Peter's Blog
2013, Here We Come!
Peter Reinhart

Welcome to 2013! As we start a new year and also begin our third year here on Pizza Quest, I wanted to give you all a quick glimpse of what's coming up.

But first, a hearty thank you to all our contributors, partners, and supporters. This is  especially so for Forno Bravo, who partnered with us from Day One in creating this site and continues supporting us in so many ways. Also, our sponsors, Central Milling, The Fire Within, and DiNapoli Tomato Products, as well as our founding sponsor, Bel Gioioso Cheese.  Also, a special thank you to John Arena, our most frequent Guest Columnist, and to all others who contributed columns.

And, finally, I'd like to thank Brad English and Jeff Michael, who came up with the original idea for Pizza Quest and invited me to join with them in making it happen. Brad, as you already know, is our regular "If I can do it so can you" columnist, and he's come up with some incredible pizza concepts as well as lots of fun journal entries and pictorials about his never-ending quest for the perfect pizza. As Calvin Trillin phrased it, he's "…just a big hungry boy looking for a good meal."  And thanks also to our webisode Director and fellow Quester, David Wilson, and our editor Annette Aryanpour, who make all our webisodes sizzle.

Thank you all and now onward, to a great 2013!

Upcoming: For those in the Texas area, I'll be doing a short tour of seven Central Market Cooking

 
Peter's Blog, Dec. 22nd, 2012
Peter Reinhart

I'll be back in a day or so with the steps for making that amazing 4-minute rib eye in a wood fired oven (as promised), but wanted to get this up asap to let you know that Craftsy just opened their final sale of the year on all courses, including mine on Artisan Bread, but it ends Monday night, so it's just a two day affair.  The pizza course that I wrote about last week is almost ready but, as you already know, it will be a freebie (!!), so I'll let you know when it launches in January.  But for bargain prices on all their other courses, follow this link: www.craftsy.com/ext/PeterReinhart_holiday

Now, back to final Christmas shopping, baking, and wrapping.  I'll return in a day or so, right here on this same blog post, with the steak method. See you then.


Okay, I'm back and here's the steak technique. I'm sure this can be done in a regular oven, but not sure yet how to get one as hot a WFO. I'm thinking of trying this with my new Baking Steel, on the top shelf in my oven, just under the broiler, but that will be for another day and another posting. Here's how I do it in my Primavera 60 (sorry, no photos this round, but the next time I make these steaks I'll shoot the sequence and post them):

Fire up the oven so that it is as hot as I can get it -- at least 1,000 degrees everywhere.  I put a cast iron skillet in the oven at least  10 minutes before cooking the steaks, and let the pan get white hot -- yes, white. Meanwhile, I season 2"-thick rib eye steaks (I usually can fit two medium size or three small steaks in the pan, but they cook so fast that's it's okay to cook them one at a time if you prefer using a large piece). Use a liberal amount of freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt, and sprinkle both sides. After the salt and pepper goes on, mist both sides of the steak with olive oil spray (or brush the steaks with olive oil), and leave them on a plate, covered, for about 30 minutes to take off the chill.

When the time comes to cook, be sure to have thick oven mitts or pads on hand, a metal table to land the pan on (you can also use the oven ledge), tongs, and a timer set to two minutes. Pull the pan out of the oven to the ledge and drop in the steaks so that they lay flat and do not overlap each other.  Slide the pan back into the oven and turn on the timer. After two minutes, pull out the pan to the ledge, turn the steaks over with the tongs (they will be sizzling and already caramelizing) and return the pan to the oven. Re-set the timer for another 2 minutes, and put the pan back into the oven.  After these 2 minutes the steaks will be a perfect medium rare in the center so, if you want them more done that add an extra 30 seconds on each side (2 1/2 minutes per side instead of 2). Remove the steaks from the pan and place on serving plates. Let them sit for 8 to 10 minutes before serving to allow the juices to redistribute. In the meantime, you can use the same pan, even with the steak fat from the previous round, to cook another round.

