Monday, December 20, 2010

Best. Pizza. Ever? Well, So Says Cook's Illustrated

Oh, that Cook's Illustrated. I've been subscribing to Cook's Illustrated for years. And years. I like the fact that there are no ads - other than for themselves. As far as the homey schtick goes, well, that's okay too, I guess. Kimball's opening editorial brings me right back to the old farm in Vermont...if I had ever set foot on an old farm in Vermont. Be that as it may, I generally read an entire issue (in one sitting), and come away having learned something and in the mood to try one or more of "their" recipes.

The coolest thing about Cook's Illustrated is that they've made testing recipe variations their raison d'ĂȘtre. I mean, they appear to test recipes 50 different ways, tweaking and twisting and cajoling till they find the one that they feel is the best. And that's the one they give's awesome.

Of course, I myself have tested various recipes over the years. With a pretty large cookbook collection, that's a given when trying something new. I'll take out 3 or 4 (or 12) different cookbooks, check out Significant Eater rolling her eyes; then read what each author has to say, do an amalgamation and cook. Usually, it works out pretty well...when cooking (not so much for baking, though).

But, there's a major difference between the way CI approaches the task vs. how I approach the task. They (CI) appear to keep very good records and write everything down whereas I...ummmm...don't. And therein lies the problem - I never remember what the hell I did when something comes out great. So, what to do? Well, my resolution for 2011 is to start writing stuff down and see where that leads. Stop laughing; after all, 2 years ago I decided to start blogging and I'm still here...most of the time, anyway.

Back to Cook's Illustrated: the current issue (Jan/Feb 2011) has a recipe for Thin-Crust Pizza. As the cover states: "Finally, A Foolproof Crust." Whew - finally! Let's not forget that over the years Cook's Illustrated has probably published over 50 recipes for pizza (maybe they forgot to write stuff down?) and they've finally figured it out; well, at least until the next "greatest pizza ever"... I kid, I kid...I'm sure this is the best.ever. Wink wink.

Since I've had pizza issues of my own over the years, I immediately decided to follow the recipe EXACTLY as it is written - well, for the crust anyway. Toppings - that's another story. So in picture form, here's what this experiment looked like:

Set up workspace...

Dough after mixing in food processor...

Dough after another minute of hand kneading...

Crust ready for toppings...

Okay, this is where I started veering from the recipe a bit. I love using parchment on the peel...CI apparently doesn't. But I've had too many accidents sliding the pie onto a 550 degree stone and parchment makes that part idiot-proof. And...I don't even have to write it down to remember. Next, the pizza with topping (forget the recipe at this point, folks)...

I had some good (for winter) Campari-brand tomatoes to go with mozzarella curds from one of my favorite cheese vendors (Saxelby's at the Essex St. Market), along with a bit of fresh thyme and olive oil brushed on top. Into the oven, which had been preheated for an hour with the stone on a top shelf (per the recipe!) and check out what emerged a mere 7 minutes 30 seconds later...

Not bad, huh? Exactly what I'm looking for in a thin-crust pie. Thin and tender. Foldable, even. Holes in the crust from the tip to the cornicione. In my obviously objective viewpoint, the best pizza that has ever emerged from my home oven. A big wow.

So what's the big change from my previous attempts at pizza vs. this greatest ever pizza dough? Well, I think the long rise (24 hours) in the fridge makes this dough so delicious...and so easy to work with. There is very little fermentation taking place at room temp, and the fridge time really develops the flavor as well as relaxing the gluten, making the dough quite easy to work with (i.e. stretch into a pizza). All quite scientific, I know - but that's what great bread (and pizza) is all about.

Lest anyone think that all is wonderful with Cook's Illustrated, and that my days of curmudgeonliness are behind me, hah! Here are two issues which bug the hell out of me:

1. I've been a subscriber since for-fucking-ever. Literally, issue number one, I think. Why the hell should I have to pay AGAIN for an on-line membership? Bite me. Even the New Yorker gives me online stuff for free.

2. Their measurement for flour is 1 cup = 5 1/2 ounces. Now, I've measured flour every which way (really, how many ways are there?) and no matter what I do, the flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. Peter Reinhardt, author of the seminal The Bread Baker's Apprentice, says flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. Freakin' King Arthur (A KING!) says that flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces per cup. So listen up, good people at Cook's Illustrated - take your fingers off the damn scale, willya?

Anyway, that's about all I'm gonna say on the matter. The pizza was indeed great. I'm not gonna publish the recipe - check out their web site and get it for free (well, at least for 14 days).

Besides, I don't need Kimball coming around my place in his Model-T with his 12-gauge ought 50 shotgun or whatever. He needs to stay in Vermont. NY is the place for me. In all it's pizze glory.


  1. Holy. Cow. That is beautiful. I want the piece in the middle with the big, crunchy cheese bubble.

  2. It's always about the slow rise, ask any Guru.
    And I think parchment paper is vastly under-rated.
    Nice pizza, BTW. :--)

  3. I'm sorry but what ought his shotgun do, city boy? Jeez, I gotta go relax my gluten. And I don't mean no flour...and you spelled pizza wrong...but also, I think Kimball is sexy, too...

  4. Different kinds of flours weigh different amounts per volume. It depends on all sorts of things, like the kind of wheat used and the fine-ness of the grind. Recipes by weight instead of recipes by volume are actually more accurate, especially for baking, and especially if you're using European flours, which are quite a bit different from American flours.