Tony Gemignani has one jealousy-inducing resume. It’s full of phrases like “World Champion” and “Best in America.” And get this: it all relates to pizza. Tony has won a total of 11 world titles in pizza making/tossing – yes, such competitions do exist – and was named the U.S. Ambassador of Neapolitan Pizza by the city of Naples, a title given to only three people in the world. His eponymous pizzeria in San Francisco was just crowned the best in the United States by Forbes. In addition to running seven restaurants across the country, Tony has written three pizza-centric books and operates a prestigious pizza school in Italy, with over 20 branches worldwide. Jealousy-inducing, indeed! We sat down with Tony to talk all things pizza. Be sure to scroll down for his master dough recipe.
What are a few general tips to keep in mind when making pizza at home?
When using a home oven, you should use high-gluten, high-protein flour (like King Arthur Sir Lancelot), use a pizza stone or baking steel and mature your dough for at least 24 hours. This makes the dough lighter and more flavorful and also makes the crust easier to digest. Also, use whole-milk mozzarella.
What are some common mistakes that people make at home?
Most home cooks use the wrong type of flour to make their dough and will use too much water or water that is too hot. I recommend a cold-rise method to make dough. This means a longer rise, but it’ll make a better pizza. Another common problem is using too many toppings on the pizza – cooking is about balance.
What component is most important when making pizza?
The dough, sauce and cheese — that’s the foundation, so it’s important to use quality ingredients. In my new cookbook coming out in October, The Pizza Bible, I have a section where I recommend which ingredients are best and which equipment to use, because it’s important.
How does one become the world’s best pizza tosser? And what does this mean exactly?
Lots of practice! Like a Harlem Globetrotter does tricks with a ball, I do tricks with pizza. I thought winning in pizza acrobatics was the hardest thing until I competed in Naples for cooking – and I won Best Pizza in the World. From what the Italians say, a win like that is once in a lifetime. I’ve won three more Best Pizza cooking titles since then and have 11 world titles. Well, I actually have 14 but three of them were “international” championships and not titled “world,” so we’ll say 11! It’s been hard work, but super cool.
What’s the coolest experience you’ve had/person you’ve met as World Pizza Champ?
Being on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I was 23 – so young, eager and excited. I sat on the couch as a guest and said to myself that I would be back one day.
Tony’s Master Dough With Starter Recipe
Servings: Enough dough for one pizza
This is what I’d call the quintessential American pizza dough, inspired by New York–style pizza: medium thin, satisfyingly chewy and the ideal companion to mozzarella, tomato sauce and the pizza toppings Americans love best, from pepperoni and sausage to olives, mushrooms and other vegetables. It’s the dough I teach first to new students, and the one I recommend experimenting with because it’s so versatile and user-friendly.
- 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
- 3 1/2 cups flour with 13 to 14 percent protein, preferably All Trumps, Pendleton Flour Mills Power, Giusto’s High Performer, King Arthur Sir Lancelot Unbleached High-Gluten or Tony’s California Artisan Flour
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon diastatic malt
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed
- Tiga (see below)
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the warm water and whisk vigorously for 30 seconds. The yeast should dissolve in the water and the mixture should foam. If it doesn’t and the yeast granules float, the yeast is “dead” and should be discarded. Begin again with a fresh amount of yeast and water.
- Combine the flour and malt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
- With the mixer running on the lowest speed, pour in most of the icewater, reserving about 2 tablespoons, followed by the yeast-water mixture.
- Pour the reserved water into the yeast bowl, swirl it around to dislodge any bits of yeast stuck to the bowl and add to the mixer. Mix for about 15 seconds, stop the mixer and add the tiga (see recipe below).
- Continue to mix the dough at the lowest speed for about 1 minute, until most of the dough comes together around the hook. Stop the mixer.
- Use your fingers to pull away any dough clinging to the hook and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a bowl scraper or rubber spatula. Check the bottom of the bowl for any unincorporated flour.
- Turn the dough over and press it into the bottom of the bowl to pick up any stray pieces. If the dough isn’t holding together, add small amounts of water (about 1/2 teaspoon to start) and mix until the dough is no longer dry and holds together.
- Add the salt and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute to combine.
- Stop the mixer, pull the dough off the hook and add the oil. Mix the dough for 1 to 2 minutes, stopping the mixer from time to time to pull the dough off the hook and scrape down the sides of the bowl, until all of the oil is absorbed. The dough won’t look completely smooth.
- Use a bowl scraper to transfer the dough to an unfloured work surface, then knead it for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth.
- Cover the dough with a damp dish towel and let rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Use the dough cutter to loosen the dough and to cut it into halves or thirds (depending on the weight called for in each recipe). Weigh each piece, adjusting the quantity of dough as necessary. You may have a little extra dough.
- Form the dough into balls. Set the balls on a half sheet pan, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Or, if you will be baking the balls on different days, place each ball on a quarter sheet pan.
- Wrap the pan(s) airtight with a double layer of plastic wrap, sealing the wrap well under the pan(s). Put the pan(s) in a level spot in the refrigerator and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Tiga is my slightly more hydrated version of a classic biga starter, which is usually between 50 and 60 percent water. This “Tony’s biga,” which I call “Tiga,” has 70 percent hydration.
- one-third of 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cold tap water
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour used in dough recipe
- Put the yeast in a small bowl, add the water and whisk vigorously for 30 seconds. The mixture should bubble on top. If it doesn’t and the yeast granules float, the yeast is “dead” and should be discarded. Begin again with a fresh amount of yeast and water.
- Add the flour and stir well with a rubber spatula to combine. The consistency will be quite thick.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 18 hours. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to cool slightly before using.
- If you are not using the starter right away, you can store it in the refrigerator, though I suggest keeping it for no more than 8 hours. Bring it to cool room temperature before using.
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