Saturday, October 23, 2010


It's a bit surprising that this recipe never made its way to the blog.

The simple explanation is that this is a well-oiled machine that is pre-blogger phase.

This was the most requested (and delivered) recipe in the CC's wild youth. Many pies were made and consumed with suitable libations all around (champagne! martinis!) and much merriment was made with all and sundry for very little cost.

Rewind the clock, and once upon a time, the CC used to be a serious bread person. Natural fermentation, mid-night feedings, the whole nine yards. That's all very wonderful, and mind you, it does lead to spectacular bread, but why bother when the bakery literally a block away can do it for you? (That's New York, my friends!)

This recipe adopts the best of both worlds. Dried yeast (= convenience) but the slow development of flavor that comes from natural fermentation. It works perfectly for parties because you can make it in the morning, and it will be ready in the evening.

Standard dried yeast (saccharomyces cerevisiae) has been bred for exactly one purpose. Fast fermentation.

Live fast, die young.

That's what dried yeast does. Reproduce a lot. Minus the cocaine and the parties. Alas, they also happen to be asexual! Sucks to be them.

The problem with this fast fermentation is while it does make the dough rise quickly, it does not allow it to gain the complexity that it would have if the yeast could chow down on the sugars present in the flour.

The trick is straightforward. Use very little of the dry yeast, and further retard the fermentation process by lowering the temperature. We are undoing what the marketeers want in the interest of taste!

There's a second trick that most ol'-school bakers know. It's called rye flour. Rye flour is the crack-cocaine of the yeast world. They love it (= high sugar content.) They chow down, go nuts and reproduce like crazy.

In this case, the idea is very simple. First make a poolish (slurry of rye flour, yeast, and water.) Let the yeast go completely crazy. Then mix in the regular flour, and stick it in the fridge.

The first two steps are the trick to the amazingness that is this recipe. Do not skip them under any circumstances!

Incidentally, for all you lovers of convenience, this recipe works perfectly well if you skip the retardation process. You will just not get the complexity of taste though.

Thirdly, you need a pizza stone. There's no need to buy a fancy one. Just get some unglazed tiles and stick them in the oven. The reason is very simple. Air has barely any thermal capacity (ability to hold heat.) The oven is filled with air. You need something in there that can hold heat. The ideal objects are things that are impossible to heat (= stone.) They take forever to heat precisely because they have a huge capacity to hold heat.

The CC has the stone permanently in his oven. It works magnificently in holding heat. Everything from mac-n-cheese to braised lamb is helped on its way by the stone.

Fourth, the CC is going to give a caveat. This is a recipe with flour that has a very high "hydration quotient". That means the dough is quite close to being liquid. There's a lot of water in there. Working with dough with a high hydration quotient is quite hard. It requires some experience. The CC has had more than his share of "legendary disasters" with breads that have high HQ's. If you are a newbie, just use less water. You will find it easier and you will have great results anyway (with a completely different pizza texture though!)

Fifth, the CC will not talk about the toppings but he will give a warning. In order to be successful, the toppings have to be reasonably dry. Which means that if you plan to use veggies (onions, peppers, mushrooms), then you must at the very least dry sautée them on a skillet to get the moisture out.

Even a tomato "sauce" must be on the dry side for this to work.

Finally, this is not a Neapolitan pizza. The dough is totally different. In order to be from "Napoli", you need far less hydration and a totally different flour, and a goddamn wood-burning oven (good luck!)

Better to abide by the golden rule: There are many pizzas in the CC's house.

Also, for all you control-freaks, when the dough is this wet, it's near impossible to control the shape. Yes, the pizza will be roughly round, more likely elliptical, or even like the map of Italy. Just enjoy it.

Buon appetito!



2 tsp yeast
2/3 cup rye flour
4 oz water


2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Maldon sea salt
1 2/3 cups white flour
5 oz water


Mix all the starter ingredients together to a starter dough. It should be like sludge. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes. At the end of this, it should be bubbling. If not, your yeast are dead. Bail out.

Mix the rest of the stuff. Add water till you have a sticky dough. You can just use a mixing spoon to mix it. It's quite wet and sticky. Kinda like a runny clay. There will be a light sheen on the surface.

Stick it in the fridge till 5 hours before you are ready to eat.

The dough will have ballooned. Deflate it with a ladle. You will notice it has changed in consistency completely. The dough will be a lot more "dough"-like, the stickiness will be "flowy" rather than "clumpy". There should be a strong sheen on the surface, and a great yeasty smell.

(This yeasty smell is why this pizza goes great with champagne. Ahem!)

Pre-heat the oven to 475°F for at least an hour while the dough rises.

Assemble the pizza dough with a lot of flour on a pizza peel. Assemble the toppings as required. Slide the pizza onto the stone (this requires some back-and-forth motion practice.)

The last piece is the hard part. For beginners, the CC recommends corn-meal rather than flour because it helps the sliding part. Also, ignore the toppings initially, get the pie in there and a few minutes later, top the pizza while it is structurally intact.

Bake for 12-13 minutes.

You'll never go out for pizza again!


Amanda said...

Sigh. But if you need to take the dough out of the fridge 5 hours before you're ready to eat, it's no use on a weeknight.

Brendan said...

I "cheat" with the starter: 2 Tbsp sugar along with white flour. I'll give the rye flour a shot some time though.

Amanda: you can also speed up the process by doing the initial raise in a warm (~ 150 F) oven or on top of a clothes dryer. But it won't be as good, and will still require at least a couple of hours.

ShockingSchadenfreude said...

Even 2-3 hours is fine if you have a warm kitchen.

Since you need to pre-heat the oven anyway, you will have a warm kitchen.

It's also a question of weather. In summer, as little as 2 hours works just perfectly.

In very cool weather like right now where the heat hasn't yet been turned on, the entire house is the fridge. Just let it rise slowly in a cool kitchen.

You see where this logic is going. :)