As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve enrolled myself in Tony’s Master Class of pizza found within the first few pages of The Pizza Bible. You can take this class (and probably much more) at Tony’s International School of Pizza in San Francisco.
Yes, I am trying to uncover and learn the subtleties of pizza, an age old tradition, from a book with a solid spine. I’ll guide myself through this education and come out the other end with no degree or credits, but a humble knowledge that I can make a pizza. A pizza that I know is better, and more importantly, how it’s better.
Is this the equivalent of a plucky young kid checking out a Calculus book from her local library before her brain is developed enough to understand the equations that lie within? It ain't too far off, except that you can't eat equations.
The Master Class is split up into three days of activity. Day 1 has you weighing ingredients, chilling water to the perfect temperature, exciting yeast then freezing it within an inch of its life as it festers in some dough.
Day 2 is simple - the degassing phase. This pizza takes 48 hours to make and in the middle of that process, the yeast reproduces and fills the dough with gas. This gas is what makes the dough rise. There’s also a very excellent gluten network developing within the dough. I never took notice of it before, but like the spider that weaves a wondrous web in the corner of your home, the yeast forms a peculiar network of gluten that connects the pizza together, allows it to stretch and grow. It’s nature’s most beautiful work.
Day 3 is the nerve wracking. Not only do you pray to the pizza gods above that the yeast, oil, salt, flour, and water all worked together to make the perfect dough ball, but now you have to cook it.
It’s possible that on day 3 you find out that it’s all been in vain. Maybe due to a prior pizza sin or a sloppy corner cut, your ball deflated. Or your gluten network crashed like it was Y2K. If your dough is in tact you still have to carefully stretch the dough - a tight-rope of an act that requires extreme dexterity or else you’ll tear a hole right down the center.
Then you have to negotiate the pizza off the peel onto your 500 degree pizza stone. A stressful move that Tony compares to a magician pulling a tablecloth off of a fully dressed table. Only, the magician is at risk of losing some china. Here, 48 hours of work could vanish with a muscle twitch.
With all of this in mind you have to hit day 1 with the enthusiasm of a thousand pizzaiolos touring old pizzerias in the heart of Naples.
On day one I did a lot of measuring. The Pizza Bible has “The Ten Commandments of Pizza” and the first thing on the list is Thou Shalt Use a Scale to Weigh Ingredients. It’s the only way to be sure the measurements are correct. And precision (and consistency) is key to pizza making.
I measured the flour. I measured oil, salt, water (both ice cold and warm) and yeast. After measuring out all your ingredients it’s as simple as combining them together in a mixer. There’s a hastiness to the process because, to quote Tony, “A mistake I often see with beginners—and even some pros—is over mixing or over kneading pizza dough. Too much working of the dough makes it tough, and you’ll end up with pizza that gives you a sore jaw from chewing.
In total, you’ll knead the dough for three minutes and mix it for four. It’s a quick process—it’s so exact that Tony provides the temperature you should expect the dough to be at each stage. The temperature is important as it dictates the activity of the yeast, the keystone of the dough.
Once everything is mixed together you knead the dough and a non-wood, non-flour surface and let it sit out for an hour. After an hour you pop it into the fridge and you’re done for the day.
Hey, that was fun.
Here’s some takeaways from Day 1:
You can’t find diastatic malt anywhere. It’s an optional ingredient that helps to brown the crust. I tried three different shops but had no luck. You’re better off buying it off of Amazon.
Penn Mac, in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, is actually a Tony Gemignani certified ingredient outlet. Gemignani lists sources where you can find key ingredients - and Penn Mac is highlights for their wonderful cheese and meat selection.
I couldn’t find the Sir Lancelot flour (which has a higher % of protein) so I settled for King Arthur’s Bread Flour. Plan ahead!
After the first time you make the dough, subsequent creations take a sliver of the time. I made another batch of dough a half-hour after getting home from work!
My first batch of dough was slightly sticky, but after a minute of kneading the dough smoothed out. The second batch was sticky in the way scotch tape is sticky. I wonder if I added a gram or three too much of water...we'll find out in 48 hours.
Waiting 48 hours for pizza sucks.
I’ll write about my day 2 experience soon. That’s the degassing phase—a key technique that promotes yeast production and gives a stronger rise.