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.

Friday, June 21, 2019

I cut the cord

Well, one of the cords. For a little over three years we have had a FIOS bundle at the house – basic TV with a DVR, digital phone and internet. There were a handful of things that I could do to lower the monthly bill. Buying my own router would knock $12 bucks off the bill and the savings would cover the cost of the router in a little over a year. I started with renting the router so that is was their problem if something went wrong. Nothing ever did. Swapping the router out for one I bought always seemed like a hassle and lately by the time 9, 10 o’clock rolls around I pretty much don’t want to do anything

A little over a month ago, I got a notice that my FIOS plan was no longer available, I was being switched to another plan and the price was going up from the already probably too much $145 to the way too much $210. Yeah…no.

So I called. They would be able to get the $210 down to $160. This was just the motivation I needed to take on the hassle. Time to investigate other options. I had heard about OOMA as a phone alternative from a friend who had it for years. It is basically owning your own digital phone. I picked one up at Best Buy for about $70. For $40 more, I ported my current phone number and had it switched from Verizon to OOMA. The monthly fee is supposed to be about $5 an it is just taxes and fees. I ordered the same router I have off Amazon ($175) because by my count I had already paid for it two and a half times. When the new router came in, it was easy to swap out. Unclick one wire, reclick it in the same spot on the new router. Easy peasy.

I signed up for HULU with all the bells and whistles but no pay channels like HBO. That’s about $65 a month. I dropped the rest of my FIOS plan except the internet which will come to $55 a month. Turns out my Smart TV isn’t very smart and cannot handle newer versions of HULU. Judging by what I saw online, Samsung has pissed off a lot of people with their not very smart TVs. Not sure last years models would get new updates. I went back to Best Buy and bought a Roku stick for about $60. With that installed, everything on the TV works.

In the end, I spent about $350 on gear. Everything hasn’t shaken out yet but I expect my total monthly cost to be in the $125 range, $35 a month ($420/year) less than sticking with the best FIOS could offer me.

It’s early yet, but I think I like this set up better. The phone also has an option to block calls. Once you call with your “SPAM Telemarketer” caller ID, you are promptly moved to the shit list and blocked. There seems to be a noticeable decrease in the amount of phantom calls we had been getting. Hopefully it all works out. If not, I’ll just have to cancel everything and then I’ll probably end up reading something that isn’t the pizza forum.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

NYC Work Trip

For the past few years, I have been on my own when I travel for work. Definitely some pros to that. On my own schedule, pick where I stay, no planning dinners or times to meet, and I often ate a stupid amount a pizza. There have been a few changes with the job and this week's work trip was a bunch of guys heading to New York City.

In general, I'm not that into New York City. I really like eating there. I'm not that into theater (I prefer high school productions to professional ones). Museums are OK but I don't typically go out of my way for them except for well know museums on a vacation, I'm not that familiar with the city, but I can say with certainty that the stores around Herald Square are basically Crossgates Mall with better architecture. 

There is only so much food I can stuff in my face on these trips. And this time, I was going to have to be cooperative with at least 2 other people. I had plotted out an insane pizza tour on the off chance I could blow everyone off and head out on my own (John's of Bleeker, Keste, Song e Napule, Scarrs, Motorino - how much fun would that have been?). That wasn't meant to be but the two guys I ate dinner with were OK heading out to 1 or maybe more depending on the timing of what a 3rd fellow traveler was up to. If I had to pick just one off of that list, I really wanted to try Song e Napule. It has been getting continuously good reviews on the Pizza Forum. The other two didn't really care and so we were off to Song e Napule. It is fairly close to Washington Square Park. I think this is where Harry met Sally.

The place is tiny. Maybe 20 seats.

As a group, we got 3 small pizzas. I went with the mushroom/prosciutto, there was a sausage/broccoli rabe and a Margherita. And here's where traveling in a group paid off. I was splitting my pizza with the sausage/broccoli rabe pizza. And the guy who had the Margherita saw the saw sausage/brocolli rabe pizza, thought it looked interesting and we swapped slices so I got to try all 3 pizzas which definitely would not have happened if I was on my own and heading to 3 or 4 more places...pros and cons...

The crust was delicate and light. I didn't taste any sourdough so I think they use cake yeast. Topping were also very good. The tomato sauce was outstanding. It really shined on the Margherita pizza. And while I am definitely not a Neapolitan pizza connoisseur, this was the 2nd best Neapolitan pizza I've had to date (Jay's Artisan is still the reigning champ). The bakes I times were both right around 2:15 which is long for Neapolitan. Technically, too long. But I think the longer bake time is needed to balance the top and bottom heat in the oven. My guess is that cooking hotter and faster in that even would move the bottom of the pizza past soft with a little char to burnt. The non pizza portion of the menu looks delicious too. I think it is a matter of time until word gets out about this place and they are running lines. They seemed to have a decent to-go business running while we were there too. Which is good for their business but tragic for the pizza. 

I'd be curious to see how Keste and Motorino compared but as a group, we headed off to meet another colleague at a bar closer to the hotel. Not a place I would have picked, but the drink prices were OK and the people watching was interesting. Got back to the hotel a little after 10. Had to meet up again at 7 AM. My options were go to bed or walk a little ways to NY Pizzeria Suprema....