By the way, you can cook burgers in the same manner -- but just one minute per side -- yes, one minute!

The steaks and burgers I've cooked in this manner are, without question, the best I've ever made or had --like buddder.  I'd love to hear from you if you've ever tried this or, perhaps, have a method you prefer. It will take some convincing to move me off of this method but I'm sure some of you have a few magical techniques of your own. When the weather gets nicer here, I'll fire up the Primavera and shoot some photos, but I have a feeling you can already visualize what these sizzling steaks will look like.

 
Peter's Blog, December 14th, 2012
Peter Reinhart

I  just got back from Denver where I had the great joy and privilege to film a mini pizza course for Craftsy called, "Perfect Pizza at Home."  As I mentioned in a previous post, this is going to be offered in January, by Craftsy, to the world for free!! (My bread course, on the other hand, sells for $39.95 -- or $19.95 if you sign up via the special link they gave me for our PQ followers: www.craftsy.com/artisanbread -- so the pizza course giveaway is quite a deal, a steal actually; steal, or steel, is today's motif, as you will soon see.)  Anyway, I'll have a lot more on the pizza course and on Craftsy next month, when I get the word that it's available.

At the wrap party afterwards, we gathered at Basta, in Boulder, for a nice reunion with Kelly Whitaker and his whole team of pizzaiolos and talented cooks. As you you have seen, and will continue to see over the next few months in the Basta webisodes, this is a very special place and I was pleased to be able to to bring my new friends from Craftsy over to meet Kelly, as well as to meet Joseph Pergolizzi (founder of The Fire Within, whose mobile wood fired ovens you've seen featured on many of our instructional videos), and my friend and artisan bread baker extraordinaire, Andy Clark, of Udi's Breads, who joined us for the celebration. (I will post some photos as soon as I gather them.)

But, as I said, I'm home again and I promised to comment on the new Baking Steel, which arrived just before I left for Denver and which I tested with a dough ball from my freezer stash a few hours before I flew out. As you may recall, Adam A. wrote in a "comment" to a previous Peter's Blog, raving about his Baking Steel, so I called the foundry where it's made, Stoughton Steel, and spoke with Andris Lagsdin's dad (and the owner of the steel mill and the proud papa of the inventor of this new, innovative tool). He said, "What can I tell you, I'm no cook but my son is and ever since he came up with this they're selling like crazy!"  An hour later, Andris, the inventor himself, called me and we had a great chat about the Steel, which was inspired by his love of cooking, both professional and at home, and his interest in the new "modernist cuisine" as described in the recent amazing books by Nathan Myhrvold as well as all the molecular gastronomy chefs like Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, Grant Achatz, and others. He combined his food and his steel knowledge and fabricated this simple, but beautiful, slab of steel that is now destined to be the next big thing among pizza freaks as well as serious cooks of all types.

My oven typically takes about seven minutes to bake a pizza, using a one-inch thick ceramic baking stone. With the steel, the pizza was ready in five minutes and, just like Adam A. reported, perfectly baked, top and bottom, with superb caramelization. The faster bake time allowed the dough to be both crisp and moist, just the way I (and most of us) like it. I have to admit, I was totally impressed and the Steel now sits proudly in my oven, waiting for me to test it out on other foods. I'm particularly curious to see how it will do with a rib eye steak, ever since the benchmark of my "four minute steak," cooked in my Primavera 60 wood-fired oven (yes, a shameless plug for our friends at Forno Bravo) -- the best steak I ever made. I posted about this last year -- it's somewhere in the Peter's Blog archives but, if anyone wants me to repeat the method I'll post it again over the holidays -- just let me know in the Comments section below.  If the Steel can get me close to that in a home oven I'll do back flips, so stay tuned.

