MY HUSBAND, David Bronleewe, has been tinkering with pizza dough since before we married, more than 30 years ago. (I, on the other hand, avoid any recipe involving flour or yeast. It’s possible I’m the only food writer on the planet who did not bake a single loaf of sourdough during the pandemic.)
David’s initial experiments met with mixed success. A few lifeless batches of dough ended up in the garbage, once prematurely. In that instance, the discarded dough eventually rose and kept rising, overnight, unseen, under the sink. By morning, the garbage bin was overflowing with a bubbling, bulging mass.
But every failure was a lesson. By the time our daughter was in preschool, David felt confident enough to bring a batch of his dough to her classroom and conduct a pizza-making session for two dozen 4-year-olds, with an assist from the teacher and several parent volunteers.
We had pizza parties of a more manageable size at home. While the parents sipped vino, each of the kids would get to roll out their own pizza and top it. Once fed, the little ones would go off to play, and the maestro would step up to his tavolini, a heavy slab of Vermont maple wood, 24×28 inches, ideal for working with dough. It has a front lip that keeps it from sliding forward on the countertop, and a backstop that keeps anything on it from rolling off. Despite its hefty size, we’ve hauled the tavolini on numerous vacation trips to Orcas Island and the Oregon coast at the behest of family and friends who clamor for David’s pizza.
David has never met any cookbook he didn’t want to own. He borrows heavily from the library, but at least a dozen books on pizza reside in our permanent collection, multiflagged with sticky notes. These are his pizza bibles: Pamela Sheldon Johns’ “Pizza Napoletana!” (1999), Jim Lahey’s “My Pizza” (2012), Ken Forkish’s “The Elements of Pizza” (2016) and Marc Vetri’s “Mastering Pizza” (2018). By now, you’d think he’d have a go-to, tried-and-true recipe, but no. He constantly tweaks his dough and adjusts his methods, never fully satisfied despite praise from everyone who has ever had a slice (including more than one professional critic). He always thinks his pizza could be better.
I’ve long suspected that a compulsive quest for “the best” haunts the pizzarati in general. Peter Reinhart’s new book, “Pizza Quest: My Never-Ending Search for the Perfect Pizza,” supports that theory. Reinhart, also creator of the web series “Pizza Quest,” was the author of several award-winning books on bread before he wrote his first pizza book, “American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza,” published in 2003. Nearly 20 years later, he’s still on the hunt!
The new book was Reinhart’s pandemic project. With traveling curtailed, he hit up “pizza geniuses” around the country, asking to interpret pizzas of theirs that he admires. He includes round pies, square pies, pan pies and a few pizza-ish things such as focaccia, stromboli and stuffed pies. Without divulging all the pizzaiolos’ proprietary secrets, the book offers enough guidance to create credible “cover versions” at home. He’s a one-man tribute band.
Reinhart is also a man clearly obsessed with more than just pizza. “One of the most important things I’ve learned during these years in search of the perfect pizza,” he writes, “is that it is more about the quest than it is about the pizza, and the quest never ends.” My husband couldn’t agree more.
Classic White Pizza Dough
Pizza is “always first about the crust,” writes Peter Reinhart. This dough is one of four master recipes he includes in his new book, “Pizza Quest: My Never-Ending Search for the Perfect Pizza.”
Yield: 36 ounces (1,021 grams) or about four 12-inch pies
21 ounces/595 grams (4⅔ cups) unbleached bread or all-purpose or “00” flour
0.42 ounces/12 grams (1½ teaspoons) kosher salt
0.11 ounces/3 grams (1 teaspoon) instant yeast
14.25 ounces/404 grams water (room temperature, 68° to 72°F)
1 ounce/28 grams olive oil, plus more for greasing (optional)
1. In a mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water, stir with a large spoon or use the paddle attachment, and mix on slow speed for 30 seconds to form a coarse, shaggy dough. Add the oil, if using. Increase the speed to medium (or continue mixing with the spoon or with wet hands), and mix for an additional 30 to 60 seconds to make a wet, coarse, sticky dough. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes to fully hydrate.
2. If using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook. Increase the mixer to medium-high speed (or continue mixing by hand), and mix for an additional 2 to 4 minutes to make a smooth dough, adding more flour or water if needed. The dough should be soft and supple, very tacky but not sticky to the touch, and offer a little resistance when pressed with a wet finger.
3. Use 1 teaspoon of oil to make a 15-inch-diameter oil slick on the work surface. Rub oil on a plastic bowl scraper and on your hands, then use the scraper to transfer the dough to the oil slick.
4. Lift and stretch out the dough, and fold it from all sides into the center, pinching and squeezing it closed to form a coarse ball. Lay the dough ball back on the oil slick, seam side down; flatten it with the palms of your hands; and again press and stretch it out and fold it over itself. Pinch and squeeze the seams closed to tighten the dough into a tighter, slightly smoother dough ball. Set it, seam side down, back on the oil slick, and cover it with the bowl to rest for 3 to 5 minutes. Repeat the stretch and fold, rubbing additional oil on the work surface as needed. Cover the dough again, let it rest for 2 to 5 minutes, and repeat the stretch and fold. Cover with the bowl, and again let it rest for 2 to 5 minutes. Perform one final stretch and fold to make a smooth ball of dough. The dough will have firmed up after each stretch and fold, and it should now be smooth, supple and tacky to the touch, but not sticky.
5. Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl or container, roll it around to coat with oil, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for anywhere from 12 to 72 hours. On the day you plan to bake, remove dough from the refrigerator 3 hours before baking. Immediately divide it into your desired sizes, and round those into balls. Line a sheet pan with lightly oiled baking parchment or a silicone baking mat, then place the dough balls on it. Mist them with vegetable oil spray, and cover the pan with plastic wrap or a plastic can liner.