Monday, May 11, 2020

A Tale of Two Pizza Experiences


Another shout out to Mom. I think trying to provide her with a little something to read might breathe some life into this blog. No promises though.

I clearly have a problem with pizza and here are the tales of pizza experiences.

A bit in the past:
Back in February before the country shut down, we went to New York City for a show and then headed to Connecticut to visit my mother (hi mom). I don’t know when, but Colony Grill opened an outpost near her, so we headed over on a Friday night. I had never been and from what I had heard about it was that Colony Grill was one of the original places for a bar style pizza. They were also known for a hot chili oil.

The place was packed.

I mean mobbed. Busier than the New Haven Pepe's on a summer Saturday night. The waiting area was shoulder to shoulder and it was going to be 45 minutes to get a table for 5. Carryout boxes were constantly leaving the door. And bar pies are small so people were leaving with mini towers of pizza boxes. My expectations were getting higher. The crowd at this place was something out of the fantasies of most restaurant owner. Groups of 2, 4, 10 or more. Bar area jammed. Relatively fast table turnover. Plus, a good size crowd of people willing to wait for their chance to get seated at a table.

I hated the pizza. Really hated it. Like getting mad the longer you think about it kind of hate.

Here are some of the pictures I took. They have a very similar look to Start Tavern in Jersey, but Star Tavern is better than this. The photos look a lot better than the pizza tastes.

Bacon

Cheese 

Undercarriage

Veggie

The dough was completely flavorless. It was like someone forgot to add the salt when the dough was being made. They have a salad pizza which is a lovey tossed salad on top of one of their pizzas with or without cheese. It would be better as just a salad. 

Salad Pie

I can not believe the business this place is doing. This is a place that pizza nuts travel to try. It is straight up bad. And all those people leaving with carryout…the edible shelf like on the pizzas is less than 30 minutes. We took out leftovers home and they do not age well. I will give credit where credit is due. The hot chili oil is good, nice flavor and heat to it, but the oil would excel on a better pizza,

Hot Oil Pie

And they serve beer in those good mugs with the little nobby part for your thumb. I don't drink much beer but I like these mugs better than pint glasses.


During a phone conversation with my mother I made a joke about getting some of their pizza to go. My mother said, “I think I’ll go back there never.” Pretty much sums it up. Five out of five of us are fine never returning...

A little closer to the present:
The pizza community is pretty cool. I'm definitely on the outside looking in but you can see how the shared pizzeria experience between people working in the field forge great friendships. I originally joined Instagram to keep tabs on my kids’ accounts. I quickly found there is a pretty large pizza presence. And like any other social media thing, once you find one there are more recommendations and then you find a few people from the pizza forum and it just keeps snowballing to include pizza makers in Italy and around the world. Plus, pizza people are some of the greatest people in general.

One of the people I followed when I signed up was Scott's Pizza Tours. Scott Wiener is by every account a guy with an incredible knowledge of pizza history and the Guinness World Record for most pizza boxes. From following Scott, I was introduced to The Za’Report (Miriam) who is one of the guides for Scott’s Pizza Tours. Since the quarantine started, Miriam has been making pizzas at home for first responders, out of work people and pretty much anyone wanting a pizza. She also does live pizza making things in her apartment in Brooklyn. They are entertaining to watch and they regularly coincide with when I am making dinner. So I prop the phone up and listen to her make pizza while I cook. It has been nice. She also occasionally does “bedtime stories” where she talks about something pizza related. The history of Queen Margherita and the origins of the Margherita pizza was great. Making a long story longer….

Miriam recently started working at the original Paulie Gee’s location in Greenpoint. A pizza maker that trained her there Chris, aka trunkbeer on Instagram, is currently in Albany for the quarantine. Miriam told me he was looking for some supplies (the Jon in Albany handle game me away) so I reached out to Chris to point him towards a few local places he could try.

