Letter from a Texas Baker
Note from Peter: I received the following letter from “B,” a serious home baker and pizza maker in which she raised some good questions about flour and commented on how important this baking activity has become for her and her family. I think many of you will relate to her story. With permission, here’s a portion of her letter (and, I encourage you all to write to me at Peter@pizzaquest.com if you’d also like to share your own story or questions — see my postscript at the end of B’s letter, below):
How interesting that my baking quandaries in these last days have led me to your website. I look forward to reading the continuation of your blog posts dealing with our current time of crisis. I have had your Bread Baker’s Apprentice for many, many years and your American Pie for a few. Your pizza book has rescued us these past few weeks and has provided some concrete guidelines as we explore the world of making our own pizza. Friday night is pizza night, so much so that if we are, for some reason, having pizza on another night, confusion ensues, and we are not really sure what day it is. Instead of saying “guten Appetit” we often say “Happy Friday” at the beginning of our pizza meal. So as things have gone sideways in the world over the past few weeks, it has been a source of comfort and has made a good family project to gather on Friday night to make our own personal pizzas. Starting this academic year, my husband and I were officially empty-nesters…. And now both our daughter, who is in graduate school and our son who is a college sophomore are here with us again trying to get through their classes and working to make the whole online-class thing work. We realize, especially now, how very fortunate we are to have internet access, computers, and a printer available to us. So everyone is here in the house, each busily doing what needs to be done.
Friday night pizza making has been a source of excitement and has become a time to look forward to. We are trying our hand at tossing the dough and have determined that homemade pizza sauce is actually much better than the types we have managed to buy so far. We ran out of pepperoni last week, but everyone voted to make pizza anyway – which is a bigger deal than it might sound since our son is a double-pepperoni kind of a guy. He agreed that we could try bacon and jalapenos instead, and we scrounged some grape tomatoes that had seen better days and some marinated artichoke hearts that were lurking in the back of the fridge for those of us who like a wider variety of toppings. We were also low on flour so I subbed a cup of rye flour into the recipe and it was really pretty good.
I also bake a lot of bread. My husband is German and we lived in Germany for 6 years as a family, so everyone wants home-baked bread. We’ll see how that works out over the next few weeks. I have been trying to go shopping only once every 2 weeks, so when I went to Costco yesterday (wearing a home-made mask for the first time) I decided to go for the 50-lb bag of what I thought was bread flour, only to get it home and notice that the bag says “Baker’s Flour,” not “Bread Flour.” According to Miller’s Milling’s website, “Baker’s Flour” is a lower protein flour that is supposedly good for everything from hotdog and hamburger buns to tortillas, pizza crust, and bread sticks. I usually order from King Arthur Flour, and I have some whole wheat, pumpernickel, and light rye flours, as well as a couple of cups of vital wheat gluten, so I will be experimenting around to see what this Baker’s Flour” really is as far as baking characteristics are concerned, and we’ll see what we end up with. Under any other circumstances, I would never have bought a 50-lb bag of flour, but here we are. I’ll go to the regular grocery tomorrow to get fresh things and a couple of packages of pepperoni, and Friday will come. We’ll see how toss-able “Baker’s Flour” pizza crust ends up being. And we’ll be trying the Pain de Campagne – and I may finally dare to start a sourdough starter. Heaven knows I have enough flour on hand at this point! (I do hope to find actual bread flour again some day!)
So here’s to the power of dough, and how baking brings us together and provides comfort in trying times. Thank you for your books and for the thoughts you shared on your blog; it’s all very helpful.
I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and well and wish you happy baking!
With kind regards,
Peter’s Postscript: Yes, it’s true that “Baker’s Flour” is kind of like a strong All-Purpose flour, somewhere between AP and Bread Flour, which does make it very good for both breads and pizzas (other than NY style slice pizza, which usually requires a high protein flour). I am currently working on Part Two of my recent post on Transformation, so stay tuned. Amazing how this Covid crisis has caused so many of us to create new patterns and ways to preserve community and traditions. Thank you, B. for sharing yours.
PS I want to remind you to check out the Fermentolgy webinars every Thursday (and also archived on YouTube so you can catch up with the ones you missed). Mine presentation is scheduled for Thursday, May 7 at 4 PM Eastern, if you want to join in. This link will give you the details: https://cals.ncsu.edu/applied-ecology/news/fermentology-mini-seminars/
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Pizza Quest Info
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.
...and other books by Peter Reinhart, available on Amazon.com