Webisode #4: La Brea Bakery - Part One

Here we are, at the famous, original LaBrea Bakery (not the facility that makes all the par-baked bread that is shipped across the country and sold at supermarkets, but the one that Nancy Silverton founded to serve the people and restaurants of Los Angeles). It takes a bakery to make all the dough required by a place as popular as Pizzeria Mozza because they produce anywhere from 500 to 700 pizzas a day, and that's a lot of dough to make--probably somewhere around 300 to 400 pounds of dough balls! How fortunate that Nancy, who no longer owns LaBrea Bakery, has such a close relationship with it because, even in the expansive Mozza kitchens there's definitely nowhere near enough room to make this much dough with this much complexity. What you're about to see in this segment is the application of the artisan bread making technique that Nancy mastered when she created LaBrea Bakery, now applied to a normally simple product called pizza dough.

We were greeted at the door of the large building in an industrial part of town, by Production Manager Jon Davis,  who took us inside the production area and showed us everything except the "secret ingredients" and the actual formula. In this segment, we'll see the preferment (aka poolish, or sponge) being made and then added to the final dough, which comes together beautifully. Next week, in LaBrea Bakery Part Two, we'll see what happens from this point until it arrives at Pizzeria Mozza where it is transformed into ethereal pizzas.

I often speak and write about bread being the result of a series of transformations: wheat transformed into flour; flour transformed into living, leavened dough; and dough transformed into bread. Of course, with pizza, there is one additional transformation: bread dough into pizza.  I define a transformation as a radical change of one thing into something totally new and other. For instance, living wheat is killed when it is pulverized into flour, all it's life giving properties now destroyed. But when it is combined with salt, water, and leaven (yeast) it changes into a new substance and comes back to life as dough where it continues to transform itself through the biological activity of yeast, bacterial, and enzyme activity. When it is put into the oven, however, the dough gives up this life; the yeast is killed, as are all the living organisms in the dough that brought forth its unique personality and flavor, but in the process the dough is transformed into bread. That is, it goes in alive and comes out dead, but it goes in as dough and comes out as bread. In one analogy, it is like a caterpillar goes into the oven but a butterfly comes out--yes, a radical transformation. In rare instances, such as often occurs at Pizzeria Mozza, there is yet one additional transformation that takes place (and here I stretch the metaphor to, possibly, the snapping point, but bear with me): pizza transforms itself into deliriously happy people!. Or more accurately, the people are transformed by the pizza into a state of pure culinary bliss.

But I get ahead of myself. For now, just glory in the transformation of flour into dough and, as we continue this series on Pizzeria Mozza in the coming weeks, we'll go through the whole string of marvelous transformations together. Enjoy!!




#1 Faith 2011-01-20 16:10
Love this place Peter, thank you.

I have a question. Most of us know the basic for bread or pizza dough, A yeast, flour, water, salt, some perhaps an oil.

The statement of "secret ingredients" has me curious. Not that I want to steal the recipe. Just the what else is there to a dough to make it so guarded. The only thing I can think of is some sort of flavoring or dough conditioners. So without betraying any trust issues or letting the secret slip. In general what other things can be added to a dough when made at that quantity and how would that translate to the home pizza maker. Thanks
#2 maddyg 2011-01-22 05:33
Wow! I have been to Mozza and can say they make fabulous pizza. They have figured out how to make a beautiful thin crust that does not get soggy in the middle. I can't help but wonder what those secret ingredients could be!
#3 Peter Reinhart 2011-01-23 20:30
Nothing weird, just things like other grains. Not sure what they are--they wouldn't tell even me--but I'm guessing something like a small amount of whole wheat flour and/or rye flour. Maybe some malt, but I'd just be guessing. Hey, they spent a long time perfecting this dough (I read somewhere it took about six months of testing and tweaking), so I wouldn't expect them to tell us everything. But I know they have a commitment to natural ingredients so that wasn't dough conditioner. In fact, the poolish (ie sponge) method that you saw in the video is the real dough conditioner--and that's totally natural artisan technique.
#4 scott 2011-01-24 12:29
Do they use any kind of bread improver and how long they preferment the spong? over night or 48 hours?
#5 maddyg 2011-01-24 13:21
With a little internet searching the Mozza recipe calls for a tiny amount of rye flour and wheat germ, honey and salt with a relatively low protein flour Mellow Judith. They do teach dough making classes out of their restaurant so the recipe is out there. The rye flour and wheat germ surprised me.
#6 saltandserenity 2011-01-24 14:49
I had pizza at Mozza two years ago and still dream about it. Peter this is so exciting. Looking forward to watching. Love your new site.
#7 Jim S. 2011-01-24 17:10
Hi Peter, that video of La Brea Bakery mixing process is great! Can't wait for the next episode. Thanks so much.

@Madeline Peters: The recipe they give out in their pizza making classes is not their actual recipe; it's a "dumbed down" home version that they think will be easier for people to make. Supposedly they are going to come out with a Mozza cook book that will disclose the actual recipe. Can't wait for that either!
#8 maddyg 2011-01-24 18:51

How do they make that dough so crispy? I was floored at how thin it was yet a slice did not droop. Even with the fresh mozzarella it held up.
#9 Jim S. 2011-01-24 21:36

I think you have to chalk that up to Nancy Silverton's brilliance as a baker. She is truly one of the greats, who decided to apply her amazing skills to pizza. The Mozza crust is so tender and crispy at the same time that you can't quite believe it. If you have a chance to go to the pizza baking class, do go. It is so interesting and so delicious! It was a bit disappointing that they don't actually share their real recipe; but when they start making these incredible pizzas and feeding them to you, you forgive them, very fast. For anyone who is a real aficionado of pizza, the Mozza pizza making class is just the pinnacle. You have to do it, not just for what you learn, but to taste what really great pizza they are making there. Wow.


Jim S.
#10 Robin F. 2011-01-26 05:03
Hi Peter,

Love the site! Love the transformations throughout - I sense a new rise for you all! Congratulations !

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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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