Discover How You Can Contribute to Modernist Pizza

We’ve been hard at work for the last year learning everything we can about the art, science, and history of pizza. Now we want to hear from you. Today we launched an online research contributions portal that we hope will encourage you to join in on our research process. Whether you love diving deep into research as much as you love Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, have decades of pizzaiolo wisdom, or are a bibliophile with a love of old cookbooks, we hope to connect with you. By visiting this new page on our website, you will be able to see some of the current research topics we’re investigating and discover how you can contribute to Modernist Pizza. Your knowledge, research skills, obscure collections—even your old photos—could help us tell the story of pizza and even land you a copy of our upcoming book.

Nathan and the team are excited about connecting with new people who, like us, are passionate and curious about food. “At Modernist Cuisine, we’re known for doing in-depth work. We’ve been working on Modernist Pizza for a year. Now we want to tap the power of the internet to meet people who collectively know something that we don’t about pizza,” Nathan remarked when asked about the new knowledge-sharing portal. “Library research by members of our team has already turned up important information about pizza, but there are many people who speak languages that we don’t or who have incredible first-hand knowledge to share. I think connecting with these people is a cool way to write the history of pizza.”

Before submitting information through our portal, please carefully review the guidelines for each topic. Participants whose submissions are selected may receive copies of the 2019 Modernist Pizza wall calendar, The Photography of Modernist Cuisine, or Modernist Pizza, or even be listed as a contributor in Modernist Pizza to acknowledge your help. Submissions that meet the criteria will be evaluated by our team for quality, uniqueness, historical significance, and editorial interest. It’s possible that some selected submissions for research topics will be posted periodically so that you can see some of the most interesting submissions we’ve received so far. We also welcome questions about each topic in the comments sections.

Click here to visit our research contributions portal. We look forward to hearing from you!

Modernist Pizza is Underway

An interesting thing happens when you finish a book: people immediately want to know what’s next. If you step inside The Cooking Lab, it takes only one whiff to figure out what that is. It’s hard to disguise the familiar yet intoxicating aroma that radiates from the oven as tomatoes, melted cheese, and dough bake.

After taking on the world of bread, we’re thrilled to announce the topic of our next book: pizza. Modernist Pizza will explore the science, history, equipment, technology, and people that have made pizza so beloved.

Authors Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya, with the Modernist Cuisine team, are busy conducting extensive research, testing long-held pizza-making beliefs, and working to understand the differences between different styles of pizza (as well as the best ways to make each one). This quest for knowledge has already taken them to cities across the United States, Italy, and beyond. The culmination of their work will be a multivolume cookbook that includes both traditional and innovative recipes for pizzas found around the globe as well as techniques that will help you make pizza the way you like it.

Why Pizza

We’ve known for some time that we wanted to tackle the subject of pizza in more detail because it’s something we love. It’s an idea that began with the Neapolitan Pizza Dough recipes in Modernist Cuisine at Home and was cemented when we started exploring the topic of pizza for Modernist Bread. Although that book spanned over 2,600 pages, we couldn’t include all the pizza-related information and recipes we wanted to without adding at least one more volume. Chicago deep-dish pizza, for example, didn’t make the cut, but not because we aren’t fans. It became clear that we needed to dedicate an entire book to the subject.

Pizza has so many of the things that we love in a subject. Making pizza takes a tremendous amount of skill, but it’s also full of creative possibility and, quite simply, a lot of fun. The story of pizza is one of science, history, invention, and tradition plus its share of mystique. Despite its ubiquity, there’s still a tremendous amount to learn and many questions that are waiting to be answered.

Historically, what we consider to be pizza originated in Italy. Most people say that the pizza we eat today is the descendant of 18th-century Naples street food that was mostly eaten by the poor. These pizzas had simple toppings: a little oil, some herbs, salt, onions. (The additions of tomatoes and cheese are believed to date to the late 19th century.) From Naples, pizza made its way to the United States, and subtly morphed into what most of us recognize as pizza today (in general terms at least) before being exported back to Italy in its new form.

Today, of course, you can get this Americanized style of Italian pizza in just about any country you visit. Over the course of its journey, what is essentially a flatbread loaded with toppings, became one of the most popular foods on the planet as different cultures developed new takes on pizza. At the same time there has been an incredible resurgence of traditional Neapolitan pizza. After 100 years, pizza from Naples—thin with sparse toppings and a bubbly crust— is spreading around the world once again along with lots of other local styles from around Italy.

From Neapolitan to Roman, New York to Detroit, each style of pizza has its own standards. And just about everyone has an opinion about what makes a pizza good, which makes the topic even more intriguing. Pizza really has become personal. What’s your favorite topping? Favorite style? Favorite pizza parlor? Thick or thin crust? Which flour is best? What type of water? What kind of oven? Is the best pizza in Italy? New York? Or somewhere else? Few foods in this world cause more heated discussion—just ask someone for their stance on Hawaiian-style pizza. To us, these fuzzy lines are part of what makes pizza so interesting. Personal preferences aside, our approach is to try to answer these questions objectively.

