KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Pizza Maker
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Sunday, April 17, 2005
Pizza Maker

As you know if you read my previous pizza post, I am a serious pizza aficionado. To the point of obsessiveness. I am also on a quest to perfect my own pizza recipe. I would love to find a way to make a fabulous pizza in my home oven. I know, it will never be the same because my oven only goes up to 500F, and to really truly get the best crust you need an oven temp closer to 800F. And my standards are way too high. Lofty even. Hrm. Then again, deep down, I don't think that having lofty pizza expectations is a bad thing. In fact, not in the least, as it keeps me out there trying new pizzerias and experimenting at home.

So what does a girl do when she can't fly to Portland or NY or Rome every time she has a pizza craving? (Okay, that wasn't really fair, because there is quite a lot of great pizza here in the Bay Area. I've just not yet found my ultimate gold standard.) She makes her own. And then makes it again. And again. And she hopes that someday she will find or develop the perfect home pizza recipe. That day has not yet arrived for me, although the experiments continue.

Let me back up for a minute. Growing up, my mom always made homemade pizza. Thanks to her, pizza night for us was way better than for most people, because I grew up in Texas in the 70s. Just try to find an edible pizza. Actually, there was one place in Dallas that I remember had really great pizza and delicious crab claws: Campisi's Egyptian Lounge. It's been around since the 1940s. Of course, I would be afraid to go back and ruin my happy memories of the place, but maybe it's still good. Anyway, I digress. My mom made great pizza, and is still to this day experimenting and perfecting and changing her recipe (and my dad, ever loyal, is still sampling it and claiming it as the best pizza in the universe). Because of her, I developed a love of pizza. Well, maybe a passion, edging on obsession. And I've been making pizza for years. All different kinds, and all different recipes. Some were flat-out disasters, and some were amazing, some I couldn't replicate, and others were fine but still not amazing.

The other night I decided I needed to start trying the recipes in American Pie, Peter Reinhart's tribute to my favorite food group (and his too, I imagine). If you haven't seen or read or bought this book, and you like pizza, then I highly recommend purchasing it. It's a great worldwide adventure in search of the ultimate pizza. It also contains a wealth of knowledge and recipes.

I made his Neo-Neapolitan Sauce and Mutz Pizza (seen above; with some yummy housemade Italian sausage from Golden Gate Meat Company in the SF Ferry Building). I actually, for once, followed the recipe as exactly as I could. (Well, except for the sausage. I admit I have a hard time following many recipes, I always think I know better. Kind of absurd since I'm a cookbook editor. Or not.)

The crust was described as being most similar to what you would find at the famed NY and New Haven-type pizzerias, like John's, Frank Pepe's, etc. -- a thin, crisp crust with a nice cornicione, generally my favorite. I made the crust according to the recipe, using high-gluten flour, but it wasn't sticky as the recipe suggested. I did like that he suggested retiring the dough to the refrigerator overnight. This slows the rising time and allows the dough to develop and become more flavorful. I also made the Crushed Tomato Sauce recipe, using a can of 6 in 1 tomatoes. This could not be easier, and I have to say, ended up being my favorite part of the pizza, and my new favorite sauce recipe. It's simple and because you don't cook the sauce down, very flavorful. I imagine the choice of canned tomatoes would be key in this sauce, and I suppose I chose well. I also liked the three-cheese mixture of fresh mozzarella, mozzarella, and Parmesan. I prepared the pies on the peel and slid them off onto my unglazed ceramic tile-lined oven rack in my 500F oven, which had been preheating for an hour. Within 10 minutes we were rewarded with beautiful and delicious pizza. yum yum.

The crust, while one of the better that I have made, was not ideal. It was flavorful, but brittle and dry, perhaps even a bit overcooked (although the bottom was nicely browned). It had none of the crisp-yet-tender chewiness that I look for, and no cornicione to speak of. Part of the problem was likely the ratio of flour to water, even though I followed the recipe measurements, it's always a good idea when making bread to make adjustments (assuming you know what the dough is supposed to feel like). Also, it's likely that I pulled the dough a bit too thin, especially around the edges.

