Just what it says on the tin.
October 29, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Varasano's is a better treatment of how to make dough.

And really, making the right dough and crust is 80% of it, IMO.
posted by mikeand1 at 1:57 PM on October 29, 2011 [18 favorites]

I highly recommend making your own pizza. You get better and better with practice, the raw ingredients cost pennies and most of them keep for a long time in your pantry. We are at the point now in our home where we can go from "Let's have pizza tonight" to sitting at the table eating in about the same time it takes for delivery. The amount of money saved paid for the stand mixer many times over. Plus, little kids *love* to make their own pizza.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 2:01 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

mikeand1 I'm not seeing a recipe for crust there...

Thanks Orange Pamplemousse, I've been craving pizza.
posted by iurodivii at 2:02 PM on October 29, 2011

I was just making the crust and realised the recipe hadn't been posted here.

I usually use 4 cups of whole wheat crust, 1.5 cups of water and 3 tbsp of oil. Lots of kneading is definitely key.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 2:06 PM on October 29, 2011

He's entirely wrong about pizza stones, but otherwise, I can forgive him because of his obsessive attention to detail.

I mean, we make pizza ALL THE TIME, and we've used all kinds of baking surfaces. Nothing works better than a stone.

Seriously, how do you heat a pizza stone "wrong"?
posted by hippybear at 2:20 PM on October 29, 2011

I totally appreciate pizza posts, but pizza mediocrity is not necessary anymore -- even at home.

I always follow the basic protocol outlined by my pizza sensei Jeff Varasano (I don't know him personally, but good, descriptive writing can TEACH).

Basically, with some smooth talking and a little ingenuity, he reverse-engineered Patsy's (of NYC) secret dough recipe.

With pizza, the dough is key. If you can't nail the dough, it won't feel or taste like real pizza. You can always buy cans of San Marzano tomatoes and decent mozz, then be all set with basic toppings.

If you've yet to read it, this is really game-changing stuff. It's hardly even a recipe, more like a detailed, almost scientific technique. Thanks so much, Jeff!!!

posted by unwordy at 2:23 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Flavorful cheeses... work well on pizza in sparse quantities."


(sets entire wheel of Rogue Blue on pizza dough, smothers in Sauternes-based marinara, bakes)
posted by suckerpunch at 2:24 PM on October 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, this is an excellent recipe for cornmeal pizza dough. For those who want a bit of a different flavor, or are making taco pizza or whatever.
posted by hippybear at 2:24 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also also, during tomato season, we take the cherry and tiny yellow pear tomatoes we grow and cut them in half and set them on the crust and use that instead of sauce. It makes for an intense fresh tomato plus roasted tomato flavor on a pizza, and is oh so fresh and healthy above canned sauce.
posted by hippybear at 2:25 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I'm not seeing a recipe for crust there..."

Scroll down. And it's not a "recipe" in the sense of a fixed formula. It's a friggin' philosophy.
posted by mikeand1 at 2:25 PM on October 29, 2011

Here's the real person's guide to making your own pizza.
posted by auto-correct at 2:28 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also also also, America's Test Kitchen has the best recipe and technique for pan pizza I've ever encountered. If you need the recipe, MeMail me with a non-MeMail address and I'll forward it to you.
posted by hippybear at 2:29 PM on October 29, 2011

Seriously, how do you heat a pizza stone "wrong"?
I have no idea, but however you do it, I did that, because my pizza stone mysteriously broke in two mid-pizza-baking last week. I was going to get a new one today, but maybe I'll try the screen.
posted by craichead at 2:30 PM on October 29, 2011

craichead: the unspoken secret is, you don't have to have a one-piece pizza stone for it to still work its magic. Just put the two halves next to each other and use as normal.
posted by hippybear at 2:32 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Heh, theawl's guide has some striking similarities to Varasano's.
posted by hattifattener at 2:33 PM on October 29, 2011

There are certain ingredients that must be underneath cheese or other ingredients if you don't like them black and crispy: . . . Ham, Canadian bacon, prosciutto

posted by James Scott-Brown at 2:38 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

That's just ridiculous. But thorough!
posted by The Deej at 2:56 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

pro-tip: Mr Supermedusa has spent years working on his home-made pizza (and yeah the dough is a huge amount of that) we've had lots of fun and delicious meals experimenting with sauces, topping etc.,

one really important item is a pizza stone for your oven but they are ridiculously, unnecessarily expensive at kitchen stores. we use a mexican paver which you can get at Home Depot for a few bucks. its a really essential component to getting that crisp crust :)
posted by supermedusa at 3:08 PM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

A second vote for Jeff Varasano

(Anthony Baker's spaghetti and meatballs is in a similar pedantic vein for tremendously indulgent complements to Varasano's pies.)