A New View of Pizza

There is still a lot for us to research and a lot of decisions to make, but we will stay true to the approaches we have used for all the Modernist Cuisine books. You can expect the same level of rigor and detail in our writing, illustrations, and photography as we attempt to tell the story of pizza in a way that hasn’t been seen before. Modernist Pizza is in its early stages, and although we’ve begun to dig in, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Although we can’t guarantee when it will arrive at your door just yet (or the size of the delivery box), we can promise that this book will deliver the complete story of pizza along with insights that will stoke your pizza obsession even more.

For now, we’re excited to reveal a few of the photographs that Nathan has taken so far. Making its debut at Modernist Cuisine Gallery, this special series of four images celebrates the fine art of pizza. Each piece of artwork captures ordinary pizza ingredients, techniques, and tools in a brand-new light.

Taken using innovative photography techniques and custom-built equipment, the images reveal a new view of pizza—and we mean that literally. In one suspenseful shot, a pizza cutter becomes a colossus bearing down on a pepperoni pie. It took 500 focus-stacked images to create this single image.

Our hope is that these images will surprise and delight everyone who loves pizza. For fans of Bread Pitt, the series also features a new portrait inspired by the work of Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. To get the photograph, Nathan worked with coauthor Francisco Migoya to sketch and construct a Neapolitan Man sculpture. Sitting on top of a torso made from a bag of Caputo 00 flour, the detailed face comes alive through a selection of carefully arranged pizza toppings—cloves of elephant garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, chorizo, pepperoncini peppers, dried Calabrian chilies, black olives, garlic, cherry tomatoes, and fior di latte mozzarella—and is finished with a plume of herbs: basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.

This limited-edition series is part of the newest collection of artwork at the gallery, which is available now. For information on ordering art, contact the Modernist Cuisine Gallery team, and follow the gallery’s new Instagram account to see more images from the collection.

We would love to hear from you as we continue to research pizza from around the world. Contact pizza@modernistcuisine.com to tell us about your favorite pizzerias and their pizza. Connect with us on social media to get all the latest Modernist Pizza updates.

Five Additional Uses for Your Baking Steel

In our quest to create the perfect baking steel for mimicking the results obtained by a traditional wood-fired oven, ultimately achieving pizza bliss, we also tested other uses for such a device. We examined several possibilities, including hot and cold preparations. Because the baking steel is 22 lb of highly conductive thermal mass, it can stably hold both high and low temperatures. Below, you will find a few of our favorite options. If you have a new idea for its use, let us know in the comments section.

1. Antigriddle: Steel has high heat capacity and great conductivity, which is why it works so well for pizza. But it also works in opposite extremes, efficiently freezing foods through conduction. We experimented with a PolyScience antigriddle while writing Modernist Cuisine and found that by freezing the baking steel, we could achieve similar results. After watching street vendors in Thailand make “ice-cream pad” (rolled-up ice cream) on YouTube, we were hooked and didn’t stop until we were able to replicate this charming treat by chilling our steel to ?15 to ?9.5 °C / 5 to 15 °F. Check back next week when we share how to make “ice-cream pad” using the baking steel.

2. Griddle: Naturally, the baking steel also makes a great griddle. Place your baking steel on your stove or induction cooktop to fashion a griddle. Because it is larger than your typical skillet (the baking steel is 41 cm by 36 cm by 1 cm / 16 in by 14 in by ? in), you have more room for your eggs and pancakes.

on induction burner with fried eggs

3. Flat Tandoor Oven: A pizza without sauce or toppings looks an awful lot like naan, which inspired us to use the steel as a makeshift, open tandoor oven. Heat the baking steel on a stovetop or induction burner on high and slap on your naan dough. In moments, your naan will have a blistered surface not normally obtainable in a home oven.

4. Cold Plate: Your baking steel will also keep food cool without freezing it—a perfect solution for a platter of sushi. Chill the baking steel in the freezer for a few hours. Depending on how cold you want your food to be, the time will vary. This is a great way to keep sensitive food cold without dealing with piles of ice and the inevitable clean up. Keeping your food cool will also extend the amount of time it can sit outside of the refrigerator before entering the danger zone.

5. Teppan: Teppanyaki, the Japanese style of cuisine popularized by restaurants in the U.S., uses an iron plate called a teppan. This metal griddle quickly cooks food to the delight of onlookers. We can’t guarantee that you’ll nail down the flaming onion on your first try, but it’s a good place to start, as well as a fun idea for dinner parties.

Build the Perfect Pizza in 12 Steps

You can build a great pizza if you master three crucial elements: making the dough, creating the toppings, and baking the pizza. Stretching out pizza dough is a delicate art that rewards patience and practice. Topping a pizza is all about balancing an ideal ratio of dough to toppings that allows the pizza to cook quickly and evenly, producing a combination of crispy, chewy textures. Baking a pizza well requires the right tools: a very hot and stable oven and baking surface, a pizza peel of the right size, and a keen sense of timing. We designed our baking steel to deliver heat quickly and consistently to a pizza.

Follow these steps from start to finish to create pizza perfection.

