Peter's Blog
FAQ #3: Three Pizza Doughs
Peter Reinhart

 

Can you send me a recipe for pizza dough? I get this question a lot so here are three to get you going. We often refer to the first two recipes, below, in our instructional section and many of you already have them in your repertoire. But for those of you who are new, I'm reprinting them here in one place for easier retrieval. In addition, I've added a unique gluten-free recipe using sprouted gluten-free flour, along with the contact info for where to get the flour. I've written about this new development in the world of flour, sprouted grain flours, in previous posts so please refer to those for background. But here, for the first time, is a recipe you can use to make this dough at home.

We'd love to hear back from you, in the comments section below, with your results and also any questions that we can answer for the benefit of everyone.

One final note: in some of our pizzas we referred to the special Birra Basta dough we made last fall at the Great American Beer Festival with Kelly Whitaker and the folks from The Bruery. It is very similar to the Country dough, below. You can make your own version by using coarse, pumpernickel grind flour in place of the whole wheat flour and adding 1 tablespoon of dry malt powder (aka malt crystal), or use an equal amount of barley malt syrup.  You can also contact our flour sponsor, Central Milling, and order some of their Germainia flour and also a small bag of malt crystal, to make it exactly the same way we did.  I love that Germainia flour and hope to create a number of doughs in the future that use it.

 

Classic Pizza Dough, Neo-Neapolitan Style

(Makes five 8-ounce pizzas)

What makes this Neo-Neapolitan is that I use American bread flour instead of Italian -00- flour, but you can certainly use Italian flour, such as from Caputo, if you want to make an authentic Napoletana dough. Just cut back on the water by about 2 ounces, since Italian flour does not absorb as much as the higher protein American flour (if you use Central Milling's -00- flour you don't have to cut back on the water and it makes an amazing dough). Always use unbleached flour for better flavor but, if you only have bleached flour it will still work even if it doesn’t taste quite as good. If you want to make it more like a New Haven-style dough (or like Totonno’s or other coal-oven pizzerias), add 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. These are optional--the dough is great with or without them. As with the Country Dough, the key is to make it wet enough so that the cornicione (the edge or crown) really puffs in the oven.

5 1/4 cups (24 ounces by weight) unbleached bread flour

2 teaspoons (0.5 oz.) kosher salt

1 1/4 teaspoons (0.14 oz.) instant yeast (or 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast dissolved in the water)

2 tablespoons (1 oz.) olive oil (optional)

1 tablespoons (1/2 oz.) sugar or honey (optional)

2 1/4 cups (18 oz.) room temperature water (less if using honey or oil)

--You can mix this by hand with a big spoon or in an electric mixer using the paddle (not the dough hook).

--Combine all the ingredients in the bowl and mix for one minute, to form a coarse, sticky dough ball.

--Let the dough rest for five minutes, then mix again for one minute to make a smooth, very tacky ball of dough.

--Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, rub a little oil on your hands, and fold the dough into a smooth ball. Let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes and then stretch and fold the dough into a tight

 
FAQ #2: Why Do We Make the Dough a Day Ahead
Peter Reinhart

I get asked this one a lot. Or, more accurately, I get lots of e-mails asking some variation of the following question: What do I need to do to make the best pizza dough? Since that's a loaded question, subject to subjectivity and regional bias, I usually punt and focus on a couple of general tricks that seem to bring best results for nearly any kind of pizza dough.  The two most valuable tricks, in my opinion are, one, to crank your oven up as high as you can get it and, two, to make your dough at least one day ahead. The reason for the first suggestion is pretty simple: the faster you can bake the pizza, with both the crust and the toppings finishing up at the same time, the more moist and creamy (yet snappy) your crust will taste. Of course, if your oven is generating too much top or bottom heat and only half of the equation gets baked before the other half, all bets are off. Or, you may have to make some adjustments as to which shelf you use. Baking is a balancing act between time, temperature, and ingredients and it's usually possible to fix an uneven bake by simply adjusting one or more of those cardinal points. In most cases, it's usually the shelf but sometimes its too strong a convection.

But first you need a good dough and next week I'll provide three master recipes for pizza doughs based on my book, American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza. But, in the meantime, assuming you already have a dough recipe that you like or want to improve upon, perhaps from another source, the first change you can make, if you haven't already, is to make the dough the day before (or, at the very least, early in the morning that you plan to make the pizzas). A few years ago very few people knew about this trick and most cookbooks provided recipes that treated pizza dough just like sandwich dough: mix, rise, shape, and bake. This made dough for pizza but, sadly, not for memorable pizza and, as our regular readers know, this site is all about shooting for great (i.e., memorable) pizza experiences.

