Guest Bloggers
It's the Heat (or is it?)
John Arena

Lately, like many of us across the country I’ve been thinking about heat. Now, I’m no stranger to intense heat. I’ve been working in front of a pizza oven for over 40 years and I live in Las Vegas where, one day last week, the temperature topped out at 119 degrees. So, let’s just say heat is a big part of my life.

As pizza makers and bread bakers, we all know that along with time, temperature is one of the most important elements of our craft. From the very beginning of the pizza making process we agonize over water temperature, friction factors, and conditions during the various stages of fermentation. Next we start experimenting with proper temperature of our dough prior to extending it into crusts, which gives us another point we can debate endlessly. All of this is just a prologue to the main event -- oven temperature. For many pizza makers getting that oven hot enough is the Holy Grail in their personal pizza quest. Sure we all seek out great ingredients and closely watch the hand techniques of masters like Chris Bianco. If we are really serious, some of us will make the trip to Southern Italy so we can observe legendary pizza makers such as Antonio Starita work his magic on the marble table. We are diligent about replicating every detail, only to find that our efforts fall short. Often the explanation is, “I just couldn’t get my oven hot enough”. Most of us, amateur and professional alike, just can’t seem to capture that true moment of magic that seems to emerge so effortlessly from the oven of Paulie G’s in Brooklyn or Tony Gemignani’s great pizzeria in San Francisco.

So, how hot is hot enough? At the low end, some of the classic Chicago pizzerias set their ovens in the 450 degree range which gives them the flexibility to make both deep-dish and thin crust pies.  For years most New York style pizzerias set their ovens at 525-575. Dominic Demarco,  of Difara’s cranks his Bakers Pride ovens up as hot as they go, to somewhere around 600 degrees. Roman style pizza makers swear by electric ovens that are set at 700.  The wood fire advocates shoot for 900 degrees, and the coal fire devotees swear that you must get your oven up over 1000 for a proper bake. Famously, some amateur pizza makers have disabled the safety mechanisms for the cleaning mode of their home ovens in the quest for more heat.

All of this ignores what should be an obvious truth: As with all things pizza related, there is more

 
A Pizza Farm
Jeffrey Michael

On my last couple of visits to Minnesota, I had been hearing about a unique and must see‚ pizza place in Stockholm, Wisconsin, about 90 minutes from the Twin Cities.

So this year, during our annual summer visit to see my wife's family, we decided it was time to make the trip out there.  On our 14th wedding anniversary, my wife, Julie, and I packed up the car with our friends, and fellow adventurers, Chris and Kristen Johnson.  As a side note, the Johnsons had recently opened up a fantastic Texas style barbecue joint in Bayport, Minnesota (www.bayportbbq.com) and this may have been one of the only nights in months when neither of them was working at the restaurant.  So with a leap of faith, and the car loaded with blankets, utensils and beverages, we turned south on the highway and began our quest.

That's right, you bring your own utensils, beverages and any other thing you may want to sit/lay/sleep on.  No this, wasn't your usual checkered tablecloths pizza and beer joint.

When we arrived in Stockholm, there was not much open in this quaint town except for the Stockholm Pie Company (www.stockholmpiecompany.com). 

 
Sourdough Pizza
Teresa Greenway

Note From Peter:

Teresa Greenway is a serious home baker and sourdough expert who has been corresponding with me for the past few years. She has written her own beautiful book on all things sourdough, loaded with photos, and is making it available as a free download for anyone who wants to get it from her website (see the link at the end of this article, or go to her Guest Contributor profile). We welcome Teresa on board as our resident sourdough expert and look forward to future columns from here.  Please feel free to send your comments and let us know about your own sourdough exploits. The method she describes below makes a fabulous dough!

I have a passion for baking with sourdough. I enjoy sharing the fun by helping others learn to bake using it too. If you want to join in the fun but don’t have a sourdough starter, you can learn to make your own here: http://www.northwestsourdough.com/.

Lately I have been thinking about making pizza dough using sourdough starter. In this recipe a sourdough starter is used to make a piece of dough called a “preferment” which is then used to make the final dough.

I decided to use a sourdough pre-ferment so as to have a large quantity of wild yeast and bacteria

 
My Love Affair with Pizza Napoletana
Brad Otton

My love for Pizza Napoletana started the first time I ever tasted a pizza straight from a wood burning oven in Napoli. I had only been in Italy a couple of days and was not prepared for what I was about to eat. These were the early 90’s, before food blogs or the internet. While I knew that Italy was the birthplace of pizza, I was uneducated when it came to the significance of Napoli in the history of pizza. More importantly, I was unaware what made Pizza Napoletana different than the chain pizza I was raised on growing up in the States. My first ever Pizza Napoletana was actually served “libretto” style from a back ally pizzeria near the main train station. Before the invasion of the Euro, you could get a folded up “libretto” margherita pizza with a Fanta Aranciata (aka orange soda!) for about 2,000 Lire or about $1. My love for this pizza started here, folded up pizza in one hand, Fanta in the other and hot San Marzano tomato sauce dripping down my arm. It was quite simply the greatest thing I had ever tasted.