1. Remove the pizza dough from the refrigerator. Cover it and let it warm up to room temperature for an hour. If the dough was frozen, first defrost it in the refrigerator overnight. Covering the dough keeps the surface from drying out and forming a crust.

2. While the dough is warming, set the oven temperature as high as it will go (260 °C / 500 °F is a minimum), and prepare a baking surface. In dozens of experiments involving more than 100 pizzas, we explored a wide range of materials and methods for cooking pizza at home. Our goal was to find the cooking surface that best transfers heat to raw pizza dough. Every surface will cool to some degree when the pizza goes in, but the dip in temperature should be as shallow and brief as possible. Our conclusion: a dark steel plate just ? in thick is the best option.steel on white

3. Stretch and flatten the dough on a floured work surface by using your fingers to press the middle of the dough flat, and then work the dough outward. Leave a narrow ridge along the perimeter of the dough.

Step 3a Pressing outward

4. Dust a pizza peel or baking sheet with a light, even dusting of flour. Tap the side of the peel on the countertop to knock off any excess flour. If the cooked pizza crust tastes like burnt flour, the peel was overfloured. If the pizza crust sticks, you probably used too little flour.

5. Drape the dough over the back of your hand, and then rotate it slowly. The weight of the dough should gently stretch it to a circular shape and even thickness, 30–35 cm / 12–14 in. in diameter. Small blisters and bubbles should form in the dough. These are good!

Step 3b resting

6. Place the dough onto a pizza peel. Jerk the peel sharply back and forth; this prevents the dough from sticking to the peel.

7. Spread the sauce evenly over the dough, but leave the outermost 2.5 cm / 1 in of the perimeter dry.

8. Sprinkle grated cheese evenly over the sauce.

Step 6 cheese

9. To avoid losing heat from the oven, slide the pizza from the peel onto the baking steel as quickly as possible.

10. Cook the pizza until the crust turns brown and blisters, 2–4 minutes. Some of the larger bubbles should look almost burnt. A well-cooked pizza has scorched blisters on the bottom of the crust—although, pizza can also be delicious without a blistered crust. If you don’t see any blisters, your cooking surface is not hot enough. This is another reason why we recommend using our baking steel.

MCAH_PIZZA_Bake_Step10

11. Remove the pizza from the oven by using the pizza peel or baking sheet, and slide it onto a cooling rack. This keeps the crust crisp.

12. Season the pie with fresh basil, chili flakes, salt, and olive oil. Don’t forget to season the very edge of the crust, and give it a little drizzle of oil, too. Serve the pizza immediately.

–Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Introducing the Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel

We love Neapolitan-style pizza. With its bubbly crust cooked to perfection, it is held to high esteem in the pizza world for good reason. The trouble is that home ovens don’t reach the scorching 800 °F used to create a blistering crust in a wood-fired oven. We researched this problem and in Modernist Cuisine shared how a steel plate can help give home ovens a needed boost to create Neapolitan-style pizza.

We partnered with Baking Steel and are happy to announce that we’ve created the Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel to consistently deliver perfect Neapolitan-style pizzas in a home oven. We performed rigorous tests to find the perfect balance between steel thickness, performance, and weight. Retailing for $99, it’s sold exclusively through Bakingsteel.com and is available today with free shipping!

Throughout the week, we’ll be sharing pizza recipes and other great uses of a baking steel. You can learn more about it here. Please let us know what you think.

 

Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel with cheese and basil pizza

Pizza Trial and Error

When I set my sights on a topic, I tend to get a little obsessed. This summer, that topic was pizza, and my obsession was in full force. My interest in homemade pizza started with a chapter of the book The Kitchen as Laboratory in which culinary inventor Thomas M. Tongue, Jr. describes a method of leavening pizza dough without yeast by using an encapsulated leavening agent. I was intrigued, so I promptly hunted down a sample of this ingredient and began making pizzas in my home kitchen. As the summer months passed, I logged over 75 pizzas between my oven and my grill, each one a little better than the last. The key breakthrough for me, though, was the discovery that I could substitute flavorful liquids in lieu of water in my pizza dough. After rigorous testing and at least one pizza that self-flambéed (tip: 80-proof rum doesn’t make good pizza dough), I was enamored with champagne pizza dough. In the video from last week, I walk you through the process, which can take as little as 25 minutes from start to finish.

I was also inspired by the many recipes in our new book, Modernist Cuisine at Home, which contains several recipes for pizza dough, sauces, and toppings. We hope they’ll inspire you to experiment on your own as I did.

Get Gourmet Pizza in Your Home Oven

Have you ever waited six hours for pizza dough to rise, only to have the pizza burn in the oven while the crust remains stubbornly uncooked? This week on MDRN KTCHN, Scott Heimendinger, our Director of Applied Research, and CHOW.com bring you tips for saving time and circumventing just such disasters. Scott explains one of our favorite tricks: baking on a steel sheet. He also shares his own recipe for pizza dough using an encapsulated leavening agent. In Modernist Cuisine at Home, we include many recipes for pizza dough, sauces, and ideas for toppings. With all the different combinations, you could eat pizza for a month and never eat the same thing twice!

Interested in trying out Scott’s technique? Click here for information on using encapsulated leavening agents.