This little trick begs the questions, why make the dough so far ahead? Why does it make better pizza? If you haven't asked these questions and are just taking my word for it, then I have failed you because another of our goals here is to explore how to cook, not just how to follow a recipe. What I mean is that ingredients have a certain functionality as well as having flavor, and the difference between a real cook and a recipe follower is that the former, after following recipes for awhile, develops an intuition about the functionality of ingredients so that you can cook without recipes because you know what the ingredient, or the technique, provides to the process. Sometimes, it just takes one piece of new information to trigger that aha moment in which everything becomes clear, as if for the first time. Making dough ahead of time is one of those pieces of information and I'm going to tell you why and, if you don't already know what I'm about to say, this may change your baking ability forever:

Flour consists of mostly starch, with some protein and a small amount of minerals and enzymes. Starch is, when push comes to shove, just sugar -- that is, it consists of complex weaves of various sugar chains such as glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, and the like,  that are so tightly woven together your tongue can't access the sweetness, and bacteria and yeast can't get to the sugars to ferment them. Fortunately, the amylase and diastase enzymes that also exist in the grain (and sometimes additional enzymes are added at the mill in the form of malted barley flour), act upon the starches and begin to break off some of the sugar chains, especially the glucose and maltose, and free them up for the micro-organisms to feed on, and also for our palates, and also for the oven to caramelize them when they bake. But it takes time for all of this to happen, at least 8 to 12 hours, so the refrigerator becomes our friend, slowing down the rate of fermentation so that the yeast (and, to a lesser extent, the bacteria) don't digest all the newly available sugar threads but leave some behind for our tongues and for the oven. The colder the dough, the slower the rate of fermentation and also the enzyme activity. If we hit the balance point just right, by the time we bake the pizzas (and also breads, to which this technique can be applied, as I show in my book, "Artisan Breads Everyday"), we can produce the most beautiful golden crusts (caramelization of the sugars), and the sweetest, nuttiest tasting crusts due to the acidity created by the fermentation, and the deep roasting of the protein threads caused by the high heat, as well as the remaining sugar threads still remaining for our own pleasure.  It's all about hitting that balance and, fortunately, while it is science, it is not rocket science and most of the work is done for us by the use of refrigeration and letting the ingredients work it out for themselves.

Next week, three pizza dough recipes.

 
FAQ #1, Sourdough Starters
Peter Reinhart

This will be the first of a series of posts that address the most frequently asked questions that I get from our readers.  I will just deal with one at a time, and will headline them FAQ with a number next to it as well as a word identifier, so this one will be FAQ #1, Sourdough Starters. That way, when someone wants to track one down in the Peter's Blog section each question will be easy to find.

So yes, this one is about sourdough starters, one of the great mystery areas of bread baking.  I will keep it short, as I have a much longer file that goes deeply into the subject and will send it to those who are serious about the matter, while not boring the rest of you here with the complicated stuff. This posting will be more like the headline news version.  If you want the file, write to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to request it.

Just to clarify and get us all on the same page, sourdough starter is really another way of saying a natural leaven, composed of various wild yeast strains and also various bacteria stains that produce both lactic and acetic acid, all living in a medium made up of flour and water.  The starter can be kept either in a wet, spongey form or in a firm, bread-dough-like form. In either instance, there is usually no salt in a wild yeast or sourdough starter (the salt gets added during the mixing of the final bread dough).  The micro-organisms live in the flour mixture, which is replenished from time to time on a feeding schedule determined by the baker.  These starters take the place of commercial yeast, or can also be used in conjunction with commercial yeast, to raise the dough. Because of all the complex acids produced by the bacterial fermentation, sourdough (aka wild yeast) breads contain an acidic flavor complexity not found in breads leavened by commercial yeast alone,