Well, Chris now has a Ooni or Rockbox, not sure which, and a very pretty spiral mixer (I definitely have mixer envy).and when the mood hits, he has contactless pizza pick up in from of his house. The first few times I was too late to get a pizza. The available pies can go pretty quick. My time slot was 12:30 on Thursday. Now this is exciting, right. You’ve got a professional pizza maker personally making you a pizza at a designated time.




It was nice to meet Chris, even though we were both wearing masks. It was also nice to inhale some fresh pizza. The basil smelled so good. The pizza, already good, is going to get better as Chris continues to dial in the mixer and oven.  He’s started another Instagram account called trunkpizza. I'm guessing future pizza sign ups go through that account. Give both a follow if you want to try one of the Chris’ pizzas. You’ve got a little time. He’s taking this week off.



Sunday, May 10, 2020

Happy Mother's Day


Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere. This is my mother and her 3 sons in the mid to late 70's.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


HI MOM!


She’s the main reader of what’s left of this blog and currently stuck in a condo in Connecticut.

I’ll start with politics to get it out of the way: Ignoring the giant cheese doodle in the room and skipping right to Kentucky...

I am a big fan of bourbon. I like a lot of whiskey styles, but bourbon might be my favorite. I enjoy drinking it with friends at the curling club. I enjoy drinking it home. I don’t do much cocktail drinking but a good Old Fashioned is growing on me (Lost and Found as well as Kiernan’s Craft Tavern have good versions). The idea of me going on a bourbon trail to visit distilleries in Kentucky isn’t a big stretch. All that being said, here is my pledge: If Mitch McConnell gets re-elected the entire state of Kentucky is dead to me. I’m done. No more bourbon. Definitely not going on a distillery tour. No KFC (it’s not good anyway). I think Reynolds Wraps are from Kentucky. Gone. Jif peanut butter is made in Kentucky. Choosy Mom's will avoid choosing anything from Kentucky. And I promise to pay extra for a flight even if the best priced airfare has a layover in Kentucky - in case you didn’t know, the Cincinnati airport is actually in Kentucky. Seriously, fuck that guy and anyone who votes for him in November.

If you’re still with me, great. If you are thinking about leaving a disagreeing comment in support of Mitch, don’t bother. I won't be responding. This is not a discussion, this is a fact (remember those?). If the schmuck gets reelected, Kentucky might as well sink to the center of the earth as far as I’m concerned. As for the bourbon, there is a lot of whiskey made outside of Kentucky. I’ll spend my time and money exploring them.

Back to your regularly scheduled blog post:

The March Pizza Challenge extended into April and was “What do you do with leftover dough?” My uses for leftover dough are stretch it into a log and bake it like a small loaf of bread (warm, fresh bread goes great with dinner) or I flatten in out into a rectangle and make a Stromboli. Nothing too creative. At some point, I should try making garlic knots.


Like a lot of people, I recently tried my hand at sourdough. Following Jennifer in Saratoga’s lead, I tried developing a starter using all purpose flour. It looked like it was starting to work a little. Then I used some flour that I milled from wheat berries (some time ago I bought an old mill on E bay). The starter seemed to do a little better with the whole grain but instead, I decided to discard the first attempt and try again, this time starting with the fresh flour. Instead of discarding the original starter, I tried to incorporate it into a pizza dough. Pretty sure I screwed up the math since the dough ball I made was lighter than it should have been. In the end, that dough ball over fermented but I tried to cook it anyway. It basically disintegrated in the oven and made a huge mess on the oven floor -luckily it was the wood oven and not in the house, still a mess but a lot easier to clean. You can see in the top of the picture I've already moved the coals over the mess to burn it off.


My first sourdough bread attempt came out better than the second. I need a better way for the dough to rise. I don’t have one of those bread baskets. Maybe a floured cloth in a bowl would work better than just a lightly oiled bowl. Might throw another loaf together tonight.


