As I’ve said many times in the past, pizza is my passion and is my crowning achievement within my culinary pursuits, as hobbyist as they may be. I do take pizza seriously because my eyes, on one spring day, long ago, were opened to the substandard nature of most pizzas. I did not become enlightened to the ways of truly sublime pizza by some gourmet pizza chain (read: California Pizza Kitchen), and not by someone on the Food Network (although Alton Brown did assist in my perfecting of the dough…). The metamorphosis began with a children’s book of pizza making that I borrowed from the Harper Woods library in Michigan. The photos within looked nothing like the garbage that Domino’s or Little Caesar’s likes to dish out. I think I’d rather eat slices of american processed cheese on small planks of corrugated cardboard in place of that unpalatable crap. It forced me to wonder exactly how pizzas were supposed to look. More importantly, I wondered what flavors I’d been missing for all of my thirty or so years of life, because, as we all know, mass produced pizza is not about flavor. It’s about filling stomachs up with globs of execrable cheese so that the kids are full and the adults can have more bad beer without getting too drunk. Pizza is not about mass production nor is it about mass consumption. It is a food of the people meant to be simple, flavorful, and constructed with care and love. At the same time that I discovered this gem of a kid’s book, I made some solid attempts at making pizza with Pampered Chef recipes which, of course, left much to be desired. I began my search and studies (literally) for what it takes to make a true Neapolitan pizza (Naples, Italy).

The most influential pizza craftsman during my “studies” is Anthony Mangieri of Una Pizza Napoletana. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had the chance to actually visit Una Pizza Napoletana, sadly. However, from what I’ve read about his style and from what I’ve read from his menu, I get the idea that Mr. Mangieri comes from the same place I do, idealistically speaking. He’s Italian, though, which gets him way more cred than this Polack here. Notwithstanding, though, he’s on the right track with his short menu, premium ingredients, and, yes, his curmudgeonly-seeming nature about making sure that what he makes is the best, even if it runs out every night. I, too, wouldn’t want to make dough and freeze what was left to make sure that I had enough for everyone that showed up during any evening. The dough goes, the shop closes. That’s it. Dough is a fickle thing and the crust is the most important facet of making a pizza that is incredible in flavor and texture.  I’ve said all this before in some fashion, but today I’m tracing the path of what it takes to sculpt the pizzas I create from the construction of the sponge through the baking of the pies themselves to the final garnish with hand-shredded basil.

Step 1: The Sponge
Sponge For this Sunday’s dinner, I began the process of making the base of the dough, otherwise known as the sponge, last night (Friday evening). It’s important to let the sponge grow slowly and surely so that the final crust is not only supremely flavorful (it should be soured and reminiscent of a good yeasty ale). I made a double batch because I’m making six pies total which means 4 cups of organic unbleached white flour (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill), a 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, and about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of room-temperature bottled spring water (enough to make the mixture sticky and wet). I mixed it with my dough hook in my heavy-duty mixer for a few minutes and then moved the sponge to a covered bowl to slowly bubble and develop (at room temperature). The photo shows the final look of the dough, but what is more important is the soury scent that develops over the hours. If it smells like a scrumptious artisanal loaf of bread, then the sponge is good. Leave it the hell alone. For the pizza I’m working on, this process so far has taken 13 hours of sitting and about 10 minutes of prep.