Instructions for how to make a sourdough starter from scratch are contained in the file referred to above. What I want to address here is one issue that I hear about a lot: why isn't my starter bubbling away by the third or fourth day when I make it from scratch the way it's supposed to, especially since it started bubbling on Day Two?  Something has changed in flour, I believe, since I first started giving instructions fifteen years ago for how to make a starter from scratch.  This is just a theory, based on some sleuthing done by a chemist friend of mine, Debbie Wink, who analyzed the microbiology of her starters under a microscope, but it seems to be proving itself:  there is a lactic acid bacteria called Leuconostoc that seems more prevalent in grain these days and it has changed the way wild yeast grows in a starter.  At first, it mimics yeast in that it produces carbon dioxide, much as yeast does, when it ferments the natural grain sugars in the dough mixture. It makes us think that the starter has come to life and that the wild yeast is growing and multiplying -- but the yeast hasn't multiplied. Wild yeast needs an acidic environment in order to flourish, and this is exactly what the bacteria provides. But Leuconostoc, while slowly producing acid, actually doesn't like to live in it. So, while this bacteria, along with other bacteria present in the starter (mostly having come in with the flour, but probably some also some from the air), eats sugar and creates acid, while the wild yeast waits and waits until the Leuconostoc goes dormant, and then the yeast cells become active and multiply.  As a result, what used to be about a five day process now takes as many as 7 to 10 days. The problem, though, is that if if you just let the starter sit and wait, some unfriendly bacteria can land on the surface and create molds.  If you proceed to the next feeding cycle prematurely, before the starter starts to bubble and burp, it just sets it back another few days.

So, the best way to get through this middle, dormant phase is to stir or knead the starter (we call it a seed culture at this stage, prior to becoming a full-on starter) twice a day to prevent the invading bacteria from getting a foot-hold. It may take three or four days to finally wake up but eventually it will.  By this time the Leuconostoc will go dormant and the other, more flavorful acid producing bacteria will thrive, as will the strains of wild yeast that provide the leavening for your bread. Once the seed culture come to life, you can resume feeding it as directed in the instructions to complete your sourdough "mother" starter.

Note: one trick that seems to shave a couple days off the process is to use pineapple juice (or even orange juice) on the first day when making the Day One seed culture. The acid from the juice gets things going in the right direction, but you still may run into a dormant period in the middle phase.  Don't give up on your starters, though; they will come to life if you remember to stir or knead them twice a day during the dormant phase.

Again, for more details, write to me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and I'll send the file, or you can read about it my books, Whole Grain Breads, and also in Artisan Breads Everyday. Those of you who have your own tricks for making a potent wild yeast starter, feel free to comment below and share your methods.  Also, refer to our sourdough maven, Teresa Greenway's website at www.northwestsourdough.com for all sorts of great recipes, info, and photos.

 
The Grand Opening
Peter Reinhart

It's taken me longer than I expected to report on the Grand Opening of the Seventh Street Public Market because this was also graduation week at Johnson & Wales University.  I remember last year writing a mushy piece about how much I love seeing the grads marching up to receive their diplomas so I won't do another tribute other than to say how proud I am of everyone who made it. We had over 1,000 grads at just our campus (there are 4 JWU campuses) and I started thinking how nearly all of the them -- about 99% according to the school's stats -- will all be working in the industry by summer's end or sooner. Hospitality is one industry where hiring still takes place, it's insatiably looking for talent, and our grads make us proud out there.

Now, back to last week's Grand Opening. Yes, it was a wonderful, festival-like day after six months of ramping up preceded by 18 months of fund raising, organizational planning, and building up-fit. We had a great turnout, as you can see from the photo, as hundreds of folks checked out our many vendors.  A number of cities have created public markets similar to ours, so I imagine that many of you have places like this to support.  I hope so; it's more than just a place a shop, but also provides a sense of community where like-minded people can support businesses that share the same values as the shoppers. Our Meat & Fish Market, for instance, headed up by Dawn and Michael LaVecchia, not only brings in local, beautiful, and sustainably raised proteins, but also publishes a weekly newsletter that tells the stories of the ranchers and fishermen who all, in their own way with their own products, are like you pizza questers, always searching for the best, artisans in their own right. Michael LaVecchia and I will be appearing on a local NPR show called Charlotte Talks, on Wednesday, the 23rd, on the topic of sustainable seafood, along with a spokesperson from Whole Foods Market, which just made front page news for taking a strong stand against certain fishing practices, refusing to carry fish that hasn't been caught in a humane fashion.  It's very controversial because it affects the livelihood of a very difficult and tenuous profession, so I'm counting on Michael to give us the small merchant's perspective -- should be a lively hour. Even if you're not in Charlotte, you can pick it up via live streaming on WFAE.org at 9 AM Eastern time or on the archive podcasts beginning the next day.

