Last Night’s Pizza Making

I made some dough four or five days ago using some Ischia starter pretty much just because I had to feed it. It was getting a bit raunchy so I invited my downstairs neighbor Simon up to help me eat it all. The results were solid! 

First, the recipe:
175g room temp water
300g King Arthur bread flour
50g Whole Wheat flour
[mix to combine and let that hydrate for 30 min or so]
300g Ischia starter (highly active)
[mix to combine]
13g salt
[knead gently until you don’t feel like kneading anymore, split into 3 and store balls in lightly oiled containers in refrigerator]

Now, the bake method:
I’m using a Baking Steel right around the center of the oven. Oven is set to highest (mine goes to 550 degrees F (290 degrees C) but I switch to BROIL after about 3 minutes inside the oven. Last night was the first time in a loooong time I didn’t clock each pie, but they seemed to be about 4-5 minutes.  

The dough was a bit tough to stretch, but the third pie pulled easiest (photo on top). Here are the results, using a mix of lo-mo and fresh mozz plus whatever random toppings were laying around. Simon brought 6 or 7 Calamata olives and we stretched them over two pies. I loved the one with the olives copped really fine and sprinkled about. Check them out….

Sweet bubble action but I’m not happy with the stretch on this.

Nice fingerling potato, red onion, cherry tomato, Calamata olive, mozz pie!

Simon’s in focus, but my attention is directed to the even char!

SPT Holiday Party

Just a few shots from this year’s Scott’s Pizza Tours holiday party, a retrospective of hometown pizza styles. 

Our amazing host / pizza tour guide JOE showing off his flatbread appetizer and a classy oven mitt. It was awesome. 

Miriam photographs a frozen pizza from her favorite pizzeria in Dayton, OH called Marion’s. Close the oven, you’re losing heat!

Marion’s pizza from Ohio gets cut into squares even though it’s round. I will never understand this, but I will accept it.

Joe is from Detroit so he made a style of pizza indigenous to his native land. Miriam is excited and Scott is amused.

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Two-Zone Grilled Pizza

I made this pizza on the grill over the weekend using the two-zone method. It just means you only supply heat to half your grill so you can move the pie from direct to indirect heat as you please. The results were pretty good but you really have to keep your eye on the pie. You begin by cooking JUST the dough directly over the heat source. Once it’s nice and bubbly, flip the dough and apply your toppings. By the time you’re done, the second side of the dough should be in good shape and you can slide the pie off the heat and close the lid so the toppings melt from indirect heat.

Coals are in the rear of the grill so I can control how much heat is getting to my pie.

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My Best Dough Yet

If you asked me about making my own pizza around this time last year, my response would have been something along the lines of “I deal exclusively in O.P.P. or Other People’s Pizza.” To be fair, I knew that pizza making would lead me down a strange and mysterious path that would exponentially grow my pizza obsession, for better or for worse. I had plenty of excuses but the real reason was simple. I was afraid. Dough is so simple to make, yet endlessly challenging because of all the variables associated with its production. But once you get your hands on a good batch of dough, you just never go back.

The point of no return for me came in the form of a pizza making class I took at Pizza a Casa in the Lower East Side. It amazed me by simplifying the entire process into a form that was - both literally and figuratively - digestible. Fast forward ten months and now I’m experimenting with different dough hydration and yeast varieties. I have become exactly what I was afraid of and I couldn’t possibly be any happier.

I’ve made good batches and I’ve made bad batches, constantly in search of the perfect crispy-chewy texture and a salty-smokey flavor. Some batches would have the flavor while others would have the texture. I felt like I didn’t have control of anything and my life was in a tailspin — until my pal Brooks showed up with a batch of dough and an Ischia starter. WHAT THE HECK IS AN ISCHIA STARTER? That’s easy. Yeast is a fungus that floats through the air looking for a nice place to live and sometimes people build little yeast traps and put the little guys to work. The “nice place to live” can be a grape skin or apple peel and the trap is a cup half filled with a mixture of flour and water. Once the yeast start moving into their new watery-floury home, they get “put to work” on the fermentation plantation, where they feed on the natural sugars released by the reaction of water and flour and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol.

See those bubbles in the cup? Those are the product of yeast burps! Anyway, this bubbling goo is your “starter” and the particular one I am using came from an island off the coast of Naples called Ischia. Hence, ISCHIA STARTER. You can make a starter anywhere and name it as you wish. There’s an amazing step-by-step guide to starter cultivation on Slice. DO IT!


So what do these yeasty creeps have to do with pizza? Yeast is necessary for fermentation, which results in the gassy leavening of dough as well as flavor development thanks to bacteria and alcohol. It’s very easy to open a packet of yeast and pour it into your dough, but natural yeast forges an even closer bond between pizzaiolo and pizza. It also gives you a unique flavor that is often more developed than commercial yeast. You use this starter in the same way that you use a packet of yeast, but the measurements are not the same. I experimented with a recipe Brooks gave me and ended up making three batches of dough, each having a different amount of dry yeast. Here’s the winning recipe, which gave us a perfectly airy crust with rick flavor and a good dose of crunch.

595 g flour (I used King Arthur All Purpose)
381 g water (I used cold tap water)
91 g Brooks’s Ischia starter
1.5 g dry yeast
12 g salt

Mix those and let it sit for 40 minutes so the flour can fully hydrate. Then knead the dough for about 4 minutes and let it rest for 5 minutes before one last kneading session of roughly 3 minutes. Separate into four balls and store in sealed containers (just like the first picture above) on the counter for about two hours, then refrigerate until you’re ready to bake.

You can use the dough after letting it sit overnight, but I left mine for just over four full days (about 100 hours). I let it rise at room temperature for about 5 hours prior to baking and they were extremely soft and gooey. My pies didn’t come out all looking picture perfect, but the flavor and texture is by far the best I have ever made. Here are a few selections from last week’s pizza session. I just wish you could bite into your screen.