Yesterday’s Pizza making Session

Yesterday’s pizza. Cow’s milk mozzarella, basil, parmigiano, Jar Goods “classic red” sauce.

I had some dough left over from Tuesday but didn’t get a chance to use it until yesterday. Pretty good excuse to experiment with 3 day cold rise dough on my new Baking Steel! The dough is my standard formula:

315g water
500 g flour
4g yeast
10g salt

Last time I used the Steel I had it up at the top rack but the pizza got a bit too charred so I lowered it for this round. I technically split the difference between the top rack and the center rack by inserting some of my baking tiles in between. The result was pretty good! Underside of the crust was more even but I could still use more char up top.

Last week’s pizza, baked higher in the oven. Basil, grape tomato, mozzarella di bufala. Fancy!

Pizza Self Sufficiency in App Form

DIY Pizza Pie is the greatest home pizza making tool since the advent of the pizza stone. No less should be expected of Mark Bello, the big cheese at Pizza A Casa in NYC’s Lower East Side. PAC’s pizza making workshops have become legendary for their ability to transform the dough-phobic into master pizzaioli in a matter of hours using a treasure trove of tricks and hacks developed over Bello’s years of tortured existence in the land of the deep dish. His methods are extremely simple and yield incredible results. The DIY Pizza Pie app distills the juiciest moments of a Pizza A Casa pizza making workshop into an easy-to-use app that’s perfect for beginners or pizza pros.

The app opens with a menu of selections ranging from necessary pizza gear (Tools of the Trade) to common mistakes (7 Deadly Pizza Pitfalls) to necessary dissertations on sauce, cheese and dough. Each of these categories gets you to a far more detailed list of options, such as this step-by-step process for making a Pizza Margherita.

Bello keeps it simple, but there are special features on nearly every page that will take you even deeper into pizza madness with incredibly detailed videos. These aren’t your ordinary cooking show variety where you see five seconds of work and the thing is magically done. One video demonstrates how to repair a punctured dough skin by using a light box to illustrate thin sections. Another shows two simultaneous angles of a dough stretching technique that would be difficult to describe in text alone or with a single video shot. It’s brilliant in its deep understanding of what processes concern most home pizza chefs, a skill the crew at Pizza A Casa developed by instructing thousands of people in the ways of the DIY pie.

For those who have taken the class, DIY Pizza Pie is a perfect way to take Bello and his bag of tricks with you. For those who aren’t planning a trip to New York anytime soon, it’s a valuable tool for attaining independence from low-quality take-out pizza wherever you live.

DIY Pizza Pie is currently available for iPad at the App Store. Live-action public workshops run weekends from noon to 4PM at Pizza A Casa in NYC’s Lower East Side.

Cheese First vs. Sauce First

Sauce first, then cheese first. Completely different results. Both delicious.

I made these two pies over the weekend with the exact same ingredients yet the first was topped with sauce followed by cheese and the second started with cheese and sauce came last. They look and taste completely different! Starting with sauce makes sense because pizza began as a peasant food and the high cost of cheese made it more of a garnish than a main event. As costs decreased, cheese proportions increased and became what we see today as a typical “New York Style” pizza. But cheese is a great base because it protects the crust from getting gummy.

I love doing cheese first because it melts right onto the crust and you get little to no cheese drag: when your bite pulls a blanket of hot molten mozzarella off the slippery surface of a saucy pie directly onto your clean face and shirt. It also means that the surface sauce is more susceptible to evaporation, so it tends to thicken and sweeten. This order is sometimes referred to as tomato pie, as at Delorenzo’s in Trenton, NJ, but it’s also the preferred method at New York joints like John’s on Bleecker Street, Sam’s Restaurant in Brooklyn, Arturo’s in Greenwich Village and Totonno’s on Coney Island.

600g flour (I used Pillsbury bread flour for this batch)
396g water
13g salt
6g dry yeast

Starting with the water (room temp), add yeast then flour. Mix in salt and fully incorporate all ingredients. Give it a few minutes to rest while you check the mail and then knead it until smooth and springy. Cut into 4 even pieces and round into balls. Store for 1-3 days in sealed container inside refrigerator. I used mine after 2 days and it was lovely but I bet it would last 5 if push came to shove.

If you want to get a bit more depth, you can mix together 50g or flour and 50g water plus a pinch of yeast (~1g) 10-12 hours before making your dough. I did that before heading out to do a pizza tour, then when I came back 10 hours later the mixture had more than doubled in size. (Room was 71 degrees F so a warmer room will rise faster, cooler room rises slower.) I added this mixture to the remaining ingredients in the recipe (550g more flour, 346g more water, 5g yeast) and continued with the process. This allows for some fermentation to occur in advance with just about a minute of prep time. There’s no salt in the preferment because it slows down yeast fermentation. I did this preferment for the crust you see in these photos. It would be more effective if you could have tasted it. Not as much flavor as using a starter, but still really tasty. 

I Just Scored a Commercial Pizza Oven Stone

The Bari Restaurant Supply store on Bowery and Prince is a magical place. I take tours there all the time to check out pizzeria equipment in a place where actual pizzeria operators are buying it. The centerpiece of the showroom is a brand new oven, which was on location in the store’s manufacturing department. That makes Bari the only remaining pizza oven manufacturer in New York City.

I take pizza tours into the manufacturing area whenever it’s safe (and whenever the door is unlocked) so we can see the process from frame to finish. It’s amazing. I’ve been noticing scraps laying around recently — pieces of marble and stone destined for dough stretching tables and ovens, respectively. When I asked Patsy (the manufacturing honcho) about the bits, he said the stone was heading for the trash. WHAT!?!?!?! So I asked him to chop it down so I could fit it in my home oven and sure enough he did.

This thing is huge. It’s 1.5 inches thick, much larger than the average 0.25 - 0.5 inches of pizza stones made for the home. There’s a good reason nobody sells domestic stones this thick - it would take forever to heat it up. Most pizza stone users don’t realize that it takes at least 45 minutes to preheat a baking stone before it’s ready for use.  A quick 20 minute preheat only results in surface heat, which disappears immediately upon releasing a dough onto it. The whole point of a stone is to be saturated with heat in order to conduct directly into the dough.

This stone, which is called FibraMent-D, is going to take forever to preheat in my home oven. The manufacturer actually requires users to pre-dry the stone for 7 hours before first use. YOWZA! So it’s going to be a while before I can really test this thing out. Still, I’m pretty stoked to have it in my possession. Now if only I could track down some older pizza oven hearth materials to test them head-to-head my life would be complete. Too bad the “good” ones are illegal to manufacture because of asbestos issues. Anybody got pre-1980s transite?