Through really understanding Varasano's instruction, one learns simple techniques that change the entire experience of the finished pie. Routinely, foodie friends with very experienced tastes and high expectations of pizza have called Varasano-inspired pizzas, "the best pizza I have ever had." Including a UK chef of minor fame.

Like cutting and draining the mozzarella for several hours in advance. The flavour blossoms in a way that makes one embarrassed slightly-drained mozzarella was ever used.

And if you need any further inspiration to click on that link, just for example, Varasano's take on dough rising:
It would seem like the more yeast bubbles in the dough, the lighter the pizza will be. This is the intuitive guess. But it's not true. The yeast starts the bubbles, but it's really steam that blows the bubbles up. If the yeast creates bubbles that are too big, they become weak and simply pop when the steam comes resulting in a flat dense, less springy crust. Think of blowing a bubble with bubble gum.

How tight is a 2 inch bubble? It depends: As you start with a small bubble and blow it up to 2 inches it's strong and tight. But at 4 inches it's reached it's peak.. Now if it shrinks back to 2 inches, it'll be very weak. So a 2 inch bubble is strong on the way up and weak on the way down. You want bubbles on the way up. If the dough is risen high, the bubbles are big and the dough will have a weaker structure and will collapse when heat creates steam.

The lightest crust will come from a wet dough (wet = a lot of steam), with a modest amount of rise (bubbles formed, but small and strong). Some people start with a warm rise for 6 hours or so, and then move the dough to the fridge. I'm not a huge fan of this method. Once the bubbles are formed, I don't want the dough to get cold and have the bubbles shrink. This weakens their structure. What you want is a steady slow rise, with no reversals. Always expanding, just very, very slowly.
Jeff Varasano, we salute you.
posted by nickrussell at 3:10 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

craichead our paver is cracked in half and we just use it like that. you dont need a new one!
posted by supermedusa at 3:11 PM on October 29, 2011

absolutely do not touch your pizza with Velveeta.

Seems this recipe is for people who have never even heard of pizza. Just the fact that he has to tell people not to use Velveeta makes me makes me sad.

Patsy's seems like one of those places where no matter how good the pizza is it cannot possibly be worth the effort to get it. I always heard stories of some place out in Brighton Beach where they only make 50 pies a day, you have to get there at 4 am and wait if you want one. I don't care how good the pizza is, I am not going anywhere at 4 am.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:13 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two things make a great pizza: Properly-prepared dough (a la Varasano) and a blazing hot oven.

In lieu of a brick oven, we use a Big Green Egg. I like to get it up to 800-900 degrees for pizza. If the stone is sufficiently hot, the pizza should only take 2-3 minutes to cook.

Here's a pie we made using Varasano's dough techniques, cooked on the Egg at about 850 for a couple minutes. It doesn't get much better than that.
posted by mikeand1 at 3:28 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Varasano's article(s) have been on The Blue previously.

I showed it to a friend who then took an oven out of a rental unit that he was remodeling, followed the directions and made excellent pizza. Good thing he did it in the garage though, because 20 years of casual cleaning had left greasy pockets throughout what looked like a nominally clean oven. I think the first ten or so pies through there prompted fire departments vists, initially; then just calls to make sure it was just him and Ol' Smokey making Italian magic.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:40 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

nth-ing the Varasano endorsements here, I think reading that was what got me really seriously into making pizza for a while. I gave it up for a while maybe a year ago and did other things, but I before I did, I got my parents enthused about it. I visited them recently and they suggested making pizza for dinner, and the crust was coated in burned cornmeal, flavorless and compact after dumping in a packet of instant yeast and letting the dough sit for an hour or two. It was still ok when you added tomato sauce and real mozz, but it could be so much better.

I think pizza isn't so much an aspiration in itself as it is a neat trick that you can do once you've really mastered baking bread. I've got Ed Wood's book open now and a sourdough culture waking up on my kitchen counter. No pizzas on the horizon yet, but I'll be pretty happy if I can turn out a decent sourdough loaf.
posted by indubitable at 3:42 PM on October 29, 2011

I'm going to stick my neck out and endorse the most ridiculous, gimmicky-looking, infomercial-grade gadget imaginable, on which I've made hundreds of the most wonderful, experimental, elemental, perfect pizzas—the Presto® Pizzazz® pizza oven.

Feel free to snicker.

It is ridiculous to look at, a sort of bizarro world recombinant merger of a hair dryer, Close 'N' Play record player, and an Easy-Bake Oven, and there are several dozen reasons why this thing should just suck beyond belief, but my experience, and I can only speak for my experience here, is that it's made me into a guy who regularly eats nice simple happy healthy pizzas made entirely with whole foods (i.e. single ingredient items, not the boutique output of a chain grocery store for the wealthy).

