In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Review: The Elements of Pizza: Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home

Written by Chef Donna Marie Desfor | Jun 22, 2016 2:35 AM
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The Elements of Pizza: Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home

by Ken Forkish

Photography by Alan Weiner

Get it: Ten Speed Press, Hardcover, 256 pages, $30. (Amazon $20.62 (new); Kindle $15.99)

See it: 100 full-color photos, plus step-by-step photos of the dough-making process.

Make it: 13 pizza dough recipes, including a quick dough, naturally leavened doughs, and a few specialty doughs including a gluten-free pizza dough; 4 sauce recipes; 37 pizza recipes ranging from Italian-style, New York-inspired, classics, flatbreads and vegetable pizzas.

Good pizza is magic.  So, when you know how to make artisanal bread, it sort of follows that a delicious pizza dough crust would be easy to master.  Unfortunately, most of us are not bread bakers, let alone artisanal bread bakers.  And, if you've ever tried your hand at pizza dough you probably walked away from the project wondering why you didn't just order out.  Lucky for us, Ken Forkish, one of the country's most trusted authorities on bread-making, in his new cookbook The Elements of Pizza details precisely how easy a perfect pizza dough can be, and then complements the many dough variations with incredible toppings.  After your first bite you won't mind the little investment of time to get these incredible results! 

Forkish's first book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, was successful in bringing methods used in the best artisan bakeries into the home kitchen to make professional-quality bread.  The Elements of Pizza has a similar aim taking inspiration from several of the best pizza makers in Italy and the United States.  But Forkish is practical.  He gets that many of the recipes call for doughs with long-fermentation times (because that's how you get the best flavors and textures) and treats time like an ingredient.  He demonstrates the practicality of a little planning by highlighting the dough-rising schedule right up front in each recipe.  You mix a dough in the evening, shape it, then put it in the fridge.  The next night you fire up the oven and within an hour or two's time you have amazing pizza that really only took about 30 or 40 minutes work.

While in theory that is all true, what Forkish doesn't tell you is how seductive he makes the science (and the history) behind pizza and pizza-making.  The 100 pages leading up to the first recipe are as engaging and distracting as the mouth-watering photos of the finished pizzas.  The idea of making different styles of pizza - thin crust Naples pizza or deep dish Detroit-style pan pizza...or maybe an artisan dough for a dinner party - will keep you pouring over the pages of this book before you ever step foot in the kitchen.  But once you do, the recipes and time tables flow easily and without much difficulty, which is why this book is so compelling.

Each pizza recipe gives you a sense of the flavor profile Forkish wants you to experience, even if you have to substitute ingredients (for which he offers easy to find options).  Variations are offered for many of the recipes, as well as the pizza's component parts, such as the Quick Pickled Onions for the Brooklyn Hot Honey Pie, or Meatballs for the Meatball Pizza.

Forkish doesn't rest on his laurels as a baker, though.  He builds from the dough up and covers sauce, too, in the most basic, but achievable way.  He starts with canned tomatoes (and offers detailed suggestions on finding the best quality) and in two minutes you have sauce.  If you have a little more time to invest, you have flavorful options, like the FWSY Sauce, flavored with garlic and oregano, or his Vodka Sauce, both worth making, and not just for pizza. 

If you've been fortunate enough to travel to a spectacularly delicious artisan pizzeria you understand the magic inherent in a bite of good pizza.  If you haven't, you can cross that trip off your bucket list because with The Elements of Pizza you need travel no further than your own kitchen.  For sure, you probably won't open this book and begin at once, but in this case that's a good thing.  Plan for a few days to read and digest what you need to know, then dive in.  A day or two later, you'll be taking that first magical bite that will forever change your idea of what a good pizza is... and be making them right in your home kitchen. 

Try these tempting recipes from The Elements of Pizza: Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home

*Reviewer's Note:  recipes for dough are not provided because of the detailed descriptions, step-by-step photographs and methods provided by the author.  I suggest you test these pizzas with a high quality fresh pizza dough purchased from a local pizza shop, or from your grocer.  Many offer fresh and frozen options. 