Not Just Coffee, celebrates the craft of being a barista, not just with with latte art and  thoughtful blends of premium beans, but with the newly popular pour-over method pictured here. I was impressed by the clarity of the flavors that this technique draws out of the beans, fulfilling a similar goal to what I call the "Baker's Mission: To evoke the full potential of flavor trapped in the grain."  In San Francisoco, Blue Bottle Coffee has gotten national press for helping to popularize the pour-over method, so I'm glad to see it getting traction here in our town as well.

 

 

And, of course, Pure Pizza had a record day, cranking out pizzas as fast as our team and oven could manage.  Our head pizzaiolo, Austin Crum, and I did two demos on the temporary cooking stage (the market will soon be building a permanent stage, replete with brand new equipment and a regular demo schedule -- more on that at a later date when it's official), showing the audience our classic Neapolitan and also our 100% whole grain pizza doughs, made with flour from Lindley Mills. Joe Lindley and his family drove all the way down from Graham, NC (Near Chapel Hill), about 2 1/2 hours away, to taste, for the first time, these pizzas made with their flour. I especially wanted them to taste the gluten-free pizza that we make with their sprouted ancient grain blend (millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and sorghum), so Austin and I showed everyone that one in our second demo. Lindley Mills, located on the site of a Revolutionary War battlefield, mills the organic line for King Arthur Flour, so many of you are already using their flour without knowing it (we use the King Arthur Organic "Artisan" flour for our classic dough), but the sprouted whole wheat, as well as the ancient grain blend, are milled in small batches at Lindley Mills and, unless you call the mill directly at (336) 376-6190 (hint hint), they are only available to a few select clients.

We've been having fun at Pure Pizza with a chorizo pizza developed by Austin, using locally made chorizo, cilantro, and topped with a radish slice and lime wedge. His goal was to create a street taco experience on a pizza crust and I think he nailed it. We run out of chorizo nearly every day as this one grows in popularity. We've also just started making a breakfast pizza, along the lines of what Brad English blogged about last week, with bacon, sausage, and eggs baked on top. This one is especially popular on Saturday mornings, when we open earlier, but some of us like breakfast all day long so we're now seeing an upward tick in sales throughout the day. We've also been getting some seriously good truffle oil from another Public Market vendor, The House of Olives, which gets drizzled over the top of our wild mushroom pizza after it comes out of the oven. Truffles are intoxicating -- the more you taste the more you want.  As you can see, we're enjoying this honeymoon phase of the launch and plan on continuing developing new pizza concepts and see where it leads us. The owners of Pure Pizza (I'm just the consulting partner), Juli Ghazi and Jeff Spry, have been working round the clock, along with our ace team of pizzaiolos, so it was wonderfully affirming to see all the smiles of enjoyment at the tables during the Grand Opening.

I don't want to want to hog the spotlight for Pure Pizza when there are so many other excellent pizzerias and pizza trucks out there doing great work, but since I get to blog here on Pizza Quest it's nice to have a place and a product that I can brag about. Speaking of hog, we even have a Carolina-style pulled pork pizza garnished with our own "secret sauce."  During the Grand Opening we also featured three other sauces, the winners of a recent competition to represent this region at the upcoming DNC (Democratic National Convention), which will be held one block from the Market. So, we offered customers their choice of any sauce while the sauces lasted.  Every now and then I'll post newsy things about Pure Pizza (like new pizza concepts we come up with), but for the real scoop and ongoing news  and photos you can "like" Pure Pizza at http://www.facebook.com/PurePizza

Meanwhile, when you come to Pure Pizza, do let the team know if you read about them here. And enjoy the Seventh Street Public Market too -- the vendors are there from Tuesday through Saturday, but Pure Pizza is also open on Monday (there will soon be two other food vendors joining us there, probably in early June). It's all so exciting -- a wonderful adventure...hope you can make it.

 
Peter's Blog, May 9th, Pure Pizza
Peter Reinhart

So, I've already written that we we opened Pure Pizza here in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago, but the Grand Opening is really going to be this Saturday, May 12th, when the entire Seventh St. Public Market, where we're located, has its own Grand Opening. There will be music, jugglers, demo's, lots of food -- basically an all day celebratory festival (and for the whole week following) after two years of build up and many false starts. You may recall that back in December I wrote about the Public Market when we had our "soft opening."  These past six months have been like a dress rehearsal, or like when a show goes into previews before the real Opening Night, as all of the venders worked on their own location, displays, and products. Now, at long last, it's all come together, along with the influx of spring produce, and now all the shops will be open, beginning Saturday, for the big hoo-ha event.

