Monday, December 7, 2009

BBA Challenge #25: Pizza! Napoletana

When I was in College, or, as I am now accustomed to say, in University, I worked at one of the University-run snack bars. I worked Friday Nights because I really had no social life, and working allowed me to talk to random strangers while their food was cooking. While I enjoyed working the grill and making omelettes for very cute women, my true love was making pizzas. The only drawback was that I actually didn't get to talk to anyone except for whoever was making pizzas along with me. So I had to switch every other week in order to get the best of both positions.

The thing here, though was that we had copious amounts of cornmeal to dust the peels, so they slid beautifully into the oven. Taking them out, however, was a different matter. There was always this fear that the pizza would wobble on the peel, and fall to the floor, cheese side down, of course. I did drop a few, but, in truth, perhaps only two out of the hundred or so that I made in my time there.

Growing up, however, we never made pizza at home. Our home oven was actually unused for most of the time I was growing up, and, since Mexican cuisine doesn't really have much that requires an oven, it became the de facto storage for our pots and pans. As for delivery, we had the Pizza Cart, always a phone call away, and Domino's, which I hated because it never tasted good and the pizzas were always way too small in comparison with those from the Pizza Cart.

In New York, there was always the debate as to who had the best pizza, and which Ray's was the first with the name. For best pie, however, my vote went to Grimaldi's, partly because it was delicious, and partly because it was a bit of a ritual, whenever it happened. We would begin by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to work up a hunger. Then, we would wait in line outside the restaurant (there was invariably a line) and then scarf down an olive-and-roasted-red-peppers-topped pie. We would head over to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory for a scoop before watching the lights on the Fulton Ferry Landing. Though I've done this countless times, I never got tired of it.

In Berlin, however, Pizza is a different matter. There's mini-pizzas, often available for a single Euro, but they're usually about four or five inches in diameter, or they are a rectangular piece of about the same size. Slices don't exist here except at a few places that claim NY-style pizza, but even their pizza leaves one craving good pizza.

Having said that, there are a few places that make excellent Pizza. Clärchen's Ballhaus, which is actually a ballroom, as well as Toros, near where I work are two good examples. Toros actually has a wood-fired brick oven, which you can see when you walk in. Don't even mention that place in Prenzlauer Berg because I hated the experience of being in the place, though the pizza was pretty good.

My favorite place in Berlin, though, is the Pizza Klub, which, coincidentally, is just a Katzensprung away from us. There had been a string of pizzerias in the same location before they opened up, so when the last one closed my expectations were at Zero. When they removed the paper on the windows after remodeling, however, the entire neighborhood was shocked. There were nice lamps. Wooden tables. Rock star posters on the wall. It looked so... inviting. We first went there on a Sunday after a weekend trip. I really don't remember which pizza I had, but since then, we've had dozens of pies from there. It's even become our favorite place to watch Football, which we do every two years for the European Cup or the World Cup.

I have been making pizza as long as I have been making bread, and while the pizza was always acceptable, it was nowhere near the pizzas I would eat when out.

This is a picture of my Electrolux Assistent model AKM4110W, known to most as the DLX. I actually got it after getting my bonus from work last winter, and after researching it on Jeff Varasano's excellent Pizza Recipe site. My whole intent was to make pizza. I never dreamed I would be participating in the BBA Challenge or getting back to making bread.

For Peter Reinharts recipe, there really isn't much in the way of prep. You sort of chill high-gluten flour as well as water, and just mix it up. I added a little bit of olive oil for texture, but aside from that, there's really nothing to it.

Here's a picture of the dough just before shaping and baking. I have to confess to not reading the directions all the way through. Instead of forming six balls and refrigerating them. I just put the entire dough in a bowl and stuck it in the fridge. I also sort of forgot about it. You see, I had wanted to make pizza during the week, and, as fate always has it, I only got to the dough six days after preparing it. On a Friday. On this day I took the photo above and then froze three of the balls of dough.

The other three were flattened out for a dough rest.

The first pizza was a resounding success! The only thing I didn't like was that I was using a 17% low-fat mozzarella, just to see how the cheese would melt. I've never had much luck with low-fat cheeses, and this one was a bit stubborn as it cooled. I had to wrestle my teeth around it.

It made for a beautiful pie even if the crust was a bit pale.

Pie two also had fresh mozzarella, but this time I used Mozzarella di Bufala, which I traded for an arm but not a leg at Galeries Lafayette.

This was one weirdest things when I first got here. Mozzarella is sold by the Kugel, floating in brine, in its own plastic pouch. In Brooklyn, I used to head to the Italian Market on Graham Avenue and pay a pretty penny for fresh Mozzarella which they would weigh out for me before taking a leg but not an arm. Here, each pouch of 125g Mozzarella can be had for just over fifty Euro cents. The downside to so much fresh, is that the aged variety is impossible to find. Even when you try to buy "Pizza Cheese" here, it is mostly all Gouda, with no Mozzarella at all.

The second pie did not fare well. Hesitation will do the opposite of wonders when you are baking. In this case, I am not sure what happened other than the pie spilled itself onto the oven stone, causing a fair amount of smoke the next day when I was baking my loaf of bread for the week. I flipped the stone over and forgot about the blackened parts.

Pie three gave up a crumb shot. I just had to take it because I can't let a BBA item go by without showing the holes.

Pie four was eaten before I could even get a picture of it. I know, I know. Bad me.

Pie five had parmesan, cheddar and fresh mozzarella. It looked just as toxic as the picture above, but only because I found an cheddar from England that was bright orange, just the way I like it.

This crust was was one of the most flavorful crusts I have ever had, by my hand or otherwise. It really took me back to the Pizza Cart as well as certain pies in New York. Ever since I began seriously appreciating pizza I've been focused on the crust. However, I would never dare eat a pie without tomato sauce. White Pizza? For me, it's not pizza.

Once, my sister and her husband attempted to order Extra Cheese on a thin crust pie at Grimaldi's. Sacrilage! I shouted. I told them to trust me, and just order a maximum of two toppings. The pizza had the right amount of cheese on it. It was just a thin layer, but it was the perfect foil to the crust. After the pizza, we headed over for some ice cream and took in the lights of the city before descending back into the subway and heading home.

Other Pizzaolos in the BBA Challenge:

Kelly from Something Shiny

Janice from Round the Table

Paul from Yumarama

Cindy from Salt and Serenity

Sally from Bewitching Kitchen