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epic pizza.

February 28, 2011

A few weeks back, Chris and I made a journey into Boston to try the pizza at Picco. We’d heard rave reviews about it back on our chocolate tour, but Chris was getting a cold at the time, so we were too lazy to stay in Boston and try it out that night. And peeps, the pizza was a.maze.balls. And from that day forward, Chris was on a mission to find a way to home-cook the perfect Picco-style pizza.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made pizza several times before—usually with the stuff in a bag grocery stores sell in their fancypants refrigerated/bakery section, although we have branched out to homemade dough more recently. But our misshapen average-to-good results were not cutting it for Chris after he experienced Picco, so he went on a journey through the interwebs to find a suitable method. When Becca and Laurel came to visit, he was determined to try out the results. If you want to see how we went from this:

to this:

Chris has an in-depth review of the process posted to his blog. He did not, however, share the super-duper secret dough recipe written by my hero, Peter Reinhart, so I will share that with y’all. If you want to be a normal person, you can go ahead and follow Reinhart’s directions below, but if you want to take a more adventurous approach to your pizza-baking (including, in our case, a fire alarm set-off, but not including any fire), you should definitely check out Chris’s post. Because PS, his blog is pretty cool in general, too.

Pizza Dough
4 1/2 cups (20.25 oz.) unbleached high-gluten, bread, or all-purpose flour, chilled [I missed the “chilled” memo, but I don’t think it wound up any worse for the wear…cold ferment FTW!]
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil (optional) [We left it out—after doing all his research, Chris gave me strict instructions to only use flour, salt, yeast, and water and a cold-ferment recipe. Luckily, Mr. Reinhart is similarly-minded.]
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting [we used regular-type flour]

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer. With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment. If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. [Don’t worry if you have to add quite a bit of water if you omitted the olive oil—I probably added about 2 to 3 tablespoons in the end, but it’s better to err on the side of wet for this dough.] The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55 degrees.
2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil. Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas [we definitely weren’t]). You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it. Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan. Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag [or cover loosely with plastic wrap].
3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: if you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make the pizza.)
4. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Before letting the dough rest at room temperature for 2 hours, dust the counter with flour, then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Now let rest for 2 hours.
5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens) or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the oven as hot as possible, up to 800 degrees (most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550 degrees). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.
6. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift 1 piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. [I found the dough to be too delicate to do anything but plop on the peel and smoosh it around with my fingertips into a very, very thin disk.] If you have trouble tossing the dough or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax and try again.
7. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-oz. piece of dough), lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings.
8. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone (or bake directly on the sheet pan) and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take about 5 to 8 minutes to bake.
9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving to allow the cheese to set slightly.

Source: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, via 101 Cookbooks because although I love Reinhart, I’m not quite bringing his books to school with me yet.

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