Pandemic Pizza- I’ve made two rounds of Pandemic pizza. Both rounds with over 20 pizzas that are picked up or delivered to be enjoyed by family, friends and neighbors. 



Something gets lost in the push for quantity. There’s less enjoyment in the pizza making. It’s still fun and I plan to keep doing it, But adding the elements of speed and being ready for a set pick up time takes something away. Also, the topping combinations get scaled back. I bought a big bag of sliced pepperoni and it's fine, but not as good as a stick sliced by hand. I need to find somewhere locally that will sell me Ezzo pepperoni. Or at least the Hormel pre-sliced cup and char. I think they are coming out with one to be sold in grocery stores.




In other pizza news, I listened to as much of PizzaZoom 2020 as I could. It was basically a parade of well known pizza people meeting through Zoom and you could just eavesdrop in on the conversation. It was like hanging out with them in a bar after closing. There were demos from both home kitchens and restaurants. Parts were funny. Some stories were amazing – the back story on Angelo’s Pizzeria in South Philly put that shop on my to-do. They also make their own bread for their cheesesteaks which look and sound great. There was a fun session with Chris Bianco. It is a combination of interesting and entertaining to listen to him talk. Good stories plus a willingness to help other pizza makers in the same way people helped him. He offered some excellent life advice: Just don’t be an asshole. The 3 days of web conference cost $5 with all the proceeds going to Pizza vs. Pandemic which is a new arm of Slice Out Hunger. They get pizza to hospitals and first responders because if anyone deserves a good slice of pizza right now, it is these people. 

Also at the web conference, I saw a Dexter P177A pizza cutter. I had to have one. I picked it up while getting some cheese and more pizza boxes at restaurant depot. The difference between using a 4 inch pizza when and the smaller 2.5 inch wheel I had been using is huge. I love my new pizza cutter. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, it is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. And the P177A is also significantly cheaper than the Ferrari that Ferris was talking about. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

February 2020 Pizza Challenge

This month's pizza challenge: Make a pizza you have never baked before.

I read the challenge and immediately had a plan: I was going to use the left side of my oven.


My oven floor has two materials. The right side is regular firebrick and the left side is biscotto that I, like a crazy person, had imported from Italy. The idea was bank the coals on the left and I would make a more American styled wood fired pizza with bake times in the 4 minute range. Bank the coals on the right, really crank up the heat and then launch Neapolitan style pizzas on the biscotto tile to the left. I have spent a lot of time trying to dial in my version of the wood fired pizza I ate growing up (serious Pizza Cognition Theory in effect) and now I end up making that with minor tweaks. It can kind of feel like that is the pizza I’m expected to make when the oven gets fired up and it is easy to fall into a rut. So, in all the time I have had a working wood oven, Sunday was the first time I banked the coals on the right side of the oven, got the fire roaring and launched pizza onto the biscotto.

I picked up a bag of Caputo Chef 00 flour. I was going to get an unmalted All purpose but couldn’t find one. If you are cooking at temperatures this high, the malt can burn. Check out a bag of your all purpose flour in the pantry. My guess is that it either has some kind of enzymes added or something with the word malt. That's what makes your cakes and cookies brown at 350 degrees. At over 800 degrees, that would burn. Not all, but most of the Italian 00 flours do not have malt added. Anyhow, Saturday morning I combined 600g flour, 376g water, 18g salt and 0.6 g of instant yeast, let it rest a bit and then did a series did 3 stretch/folds over the course of an hour. This gave made four about 245g balls and let I let them sit in a 60 degreed basement for about 24 hours.


 









 In the end, I think the dough might have been a little under fermented. Might be a bit colder in the basement than I thought. The dough was definitely the weak link of the pizzas Could have been some operator error opening them too. I made 3 Margherita pizzas experimenting with how the mozzarella was cut. Wasn’t impressed with Roma's fresh mozzarella. Tasted like they forgot the salt in the water so I added some salt to 2 of the 3 Margheritas pre bake. The other pie was a pepperoni/green olive that gave me a chance to play with my new olive pitter.