I live alone (well, alone with two dogs) in a 380 square foot, 2.75 room apartment with a lovely lovely Real Host stove from the 1950s in which I can only use the oven from November to February without baking myself along with my casseroles, and I've got a kickass pizza stone, a well-worn peel that I bought from the new owners of the pizza joint where I worked for seven years in the early eighties, and some serious pizzamaking chops...but that's a lot of work for one meal for one guy.


Don't even remember where I saw the Pizzazz®, but bought one for $29 plus tax, brought it home along with a dough ball from the local Italian market and made my first pizza, one of my favorites. Basic crust, thrown into a nice delicate shell, a thin application of fresh pesto as a base, a moderate bed of grated fresh mozzarella and smoked provolone in a 3:2 ratio, topped with chopped marinated artichoke hearts from a jar and a little jittery scattering of crumbled feta and a sparse application of torn basil from the garden. Watching the Pizzazz® work is absurd—it's like cooking a pizza on a record player, and yet—well, it doesn't have that marvelous smoky essence of a wood-fired oven, but it works astonishingly well and doesn't heat up the house at all.

I can't bake bread in the warm months, when my Dutch oven whimpers a lonely cry from where I keep it under my comfy reading chair, but I can eat great pizzas all the time, and make all sorts of terrific flatbreads and other roundish, flattish pastries and tarty things. It may not be strictly kosher, in a credentialist way of looking at cuisine, but man, for the single dude with a bit of culinary flair in a smallish apartment (smallish for a small town in Maryland, not NYC), it's a neat little gizmo that's given me my $29 plus tax worth many, many times over.

Even better, the ability to sit over your creation as it's bubbling and rotating, with the ability to add stuff as it looks like it needs it, is way cool. Its as silly as making snowballs (that's Marylandese for "snow cones") with a plastic snowman and as fun, too, and mine's lasted five or six years so far, so it's relatively durable, too.

P.S. Don't scrub or wash the turntable/cook surface with anything but water and a brush. It gets all discolored and ugly, but that's okay. Also, if you're cooking a frozen pizza and you're high, remember to take the round cardboard piece off the pizza before you cook it…umm—or before you eat half of it, grumbling at what a lousy pizza it is. At least that's what I hear, you see.
posted by sonascope at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2011 [30 favorites]

When I read the post description, I honestly thought the directions were first going to ask me to create the universe. (That's a different pie.)
posted by koucha at 4:49 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

No mention of Jim Lahey's pizza? I made two of 'em tonight. He forgoes the stone for a heavily oiled cookie sheet. In a 500-degree oven your pizza crusts up just in like a brick oven. Fantastic.
posted by stargell at 5:24 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good stuff, but I still haven't seen anything that comes close to beating Verasano.
posted by caddis at 6:00 PM on October 29, 2011

I have tried making cornmeal pizza. It's not bad. But it suffers from the fact that it has "pizza" in the name, and so you expect it to be pizza-ish, and it's not.

Other things I feel this way about include spaghetti squash and veggie burgers.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:44 PM on October 29, 2011

I've been using this guide for a while now... with mixed results.
posted by hot_monster at 6:59 PM on October 29, 2011

Disclaimer: The instructions below are for making a pizza in the traditional American pizzeria style.
Not to exhume the unquiet ghost of the Great Metafilter Pizza Wars, but this statement is meaningless.

There is more variety in things which are called "pizza" in the United States of America than there is in all of Italy. Roman, Sicilian, and Neapolitan pizza do not differ from each other as much as Chicago stuffed deep dish differs from St. Louis style.* And that's not even considering those dubious pizzoid mutants from California and New York City.

* "Scrape off the Cheez Wiz and the ketchup, and eat it like a cracker."
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:01 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

do not differ from each other as much as Chicago stuffed deep dish

Chicago stuffed is not the same as Chicago deep dish. And you forgot the true horror of St. Louis style pizza, which is that polymer they call provel.
posted by eriko at 8:07 PM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Scroll down. And it's not a "recipe" in the sense of a fixed formula.

5 to 3 ratio by weight, flour to water. 10 oz. of flour and 6 oz. water gets you a medium pie. Decent pinch salt and yeast. I like to put fresh rosemary and olive oil in my dough too. But remember, you're not shooting monkeys into space, you're making pizza. This is as easy as cooking gets. Flour, salt, water, yeast. Make a batch of sauce in advance and freeze it in portion sizes, and you can throw an amazing pizza together with 15 minutes of actual hands-on labor (fermentation and baking time you can spend reading, playing games, having sex, whatever).
posted by middleclasstool at 9:53 PM on October 29, 2011

We are at the point now in our home where we can go from "Let's have pizza tonight" to sitting at the table eating in about the same time it takes for delivery.