You can find Suprema right next to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Looking at the slices in the case, I went with an upside down square and a plain cheese. I got the reheat on the upside down and was going to have to wait a minute for a fresh cheese pie to come out of the oven. I found a table off to the side and started in on the upside slice. Good crunch. The sauce was a little sweet but it worked with the slice. It was pretty good, not blow my mind amazing like my first Pizza Town USA visit, but definitely good.

The cheese slice, well it was also good. I thought it was a little over sauced. Everything slid around and when I did the classic slice fold, sauce kind of went everywhere. Still, an OK slice and a little bit of a confidence builder - I like my cheese slice more. In looking at the picture again, it is definitely over sauced.

While I was in a short line placing my first order, a few people seemed to be ordering the mushroom slice so I go back in line to try that one.

Also good. The mushrooms were either sauteed or roasted with some garlic and seasonings before going on the pizza. I think the topped pizzas might be the way to go at Suprema. They look good and seemed to have better sauce control. In the "it's a small world" file, Sylvia from DelSo was there earlier in the day. She enjoyed her slices and sent a picture. Both of the these slices had limited amounts of red sauce and I think that might be the key here.

(Sylvia's photo downloaded from The Twitter)

The next day after the meetings were done, we took the subway back to the Penn Station area. We went to a place whose name I can't remember. It was pretty standard mostly burger place. To get there we walked past an Upside Pizzeria, a 2Bros (curious about both but I don't expect much from their pizza) and a Grays Papaya. Pretty sure there was a Shake Shake nearby too. But I wasn't on my own this time. Calorie-wise, it might have been for the best.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Last Batavia Pizza Stop

Once again, I returned to Batavia and I wanted to use the opportunity to finish my quest to eat all the non-chain pizza Batavia has to offer. Technically I'm just coming close but I’m still going to call it. The signage in front of Mark Pizzeria has changed. It looks like it is now called 151 Pizza. From a quick drive by, nothing inside the store looks like it has changed so I think I’m close enough to saying I tried everywhere. I’ll be back in the area at least once more so maybe I’ll try it, but if they are still cooking on a conveyor belt, I’ll probably skip it.

The last place to visit was Big Pauly’s Pizza. First thing I noticed was big deck ovens which is a step in the right direction from the conveyor belts in my opinion. Remember those air pop popcorn makers that basically blow dry popcorn? It’s not the way to make great popcorn and I’d argue it isn’t the way to make a great pizza. I ordered a medium (listed as an 8 cut) half cup and char pepperoni and then watched my order get made. I must be getting old because the guy making the pizza looked really young. He and the other woman behind the counter were very welcoming. If you are going to leave your shop in the hands of two young people on a Wednesday night, they would be a good choice. Not the cleanest kitchen, looks like it has fallen victim to a lot of fryers running all the time but the place smelled good.

Onto the pizza. The dough ball was stored in a plastic bag. Nothing wrong with that (I do it too) I just don’t see it in many professional shops. There was no edge stretching. The dough was first pressed down on a floured stainless steel counter. It was a press and then pull hands apart technique. There was a lot of bench flour and just a final little bit of knuckle stretching before the skin went on the peel. The rim of the pizza was then kind of pressed/formed. Once the dough was on the peel a lot of sauce went on and was spread to the edges. Then there was a light dusting of grated cheese and followed by a pinch of dried herbs. Cheese and then half the pepperoni went on the sauced skin and into the oven it went.

Being a nerd, I started a timer. About 8 minutes in, the pizza got checked, a bubble got popped, a little bit of a spin and then the oven door was closed again. Total bake time was 11 minutes, 20 seconds. With that kind of time I'd guess the oven temperature was below 500F.  The pizza cost $11.89. At least I think that’s what it cost. It was just under $12, I forgot to note the final price.

Whole Pizza 

 Popped Bubble

 Crumb, I think a combination of the pressing and low oven temperature limited the oven spring.

Undercarriage. Not very dark for an over 11 minute bake. That oven couldn't be very hot.

The verdict: I thought the crust was pretty flavorless, the crumb was very tight from all the pressing.  An edge stretch would really have helped the rim. There was too much sauce and cheese so the toppings slid. I’d guess the diameter of the pizza was 14 inches and I think the dough ball was a little too big for that size. Western, NY seems to like a doughy crust so this might be more of a regional preference. Sauce had a sweetness too which is also a Western, NY thing. The pepperoni had a little zip to it. In the end, better than a chain pizza but not anything special. Very friendly, welcoming place though.

So now onto my official Batavia, NY Pizza Power Rankings

1. Batavia’s Original – my personal preference would be to get the less doughy NY Style instead of the thicker Batavia Style.

2. Ken’s Charcoal Pit – pizza cooked in an outdoor oven that is only available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. 

Better than a chain, but kind of similar to a chain
3. Big Pauly’s - I think the deck oven and cup and char pepperoni push this shop to the top of this portion of the list.

4. Jerry Arena’s - Kind of like a homemade chain pizza.

5. Mark’s Pizza (no longer there) – Smaller than a national chain, but a pretty similar style of pizza.

Order something other than pizza
6. Main Street House of Pizza - while I didn't enjoy the pizza here, it looked like other dishes might be good. Pretty big menu.

7. Ficarella's -Try the wings, maybe? If I think too long about it, I still get mad at the pizza I had here.