Pizza Bianca

On my recent trip to Italy, I was prepared to eat some amazing food. And I was especially prepared for some great pizza. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I would fall in love with pizza bianca. Now, pre-Italy, when I thought of pizza bianca I though of white pizza – that is, pizza with a white sauce or olive oil in place of the usual red pizza sauce. But in Italy, pizza bianca is pizza dough served without any toppings, aside from some olive oil and sea salt. I like a good crust as much (ok, probably more) than the next person, but the idea of just eating plain pizza crust wasn’t too thrilling for me. Until I tried it. It is a typical breakfast in Italy, and when we tried it on our first morning I was instantly hooked. With just the perfect ratio of crisp, crunchy outside to soft chewy inside, I realized pizza bianca was a testament to how simple – done well – can be completely transformative. The second we got home I was looking up recipes to replicate this perfect breakfast. 

At the same time, I did not go into this with high expectations. If this were easy to make, it would be everywhere, right? Turns out, that’s not true. While figuring out the logistics of baking it can be a bit tricky (since it has to be baked at a super hot temperature), the recipe is surprisingly simple. Stir some common ingredients together, wait, slap on some olive oil and salt, bake. And the result was right up there with the stuff we had in Italy. Actually, it was better than a lot of the pizza bianca we tried.  I would make this stuff every single day if I weren’t worried about what eating my weight in pizza on a daily basis would do for my waistline. It is perfection. I’ve done a lot of baking, but this is probably the proudest I’ve ever been of something I baked.

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In fact, it turned out so good, I decided to attempt to replicate something even loftier: pizza (with toppings) to rival what we had in Rome. When we were in Italy, we went to Pizzarium and had a pizza that will be the gold standard against which I hold every other pizza until the end of time. The pizza we had there was so good it was confusing. Was it the perfect amount of tang in the crust that made it so good? Or the perfect crisp but chewy texture? Was it the toppings that worked so perfectly together? How was every element so perfect and why isn’t every pizza place in the world tirelessly working to replicate this? I seriously had to stop stuffing my face with pizza to gather my thoughts.

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Bonci’s Pizzarium

So after the success of the pizza bianca, I decided to try again and drop the bianca. About halfway through baking I added some pesto sauce, fresh mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes,  basil, and prosciutto.  I know it sounds hyperbolic, but it turned out the be the best pizza I’ve ever had in the States (alas, Pizzerium still reigns supreme. If you’re ever in Rome you must go… actually, make a trip to Rome just to go.). Andrew agreed, and he eats pizza roughly 8 times a week, so he’s a bit of a connoisseur. And it was really pretty easy, so I’m still confused as to why restaurants can’t make pizza this good in states States. Anyway, back to the pizza bianca.

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I got this recipe from Serious Eats. After reading the post behind the recipe, I decided this guy knew what was up with delicious, Roman style pizza bianca. I was not wrong. The recipe is so good (and I know so little about bread science), that I haven’t changed the recipe itself at all. I did, however, change up the baking method a bit. First, I misread the recipe and let my dough sit for 24 hours instead of just overnight. I did this both times I made it, and so while I can’t comment on overnight-rested dough, I will say that the 24-hour rested dough turned out amazing. The other change I made was that I divided the dough into two smaller pizzas due to the size of my pizza oven. I started them in the regular oven, but finished them in my counter top pizza oven. Yes, we own a counter top pizza oven. We really like pizza. If you have a similar type pizza oven, I strongly suggest my method. I got a truly excellent crispy bottom this way. If you don’t have one, just pop them back in the regular oven after removing the parchment paper and adding any toppings. If using a regular oven for the whole bake, you should also use a pizza stone to get the bottom crispy! There’s more about using a pizza stone in the original recipe, but I don’t have one so I can’t give any other tips.

Seriously though, go make this pizza. Now. You will not regret it!

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pizza-bianca

Adapted from Serious Eats

Makes 2 10-12 inch pizzas. Note: dough has to be rested 24 hours (or at least overnight), and then allowed to rise an additional two hours.

3¼ c. (500 g.) bread flour
2 tsp (10 g.) kosher salt
1½ (5 g.) instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 c. + 10½ tsp. (375 g.) lukewarm water
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt to taste
Parchment paper

  1. Combine the flour, kosher salt, and yeast in a large bowl and stir to combine the dry ingredients.
  2. Add the water and stir with a rubber/silicone spatula until you’ve got a nice wet dough with no dry bits left. The dough will be really sticky to the touch.
  3. Cover tightly with cling wrap and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  4. After the 24 hours is up, cut two 14-inch or so pieces of parchment paper and place them in a baking tray. (I forgot to cut the paper in half the and had to transfer one pizza after it had risen. Not the end of the world, but the dough is really sticky and pre-cutting your parchment will be much more convenient.)
  5. Lightly flour your hands, the parchment, and the dough. Divide the dough in half and place one half on each piece of parchment. Dough should be two round blobs. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for two hours.
  6. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven (and pizza stone if using) to 550⁰. (It’s a really high temp, so pre-heating can take a loooong time.)
  7. Set one pizza (on it’s parchment) aside. Take the other pizza and stretch it out to be about 10-12 inches, depending on your preference for dough thickness. You will probably have to peel the edges off the paper a little bit to keep it from curling up – this dough is really sticky! Place half the oil on top, and then stipple it with your fingers. Sprinkle course sea salt on top, to taste.
  8. Bake this pizza in the oven for about 5 minutes. Remove it from the oven and then remove the parchment paper. Add any toppings, if using.
  9. Transfer the dough to the pizza oven (or back to the regular oven and pizza stone) and bake for an additional 8 minutes, or until golden brown with some darker brown spots.
  10. Repeat baking process with second pizza.
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