Flat is Beautiful Transcript

Suburbia - 4:52 pm

GUEST: Home Owner
            Pizza Guy

[door bell]

AB: Hey. How's it going? Oh, hello sir. Got your Dicey's pizza.
HOMER OWNER: Hey, that's not a Double Dicey's Disaster.
AB: Nope, that's the pizza you need.
HO: What?
AB: Just take a bite.
HO: Hey, that's good.
AB: Heh, heh.
HO: Hey, Mister.
AB: Yeah?
HO: What's your name?
AB: I'm just a messenger.
HO: Pizza guy?
AB: [sigh] Yep?
HO: How do I get some more?
AB: You got a kitchen in there, don't ya?
HO: What do you mean? Make my own?
AB: There you go.
HO: How?
AB: You got a TV in there, don't ya?
HO: Heh. Forty-two inch.
AB: We'll be in touch.

    Americans spend about 20 billion dollars a year on pizza. That would suggest that about, uh, oh, 19 billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million of that actually goes towards placebo pizzas: palate deadening disks who, long ago, sold their soul in the name of fast food. Which is kind of ironic when you consider the fact that time is one of the crucial ingredients of quality pizza.

AB: There you go, sweetheart.

    Now, why am I out evangelizing like this? Well, people need to know that great pizza starts in the home, and I'm not talking about with a phone call, either. Now what are the other key points to great pizza making? Well, you're just going to have to be patient, ...

AB: ... right, pizza guy?
PG: [gagged and tied] Uh, huh.
AB: Let's see. We've only got a couple of more stops to make. Uh, you know where Petunia Street is?
PG: Nnmpah, mmphrah.
AB: Great. Just sit tight.

    And you stick tight, because this is Good Eats.

Kroger: Alpharetta, GA - 12:01 pm

GUEST: Paul Merchant

    Please repeat after me, "toppings do not great pizza make." Behold, the American pizza. More often than not, all these strata—raw vegetables, salty meats, insipid cheese foods, and innocuous sauce—really only mask a deeper deficiency that's right here, crust, with all the flavor and texture of a mouse pad. Truth is, if you start with the right crust, you will take very few toppings to get you to pizza perfection.  


    Of course, we have to define what that perfect crust is. Like a French baguette or a crusty Italian loaf, it's a symbiosis of crunchy and chewy. And that requires a dough that's, well, a lot like bubble gum. [takes bubble gum out PM's mouth] It's got to be plastic enough to expand to accommodate ever increasing volume of gas and it's got to be elastic enough to actually hold that gas in.

AB: Open. [puts bubble gum back in PM's mouth]

    Don't worry about the gas, we'll deal with that part later. What all of this means is that we need a dough with a lot of that magical mesh called gluten. Now that can only come about from the meeting of water with the protein in wheat flour. They have to be kneaded or agitated together.


  Now, the more protein your flour has, the more gluten can be produced. So, it stands to reason that the perfect pizza dough only comes from high-protein or hard flours. Now, those are usually marketed as bread flour. But, if you want to give your pizza that extra little something, reach for bread flours made specifically for bread machines. They've got more protein in them than anything else on the shelf.  

more protein
more gluten

The first known pizza shop opened in Naples in 1830.
America's first opened in New York City in 1905.

The Lab - later that same minute

GUEST: Mad French Chef, Kitchen Bully

    The dough begins with 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of salt—kosher—1 tablespoon of pure olive oil. Follow that up with three quarters of a cup of warm water, not cold, not hot, warm. Then comes the flour, one cup of bread flour measured by the scoop-and-sweep method. Then we have a teaspoon of instant yeast sprinkled right on top. Follow that up with one more cup of flour.

2 Tbls sugar
1 Tbls kosher salt
1 Tbls pure olive oil
3/4 C warm H20
1 C bread flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 Cub bread flour

MAD FRENCH CHEF: Have you gone completely inane? You must bloom the yeast in the warm sugar water before you add zee flour.
  AB: Actually, Chef, that's instant yeast and requires no such pampering.
MFC: I tell you, one of these days I'm going to ... [crumbles Alton's Chefs hat]

    Well, I guess he didn't care for my yeast inflection. Perhaps we should repair to the lab.
    Pizza dough gets its rise from the gas produced by billions and billions of unicellular fungi called ' yeast' that chomp down on the sugar in flour-based doughs. Have a look. They are real pigs. And once there little feeding frenzy is over ...

YEAST: [belching sounds]

... that's right. Yeast belch makes bread rise.

    Up until a couple of centuries ago, brewers made all the yeast. They'd scrape foam from the fermenting beer tanks, dry it, sell it to bakers. In fact, of the 160 or so known strains of commercial yeast, the one used in bread making most often is saccharomyces cervevisiae, beer sugar. And it comes in many guises.