I make 2 pizzas every week and have for years and completely recommend it, but this is a lie. You can't even make *dough* in that amount of time. Granted, you can make a freeze dough (in ball, not crust form). But you still need to though, chop ingredia, make and cook it. You can't do all of that in under 30 minutes.
posted by DU at 4:59 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

WTF? "You can make frozen dough (in ball, not crust form). But you still need to thaw.."
posted by DU at 5:55 AM on October 30, 2011

I've been known to create an unholy hybrid of Chicago Deep Dish crust and beer bread. It's a tasty tasty crime against God and Nature.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:56 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was worried that the recipe would come from this book
posted by seawallrunner at 1:33 PM on October 30, 2011

I've been using Bill's Neapolitan Sauce recipe from Pizzamaniac.com for years, with the added step of baking the sauce at 350F for an hour or so so it reduces and caramelizes a little bit. I use a Neapolitan dough recipe that i found on usenet... I should spend some time trying others, but the threat of disappointment after all that work makes me complacent. There's nothing like that super-thin, almost crackery crust, and you just can't get that in the hinterlands of north-central Massachusetts.
posted by usonian at 2:48 PM on October 30, 2011

"It looks like it's done, right? Yeah? Then let it cook for another 3 minutes. Pizzas always look like they are done 3-4 minutes before they are actually really done. If you take it out before that last 3-4 minutes, the crust will be floppier than Bob Dole sans Viagra, and you might not get full toppings cookage."

A Bob Dole joke. Excellent.

I have been making Gluten Free pizzas with the chebe pizza mix and they have been coming out better and better as I make each one. The first was an "OMG, this can't possibly be kneaded properly!" experience. The last one I made was so easy that I worry I will start eating too much pizza.

I am enjoying modifying the recipe on the box in various ways and would like to eventually not have to use a mix.

I am checking out that Varasano site now. I hadn't seen that before. And after seeing a commercial for it, I hoped that the Pizza Pizzazz would be worth it. I will certainly look at getting one of those. Thanks, sonascope!
posted by sciatica at 4:16 PM on October 30, 2011

MetaFilter: floppier than Bob Dole sans Viagra
posted by hippybear at 4:20 PM on October 30, 2011

Gygesringtone: "I've been known to create an unholy hybrid of Chicago Deep Dish crust and beer bread."

I am interested in your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:45 PM on October 30, 2011

hey folks

ten minutes of browsing the forums at Pizza Making will shed a bit more light on the myth of varasano for you. like many of your experiences, his one-pager was my intro to the fine world of neapolitan pizza-making. but it seems he is not quite the sensei, and that many members there believe he took their tips and responses and crafted them as his own. one prominent member with his own restaurant stopped posting responses after that and it seemed to really affect the community for a while. granted, this is the age of the remix, but there's very little attribution in his recipe.

as for myself, i started with varasano's deal, moved on to growing my own yeast cultures (two italian and one from a pizza place), get my egg up to 900º and cook them in 90 seconds. i'm no expert but i've been experimenting for about three years now and am usually pretty happy with the results.

keep a spreadsheet with your weights, hydrations, rise times, etc. try varying one variable at a time. even little things like salt in the sauce make a huge difference.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 12:19 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been heavily interested in Neapolitan-style pizza (both eating and trying to make at home) for quite a number of years. And I've gone through any number of techniques for making it at home. Of course you want to use a base of ground San Marzano tomatoes and the best, wettest, freshest, preferably never refrigerated mozzarella you can get your hands on. And of course you want to use a moderately small number of toppings. And of course you want to put everything on there raw (even things like sausage) to cook in the heat of the oven. And of course you want a high-hydration dough that is made with AP flour (or "00 for pizza" if you can get your hands on some) and not bread flour. These are all no-brainers.

Really there are two tricks that are important and might not be obvious:

Trick number one is to long-ferment the dough in the refrigerator. The longer the better, and it can go even longer than a week. This makes it possible to always have some pizza dough around when you might want to make some on a whim.

Trick number two comes from the Modernist Cuisine team. Rather than using a baking stone and baking the pizza in the oven, get your local metal fabricator to cut you a large, thick rectangular piece of aluminum that will fit under your broiler. Then, don't bake in the oven. Put the aluminum slab around 6 or 7 inches under the broiler and preheat for around an hour. Slide the the pizza off your peel directly on to the now screaming-hot aluminum slab and bake it under the broiler at full blast. This way you're getting the blast of conducted heat coming up from the aluminum slab and a blast of radiant heat coming down from the broiler, and your pizza will bake in around 90 seconds.
posted by slkinsey at 8:53 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hydrate Level 4, please.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 11:20 PM on October 31, 2011

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