Martha+Tom

Can you make good pizza in an hour?

Cook’s Illustrated magazine alongside a pizza made from the recipe shownIt’s the kind of claim I’d normally dismiss out of hand: a from-scratch Neapolitan style pie in about one hour, start-to-finish. Everyone knows you need at least an overnight fermentation to get good pizza dough, and two days doesn’t hurt.

If it had just been published on some foodie blog I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but this claim to a solid pie in the time it takes the minute hand to make its full revolution came from none other than Cook’s Illustrated (March–April 2018). I’ve been a subscriber for 14 years, and they’ve almost never steered me wrong.

The recipe goes like this: mix flour (bread and semolina), yeast and sugar in the food processor. So far, so good — I’ve been using Cook’s food-processor based dough recipe for years to great success. Drizzle in water, beer, white vinegar and oil and process till hydrated. The beer and the vinegar are supposed to be a shortcut to flavors that would normally develop over the course of long, cold fermentation. Let rest 10 minutes, add salt, mix till it clears the sides of the bowl, then divide. Here comes another departure from normal technique: immediately place each dough ball on a sheet of parchment, roll out partially, top with another sheet of parchment, then roll out  all the way — 11 1/2″ round. Let those rounds rest 30 minutes, then bake in a 500º oven.

It was pretty clear from the start that there were problems. I measured all ingredients by mass (when masses were provided — the flours and liquids) so I was pretty sure I was following the recipe exactly, but the dough mixed up very wet. The 10-minute rest helped a bit, but the dough was still quite sticky. I soldiered on using bench flour and the parchment to divide and roll out the dough. After the prescribed 30-minute rest and following the suggested oven manipulations (heat at 500º with steel 5 inches from broiler, broil for ten minutes just before baking the pie) I flipped a dough round out of its parchment jacket, topped it with tomato sauce and cheese and slid it on to the steel. Eight minutes later, I took it out.

Total time elapsed, from getting out the food processor to cutting board: 1 hour, 5 minutes, 47 seconds. At least the hour part of the recipe was reliable.

thin crust cheese pizza on a cork serving board

The pizza itself was another matter. Given the time frame, I wasn’t expecting a perfect pie, but what I got was much less than perfect. Cracker thin, un-puffed, it was chewy without being crispy and alternatingly charred and blonde. It actually might work as a base for a bar- or Minnesota- style thin-crust pizza, but it had no resemblance to a good, let alone great, Neapolitan pie. And this is a small thing, but it annoyed me to use a total of nearly 4 feet of parchment paper just to make a couple of pizzas, especially when the usual procedure requires no parchment at all.

Some things are just too good to be true, even when they’re published in the pages of Cook’s Illustrated.

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