When mine arrived, it came with a very cool carrying case, which I suggest you also purchase, for both it's functionality and its sweet design. (Ever since I read Walter Isaacson's bio on Steve Jobs I've become obsessed with Job's brilliant insight and execution of the merging of these two aspects, form and function; the Baking Steel and it's case is kind of like the I-Pad of baking platforms -- very Apple-like.) Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I received from Andris for those of you who want to check this out.

Currently, our website has the Baking Steel listed at $72 and you can purchase the case and steel together for $102. These are both introductory prices.  After the first of the year the price may tweak up a little bit.  Likely to $79 & $109. This price includes delivery anywhere in the U.S. We charge a flat rate of $15.00 to Canada.  Anywhere else in the world we are charging freight.  Our website is www.bakingsteel.com and orders can be placed online. 

The material used to make the Steel is A36 low carbon.  This is the same material you see your local diners use on their griddles for eggs, pancakes etc.  So yes, the options are plentiful.  Likely a nice searing steel for outdoor grills as well.  We also sell a cleaning brick for the Baking Steel -- it is a nice way to keep the steel clean.

 

I'll try to get some photos up soon -- after all, I just got home but wanted to get this news out asap. If any of you already have a Baking Steel and want to send us your own reviews, that would be wonderful.  Congratulations to Andris Lagsdin (and his dad!) for coming up with what may be a game-changing tool for many of us. Hey, it may not be too late for some of you to get one, or give one, for Christmas!!

More soon....

Peter

PS I nearly forgot to mention that when you receive your Steel, it comes with a recipe for NY-Style Pizza Dough by noted food blogger Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I thought the recipe looked familiar so I was pleased to discover that on his blog, Kenji was generous in sharing the credit (he also dd a nice job of tweaking the original, to make it his own, as I advise you all to do as you zero in on your own recipes). Thanks Kenji!  Here's what he wrote: Luckily for me, there's already a pretty fantastic recipe for New York style pizza dough out there in Peter Reinhart's American Pie, a new classic on pizza, which if you don't already own, you should. His method is to mix together the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, olive oil, and warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer, knead it slowly for a couple minutes, then allow it to rest for a few minutes in a step called an autolyse.  Autolysis allows time for flour to absorb water, and for the gluten-forming proteins to shorten themselves through enzymatic action, allowing them to be more easily aligned and stretched with subsequent mixing.

 
Peter's Blog: Happy Thanksgiving!
Peter Reinhart

Here it is, Thanksgiving week, which means everything will feel like one long weekend till Chanukah and Christmas. Scary how fast that time goes.  But, to help you enjoy the time, we'll post a few new pieces including the next installment in our Basta webisode series, which I hope to post on Thanksgiving Day.  Also, we'll soon be posting the next installment in John Arena's series on what it takes to go pizza professional. And Brad English has promised us more on his NYC pizza quest adventures as well as new variations of his latest fire roasted tomato pizza experiments. So keep checking back.

But, till then, let me address a few questions that came in after my last Peter's Blog (you can refer back to the comments section in that post, further down this page, for the actual questions):

--What about the new steel pizza plate compared to a baking stone? Yes, this is the latest rage, fueled by the modernist cuisine movement whose adherents, like us, are ever questing for the holy grail of everything culinary (I'll riff about this "Holy Grail" imagery in a future posting, but let me just say that I have a theory that every person has a deep, unconscious quest -- trying to become conscious which, when it happens we call "enlightenment" --  for the Holy Grail that exists inside us, which is why the whole concept of quest is so powerful -- but let's save that for sometime closer to Christmas). Anyway, the short answer to the question is, yes, I have heard great things about this steel plate but I haven't yet tried it. From a functional sense, anything that can serve as a thermal mass should work and, obviously, this new steel plate seems to gather and radiate heat even better, perhaps, than stone. Can we get some testimonials from those of you who have tried it? I'll chime in too as soon a I can get my hands on one, but I do have a lot of confidence in Nathan Myhrvold and his modernist friends so I'm guessing that this is going to be a winner of a tool.

