2010 March: This is In

Thin crust pizza, thanks to all of those Neapolitan pizza places that keep sprouting up across the land, is the pizza of choice these days. And it didn’t take long for operators to jump on the pizza wagon and come out with an ultra-thin crust pizza. Thin-crust’s popularity has to do with the fact that people want to cut back on calories without having to cut out pizza. This is a smart move (most frozen pizza purveyors have come out with an ultrathin pizza) because it lets the avid pizza eater buy into the fact that they can still enjoy pizza without feeling as if the calories are going to do them in.

Let me first cover this aspect of thin-crust pizza: how thin is thin? Let me explain it this way –– the thinness or thickness of pizza crust is determined by how thin or thick you roll or press the dough. For example, dough made with 1 pound of fl our and 1 cup of liquid and 4 ounces of corn oil will yield about 28 ounces of dough, or enough for two 14-inch pizza shells. Suppose, however, you want an extra-thin crust. Simply divide the same 28 ounces of dough into three equal pieces and roll each to a diameter of, say, 9 to 10 inches. Or, divide the dough into four pieces and your result will be four thincrust pizzas each about 8 inches in diameter. Getting a super thin or cracker crust is simply a matter of rolling the dough even thinner. I have been in pizza restaurants where 4 ounces of dough was used to make an 8-inch pizza.

Also, how far you extend the toppings toward the edge of the crust will affect the amount of crust that you will be showing. Keep in mind that any part of the pizza dough not covered by toppings will rise higher than the area covered by toppings. You have probably seen and eaten pizzas where there is no crust as such; the toppings go almost over the very edge.

Now let me approach this ultra-thin crust from another direction, a direction that has to do with one ingredient: yeast. For example, I know of a pizza restaurant that ages its dough to the max, possibly a week (the place has enormous cooler capacity, so it can date-stamp and age the dough for that length of time). This aging kills most of the yeast’s capacity for leavening (and rise). In other words, the normal process of leavening time has practically run out. So when the pizzas are baked, there is hardly any oven spring or rise of the pizza shell (especially with the toppings on at this point, not too much happens regarding a rise).

OK, so you do not have cooler capacity for that technique. Go back to what I noted earlier about the rolling out of the pizza shell. The next approach would be to dock the dough vigorously. This will prevent much of the oven spring (that process when dough comes in contact with the heat of the oven).

The younger the dough (dough made and used the same day), the more oven spring. But I still refer you back to the amount of dough used and how thin or thick you roll out the dough. Those two factors play the most important role in crafting a perfect thin-crust pizza.

The amount of bake time has little or no effect on how thin or thick the crust comes out. A classic Neapolitan pizza fi red in a wood-burning oven takes about two minutes (or less). And this style of pizza has as thin a crust (through the center) as you could ask for.

Use this basic dough recipe to test the idea of ultra-thin cracker crusts. It may take a little playing around to get it right, but the effort is worth it.

Basic Test Recipe

16 ounces fl our (protein level of 11-12 percent)
8 ounces water
1 teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon salt
4 ounces corn oil

Mix all of the ingredients, knead the dough for 6 to 8 minutes. Make two balls of dough, each 14 ounces. Dust each dough ball with fl our and bag (plastic freezer bag) and do a standard rise (overnight in the cooler preferred).

Now take one of the balls of dough (14-ounces) and roll out one pizza shell to 14-inches in diameter. Now divide the remaining 14 ounces of dough in half and roll out two pizza shells, each about 9 (or even 10) inches in diameter.

Top the pizzas with one of the suggestions below and bake. You will soon see the difference in thin-crust versus ultra-thin crust. Either way you go you will have some excellent thin-crust pizzas.

Here are some easy combinations to try on your thin-crust:

? Funghi e Salsiccia (Mushroom & Sausage): Pizza sauce or allpurpose ground tomatoes; ½ of the mozzarella; sliced fresh mushrooms; remaining mozzarella; sweet or hot Italian sausage crumbles and a drizzle of olive oil. Top the pizza shell with the ingredients in the order shown.

? Prosciutto e Rucola e Parmigiano (Prosciutto, Arugula and Parmesan): Olive oil; shredded mozzarella; thin slices of prosciutto di Parma; arugula; shaved Parmigiano- Reggiano and more olive oil. Brush the crust with olive oil. Spread on the mozzarella. Bake the pizza. Out of the oven, layer on the prosciutto and the arugula. Add thin shingles of Parmigiano over the arugula. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve.

? Calabrese: Spicy meats are the hot topping trend right now, so with this pizza I use meats like hot coppa salami, calabrese hot salami or soppressata. Layer in order: pizza sauce or all-purpose ground tomatoes; shredded mozzarella; pitted, sliced black olives; thinly sliced and coarsely chopped calabrese hot salami. Top the pizza shell with the ingredients in the order shown. Anchovies would be an option for this pizza. ?

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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