BROOKLYN HOT HONEY PIE

Paulie Gee's pizzeria in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, has a beautiful Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven turning out fantastic pizzas every night. Paulie's ingredient combinations are sometimes classic and sometimes unique, with clever names like "Feel Like Bacon Love." Paulie uses Mike's Hot Honey on his "Hellboy" pizza, which inspired this recipe: a simple tomato-cheese pizza topped with coppa and a drizzle of honey (don't go overboard) after it comes out of the oven. If you have pickled onions handy, slice them and bake them on top of the cheese. The onions, the chile flakes, and the honey turn this otherwise conventional pizza into disco night. The trick when using these asser- tive flavors is to moderate and keep them in balance.

 MAKES one 12-inch pizza

1 dough ball

90 grams (3 ounces) low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella

15 to 20 grams (1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup) Pecorino Romano cheese

100 grams (1⁄3 cup plus 1 teaspoon) tomato sauce

20 grams (2⁄3 ounce) Quick Pickled Onions (recipe follows; optional)

35 grams (11⁄4 ounces) coppa or prosciutto, thinly sliced

A drizzle of honey

Chile flakes

 

1          If you use a dough recipe that calls for refrigeration, remove your dough ball from the refrigerator about 60 to 90 minutes before baking pizza. Put your pizza stone on an upper rack in your oven no more than 8 inches below the broiler. Preheat the oven to 550°F (290°C) for 45 minutes.

 

2          Use a box grater's large holes to grate the mozzarella. Use the grater's smaller holes to grate the Pecorino Romano cheese.

 

3          Set up your pizza assembly station. Give yourself about 2 feet of width on the countertop. Moderately flour the work surface. Position your wooden peel next to the floured area and dust it lightly with flour. Have the sauce, cheese, onions, coppa, and honey at hand. Switch the oven to broil 10 minutes before loading the pizza.

 

4          To shape the pizza, put the dough ball on the floured work surface and flip to coat both sides moderately with white flour. Use one of the shaping methods (New York or Neapolitan) shown on pages 92 to 95. Transfer the disk of pizza dough to the peel. Run your hands around the perimeter to relax it and work out the kinks.

 

5          Top the pizza dough with the tomato sauce, then the grated pecorino, followed by the grated mozzarella. Layer the pickled onions evenly over the mozzarella. Turn off the broiler, then gently slide the pizza onto the pizza stone. Close the oven door and change the oven setting to bake at 550°F (290°C). Bake for 5 minutes, until the rim is golden. Change the oven setting from bake to broil and let the pizza cook until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden with spots of brown and a few small spots of char, about 1 more minute. Use tongs or a fork to slide the pizza from the pizza steel or stone onto a large

 

Reprinted with permission from The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC."

Photography credit: Alan Weiner © 2016

 

QUICK PICKLED ONIONS

MAKES enough for 4 to 5 pizzas

1 1⁄2 red, yellow, or white onions, thinly sliced

240 grams (1 cup) vinegar

235 grams (1 cup) water

1 1⁄2 cloves garlic

1          Pack the sliced onions into one 16-ounce glass jar. Combine the remaining ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the hot brine over the onions, covering them completely.

2          Refrigerate overnight before using; this will hold in the fridge for several weeks.

Reprinted with permission from The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC."

Photography credit: Alan Weiner © 2016

 

VODKA SAUCE AND SAUSAGE  PIZZA

Call it a 1970s throwback if you will, but this works so well on pizza that every time I look  at this recipe, I want to drop everything and make it (and sneak a shot of vodka into my diet). Top it with fresh mozzarella (the kind you find wrapped in plastic, not brine-packed fior di latte), fennel sausage, and tomato sauce that's blended with vodka and cream; any leftover sauce is great for pasta.

MAKES one 12-inch pizza

1 dough ball

150 grams (5 ounces) link fennel sausage or Italian sausage

90 grams ( 1⁄3 cup) Vodka Sauce (recipe follows)

110 grams (4 ounces) fresh whole-milk mozzarella, thinly sliced

4 or 5 basil leaves

 1    If you use a dough recipe that calls for refrigeration, remove your dough ball from the refrigerator about 60 to 90 minutes before baking pizza. Put your pizza steel or stone on an upper rack in your oven no more than 8 inches below the broiler. Preheat the oven to 550°F (290°C).

 2  Cut the link sausage at an angle into 1⁄2-inch slices. Place the slices in an ovenproof skillet and, while the oven is preheating, partially cook them for 2 to 3 minutes (they will finish cooking on the pizza).