Bake times for these 4 pizzas were in the 1:30 to 1:45 range and the oven floor was about 850. I forgot to toss in a small log before launching the longer baked pie. And yes, I am my own worst critic. You could easily have paid $12 for a worse wood fired pizza than these (ask me how I know).

After making these Neapolitan pies, I took a little nap, let the oven cool down some and then made a bunch of my usual pies. A few for us, one delivered across the street and two were picked up.
 

All in all, a fun day.  Kind of makes me think this could be a regular plan. Blast the oven and make Neapolitan pizzas around lunchtime. Take a nap and the make my usual for dinner. You really can't have too much pizza...



Tuesday, December 31, 2019

December PIzza Making Challenge

The Challenge:
Make a pizza that demonstrates the most important thing(s) you have learned on this forum. 

I have been thinking about this since the challenge was posted on the 1st. And then I didn't get the chance to bake. Saturday was the first time I fired up the oven since the November challenge. Coming up with THE most important thing I've learned on this forum is tough. So much valuable information is exchanged at pizzamaking.com. I got help with the design, dimensions and masonry tips for my oven build. From techniques to ingredients to recipes to science. It is all being shared on the forum.

I’m going to go with the stretch and fold technique for one of the most important lessons I learned on the forum. I hand mix my dough and I feel that one (or sometimes a few depending on the hydration) stretch and fold really helps make the dough easy to ball. If I am cold fermenting, most of the gluten development will take place in the fridge anyway (biochemical gluten development...it's a good thing).

More often than not, I’m buying my flour at restaurant depot and it is pretty cheap (about $15 for 50 pounds). So when I make dough, I make a lot of dough. When I fire the oven, I bake 8 to 10 pizzas – depends on who is over and which neighbors are home. Leftover dough typically becomes bread or a Stromboli. When mixing, I make 12 approximately 450 gram doughs. At 63% hydration, there is about 3300g of flour and 2100g of water going into a big stainless steel bowl. I combine the ingredients – flour, water, salt, yeast – until everything is combined and all the flour is incorporated. It’s a lumpy mess.




Cover everything with plastic wrap and wait 20 minutes. I take the lumpy mess and stretch it into a log.

It kind of looks like if I knew what I was doing, I could pull noodles. I fold this up in thirds,..


spin the bowl 90 degrees and repeat the log stretch.


It won’t stretch as easy this time. Do the same folding into thirds and then knead by hand for about 30 seconds. That’s it.
 

Divide, ball and put them in the fridge. I’ve been using a plastic bag for each dough lately. But with not much effort, a little over 11.5 pounds of dough got mixed.

One other big thing I’ve learned on the forum is to experiment. A good example is the yeast prediction chart. It is an amazing tool that can really get you close to getting the right amount of yeast given a fermentation time and temperature. But you’ve got to try a few things to dial it in on your own. For today’s bale I tried to formalize a sauce recipe instead of eyeing it. I hated it. Not sure what happened. I didn't add sugar but it tasted like I did. Maybe I’ll get closer next time. On the flip side, I listen to a podcast regularly and they had a football player on promoting something with Pizza Hut. He said he didn’t like pizza sauce. His favorite pie was cheese with sausage pepperoni and banana peppers. I tried it. It was good, but not great to my tastes. I tried it again but added a hot honey drizzle post bake. Now it’s one of my favorites. I think I had 3 slices of this one.

 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Fancy Pants Mushroom

The monthly challenges are back at pizzamaking.com. If possible, I try to participate in their group activities since they don't come up that often. Not too long ago, there was a Margherita Madness which was fun for two main reasons. First, a lot of the people that posted pizzas included themselves in the photo so you could put a face to screen name. And second, there were people making Margherita pizzas from literally around the world.  It was pretty cool to have the phone buzz as new posts came up over the weekend.

