Do you make your own pizza crusts? Are you happy with your creations?
If so, I need your help!
When we were in Auckland last month, we spent several nights enjoying the thin crust pizza at a little restaurant right downstairs in the building where we were staying. It was described as European style pizza. Minimal crust, minimal toppings. Wonderful tastes all around.
I was home writing yesterday, and somewhere in the middle of an edit decided that I would make another attempt to produce a thin pizza crust.
At the end of the afternoon I checked a couple of recipes, decided that their ingredient list was similar to the dough I used to make. So without much hesitation, I mixed up the yeast, flour, and water, kneaded until smooth, and set it aside while we got some toppings together and the oven heated to blast furnace, or as close as our regular home oven gets to that.
The next problem I ran into was a failure of my conceptual plan. I had a little blog of dough, and began to flatten and spread it by hand into a thin, vaguely round or oblong shape. It was going okay until I thought ahead. How in the heck do you spread some toppings, even minimal toppings, onto a very thin crust and then manage to transfer the whole thing to a blazing hot pizza stone that’s been in the oven in high heat for 30 minutes? No way.
So at that point I had to come up with an alternative. The only thing I could think of was to dig out a couple of old pizza pans that were stuck in a corner downstairs, wash them off, sprinke with a good layer of corn meal to keep the dough from sticking, and try again at shaping the crust by hand. The pan would serve as the vehicle for the crust, but it meant the crust couldn’t go directly onto the hot stone.
A necessary compromise.
So in went the test pizza. Toppings included just a simple tomato sauce, mushrooms, sliced olives, and anchovies, then a light layer of cheese.
In the oven for a total of about 10 minutes.
It came out looking and smelling good. I thought it was a success.
But then came the problem. The crust was thin, but nothing close to what we had in Auckland. And, unfortunately, the crust wasn’t yummy. Actually, it didn’t taste good. In fact, it didn’t taste much at all. It was relatively thin, and it had gotten crisp. But it failed when hitting the taste buds.
With that Auckland pizza, you would look for little bits of broken crust and pop them into your mouth as a treat. With this pizza, you put up with the crust as a way to get the toppings into your mouth, not as a good taste on its own. A very different experience.
So…what’s the trick to a thin and great tasting pizza crust? There don’t seem to be too many variables on the taste front. The choice of flour, perhaps? I used a mix of white and wheat flour. Maybe a mistake. Does a thin crust require white flour alone? Or maybe it needs a little something sweet in it? A touch of honey, perhaps? If you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, will that improve the taste?
I just went back and reread Ernest Murphy’s classic “Pizza Essay,” first posted here back in 2005.
Perhaps I should have done this before last night’s experiment.
Here’s one of Murphy’s hints:
In all these pizzas, I first of all roll or pat out the dough and paint the entire surface, right to the edge, with olive oil before anything else goes on. The oil is essential to the flavor, color and texture of the crust and also keeps wet ingredients from soaking it. I apply oil with a brush or the back of a tablespoon.