Peter's Blog
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.

 
Peter's Blog, April 24th, 2012, I'm Baaack!
Peter Reinhart

I feel as if I've just emerged from suspended animation. I spoke too quickly in my post- IACP posting when I said "I'm still standing," as a few days later I hit the wall, ended up in the hospital, and couldn't stop coughing. Turned out it was just bad bronchitis and dehydration, all of it probably initiated by the major pollen drop here during the too-early spring and then complicated by over work and, well, just pushing too hard (too much Questing? Never!!). So, I've spent some time bundled up, reading, watching TV and movies, and coughing up …  well, let's not get into TMI….

So I'll keep this short and sweet and hope to follow up soon with photos and more commentary, but the main good news is that Pure Pizza has, at last, officially opened after nearly two years in planning and ideation, and we're off to a great start. Actually, there has been no official announcement that we are open -- just word of mouth and a few Facebook hints here and there. This first week has been intentionally a "soft" opening to work out all the kinks, but so far the response has been fabulous. When I can get over there I'll take some photos and tell you more, but for now you can check out it out www.facebook.com/PurePizza and hopefully you'll "like it" and help spread the word. It's a really simple concept, located in the new, year-round  Seventh Street Public Market in downtown Charlotte, with a general, common dining area much like a food court.  There are lots of other cool venders in the Market, and we're just 2 1/2 weeks from the "Grand Opening" of the whole market, when all the venders will be up and running along with lots of fresh spring produce (much of which gets used on our pizzas). I'll get you some photos as soon as I can but, if you're in the area, please drop by. (Note, the Public Market actually opened back in December, but it was, again, a soft opening in order for a few of the  venders to get up and running -- it took us, Pure Pizza, until last week to get all the permits and equipment in place, for instance. The Market has long targeted May as the time for the big splash, when we'd be fully populated with venders, so it's getting exciting to see it all flesh out and come to life -- I'm loving being a part of this important civic project.)

In the meantime, I've heard from a number of Pizza Quest followers regarding their own adventures, including John Rudolph of In Two Worlds Productions (see my recent post regarding the street foods of Roosevelt Ave. in Queens), who wanted everyone to know that he and Andrew Silverstein and the rest of their team will be giving more of these tours in the coming weeks (May 19, and June 2 and 16). So, if you are interested in joining in, contact John at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it    I can attest to how much fun it is.

Pizza Quest fan Sally Newton has posted her photos of following my recipe for croissants at http://bewitchingkitchen.com/2012/04/17/thrilling-moments/ Her excitement at being able to make killer croissants is as contagious as, well, as my recent coughing fits. Check it out and great work Sally!

Also, some friends of PQ as well as of The Fire Within, Victoria and Stephanie (Stephanie was a former student of mine at JWU a few years ago), have recently been nominated for best food cart in Richmond, VA, for their wood-fired pizza truck, Pizza Tonight.  Not sure if this link will work, but if you'd like to cast a vote for them try pasting this in: http://www2.richmond.com/special_section/besties-lunch-cart/2012/apr/17/best-lunch-cart-richmond-vote-now-ar-1838071/?referer=None&shorturl=http%3A%2F%2Fbit.ly%2FIgjEhG
Victoria was out in Boulder for the Fire Within Conference last year when we filmed some of the instructional videos shown here on the site, so I imagine she's using some of the tricks and techniques we worked on there.  Based on the photos I saw on their Facebook page, they are doing amazing work in Richmond -- if any of our readers are familiar with them, how about a few words or testimonials below in the Comments section?

Now that I'm starting to pick up some momentum, I'll be back soon with more thoughts on the IACP Conference, Pure Pizza, and all sorts of other things sparked by this never-ending Quest. Brad has been inundating me with great photos of yet another New York City/Brooklyn pizza crawl he's been on, including jumping on Scott Weiner's NYC Pizza Tour, plus a visit to the legendary DiFara's, and also to the unique and wonderful Roberta's in Bushwick. I'm totally jealous.  More on all that soon....

 
Peters Blog update
Peter Reinhart

I hate missing deadlines so I apologize for failing to post as promised. I just got clobbered by a serious pollen/bronchial illness that has totally laid me low. I'll be back soon, but just wanted to let you know there's a reason for my tardiness. I feel another coughing fit coming on...later folks, sorry.....

Peter

 

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

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