    For instance, compressed or cake yeast: basically zillions and zillions of yeast that are wide awake and ready to go compressed into blocks. Now, some bakers swear by this stuff. But I think it's more trouble than its worth. You've got to refrigerate it. It's got to be covered just right. It's like adopting an old goldfish. No matter what you do, its going belly up in a week so I skip it.

cake or compressed yeast

    Now as  my faux French foe pointed out, active dry-yeast—which are basically regular yeast dehydrated and broken into granules—are like sea monkeys. They must be resuscitated in warm water before they can eat and make gas. If the water goes over 140 degrees, you've got a microbial massacre on your hands.

active dry yeast

    Now, most companies also offer a strain of turbo charged mutant yeasts bred for speed. I'm not a big fan of these rapid rise yeasts because, as we'll soon see, there's more to yeast than gas.

rapid rise yeast

Rapid Rise Yeast

    Now, instant yeast is more like a party strain of dry yeast that's been broken into very, very small granules and then packed with vitamin C, ascorbic acid, which really turns the yeasts on. What I like about this stuff is that it can be mixed directly with the dry ingredients. It doesn't have to be soaked or bloomed before using. That means that it is extremely reliable and extremely user-friendly.

instant yeast


    Having never been much of a 'pouch' man, I buy pound bags of yeast and then split it up so that I've got a small working supply here in the fridge and reinforcements in long-term, air-tight storage next door here. By the way, the expiration date on the bag will always be a year from the date of manufacture, but, kept very cold and dry you'll get two years out of it easy. Now, we mix.

A healthy and well fed yeast colony can
produce an entire generation in five hours.

The Kitchen

    If your mixer comes with a paddle attachment, now is the time to use it. It's the best tool for just bringing the dough together. Start it off on low so the flour doesn't fly up in your face like a bomb. Now in the mean time, you want to lube [a la a pirate] up your hook, matey ... bread hook, that is, with a little non-stick spray. That's going to make sure that later on the dough will not climb out of the bowl.

    Now when it looks like this, you are ready to change over to the hook. Now once you've got that in place, you're to go again on medium for 15 minutes.

15 minutes on medium

     The hook is going to fold the dough and stretch the dough and it's going to create little bitty air bubbles which is great for the yeast because, well, you know the hardest part of blowing a bubble? ... getting it started. You see, yeast can blow a lot of gas but they can't start their own, um, their own bubbles. They don't have the lung power for that. Oh, and by the way, kneading also gets gluten going. You see, while it's sitting there in the bowl, the flour proteins look, uh, something like this.
    [voice over] What they look like is dry nested noodles. But, wet them and they loosen up and intermingle. Now, kneading is all about lining these proteins up so that they form an elastic bungee-like mass.

    This process, called 'development,' takes time. That's why the 15 minutes on the machine. If you're doing it by hand it's going to take twice as long and that's not including rest periods. Now, what will happen if you don't develop the dough enough? Well, it'll tear before you ever get it out to a pizza shape. If you over develop it, which is highly unlikely, the gluten will literally disintegrate and you'll be left with kind of this soupy mess which, trust me, isn't good for anything.


    So, how do you know when you got it right? Well, tear yourself off a piece of dough and make yourself a Lilliputian pizza. Just work it back and forth between your hands, rotating it as you go. Think about what you do in your mouth with your tongue right before you blow a bubble. In fact, you could do this in your mouth because, like gum, wheat gluten is not water soluble which is the reason that you've got to chew a lot before you can swallow a nice piece of pizza crust or French baguette. Now when it gets out to this point, hold it up to the light. Now that is what professional bakers call a 'window pane.'  It's like a membrane, the head on a drum. If it gets to the point where it tears before this, well guess what? You've got extra kneading to do.
    Now before this goes down, we need to work on the skin a little bit. What I mean is that, you want to have a kind of one solid sheet of membrane covering it. And where you get that is kind of fold it in on itself to draw the skin tight and then give it a roll. Just kind of push it around on the table. You notice that I'm not moving my fingers. Why bother? Well, it's going to make it easier for the yeast to blow it full of gas and it's going to make the dough a lot easier to work with later on down the line. There. Aw, it's cute.
    Okay, into a stainless steel or glass bowl. Just make sure that it's about 4 times bigger than the dough ball. Add to that, ah, a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, toss to coat, and cover it with a piece of plastic wrap just to make sure that the ball doesn't dry out. Don't try to make a perfect seal. Then, into the refrigerator. There.

MFC: Imbecile. The dough must rise in a warm place. Then you must punch it down.
  AB: Oh, you want punch, punk? [slams refrigerator door into MFC]
MFC: Ooof.

