Peter's Blog
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

 
Peter's Blog, Sept. 28
Peter Reinhart

Two quick things: The home page here is getting kind of long so I will soon be trimming it and sending some of the older pieces into their respective archives, which you are always welcome to open with the buttons at the top of the page. I'll also be shortening some of them with a "continue reading" tag at the end. But util I do that, for those of you interested in our recent Peter's Blog Q & A thread, which is now located about halfway down the home page, I wrapped up that very interesting thread with a request for more questions (see thread item 26) so we can start anew. Let's move the response to that request to this posting just to keep it further up the page.

The other item is some happy news for our Pure Pizza team here in Charlotte. We just got our first major review, by Helen Schwab who is the restaurant critic for the Charlotte Observer. You can check it out here: http://events.charlotteobserver.com/reviews/show/14288405-review-pure-pizza

I'm super proud of everyone and I think we're doing something very special there. Please check us out when you are in Charlotte (those of you who came to the Jon Stewart Daily Show tapings, held across the street during the DNC, consumed a lot of our pies -- thanks for spreading the word).

Enough bragging and kudos -- now back to Q & A -- bring them on.....

 

 
Peter's Blog, Sept. 15th, Cold Fermentation
Peter Reinhart

In my recent Peter's Blogs we received a number great comments, including an offer to engage in some dialogue on dough methodology from Scott123. Rather than answer his first question in a Comment box in the previous post, I thought it might be best to make it the topic of a new Peter's Blog, and we can keep all the comments related to this question here, and deal with subsequent questions each in their own blog posting. Who knows, we might end up with a nice collection of useful information, all nicely archived. So, the forum is open and let's start with Scott's opening salvo.

He's raised an interesting question: does long, cold, overnight fermentation create a flavor that would universally be considered superior; that is, an inarguable benefit?  To answer this, I think, requires more than a simple yes or no, but an explanation as to what happens during the fermentation stage that would lead to the opinion that this is a way to improve flavor.  We've discussed this here in the past, though in an abbreviated manner, so let me draw it out more

 
Peter's Blog, Labor Day, 2012
Peter Reinhart

Hard to believe that it's already September -- how did that happen? Meanwhile, Charlotte is gearing up for the big convention this week and everyone is wondering what life will be like after it's over. We'll know soon enough.

But first, before I forget, I need to let you know that there are still places available for the Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free class coming up on Wed., September 12th at the Western Reserve Cooking School in Hudson Ohio.  If you can make it, contact them at www.wrsoc.com/   or call (330) 650-1665.


Since I just got back from the inaugural teaching tour for the new book I can  honestly say that the class is a lot of fun and those who attended the eight classes we did in the SF Bay Area all loved the products and were amazed at how easy the method is.  In addition to the upcoming class at Western Reserve  (I'll also be doing an artisan bread class the following day there), I will be at the upcoming Bookmarks Book Festival in Winston-Salem this coming Saturday, Sept. 8th, along with Steven Raichlen and a slew of authors from all genres. If you are in the area, please do come by. My demo is Sat. morning at 10:30 AM, and details can be found at http://www.bookmarksbookfestival.org/

The Bay Area tour was a big success. Denene Wallace, my co-author, is an inspiration, as she not only figured out how to make diabetic friendly gluten-free baked goods of all types using nut and seed flours instead of grain flours, but also, in the process, weaned herself from five insulin shots a day down to zero. She was a terrific collaborator both on the book and in the classes, telling stories in her delightful Georgian twang ("Do I really sound like I'm from the South? I don't hear it -- do they?" ) and also sharing all her hard earned baking tips.  Sadly, she won't be with me in Hudson -- I'll be going solo this time -- but she will be rejoining me in November (the 17th) in Chapel Hill at A Southern Season. Anyway, we did cooking schools, radio shows, and I even re-connected with some of my old friends from the Brother Juniper's Bakery days. The main thing we needed to find out, since this was our first tour, was whether those who came to the classes would love the products as much as we do. And they did!!!   So, mission accomplished.  For more details on the book and, to write to us about this aspect of our work, go to our website at www.thejoyofgluten-freesugar-freebaking.com

Now, onto the long thread in the recent Peter's Blog. As I mentioned in the last posting, I was thrilled to see so much passion and sharing of knowledge. For some of you it was probably TMI -- not everyone cares about potassium bromate and the various nuances of fermentation, but many of us do. But I hope you all read each of the comments as they amounted to a wealth of narrative and information. My guiding mantra, which I wrote a whole book about once ("Bread Upon the Waters") is: "Reverence the reverences of others, not the things they revere."  So I don't feel that I have to agree with every point regarding NY pizza by the slice, or the choice of flour, to get excited by the degree of caring expressed by the various correspondents, and I want to honor that passion.  There were great points made regarding some of the things I've written in the past, such as how much water to add to tomato puree to make sauce (I did write 1 3/4 cups for my marinara sauce recipe in "American Pie" based on a very thick puree I used, but should have added, "or as needed" -- good catch, Scott).  So let me make just a few points, below, to clear up

 

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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.

Peter's Books

American Pie Artisan Breads Every Day Bread Baker's Apprentice Brother Juniper's Bread Book Crust and Crumb Whole Grain Breads

… and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com

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