Idea Lab: Focaccia Pizza

Can great pizza be made at home quickly?

12th Jan 2010

idea lab focaccia pizza

Idea Lab is where we explore topics before we head into the kitchen. We welcome your thoughts, opinions, and ideas, so please leave them in the comments!

Though I once praised the virtues of the broiling pizza on Serious Eats, I'm now over it. I'm tired of broiler antics and pre-heating cast iron pans to make approximations of Neopolitan-style pizza at home (I've already ruined one baking stone in the process). The fact is, a home oven just can't get hot enough to char the crust properly before it turns into a cracker. The dough from pizzas I make never has the right chewiness or spring. You can't make broiler pizza and feel relaxed, or make pies big enough to serve more than two  In the end, it's just a huge freaking ordeal. Messy, inexact, crazy amounts of heat, inconsistent results. If you're hanging out with food dorks, it works.  But even then, it's tedious.

On a regular basis, I crave pizza at home. And I'm not really interested in spending money going out or ordering it in. But I have yet to discover a method that's straightforward and doesn't compromise on flavor and quality.

Lately, I've been thinking about a window of opportunity. It all started when Ed Levine came to town to sample Chicago's pizza (It was a difficult mission: Ed has long been chided of his dismissal of Chicago-style pie as " a good casserole at best " rather than actual pizza.)

"It's like a focaccia with toppings!" was the way he described one of Chicago's pizza highlights, Burt's Place , which recently made an appearance on Anthony Bourdain's Chicago episode of No Reservations . They serve a unique style of pizza at Burt's, sort of a pan pizza but not quite the same. It's nothing like the New York style pies that Ed tends to like most, but it shares something important with them: it's about good bread. Relating it to focaccia, Ed had a way of categorizing this pizza as something authentic, with origins, and not just a bread "casserole" dusted with cornmeal and loaded with toppings.

I filed this idea away, then forgot about it, and it wasn't until I was in the middle of making focaccia bread last week that it clicked. (focaccia, since discovering it last year, has been a regular around my house--it's quick, straightforward, and hugely pleasurable considering the amount of work that goes into it.) A yearning for homemade pizza was still lurking in the back of my head when I was mixing the dough.

Why couldn't I just top this focaccia with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and some basil leaves and call it a pizza? Would it taste like one?

Before the focaccia revelation, I'd been researching Sicilian-style pizza, or the similar style known as "grandma-style" as possibilities for home pizza. Esteemed places like Di Fara in Brooklyn offer this style alongside their thin New York-style options. The crust is always par-baked, then dressed with toppings and baked again. This more leisurely approach to making pizza--the bread can be made ahead of time to exact standards, ready for finishing at will--is very appealing, and if it can be done well, it might allow for more perfect pizza at home.

So my goal is to adapt the focaccia recipe into something resembling good pizza crust. I'm after a stellar, authentic, respectable, yet leisurely way of making pizza at home. Will I end up with a Sicilian pie, a "grandma style," a pan pizza, or just a dolled-up focaccia? Should the tomato sauce be par-baked with the dough, or should cheese go on first to prevent sogginess?

I feel like I'm on to something...but I'm no ace when it comes to bread and baking. If anyone has gone down this road before, I'm eager for all the input and help I can get.

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