Pizza on the Grill

We fired up the grill last night and I had some 48 hour cold fermentation dough ready to rock! I’ve tried grilled pizza a few times before but never got the exact result I was looking for. I used to do the two-zone method, in which you keep a screaming-hot charcoal fire on one side of the grill and leave the other side unheated. You first bake the dough on the coaled side before flipping the half-cooked dough onto the unheated side, then add your toppings, close the lid and finish with indirect heat.

My problem was always that the center would cook so much faster than the outer edge. So last night I tested a method I like to call “Doughnut Style.” You build a hot fire covering the entire floor of the grill space but slide the charcoal out of the center, leaving a doughnut-shaped heat source and dougnut-hole center. This way, the outer edge bakes and the center gets enough heat coming off the outer rim of coals. The result was great, but I still have some work to do before I’m really satisfied.

In the meantime, here are some highlights from last night…

Yup, that’s the prettiest one of the night. It has a base of ricotta, followed by roasted red peppers, low-moisture mozzarella, basil, pecorino and balsamic vinegar. I still want to brown that outer crust a bit more, maybe I’ll make the fire bigger next time.


This one was the strangest, yet most tasty, of the night. Low-moisture mozzarella, ricotta, HOT DOGS and salsa. Don’t be a hater.


This is a photo I took of a guest taking a photo of me holding a pizza with grilled corn, roasted red peppers and low-moisture mozzarella. I call both the pizza and the photo “Pizza Paparazzi (feat. corn).”

1 Year Anniversary of My Life-Changing Homemade Pizza

I can’t believe it has already been a year. I’ll never forget the day, I had a simple dough (can’t find the recipe - dang!) that was just flour, salt, water and bakers yeast. No starter, no “00” flour, no magical fairy dust — just the basics. I remember mixing the ingredients and letting it rest for about 40 minutes, then kneading and doing a bulk rise while I watched Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Perhaps that movie is the perfect length for ambient bulk fermentation! After the rise, I stuck it in the fridge overnight in some plastic containers and that was that.

The next day, I preheated my oven with my favorite quarry tile method  and got the oven up to 650 degrees F in the pie-zone after about an hour. One thing I do remember about the dough formula was that I used particularly cold water that day. I have notes for every batch of dough I make (thanks to advice from my homeslice Jeff Varasano) but I can’t seem to find them at this moment. We’ll just have to rely on my iPhoto library. Thankfully, those notes are pretty solid.

The pies came out faster than ever and the crust texture was perfectly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The first pizza was incredible but I was nervous that pie #2 would prove to be a failure and dishonor the entire batch. I was totally wrong. Before I knew it, there were four beautiful Margherita pizzas sitting in front of me and they all looked like this.

Usually my roommates are more than happy to eat the results of my pizza experiments but on this particular night they were nowhere to be found. This resulted in a series of calls to my closest pizza buddies in which I would bite the crust just so they could be witness to the sound of my ultimate pizza making experience. It sounds pretty sad when I say it out loud as I’m typing but what-e-ver.

 

The night convinced me that high heat is necessary for this style of pizza because it forces a quicker bake and more differentiation between the outer and inner texture of the crust. I achieved lovely charring, perfect crumb structure and crust so soft you could poke it with your finger and it would just bounce right back. The flavor of this particular crust wasn’t 100% but I’ve made a lot of progress int he past year and I think it’s just about there. After all, it is a constant process and I learn more with every batch. The pizza I’m making lately definitely tastes better than the batch I made on May 25, 2010 but I will never forget the leaps I made on that blissful evening exactly one year ago today.

Mother’s Day Pizza Party

This year my family decided to celebrate Mother’s Day in the most relaxing way possible: pizza party. Come to think of it, we had pizza last year too! That’s right, my mom wanted to get a clam pizza from Lombardi’s. Dang, it was tasty! We decided to keep things a bit more low-key this year so my brother and his fiance had us over to their place and I brought some dough to get the party started.

I made the dough three days in advance (recipe below) so it would have time to develop. After all, this was going to be my first time making pizza for the family so the heat was truly on. I talk big game about pizza so I really had to put my mozzarella where my mouth is. Speaking of mozzarella, we picked some up from Alleva in Little Italy. They make great cheese but you really need to slice it and drain some moisture before you use it on pizza.

Mom loved the mozzarella, mushroom, onion and garlic pizza and I think it was my favorite too. I sauteed the shrooms and onions so they would handled the oven heat without burning or drying out. My brother’s oven isn’t exactly what I have in Brooklyn so I had to take a few chances. He has a broiler on top and I thought that would be good for some sweet top heat but the thing didn’t want to ignite so I had to ditch that idea.  My home oven can get pretty hot with the quarry tile method I use, so I’m used to getting the bake zone up to 650 degrees F within 50 minutes. My brother’s oven got up to exactly 500 degrees F at its max so I had to leave the pizza in the oven for an extra 2+ minutes for each pie. This made a big difference in the end product and dried out the crust a bit more than I had anticipated. Oh well, it still tasted awesome!