--Pivetti -00- Flour vs. King Arthur bread flour: To each his own -- I'm partial to American bread flour rather than the super soft Italian Double Zero's, but that's only when I have a choice. I'm also happy when I can get a Vera Pizza Napoletana on any high quality -00- Italian flour dough when made with love and care and in a properly hot oven.  I take no sides and judge no one for their choices: there are many paths up the pizza mountain and the only goal is joy. Our work here is to help identify the tools and methods that increase the odds of a joyful, memorable outcome. We're heard from die-hard proponents of every style and I honor them all, when done in a way that respects the craft. As long as the flour is unbleached and milled by a reputable miller known for consistency, I think joy can be found when proper fermentation and technique are applied.

--Antico Forno at Campo de Fiori: Yes, I love that simple pizza, made in only two styles, red (sauce only) and white (olive oil, salt, and a sprinkle of herbs).  They are baked in long planks, about 7 feet long, and then you just hold your hands open to the size of the piece you want and the girl at the counter whacks off a chunk, weighs it, and charges accordingly. I wrote about this in "American Pie" and the best lesson for me in all of it was how utterly satisfying pizza is even when it's just crust, when it's made right. Again, to return to the theme above, it delivers great joy and is memorable. The hunk I bought never made it back it to my hotel room because I couldn't stop eating it as I walked (I did manage to save a small piece for my wife, but had to bring her back later for another to make up for having already eaten most of her portion). Anyone who goes to Rome should go there, and hold your hands very wide apart when you order.

--Wood-fired pizza classes on Craftsy: It was suggested that I film some videos on wood-fired baking as part of my Craftsy video instructionals. Well, there's good news and bad news regarding this.  First the bad news: The number of current owners of wood-fired ovens probably precludes doing this series in the near future for Craftsy, which requires a large audience to make the costs work. However, anything is possible so I wouldn't rule it out, especially in light of the following good news: I am going to film a mini-instructional course for Craftsy on "pizza making at home," and it should be available to the general public in just a few months.  And here's the best news: it's going to be free!  I will have more details when I return from our filming session in a few weeks but I'm very excited about this project and am extremely grateful to the folks at Craftsy for giving me the opportunity to put some of our techniques and recipes on video where everyone can access them. Who knows, if the response is strong, maybe they will consider doing another one on wood-fired baking.  But don't forget, we also have a number of videos right here at Pizza Quest on baking in a wood-fired oven, so just click into the Instructionals section for those. And don't forget to check out the Forno Bravo website for lots of useful wood-fired cooking information and videos.

Okay, enough for now. I have to go dry-brine my turkey. Have a joyful, memorable Thanksgiving and check back on Thursday for the next webisode installment. And keep those questions and comments coming in too! In gratitude,

Peter

 
Peter's Blog, Nov. 1 2012
Peter Reinhart

Just a few quick notes this week:

--We've had some great response to John Arena's new series on what it takes to open your own pizza restaurant. A very valid question has been raised: how can he tell us to get fast while he (and Brad English, our intrepid pizza quester) also extoll the virtues of super slow pizzaiolo Dom DeMarco of Brooklyn (see Brad's recent journey, further down the page, on his visit to Pizzeria Di Fara). John, I'm sure, will address this but for those of you who have recently joined us, look back in the archives of our Guest Columns and read John's earlier pieces in which he defines three categories of pizza makers, including the "artistes" such as Dom, Anthony Mangieri, Chris Bianco, and others. Some great stuff there...

--I've been asked by many of you, "When are we going to see more video webisodes?'  The answer is NEXT WEEK!!  It's a slow and costly process to edit our hours of footage into coherent, quality short films (remember, we shot this originally for long format, PBS-style shows -- a dream we still hope to fulfill), but Brad, who produces these webisodes for you, just informed me that we have a few almost ready to post. This new story arc refers back to last year's hugely fun pizza/beer challenge that I wrote about in previous Peter's Blogs, culminating in the Big Reveal at last year's Great American Beer Festival in Denver. It all began at Pizzeria Basta, in Boulder, two years ago, so we have a long story to tell. The first installment should post next week, and then we'll bring out the others from time to time, as we get them edited. Anyway, check back soon -- it's really going to happen!