This month the challenge is signature pizza. Here's the challenge:

You love to make pizza, right? And eat pizza? And talk about pizza? And think about pizza?  Well, think about the pizza you make that represents what you most love about this passion we share.

Bake that pizza in November and post in this thread a description and, if you are so inclined, photos, videos, haikus, operas, whatever. It would be nice if you describe why your entry is your signature pizza. What is its inspiration or history?



The Fancy Pants Mushroom is the first pizza that comes to mind when I think signature pie.  I’ve been making it for a while, I’d guess for at least 6 years with the first versions coming out of Blackstone pizza oven. I have seen variations of the crème fraiche base some time ago on the forum but haven’t seen this particular pie combination anywhere else. At least I’m not that I’m aware of so currently feels like an original idea. Back then, goofy names for pizzas were the style (I think they still kind or are) and crème fraiche is basically fancy pants sour cream so I dubbed this pizza The Fancy Pants Mushroom. I still make it fairly regularly.

There have also been some variations on the theme. Sometimes I throw on a little oregano, sometimes the cheese is fresh mozzarella but I’m not sure anyone other than me notices the little changes. I’ve tried several different commercial version of crème fraiche and tried to make it a few times myself. So far, I like the Trader Joe’s version the best. It seems to stand up to the heat and combines with the cheese to make a sauce. 

The mushrooms are cremini and sautéed in olive oil until they give up their moisture and start to get a little color. Then some minced garlic goes in and gets stirred around until fragrant.




A splash of white wine is then added and boiled off. Sometimes I add a pinch of oregano, sometimes I skip it. Any leftover mushrooms are a fantastic addition to an omelet (ask me how I know).


The dough is high gluten flour at 63% hydration, 2.1% salt and 0.25% IDY (instant dry yeast) and mixed by hand – combine, 20 minute rest, stretch/fold/little bit of kneading, slight rest, balled, light coat of oil, bagged and then cold fermented for 48-72 hours. The dough will probably last longer but after 72 hours chances are I turn the dough into bread or a Stromboli. I try to get the dough in the 55-60 degree range before stretching a pizza. Below 50 and you get too many bubbles. First the crème fraiche goes on the dough.


Then the mushrooms and cheese. Don't go cheese pizza heavy with the cheese.


Slide the pizza into the oven and bake until done. If you are insane, the oven might look like this.


When it's done baking, you'll have this:

Slice and then eat. Any leftover slices are good cold.
And since the challenge mentioned haiku, I couldn't resist.

Fancy pants mushroom
My signature pizza pie
Try a slice - YUMMY! 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Pizza in Buffalo

I was on the road this week, so , yeah, pizza. In case anyone thought this tweet was a joke...it wasn't.


I have been following an anonymous pizza writer called SexySlices. SexySlices has been on a mission to eat a lot of Buffalo Style pizza. It’s got nothing to do with wings. It is a large, doughy pizza covered with tomato sauce (possibly sweet), a shit-ton of cheese and usually some cup and char pepperoni. This is the type of pepperoni that cups as it cooks and the rim gets a little dark. You can get it with a stick of Margherita pepperoni if you slice it about nickel thickness. Some time ago, Serious Eats did a nice write up on why some pepperoni cups and others don’t. There are fans of both cupping pepperoni and pepperoni that lays flat but the cupping style seems to be having its 15 minutes of fame as it has also become popular down in the city.

As much as I really want to love Buffalo Style pizza,  I don’t. I kind of wish I did. This style of pizza is about excess and I prefer a more balanced approach. Everything about Buffalo Style is big. However I think it is the perfect slice for the drunken Bills Mafia fan just after he tries to jump through a flaming table a tailgate party. I’m not that creative, it's a thing.



A week or two ago, SexySlices had a big pizza event with pizzas supplied by 8 of his favorites. The people voted and Macy’s Pizza won. I figured if I was going to give Buffalo style another shot, it might as well be from the winner.