But a deeper passion for pizza was not born until I traveled back to Napoli with the intention of opening a pizzeria in Las Vegas. There I spent time training with Enzo Coccia and Davide Bruno at Pizzeria La Notizia. Spending the mornings training with them and the evenings working and being around the pizzeria is where I developed an intense passion for Pizza Napoletana. This kind of pizza passion is infectious, and it is impossible to experience how proud these pizza makers are without it transferring to others.  Among these pizzaioli the history of pizza is taught as we would teach about the Revolutionary War, it is a part of their identity and their heritage and they do not take it lightly.

After spending time with the crew at La Notizia I was convinced that I not only wanted to open a Pizzeria Napoletana, but I wanted to honor the tradition of the product and do everything possible to re-create the exact pizza that has been made on the streets of Napoli for over 300 years. Since the day we opened Settebello our only requirement for choosing which products we use is if it makes the pizza more authentic. Price cannot be an issue. When I sit down with our head pizzaiolo to evaluate products the only question we ask ourselves is if this product makes our pizza more authentic; that is all that matters.

The Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) has provided a strong support structure for those of us who have decided to take the route of making authentic Pizza Napoletana. Initially there were only about 10 members scattered across the US but it provided a strong support group of people all trying to achieve the same goal. The VPN was established by pizza makers in Napoli to protect the integrity of Pizza Napoletana. Certain standards are set up to ensure that members are trying to maintain an authentic product. More importantly, for us it was a fraternity of sorts. Members all seem to help each other out in any way possible and, as new restaurant owners, this was priceless.

Note from Peter: Brad Otton, whose bio is posted in our Contributor's Profile section (some of you may know him as the former starting quarterback and Rose Bowl champion at USC), is one member of a growing community of pizzaiolos committed to the VPN model. We'd love to hear from others and will soon be presenting webisodes featuring some of the other American pizzaiolos who are likewise dedicated to authentic Pizza Napolitano. We all know that there are many ways to make pizza, many versions,  but we'd love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and questions regarding this particular style. With Brad's help, and the help of the other experts we've met, we'll try to answer your questions and to help keep the discussion going.  Feel free to start the thread right here.


 
Is There Really a Perfect Pizza?
Michael Hanson

Recently I returned from a “pizza quest” to Southern Italy and would like to share my thoughts on where and what I think is the perfect or best pizza. I have been making dough for over forty years and pizzas for over twenty; it was only after a spell working at London’s most famous pizzeria, Franco Manca, that I felt capable of making a real pizza. The owner, Guisseppe Mascoli, wanted to create the best pizza in London and, with the help of “pizza consultant” Marco Parente, he set about this task. I believe they achieved their goal; but now my goal was to see if I could find an even better pizza in Italy.

My obsessive quest took me to only two cities, Rome and Naples, and only a handful of pizzerias. I purposely excluded restaurants, even those serving pasta. I wanted the real deal and thought a pizza-only pizzeria would deliver the best pizzas. My survey was in no way accurate, impartial, rigorous, or independent, and my research consisted solely of reading some great posts on the Forno Bravo Forum.

I read of a pizzeria, near my Rome hotel, called Dar Poeta . At first sight the pizzas looked good. I obtained permission to check out the oven. It was old and very hot; the dough soft and very cold. In my experience, one of the crucial factors is the intense heat on a cold, barely fermented disc of hand formed dough, creating the puffed up chewy, crispy cornicione full of holes. In artisan bread baking the quest, or holy grail is, as was pointed out in the Tartine video on Pizza Quest, a dough with irregular holes (or, as the French would say, beaucoup de trop). This is a combination of many factors, primarily a low final dough temperature, long bulk proof, and a hot hearth. Which is, as we saw in the video, why the Tartine bread dough makes a great pizza dough!

But back to Dar Poeta pizzeria. I always choose the pizza with the least toppings, so I chose a simple olive, anchovie pie. It was very disappointing;

 
A few thoughts on Family and Pizza
Brad English

Family, Food and Friends

Why is pizza such a popular food all across the world?  One reason may be that it is the perfect food to share. 

As I was recently writing and posting photos for my Mother's Day Pizza pictorial, I had to search back through some old photos from a trip I took with my family to Vancouver, BC. I remembered taking some pictures in the Creperie that I was referring to and thought they would be fun to add to the story.  I had started out writing what I thought was a recipe pictorial recap of my Mother's Day Surprise Pizzas.  My kids were all excited to make mommy breakfast for Mother's Day.  So, I pulled some dough from the freezer and set the alarm to get up early to get the dough out and start the oven.  It turns out the kids were less interested in the "making" of the breakfast than just being there to eat it.

Whenever I think of a breakfast pizza, I think back to this trip we took to Victoria, BC.  It's amazing how strong a smell or a taste memory is.  I have many that will trigger not only a memory, but a feeling.  The feeling can be so strong that it seems as if for a moment I have been literally transported through time and space.  I love this experience.  It is far more intense than a

 

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