--We have had some response threads to your pizza and dough questions. Time to start another. Does anyone have a pressing question or want to resolve an ongoing pizza controversy? Post to the comment section on this post and I'll choose one for the next round. How about something along the lines of "What makes a pizza memorable?"  Remember, we define great pizza as being memorable, so what makes it so?  I'll riff on it again, as I've done in the past, but what about your riffs? I know there are some strong opinions about this out there, so now's your chance. If you decide to cite a particular place (and not one that you own), then at least give us the reasons why, what makes it memorable? As I tell my Johnson & Wales students, it's okay to have a strong opinion but you have to be prepared to defend it with valid criteria. (OR, you can also suggest a different topic or question that we could also grapple with.)

--I'll be in Chapel Hill in a few weeks, teaching at A Southern Season with my co-author Denene Wallace on Saturday, Nov. 17th on  "The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking." Not sure if they're sold out yet, so contact them directly if you want to come.

--Should have some other good news to share in a week or two about, well, I can't say yet but I think you'll be happy to hear about it (this isn't a false tease, I'm really excited about this, but I  have to wait till it's all confirmed before spilling the cheese). Soon, though, I promise....

 
Peter's Blog, Oct. 1
Peter Reinhart

Here's the first question that came, from Doc.Dough. He must be a doc, for sure, as it takes a little study to understand the question -- but I'll take a stab at it and then all of you can chime in with comments.

Over on TFL I see lots of people slavishly following very exacting instructions without understanding what the instructions are intended to convey. Perhaps Peter could attempt to articulate the difference between importance and exactness or in some way provide some useful guidance to set expectations a little lower with respect to the behavior of sourdough cultures in the amateur's kitchen. There is the "you have to do it enough times to have seen it go wrong occasionally" method of teaching, and there is the parametric sensitivity derivatives analytic approach which is fine for the science crowd but pretty useless for the average home baker. Is there a happy medium?

I think the answer is both yes and no. Let me see if I can elaborate: there are dozens of legitimate ways of making and keeping a starter. I have offered to send a file on the subject to anyone who requests it (write to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to make the request -- hundreds of you already have), but the main thing to remember is that a starter is just a medium for the cultivation of wild yeast and lactic acid and acetic acid-forming bacteria. The speed of development and the creation of a hospitable environment for these micro-organisms is partly determined by temperature and also by what organisms are already living in a dormant state on the grain and, to some extent, in the local air.  The biggest mistake I've seen in recent times is that people abandon their starter in the early stages (we call it the seed culture stage) because they think it is dead, or it isn't activating on the same timetable as described in whatever method they are following. Other errors include trying to jump start it with commercial yeast (which is too fragile to survive the acidic conditions and will die and then give off glutathione which wreaks havoc on the gluten), or thinking that their old "mother" starter is no good after sitting in the fridge for months so they throw it out.

It is true that an old starter will turn to mush in the fridge and is not structurally sound enough for using in a loaf, but it only takes an ounce or two of it to re-establish it in a new, strong, viable "mother" starter in a day or two since the micro-organisms are still viable even if the dough itself is spent and chewed up by the acids.

There are a number of theories floating around about why it seems to be taking longer for a new

 

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Pizza Quest is a site dedicated to the exploration of artisanship in all forms, wherever we find it, but especially through the literal and metaphorical image of pizza. As we share our own quest for the perfect pizza we invite all of you to join us and share your journeys too. We have discovered that you never know what engaging roads and side paths will reveal themselves on this quest, but we do know that there are many kindred spirits out there, passionate artisans, doing all sorts of amazing things. These are the stories we want to discover, and we invite you to jump on the proverbial bus and join us on this, our never ending pizza quest.

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