The pie above has a pile of post oven arugula, chunks of grana padano, prosciutto di parma, mozzarella and a squirt of lemon juice.

Here’s one of my new favorite pizzas, which covers a layer of thinly sliced potatoes with strings of red onion. I should have put more potato and onion on there because they shrunk up a bit inside the oven. I also failed in topping distribution. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to make it again!

I was pretty nervous about making pizza for my family, but all the pies came out great and we had an absolute blast hanging out together. Hooray for Momma Wiener!

Dough recipe:
600g All Purpose flour
50g whole wheat flour
412g tap water
18g sea salt
1.5g dry yeast
100g Ischia starter

20 minute autolyse (resting period)
short knead, rest, short knead
split into 4 pieces at 291g each, balled and stored in the refrigerator for three days
room temp rise 2 hours pre bake

Bake until crust browns and cheese melts, usually about 8 minutes in a standard oven that has been pre-heated with pizza stone for 60+ minutes.

Midday Pizza Making

I had some surplus dough left over so my homeslice Bryan came over and we made a couple pies for lunch. We usually have pizza making sessions at night so this was a nice change of pace. New York was balmy (62 degrees F) so we ate outside!

The dough was a super simple no-frills recipe:

297g flour (King Arthur All Purpose)
196g water (just under room temp)
9g salt (standard Baleine fine sea salt)
3g yeast (regular instant dry yeast)

mixed it, kneaded it, balled it, fridged it overnight, let it rise for 2-3 hours at room temp before baking

 

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.

    
    
  
    

Central Park Pizza

I made a crazy pizza last night that incorporates lots of ingredients I collected while on a foraging tour of Central Park with "Wildman" Steve Brill.

Here’s a breakdown of the most “local” pizza imaginable. Lamb’s quarters-laced ricotta cheese with field garlic and Jersey crushed tomato (not found in Central Park) topped with sheep sorel and finished with black nightshade-infused olive oil and a light dusting of sassafras root.

And here are some photos of the foraging/assembly of the pizza. First up is sheep sorrel, which has leaves that look like little sheep heads. They taste acidic, a bit like like lemonade.

 

These berries are in the nightshade family, so they are related to tomatoes. They grow wild in Central Park and have a sweet and tart flavor. It would be a great sauce if you could find enough of them, but it’s the end of the season so I could only grab five. In order to harness their flavor, I crushed them up and infused the flavor in some Coluccio and Sons Extra Virgin olive oil. The oil sat for about 12 hours and was used to dress the pie post oven.

 

This pie was a fun escape from standard ingredients and it actually tasted pretty damn good. Just be sure to consult a field guide before you go picking wild berries for your pizza!

More Pizza Experiments

This weekend marked one of my most successful pizza experiments to date. I made a batch of dough with 21 oz of all purpose Gold Medal flour, 14.3 oz cold tap water, less than 0.5 oz dry yeast and 0.5 oz sea salt. This is less yeast than I usually use and I added the salt between mixing and kneading instead of before mixing. I also gave the dough a 1 hour autolyse before mixing. During this phase (which usually takes 20-30 min but I ran out to run an errand and left it longer - oops) allows the flour to become hydrated and requires less kneading as a result. Next I separated the dough into four 9 oz balls and stuck ‘em in the fridge for over 4 days.

Part of the experiment was to make dough that lasted longer than two days before blowing up and getting too alcoholic. On the morning of the baking session, I took two of the doughs out and let them sit at room temperature (around 74 F) for about 10 hours. They poofed up a bit, but not as much as usual. The doughs on the left had 10 hours at room temperature, the doughs on the right only had about two hours to rise. Just look at those bubbles!

Now for the ACTION —
The first pie I made was pretty standard, but my buddy Bryan brought over some tiny cherry tomatoes so we did fresh mozzarella, crushed California tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and olive oil. Bake time was about 7 minutes total (we added the cherry tomatoes half way through) and surface temperature of the baking surface was about 625 F at the start of the bake. Here’s the result:

 

The next pie helped me respond to a challenge posed by my friend Cat, who wanted to see comte cheese used on a pizza. NO PROBLEM! Comte is the perfect base for a pizza with thin potato slices soaked in rosemary-infused olive oil. I tossed on some sea salt at the very end and it was mighty tasty but a bit on the oily side. Check out the before and after.

 

For some reason, I sauteed a bunch of onions while waiting for the oven to heat up so we used them on the final pie. Potatoes were already soaking in olive oil, so we tossed them on there as well. Add that to the remaining bits of mozzarella and you’ve got the most tasty pie of the night. I must give major props to Choice Greene, my local provisions shop, for their excellent fresh mozzarella. I was able to snag a small chunk for about $4 and it covered two pies. This one got some freshly ground black pepper after it exited the oven and it really hit the spot.

 

I’m going to add more yeast to the dough next time and I’m not so sure about saving the salt until after the mix because it resulted in a very sticky dough that was harder to work with than my usual dough. Regardless, this was a massively successful pizza night and I’m looking forward to making some more dough tomorrow!