    He's right, of course. Dough will rise faster in a warm place. After all, cold slows yeast metabolism and that makes them eat slower and, of course, belch less. But this is one of those cases where faster is not better. In fact, an 18 to 20 four hour rise will produce better flavor and I'm pretty sure flavor is what food's all about.

18-24 hour rise is best

    On top of that, it will actually give the dough time to absorb some of those yeast belches we were talking about, and that will lead to a finer, more delicate structure. Now, I know. There are times where you've just got to have pizza on the fly. We're going to take care of that, just not yet. First, a stone floor.
    Prehistoric precedence aside, hot rock bakery is rock- solid science, especially if said rock can absorb and radiate high levels of heat without cracking under the strains of repeated heatings and coolings. Now, you could march down to Gourmets 'R Us and plop down 30 or 40 bucks for a pizza stone. But, a well-placed, unglazed quarry tile—ninety-nine cents—from a building supply will do the job just fine. Now since they are porous, tiles wick steam away from the dough producing a crisp crust.

    Now, start this in a cold oven then crank the heat as high as it will go for half an hour before baking. Now, this is a 12 inch stone and I don't make pizzas over 12 inches, so one does the job. I've got it stacked up on another simply so that I've got good clearance from the door. Now since I've got a flat bottom here, I just it put it right on the floor. I leave it there 24/7 no matter what. If you've got a coil down here, just put your stone on the lowest rack. And believe me, you can leave it there all the time.

start cold
crank heat
wait 1/2 hour


"Pizza" derives from pizzicare, Italian for "pluck" or "pinch".
It refers to the way a pizza is plucked from the oven.

The Kitchen

[back of Alton's shirt says, "Muscott / All Souls / Holy Rollers / Holy Name]

    [timer goes off] Twenty-four hours later and our dough is only about one and a half times its original size. But that's okay because it's not about gas, remember? Now, if we had left this, uh, rise on the counter during that time, it would look something like ...

Ken's Apartment

GUESTS: Ken & Barbie

B: Oh, Ken, I just love pizza.
K: Well golly, Barbie, have you seen my dough ball? It was here on the counter. AAAHHRGH!  [dough rolls across the floor engulfing Ken and Barbie]

The Kitchen

    Um, okay. Turn it out onto a clean counter. Don't bother doing this on a cutting board. It'll just get in the way. And, uh, use a knife or a dough scrapper and bisect it like an amoeba on a blind date. There. Now we've got two orbs. Now, basically we want to get these reshaped to basically what it looked like before we cut it. So, turn the first side dome-side up like that, and then mash it gently with your hand just to get the really big air bubbles out. That's going to help to redistribute the yeast, redistribute their gasses.
    There. Now, to reshape we're going to basically make it into a jellyfish again. Just fold it under itself like this, stretching that outer membrane a bit. And I usually kind of make a collar with my fingers and just push so you get a nice, tight orb, okay? Set aside and repeat.
    Now, there's one more step in this but we've got to do something to the counter. It's a little too slippery right now because it's dry. So, put just a little bit of water on your hands, just barely wet them, and rub it all over the counter top. That's going to create just enough surface attention [sic, tension] to roll these out. Okay? It's just a little bit tacky now. So, put it down and again, we're going to roll but without moving fingers. You see it starts to rotatekind of like orbiting around the sun or somethingand it will tighten as it goes. There. Tight as a drum. Again, you don't have to move your fingers.

    Now, this guy right here we are going to bake. So, cover it up with a tea towel and let it rest for about half and hour. That will give it time for the gluten to relax and that will make it a lot easier to shape the pizza, and it'll give the yeast a little more time to do its voodoo.

cover and rest 1/2 hour

    This guy [the other dough ball half] we're going to save for later but we still have to roll it. So, after tightening it up like that, we're going to put that into a zip-top bag. I'm going to hit that with a little just a little bit of non-stick spray. Stand back. There. Zip it up and park it in the fridge. Now, you can use this any time for about the next 5 or 6 days. There.
    Now, while we're here, I'd like to introduce you a friend a mine. If there is a secret to pizza making, it's building on a peel. Not only is this the only device capable of delivering your flavorful flat to and from the hot box, it doubles as a cutting board, an hors d'oeuvres transport, and if you're in a fraternity ... well, whatever.

    Now this is my favorite peel, Emma. Alright, forget about it. Uh, medium length handle, spacious work surface and dirt cheap at your neighborhood restaurant supply house.


    Other necessary hardware? There isn't any. And a rolling pin would be useless, because as you can see by this cross section, the proper pizza lip is not rolled. A rolling pin would do this. This is only available through manual manipulation.


