Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Elements of Pizza

Title:  The Elements of Pizza: Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home
Author:  Ken Forkish
Publication Information:  Ten Speed Press. 2016. 256 pages.
ISBN:  160774838X / 978-1607748380

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It's really up to you."

Favorite Quote:  "The fact is, even an average crust with sauce and melted cheese still tastes pretty good. For that reason, there are a lot of average pizzas that plenty of people happily eat - and plenty of people for whom pizza is more of a business proposition than a passion for quality. Please ignore them."

What does a guy who grew up in Maryland, lives in Portland, and started his career as an engineer in the Silicon Valley know about pizza? Turns out, he knows quite a lot. Artisan baker Ken Forkish presents a detailed and educational book on pizza. Mind you, it is not exhaustive in its exploration of American pizza styles. It focuses primarily on Italian and New York style pizza.

This book is considerably more than a cookbook; it is an education. The recipes themselves don't appear until 100 pages into the book. Before that comes the education. The first chapter is a travelogue through pizza history, starting in Naples and ending in the United States. With photographs and text, this chapter provides a peek into the history, culture, and diversity of pizza in different areas.

The second chapter talks about the styles of pizza from Neapolitan to a New York slice. For each style, the book includes a description, its differentiating characteristics, and "desired results", i.e., how the end result should look and feel. Again, the focus is limited to certain styles of pizza - no Chicago deep dish here.

Chapter 3 is dedicated to guidelines for a great pizza crust. This chapter ends with the reminder that ""be guided by your own taste." That bonus guide recurs through the book. The next two chapters educate on equipment and methods. Most of us don't have a wood fired oven, but fortunately, these chapters are written for the home cook with equipment and methods accessible to the home cook. A wood fired oven may not be in my future, but a great home made pizza is.

Of course, the book does have recipes. First and foremost come the pizza dough recipes. The book goes through different dough recipes with pros and cons based primarily the time each takes to make, along with some specialties like a gluten free dough. In all, the book includes thirteen dough recipes but oddly, no recipes for a whole grain dough. I understand being a dough "purist" but if the book includes a gluten free dough then why not a whole grain dough? That limits the usability of the recipes for me.

The section on dough is really the heart of the book. The focus is on building an outstanding base from which to build further. Each recipe includes ingredients by weight, quantity, and baker's percentage. It give a detailed description of each step, for example, not just "mix the dough" but "mix by hand, first stirring your hand around inside the dough tub to integrate....". The earlier chapters on methods includes photographs of the techniques.

The recipes to put it all together into one delicious slice of pizza don't begin until 150 pages into the book. Again, the book includes classics like a Pizza Margherita and the New York cheese pizza. It also ventures into more diverse combinations like a butternut squash pizza and a Chantrelle and Garlic Pizza. The pizza recipes are organized into five sections - Italian and Italian-Inspired, New York and New York Inspired, Artisan Classics, Trifecta Flatbreads, and Vegetables and Just Because.

This book focuses on mastering the process of pizza making. Once you master the process, the variations are only limited by your imagination. Because I tend to use my cookbooks as guidebooks rather than exact rules, this approach works for me. Perfect the dough. Find the toppings you enjoy. Pizza at home your way!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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