I will definitely try the dough recipe again, and I'll be trying his other dough recipes as well, continuing my search for the ultimate home pizza. Crust anyway.

On another pizza note, one of my friends was at Tartine this afternoon and ran into a guy who said he was opening a new pizza place in Oakland in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, she didn't get any more details than that. Does anyone know anything about this? He might have ties with Delfina (where he was seen prior to Tartine), but I really don't know. What I do know is that Craig Stoll of Delfina is working on his own pizzeria. Oh, I can't wait!


Blogger cucina testa rossa said...

this looks great! you're making my mouth water. great pizza is another thing that alludes the french, along with great chinese, japanese and mexican food. try the pizza at pane e vino on union @ gough. incredible thin crust pizza from their modena-built wood burning pizza oven. molto bene! :-)

4/17/2005 1:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard about a new pizza place opening in the Temescal area of Oakland. I'd thought the owner was an Oliveto alum, but I could well have that wrong.

4/17/2005 4:01 PM

Anonymous extramsg said...

Try heating your oven at max temp for 45 minutes to an hour with a pizza stone, the bigger the better, on the bottom rack. Before you put the pizza in the oven, turn on the broiler. Because of the broiler being on, you'll have to do this on the bottom rack. About a year ago I wrote up my results on egullet here:


4/17/2005 9:23 PM

Blogger Kim Goodfriend said...

Thanks for all of your comments!
hey extramsg, I love your blog...thanks for the advice. I do heat my oven for 1 hour at the max temp and I have unglazed ceramic tiles which work as well (or better, I think) as a stone. And my rack is as low as it goes (without throwing the pizza on the oven floor, which I might try too!). But I haven't tried the broiler for the added heat, good idea! I'll definitely try that next round.

4/18/2005 10:11 AM

Anonymous amy said...

That sounds like about the same results that I got with the neo-neopolitan recipe and all. I would definitely make sure your dough is very wet. I think Peter Reinhart's recipes are for the new and hesitant pizza maker who might be intimidated by nice wet dough. I do love the flavor you get from the dough that rises over night though.

Next time try slicing the mozzarella and laying it on the dough underneath the sauce. Then put the fresh mozarella on top. I loved it this way!

We were talking with some friends a few weeks ago about building a backyard brick oven this summer and having a pizza party. If you're willing to do a ton of work on it, you can make one for relatively cheap (~$100). You guys definitely have to come visit if we do this!

4/18/2005 8:57 PM

Anonymous JCS said...

Please share your favorite haunts in Portland - I make frequent trips and would love to stop by.


4/28/2005 3:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a terrific entry. I've been trying to make the "perfect" pizza for some time now, and seem to be close, but there's always room for improvement. A few things people have told me:
--Never crush the tomato seeds; it'll make the sauce too bitter
--try cooking the pizza on a charcoal BBQ grill (this works well if you use natural hardwood coals)
--make sure the crust has enough salt


Boston's Hidden Restaurants

5/05/2005 1:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have Peter's book as well and of all the pizza recipes I have tried in my life, the Neo-neapolitan is the best my wife and kids have liked. Instead of sugar, lately I have been using honey because it is supposed to help browning the dough and the flavor is different. Also, the wetter your dough, the better. If you use a Kitchenaid mixer like I do, what you want to see is the bottom of the dough to stick to the bowl while you are mixing. Also, when rolling the dough, I just my fingers and never touch the corners. I just try to expand from the center out. By not touching the corners, it leaves the air trapped and the result is a puffy cornicione. Yum!

-Anthony, Puerto Rico

5/23/2006 11:25 AM

Blogger Richard said...

There is one thing I have started using... fire bricks on all racks in the oven I have used stones and unglazed tiles. The bricks are inexpensive($1.00 a piece) I lined every rack in the oven for a total of $24.00 The oven takes alittle longer to heat up but once it does it maintains the heat even with frequent door openings. This is the closest I have come with a esidential oven to a brick oven Another dough tip is to add a little baking powder to the recipe. You will be amazed at the thin bubbles and charr on the edge of the crust.

6/30/2006 8:51 AM


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