullback)
That was the clincher. 00 flour. The rest was easy. All that was left was to host a party. I made the dough…
About 20 of my dearest and thirstiest friends brought toppings:
Props to Becky for setting the table. (BONUS RECIPE #1 Note the third pitcher! I learned to make a pretty good mojito that afternoon (I used David’s Mint Juliep hack and made a mint infused simple syrup rather than muddle) – 2 parts each club soda and light rum, one part each mint syrup and lime juice.
Mixological Side-Note: Math can be really fun.
Broiler and Serve
Oh! one more thing. Califlower pizza crust. It’s totally a thing. And, as I learned, is actually quite good. I owe Lan a debt of gratitude for her version here (these pictures are mouthwatering, as always) but David is trying to eschew as much flour as possible, so I opted for a richer version, which is here.
The idea is the same, pulse a head of cauliflower until it reaches couscous consistency, microwave for a minute or at a time until the “grains” seem uniformly soft, add one egg and one cup of Italian-themed cheese, then spread out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment – bake for a second. Then, top and broil – but NOT on a pizza stone. This thing will break it.
Not the firmest dough ever, David ate his with a fork. You won’t forget it’s made of cauliflower, but the gentle sweetness of it leads to quick acceptance.
As always, I’m sorry it’s been a while.