    [voice over] After giving Emma a light dusting, you're ready for step one. Flatten your ball into a disk using the heel of your hand turning as you go. Disregard any popping bubbles.

Step 1: The Disk

    Then step two, give it some lip by picking it up, pinching about an inch into the dough and rotating. There.

Step 2: Form Lip

    Step three, stretching. I like to start by passing the dough back and forth while rotating it until just kind of loosen up the dough.

Step 3: Stretch

    This is followed by gentle stretching. You want to use your knuckles for this, keeping your fingers out of the way. Then the fun part, spinning.

Step 4: Toss... if you dare

    Now, there are a lot of folks out there that think the whole pizza spinning thing is just for show. But actually, it's physics at work, centrifugal force to be exact. You see, as the pizza spins the heavier mass at the outer lips trying to escape from the inner axis, and that stretches the dough evenly all across ... boy, I'm a nerd.

Alton Brown

    You know, you don't have to do this helicopter business. You can do your stretching right down on the table top. Just take it and stretch it out by hand being sure to turn it each time. Now you're not going to get a perfectly round pizza this way, but you will get a paper thin pizza which can be a pretty darn good thing.

board stretch

    Now if you get your dough all laid out and you let it go and it shrinks back in like that, then that means that it is more elastic than plastic and you probably could have rested your dough a little bit more. But don't get frustrated. If you want it even bigger, just let it sit on the counter for maybe 5 minutes and it'll loosen up.
    Okay, when you get your pizza the size that you want—I like this for a nice single serving—you want to give the peel a shake to just make sure that the pizza is loose because there is nothing worse then getting your pizza all dressed up only to find that you can't get it off of the peel. Now, this looks good.

    Now, we've got some choices. At this point you could dress and bake and you'd have a very, very thin crispy crunch. But, if you let it lay here for about another half hour, it'll rise a little bit more and you'll a slightly thicker, slightly chewier crust. The choice is yours.

bake now for crisp

rest 1/2 hour for chewy

In 1991 a Florida Pizzeria owner made a 10,000 square foot pizza.

The Kitchen

    I start with olive oil, just around the rim. Not only is that going to add flavor, but it will also help the crust to brown without burning. Now I'll tell your the truth, there have been plenty the night that I've just slathered the whole thing in extra virgin olive oil, thrown on some kosher salt and some fresh cracked black pepper and called it a day.

    But, if you must use sauce, you couldn't do any better than our own sauce from Pantry Raid II: Seeing Red.

Pantry Raid II: Seeing Red...

    Now, the trick to sauce is to use as little as possible. I've only got about an ounce and a half sitting here. Ladle it right into the middle and then swirl it out. Now, you can use bottled sauce, you could even used caned crushed tomatoes as long as you drain them thoroughly. But you see, I've barely got just a little layer on there. If you put a whole pool on there, believe me you're going to have an ingredient slide and it will be ugly.

that's 3 Tbls

    Now, next up herbage. I like thyme fresh, oregano fresh, and pepper flakes red dry. Now, why put these on top of the sauce and underneath the cheese? Because down here they're not going to burn.

pepper flake

    Now speaking of cheese, I like to go with three varieties starting with mozzarella, a classic, and followed up by jack and provolone. Why bother with three? Well the truth is, as cheese really heats up it has a tendency to lose some of its character and flavor. So, I find that giving it some contrast and some kind of playmates to go with it goes a little bit better. There. You can use thing that you like.

jack (monterey)

    Now, that in my book is pizza. Although I occasionally do add things like roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes or maybe some asparagus spears, but not today. A blistering hot oven awaits.
    Jiggle just to get the lip out, go to the far edge and then just lay her out like that. T-minus seven minutes and counting.

    Behold, golden brown, melted and delicious on top. Take a peek underneath, nice and brown there. So, get your peel half-way in, pull back and just shuffle it right on.

7 minutes later (give or take)

    A three minute rest will insure a clean cut. There. Now granted, these are going to be three of the longest minutes in your life. Oh, we'll use the time to review. Use a instant yeast because you'll have better success. Use bread flour because of the higher protein and chewier crust which is nice. Uh, let the dough rise long and slow in the refrigerator. Uh, stretch it out. Don't roll it. Dress it simply. Bake it hot and fast on quarry stones. And let it rest for at least three minutes or ... [sigh], all heck. That's been long enough.

•instant yeast
•bread flour
•long cool rise
•stretch, don't roll
•dress simply
•bake on hot rock
•rest 3 minutes

    You know, this is definitely going to take a little longer than delivery from a Dicey's. But you know what? I've got to say, good eats is always worth it. Aah.

Proof Reading help from Jon Loonin.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010