Cookbook Review: The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish

I make a lot of pizza at home and have been scooping up every new pizza book available.  Every pizza book offers something different whether it’s a philosophy on dough, creative toppings or just a good ol’ history lesson.  This book, “The Elements of Pizza” by Ken Forkish  does a bit of each and is very successful.  Ken Forkish is the owner of Ken’s Artisan Bakery, Ken’s Artisan Pizza and Trifecta Tavern, all located in Portland, OR.  For this book, he tried to leave his knowledge behind and traveled to Italy to meet with true pizza masters.  In the end I feel like he developed his own philosophy on pizza which mixes his knowledge of baking with their knowledge of pizza.

The heart of this book is the dough, as it should be in a pizza book, and it offers 12 different recipes for dough.  What I really enjoy is that many of the dough recipes are for similar “New York” or “Neapolitan” style but they vary in the amount of time needed to make them.  There are doughs that range from a few hours “I Slept In But I want Pizza Tonight” to a few days “Overnight Levain Pizza”.  There are also recipes for pan pizza, bar pizza, Al Taglio and Gluten Free dough.  The dough recipes are simple and use only water, salt, dried yeast and flour.  Some recipes require a starter which is made with the same ingredients.

Prior to the dough section of the book there are five chapters, “The Soul Of Pizza”, “Pizza Styles”, Eight Details for Great Pizza Crusts”, “Ingredients & Equipment” and “Methods”.   The “Soul of Pizza” really touches on the history and philosophy of pizza making in Italy and the Eastern United States.  I really enjoyed this section of the book, the insight provided by his visits to some of the best pizza places in Italy is priceless.  After reading about one of his visits I was visualizing the awkwardness he felt in the 15 minutes while getting schooled by an Italian master.  This book does exclude any major discussion of California or Chicago deep dish style pizza.

The next section describes (in about a page for each pizza) what to expect when you cook each type of pizza.  Each style is concluded with bullet points  talking about the desired results for the crust, sauce, etc.  This may be the first book that dedicates any space to American Bar Pizza, which is a pizza with no outer layer of crust.

Chapter 3 is where the author really starts to define his own pizza philosophy which has a huge focus on crust.  The eight tips for great crust discuss topics such as hydration, time, temperature, salt, mixing and climate.  The brief narrative on hydration really helped me understand why my previous pizzas were coming out so different when using my home oven vs. my outdoor oven.

The methods sections is very helpful and describes each of the steps used to make the pizzas.  The key steps are shown in photographs and describes in narrative form.  While making my first dough I found myself turning to this section over and over as I worked through the recipe.  For some folks there could probably be more pictures but the pictures included are of the most important parts.

I tested the “24- to 48-Hour Pizza Dough” recipe and was sort of scared at first.  The dough was extremely sticky to work because of the 70% hydration level.  I followed the instructions closely from mixing, kneading and shaping and the dough stayed pretty sticky the whole time.  Mr. Forkish isn’t really scared of adding extra flour to the mix to keep it less sticky but I was tentative due to some previous pizza books I’ve read.  After the 2nd fermentation and letting the dough warm up for 90 minutes I found that it was no longer sticky (I increased my extra flour at this point) and it was a pleasure to work with.  It stretched so easily and basically shaped itself.  In other books I’ve had trouble getting my dough to stretch to the listed size (even after weighing my dough balls) but this dough actually exceeded the size, and was hanging over the edge of my pizza peel.  I made the dough using King Arthur Flour.

The dough I created resulted in three dough balls, I used two and cut the third in half to let my kids make their own pizzas.  For the first pizza we made the Margherita and Arugula and followed the recipe closely.  Our second pizza was a made up concoction of smoked gouda, mozzarella and caramelized onions.  The kids made a pizza with  tomato sauce, olive oil, soppresata, and olives and one without sauce.

The author uses a pizza stone or baking steel and utilizes a combo of the oven and broiler in all the recipes.  Unfortunately our oven does not have a broiler and the temp maxes out at 50F less than his recommended cooking temp (our oven is not normal).  We did use a baking stone placed in the middle of our oven and we heated the oven for an extended time.  We prepared the pizza on a wooden peel and slid it easily onto the stone (I have had a lot of practice).  The pizza was finished in about 6 minutes.  The crust was beautiful, although not as deeply brown as those in the book, airy, the bottom was thin and crisp.  Although crisp it was foldable.  The texture of the crust was perfect.  The flavor of the dough was above average but I think using a longer fermented dough could elevate it to great.  As I mentioned before the dough was extremely easy to work with.  My 5 & 7 year old children both stretched and made nice looking mini pizzas.

Although my review commented mostly on the dough aspect of this cookbook the actual pizza recipes all look really great.  There are over 35 recipes ranging from Italian, New York, Ken’s Pizza Classics, Flatbreads, Vegetables and Other.  The recipe section (and the rest of the book) are filled with delicious looking photos.

Overall I would recommend this book to a pizza maker of any level.  I really enjoyed the pizzas we made from this book and am going to make one of the longer fermented dough recipes soon.  The tidbits of information that Ken Forkish adds into many sections about hydration, oven temperature and fermentation make this book worth having in my collection.  The recipes and photos make it a pizza book I’ll use often.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


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