We got to Macy’s and they had a large 1 topping Tuesday Special. There you go, a large pepperoni pie was the order.  The Sexy Slices Trophy was on display.


A guy came in just after us and ordered a large double pepperoni pie. I think there was a little confusion because I’m pretty sure we got the double pepperoni pie and this guy ended up thinking Macy’s double pepperoni is weak. My first thought when handed the box was, “Holy shit this is heavy!” I would have liked to get an official weight on the pie. I’m guessing around 4 pounds. Here’s the pie.




It’s heavy, sit in your gut pizza. It’s greasy, messy to eat and the sauce was definitely sweet.


I’m sorry to say that if this is the best example of Buffalo Style, I’m out. On the plus side, it was a little better cold. Still not good but better. The pizza certainly wasn’t offensive and didn’t make me angry for a few days (it has happened) so this was kind of an early dinner with a friend on Tuesday night and then I ate the leftovers late at night probably more because it was there and I eat like an idiot on the road than I actually wanted the pizza.

In the morning I got right to work (certainly no need for breakfast) and then had about an hour to kill before a meeting. During the summer, Paula’s has a doughnut filled with cannoli cream. It would have been foolish not to try it, right? So I tried it.




To put it in local perspective, think powdered jelly doughnut from Bella Napoli but lose the jelly and add so-so cannoli filling. It was novelty and an experience, but Paula’s offers better doughnuts. When dinner rolled around, there was really only one place I wanted to go. Jay’s Artisan. I first met Jay on pizzamaking.com and then met him on his food truck during a Buffalo visit (made my first wood fired pizza on that truck). Jay has a restaurant now and if you like pizza - especially Neapolitan pizza – and are in the area you should definitely stop by and check the place out.

First up, a Margherita.




There is no place to hide flaws in a Margherita pizza. It is just dough, tomato, basil and cheese with a drizzle of olive oil. Jay adds a littl salt and a little parm. It is delicious here. I’d argue lighter and more delicate than the Margherita at Song e Napule and that is probably a bake time thing. Jay is cooking 60 second pizzas and Song e Napule were more in the 2 minute range. Don’t get me wrong, both are really good.

Jay has also been making a Detroit-ish style pizza. For a while it was just Wednesday and Saturday (this Wednesday night visit was not an accident) but now you can get those every day. Only 40 of them though. We (same poor soul that ate the Macy’s pie with me the night before) went for Red Top which was a pepperoni pizza – garlic, cheese blend, cup n char pepperoni, Sicilian oregano, organic tomato sauce and parm.



A good Detroit style pizza is everything that Little Caesar’s wants to be but isn’t. These were definitely different than the Detroit style pies I had and Emmy Squared and Norma’s. Both of their crust had more of a fermented flavor. This was light and airy with what seemed like less oil. It was really good. Since we were there…we got a ‘nduja pie too.


Garlic, basil, freash mozzarella, fontal, red onion Berkshire ‘nduja, chili honey and parm.  Also really good. Little spice, little sweet, delicious crust. Had a great time talking dough, the pizza forum, pizza places with Jay. Also got to meet FlourCityMark who was there grabbing a Margherita. Pizza people are the greatest. Just before we headed out, Jay told us he had put in a Banana Pepper + Onion square pie for us (garlic, cheese blend, red onion, banana peppers with poblano cream sauce and parm post bake. This one had to be cut into 6 pieces instead of the usual 4 because I was just about done. 


Another good pie. If I had to pick the best, I’d go with the Margherita. When I venture into Neapolitan style, someday fairly soon it will happen, I hope I can eventually make one as good as this.

Well, Thursday came and it was time to head back. Leftover cold banana pepper pizza for breakfast. Ate a little chocolate during the ride back from Buffalo. And now that I have returned to Albany, it is time to go back to non idiot style eating. I promise nothing, especially since I am making some dough myself tomorrow morning.