I'll take some photos and report back next week with a more detailed report, but I did want to show you a couple of shots of one of our most popular pizzas, the Pepperoni Supreme, featuring locally made pepperoni, house-pickled red peppers as well as pepperoncini, and a nice topping of our Bianco-DiNapoli organic tomato sauce and a blend of gooey cheeses.  You will also notice that the ones in the photo are made on our sprouted ancient grain pizza dough, made with a blend of sprouted whole wheat flour and five other sprouted whole grain flours (for those who prefer a different crust, all the pizzas are also available on a classic white dough made with organic, locally milled flour, as well as on a gluten-free dough made exclusively with an organic sprouted ancient grain blend, all of the grains being gluten-free).

There is no other pizzeria in the world making these sprouted grain pizzas, so we're pretty excited about being on the cutting edge. Again, I'll have more photos and details next week, but I just wanted to let those of you who are within shouting distance of Charlotte know to try to come by on Saturday for the festivities. I'll be doing two demo's (at 12 noon and again at 1 PM), and will be hanging out all day to enjoy the party, so please be sure to say hi. In addition to our pizzeria, the market will also feature a juice bar, a sushi stand, a killer pour-over coffee and espresso cafe, a wonderful olive oil and balsamic vinegar store (offering free tastings!), a fresh fish and locally raised meat market, lots of organic produce, baked goods, a comfort food restaurant called Fran's Filling Station (the second location of a very popular Charlotte restaurant), gelatin art, and lots more. Hope to see you there -- if not, I'll be back next week with my report.

 
Peter's Blog May 2nd, "Eat The Street"
Peter Reinhart

I keep ruminating on my experience on Roosevelt Ave. in Jackson Heights, Queens, during the IACP Conference week (see my previous posting on this, dated April 7th). As I described then and re-read about the various street food taste bursts that we discovered there, I also continue to recall that at nearly every truck or cart one particular phrase kept coming to me: "They're pursuing the American dream."  I even projected myself 10, 20, and 30 years into the future, imagining the children and grandchildren of some of these street venders with brick and mortar restaurants of their own, or other businesses, making films, or running medical practices -- these street venders were like my great parents, working their butts off to lay a foundation for those to follow. Some might keep the food carts going, or expand upon them, but I'm sure many will say, "I'll never work that hard again; instead I'll work smart."

I recalled a vignette I told in "American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza," when I revisited after 30 years the favorite pizzeria of my childhood and discovered the son of the owner still working there; he never liked pizza as a kid, but he loved cheese steaks and so he dedicated himself to making the best cheese steaks in the world much as his dad had done in making the best pizza.  And he succeeded, opening the store only four days a week so that he could have a life while still making a decent living and earning the accolades of foodies everywhere. Meanwhile, his brother and sister, both of whom I also remember working there as kids when I was a kid, had decided they wanted no part of the place and moved on in different diections with their lives.  The American dream....

I think about this now because I just read an interesting article in the current issue of Newsweek by Daniel Gross called, "Listen, The U.S. Is Better, Stronger, and Faster Than Anywhere Else in the World."  He spells out a rather optimistic analysis of the economic recovery that, while not yet complete, nevertheless has outpaced most predictions by the so-called experts, and has certainly outpaced the recoveries in every other developed  country during the same time period. Without trying to recap the article the bottom line, according to  Gross's implication, is that the USA is still the best place in the world to live because here, unlike in no other place, it is still possible to achieve your dream, and everyone else in the world knows it.

So, this was my takeaway after a day of joyful, gluttonous eating and drinking of Tibetan Momo's, pan Latino tamales, street tacos, quesadillas, pandebobo's, ceviches, and rum-filled caraljillo's: that there is motivation at work within the souls of each of the venders, not just to make a living but to build something for the future. It may be a humble beginning (and humbling experience to encounter) but, as we've all learned from our Native American as well as other cross cultural social studies, most traditional cultures think seven generations ahead.  What I find exciting, beyond the American Dream scenario I saw on Roosevelt Ave., is how this ethic is filtering into the first generation counter-culture street food businesses, not just the immigrants but also long term, perhaps even privileged young multi-generational Americans.  It reminds me of the idealism of the 1960's, the back to the earth movements and the like; that the American Dream is not something that is handed to us but is something that must be grabbed, reached for, and worked for. It means so much more when it happens that way.

 

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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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