MY HUSBAND, David Bronlivet, has been fiddling with pizza dough since before we got married, over 30 years ago. (I, on the other hand, avoid any recipes using flour or yeast. I may be the only food writer on the planet who didn’t bake a single loaf of sourdough dough during the pandemic.)
David’s initial experiments met with mixed success. Several lifeless lumps of dough ended up in the trash, once prematurely. In this case, the discarded dough eventually rose and continued to rise all night, invisible, under the sink. By morning, the trash can was overflowing with a seething, swollen mass.
But every failure was a lesson. By the time our daughter started preschool, David felt confident enough to bring a batch of his dough into her classroom and teach a pizza-making class to two dozen four-year-olds with the help of a teacher and a few volunteer parents.
At home we had pizza parties of a more acceptable size. While the parents sipped wine, each of the children rolled out their own pizza and decorated it. As the kids went off to play, the maestro would go to his tavolini, a heavy 24″ x 28″ Vermont maple slab perfect for pastry work. It has a leading edge that keeps it from sliding forward on the countertop and a back stop that keeps anything on it from sliding off. Despite its hefty size, we’ve taken tavolini on numerous vacation trips to Orcas Island and the Oregon Coast at the request of family and friends who demanded David’s pizza.
David has never come across a single cookbook that he doesn’t want to own. He borrows a lot from the library, but at least a dozen pizza books are in our permanent sticker collection. These are his pizza bibles: “Pizza Napoletana!” Pamela Sheldon Jones! (1999), Jim Lahey’s “My Pizza” (2012), Ken Forkish’s “Pizza Elements” (2016) and Marc Vetry’s “Pizza Mastery” (2018). By this point, one would think that he already has a proven recipe, but no. He is constantly tweaking the dough and adjusting his methods, never being completely satisfied, despite praise from everyone who has ever eaten a slice (including more than one professional critic). He always thinks his pizza could be better.
I have long suspected that an obsessive desire for “the best” haunts pizzerias as a whole. Peter Reinhart’s new book, Looking for Pizza: My Endless Search for the Perfect Pizza, supports this theory. Reinhart, also the creator of the Pizza Quest web series, was the author of several award-winning bread books before he wrote his first pizza book, American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza, published in 2003. Almost 20 years. years later, he’s still on the hunt!
The new book was Reinhart’s project on the pandemic. After cutting back on travel, he contacted “pizza geniuses” across the country and asked to interpret their pizza, which he admires. It includes round pies, square pies, pan pies, and a few pizza-like items such as focaccia, stromboli, and stuffed pies. Without revealing all the secrets of pizzaiolo ownership, the book offers enough guidance to create trustworthy “cover versions” at home. It’s a one-man tribute band.
Reinhart is also clearly obsessed with more than just pizza. “One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years in finding the perfect pizza,” he writes, “is that it’s more about the quest than the pizza, and the quest never ends.” My husband couldn’t help but agree.
Classic white pizza dough
Pizza is “always cooked with the crust first,” writes Peter Reinhart. This dough is one of four main recipes he has included in his new book, Pizza Quest: My Endless Search for the Perfect Pizza.
Yield: 36 ounces (1021 grams) or about four 12-inch pies.
21 ounces/595 grams (4⅔ cups) unbleached bread or all-purpose bread or “00” flour
0.42 oz/12 grams (1½ teaspoon) kosher salt
0.11 oz/3 grams (1 teaspoon) instant yeast
14.25 oz / 404 grams water (room temperature, 68° to 72°F)
1 oz/28 grams olive oil, plus more for greasing (optional)
one. In a bowl or bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, salt and yeast. Add water, mix with a large spoon or use the paddle attachment and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to form a coarse, fluffy dough. Add oil if using. Increase the speed to medium (or continue mixing with a spoon or wet hands) and mix for another 30 to 60 seconds to make a moist, rough, sticky dough. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes so that it is completely moistened.
2. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high (or continue to mix by hand) and mix for another 2-4 minutes to make a smooth dough, adding more flour or water as needed. The dough should be soft and pliable, very sticky but not sticky to the touch, and offer little resistance when pressed with a wet finger.
3. Use 1 teaspoon of oil to create a 15″ diameter oil stain on your work surface. Rub the oil on a plastic bowl scraper and your hand, then use the scraper to transfer the batter onto the oil stain.
four. Lift and stretch the dough and fold it all over towards the center, pinching and squeezing to form a rough ball. Place the ball of dough back on the oil stain, seam side down; flatten it with your palms; and again press and stretch it and fold it onto itself. Pinch and squeeze the seams to compress the dough into a tighter, slightly smoother ball of dough. Lay it seam-side down back on the oil stain and cover with a bowl for 3-5 minutes. Repeat stretching and folding, rubbing additional oil into the work surface as needed. Cover the dough again, let it rest for 2 to 5 minutes, and repeat stretching and folding. Cover with a bowl and let stand again for 2 to 5 minutes. Perform the last stretch and fold to make a smooth ball of dough. The dough will harden after each stretch and fold, and should now be smooth, elastic, and sticky to the touch, but not sticky.
5. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl or container, roll it out to coat with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12-72 hours. On the day you plan to bake, take the dough out of the refrigerator 3 hours before baking. Immediately divide it into the sizes you need and round them into balls. Line a baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, then place the dough balls on it. Spray them with vegetable oil and cover the pan with plastic wrap or a plastic liner.