The Pizza Dough Dilemma

100209-whole-foods-pizza-dough-1-bWhat a drag.  My glacial-paced quest for homemade pizza to rival the best in the business has suffered a set back.  As you may know I have been slowly working on trying to find pizza dough nirvana.  The mystical combination of the right dough recipe in concert with the right oven situation and technique.  Made with the best ingredients possible.  All to make a pie that will rival those at the top-notch pizza places like Di Fara’s, Patsy’s, Motorino, Co., etc. 

Since I was starting from a place of never having made a good homemade pizza ever, I had my work cut out for me.  So it has been slow going.  But that is fine.  Better to be methodical and zero in on the exact ingredients and combinations than to veer wildly from one idea to the next.  But in the process I inadvertently threw myself a curve ball.  The last time I was in Whole Foods buying some fresh mozzarella, I happened upon the freezer case loaded with Whole Foods’ own frozen pizza dough.  I wondered…. it couldn’t be that good could it?  But at $1.69 per pound I figured I should not let that wonder linger.  So I picked up a lump of the dough to try it out.  A couple days later I had still not done anything with the mozzarella so I figured I would thaw out the dough and put a test pie together.

After a couple hours thawing on the counter and then rising in a bowl, I turned it out, gave it a few whacks and stretched it onto a pizza pan.  Some tomato pulp, super olive oil, mozzarella, salt, more olive oil and dollops of pesto later and it was ready.  I had preheated the oven to 500 for maybe twenty minutes.  But then I switched to the Jim Lahey home method and turned on the broiler.  I threw the pie in and waited.  Almost immediately there was action!  Things started to bubble.  Things started to char.  I rotated it a couple times so that the bubbled cheese and dough wouldn’t catch fire and then pulled it out.  It looked fabulous - charred bits of dough, molten cheese, olive oil pooling – much to my dismay.  I cut it up and took a bite.  Ah!  A problem!  The interior of the dough at the middle of the pie was still a little unbaked.  Hmmm….  Acting fast I threw it all back into the oven but this time on the bottom rack in hopes that the dough would bake more.  After a few more minutes I pulled it out and took a bite.  Success!

Actually… amazing success.  Of course not quite a Grimaldi’s crust but pretty darn good considering it came out of my oven.  My immediate reaction was that of frustration.  What the heck was going on here?  How could this dough respond to the oven so much better than the dough I made?  Was it just the broil method?  Or was there something in the dough ingredients that made a difference?  Granted the Whole Foods dough seemed a little more complex than my dough.  The ingredients lists:  ‘organic wheat flour, filtered water, sea salt, yeast, organic cane sugar, organic dough conditioner (organic wheat flour, enzymes, ascorbic acid), organic semolina flour, organic canola oil.’  Was it the sugar?  The ‘enzymes’?  The fact that it was all pretty much ‘organic’?

And then there is the price.  At $1.69 for a pound (454g) it is hard to beat.  Homemade pizza dough is not expensive but it can take up some time.  So $1.69 is a small price to pay for some ready-made dough that leads to a very good pizza.

Which leads me in my frustration back to the perennial homemade pizza dilemma:  Why try at all?  Especially in a city like New York, there is good to great pizza just about every four or five blocks.  Maybe it is best to just leave the dough and pizza making to the professionals.  And if anyone living near a Whole Foods can get good pizza dough for just 10.56 cents an ounce (28.3g) then why bother?

So why do I still want to continue to try and figure out homemade pizza for myself?  I think it comes down to one thing – because it is there.  I have lots of other kitchen skilz.  Why would I not be able to figure this out?  Sure I don’t have the big super-hot pizza ovens or a custom built brick walled coal or wood burner.  But I have a good oven nonetheless.  There has got to be a way.  I see this homemade pizza quest as a great challenge.  And it is a challenge I will continue to slowly chip away at.  At least now I will have some decent pizza to munch on while I do.

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