Slice of Bonci’s

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I assumed that by the time this post is published, the world has crossed into the year 2013.  So happy new year, guys.  I hope that against all odds, fireworks were blocked enjoyed, champagnes were spilled popped, strangers fought kissed, and resolutions dismissed fulfilled.  But truth be told, I am never one to celebrate the fact that another year has eloped with my remaining inventories of collagen, and as far as a new “symbolic reform” goes, I never understand why I have to wait for December.  Who’s got time for that?  The hope of a new beginning must start now if not last minute, so it could get killed before noon the next day.  Last night I said “ENOUGH!”  to my thighs and tonight I have lychee gummies on my night stand.  Efficiency.

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So last month last year as I sank my teeth into the most amazing amazing crust – so unique that I don’t even want to call it what it is which is “pizza” because it doesn’t deserve the stereotypes – when the timing was so perfect for anyone to say “my new year’s resolution is to make this at home!”, I said “non sense!”.  This crust is too good to wait until next year!  The failure of tackling it must happen right now in 2012.  2013 is for disappointing other things!

But it didn’t.  Fail I mean.  I actually did it.

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Few might have noticed that we just came back from Rome.  I wouldn’t go so far as saying it opened our eyes to a whole new dimension but it certainly closed one, which being my previous fascination with New York’s new Godfather of pizza – Jim Lahey.  I have all the reasons to be loyal to Jim, being from New York and used to work only a couple blocks away from his Sullivan St. Bakery where their pizza bianca had sustained me through countless afternoons of self-loathing and brief urges to throw staplers at my boss.  I thought no other pizza bianca could exceed his if not only being just as good at best, and this thought was even reinforced after a couple of good-but-still-not-better ones we came across on this trip.  Until we hit Bonci’s.

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And then sorry but… bye-bye, Lahey.  Bonci’s pizza dough is magical.  Even though he’s famed for inventing many creative pizza toppings, they cannot distract me from the fact that the bread is the real star – the thinly thinly formed and crispy-to-almost-chips-like surface, sandwiching the most tenderly tenderly soft but chewy center.  The intricate tissue inside almost embodies a translucent quality, elastically pulling away and criss-crossing throughout the large dome-like air bubbles that are carefully retained in the process of making.  I won’t shelf Lahey’s recipe completely yet as I’m sure it can still prove itself worthy from time to time (for a thinner-crust, more topping-oriented occasions).  But for now, as far as bianca goes, Bonci is the new Godfather.  After all, he’s a real Italian.

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Servings: two 12″/30 cm round pizza bianca

All the pizzas at Bonci have a relatively thicker bread, so I would only recommend this dough when the pizza bread is the star (for ex, pizza bianca or pizza rossa).  Bonci recommends using bread flours that are tipo 0 or tipo 1 (indicating the fineness of the ground) and preferably stone-ground such as Burrato from Mulino Marino.  I don’t have it so I am using my favorite bread flour from Hong Kong flour mills – grade A.  But this flour alone did not produce the same kind of texture and the translucent tissues I was after, which is a quality often seen in tapioca dough, therefore I mixed a portion of tapioca flour into the dough and the result is fairly close to what I had in Bonci’s.  If you have Burrato from Mulino Marino, by all means use JUST that.  But if you want to experiment with other types of bread flours, try this method.

I would strongly recommend weighing the ingredients in grams.

Ingredients: adapted slightly from Bonci’s recipe

Combine bread flour, tapioca flour, dry yeast and sugar in a large bowl.  Whisk to evenly mix together.  Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon until a lumpy dough forms.  Do not over-stir.  It is OK that the dough is unevenly mixed at this point.  Then add the salt and olive oil, and stir to combine again.

The dough should be fairly sticky at this point.  If not (like in the winter when it’s cold and dry), add 1 tbsp more of water.  Scrape the dough onto a working surface.  DO NOT KNEAD IT.  Lift one side of the dough up and fold it over itself like folding paper.  Turn it 90 degrees and fold again.  Cover it with plastic wrap to rest for 15 min, then repeat.  Let rest for 15 min again, then repeat folding.  Do this 3~4 times until the dough is springy and not lumpy.

Place the dough in a large bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let it proof in the fridge for 24 hours.