 3  Set up your pizza assembly station. Give yourself about 2 feet of width on the countertop. Moderately flour the work surface. Position your wooden peel next to the floured area and dust it lightly with flour. Have the sauce, cheese, and sausage at hand, plus a ladle or large spoon for the sauce. Switch the oven to broil 10 minutes before loading the pizza.

 4  To shape the pizza, put the dough ball on the floured work surface and flip to coat both sides with flour. Use one of the shaping methods (New York or Neapolitan) on pages 92 to 95. Transfer the disk of pizza dough to the peel. Run your hands around the perimeter to relax it and work out the kinks.

 5  Spread the tomato sauce over the dough to within 1⁄4 inch of the edge, smoothing it with the back of the spoon or ladle. Place the sausage link pieces cut side down on top of the sauce. Layer the sliced mozzarella over the pizza, draping some of it over the sausage.

 6  Turn off the broiler, then gently slide the pizza onto the pizza steel or stone. Close the oven door and change the oven setting to bake at 550°F (290°C). Bake for 5 minutes, until the rim is golden. Change the oven setting from bake to broil and let the pizza cook until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden with spots of brown and a few small spots of char, about 2 minutes (check it after 1 minute to be safe). Use tongs or a fork to slide the pizza from the pizza steel or stone onto a large plate. Use scissors to cut the basil leaves over the top of the pizza and serve immediately, halved or sliced.

Reprinted with permission from The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC."

Photography credit: Alan Weiner © 2016 

VODKA SAUCE

This sauce is designed for the Vodka Sauce and Sausage Pizza recipe on page 184, but it works well on a plain cheese pizza too, like the thin-crust vodka pizza at Rubirosa in New York City. Whether on pizza or pasta, this sauce goes nicely with shellfish, especially shrimp and lobster. The sauce needs to cook for quite some time for its flavors to blend and mellow. I think 30 minutes is fine, but you can go longer if you want; just keep an eye on it and add a few spoonfuls of water if you need to thin it out.

MAKES 825 grams (3 1⁄3 cups), enough sauce for four 12-inch pizzas

75 grams ( 1⁄3 cup) vodka

50 grams ( 1⁄4 cup) heavy cream

750 grams (3 cups) FWSY Sauce (recipe follows)

5 grams (1 tablespoon) grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1  In a saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce the vodka until about 2 tablespoons remain, about 4 minutes. Pour in the cream and cook gently over low heat, stirring a few times, for 1 or 2 minutes.

2  Add the sauce and cheese. Raise the heat to high for a few minutes, just until it starts to boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, keeping an eye on the sauce to prevent it from boiling rapidly.

3  Set the sauce aside to cool, then pour it into a seal- able container. I use a quart-sized deli container with a lid. Label the container with the date and refrigerate what you don't use. It should keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.

Reprinted with permission from The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC."

Photography credit: Alan Weiner © 2016

FWSY SAUCE

This recipe from Flour Water Salt Yeast was called Smooth Red Sauce, and it's flavored with olive oil, garlic, dried oregano, and chile flakes. I have adjusted that recipe here, removing the step of draining the tomatoes in a colander. The sauce will be thick enough provided you do not overmix it in the blender.

Use the best-quality dried oregano you can get; if you can find Calabrian oregano, all the better.

MAKES 750 grams (3 cups), enough sauce for five

12-inch pizzas

20 grams (1 1⁄2 tablespoons) extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, chopped

8 grams (1 1⁄2 teaspoons) fine sea salt

0.3 gram ( 1⁄4 teaspoon) dried oregano

0.4 gram ( 1⁄4 teaspoon) chile flakes

1 can (800-gram/28-ounce) whole peeled tomatoes

1  Put the olive oil, garlic, salt, oregano, and chile flakes in a blender. Add just a spoonful of tomatoes and blend briefly until the garlic and oil have emulsi- fied. Then add the rest of the tomatoes and blend very quickly, with brief pulses only, until all the ingredients are combined. Overblending releases water from the tomato pulp and makes the sauce too thin.

2  Pour the sauce into a sealable container. I use a quart-sized deli container with a lid. Label the container with the date and refrigerate what you don't use. It should keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.

Reprinted with permission from The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC."

Photography credit: Alan Weiner © 2016

Published in Donna Marie Desfor, In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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