1 hour before baking, take the dough out of the fridge.  Scrape it carefully onto a well dusted working surface without flattening the air bubbles inside.  Fold the dough once or twice, then cut the dough into 2 equal parts (or leave it whole if you have an oven big enough for a huge pie).  Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest and come back completely to room temperature, approx 1 hour.

30 min before baking, place a large flat cast-iron pan/pizza stone in the oven on the middle rack and preheat it to 500ºF/230ºC.  I suspect most people out there don’t have a pizza stone sitting around which includes me.  I just use a round SHALLOW cast-iron pan and it works BEAUTIFULLY.

Once the oven is preheated, you can start preparing the dough.

Take 1 piece of dough and dust it well with semolina flour.  Start pressing the dough down GENTLY WITHOUT breaking or tearing it.  Unless you have giant, fat, sausage-like fingers with virtually no nails (which punctures the dough), I’d suggest holding your hands into a fist and use your knuckles to press the dough down.  Start with gently pressing around the edges of the dough, then work from the center outward towards the edge.  The intention is as much about shaping the dough as re-distributing the air bubbles throughout.  Flip the dough over and repeat.  Don’t work it too much.  At any given moment if the dough is getting resistant and springing back to its previous shape, DO NOT FORCE IT.  Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 min then come back to it.  This will take practice and you will never be able to get the dough to be as thin as most pizzas, and that’s OK.  We are not aiming for thin-crust.  You should have small, loose air bubbles throughout the dough when you are done.

Once you are happy with the shape of the dough, hold out your forearm over the dough then flip the dough onto your forearm so it “hangs”, and lift the dough up that way.  Gently shake your arm to release excess flour on the dough and place the dough lightly down onto a sheet of parchment paper (or a pizza pan).  Drizzle approx 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil evenly on top and dust with sea salt (I shaved a little parmigiano on top but you don’t have to).  Then lift the parchment paper to transfer the dough into the cast-iron pan/pizza stone.

Bake in the oven for 10 min or until puffed and golden brown.  If you are using a rectangular pizza pan, place the pan onto the bottom of the oven for 15 min until a bottom crust forms (preferably using bottom heat), then move it to middle rack until it’s golden brown on the top (preferably using top heat).  You can prepare the other half of the dough during this time.

Then you are only limited by your imagination to what goes on top.  Today it’s as simple as whole-milk ricotta, baby arugula and shaved parmigiano cheese with a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

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10 Comments

  • afracooking says:

    This pizza looks amazing! I can just taste it: chewy, fragrant! I must try this!

  • Michael Miller says:

    Hi Mandy,
    I was fascinated the first time that I saw a video of Bonci making pizza…it looks phenomenal!

    I was wondering if HK bread flour is like U.S. bread flour or more like all-purpose. I would appreciate it if you could let me know.

    Thanks,
    Michael
    Boca Raton, Florida

    P.S. While Beijing sucks, HK is “the greatest”.

    • Mandy L. says:

      Michael, Hong Kong flour Mill’s bread flour has a very high gluten/protein content of 14%, vs some normal “bread flour” has only 11~12%. “All purpose” flour sometimes has only 9% which is way too low. Try to find the best quality or organic bread flour with a very high gluten/protein content that you can find. I hope this helps.

  • Shanna says:

    OMG! This looks perfect! Really the most inspiring blog with an unique view i have seen in a very long time! You are not a follower, but an inventor!
    About the pizza, I guess you can top the unbaked dough with your favourite things before it goes in the oven?

  • Theresa says:

    Instead of a pizza stone – try an untreated and unglazed large terra cotta tile. Works a treat and cheap as chips (in fact, when my husband went looking for 1 terra cotta tile at the hardware store, they gave it to him for free!).

  • Sans says:

    Gosh, that is awesome! Is it possible to put some filling in it then just fried them? haha, sounds ridiculous though.

  • Maho says:

    Wow, wow, wow…!
    As soon as I inhaled my lunch, I had to write this and thank you for the recipe.
    Adding tapioca flour is something I never would’ve thought in a million years! Since I didn’t have bread flour with high-gluten, so I added wheat gluten for good measure.
    It turned out just like you described, creamy crumb enclosed in an ultra crispy shell. I topped with caramelized onion, black olives and pancetta, but you’re right, the bread is the real star here. Fantastic!

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